This February 14th you should vow to strengthen your relationship, say Morrie and Arleah Shechtman. But their prescriptions may not be what you’d expect.
Boulder, CO (January 2005)—A dozen roses, a candlelit dinner, a sexy nightie, a pair of silk boxers. Such gifts may make you and your sweetie happy on February 14th. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But if you think they have anything to do with making your relationship stronger, you are blinded by the pink, frilly, candy-scented glow emanating from the greeting card industry. Indeed, according to Morrie and Arleah Shechtman, Valentine’s Day symbolizes everything that’s wrong with the way most of us view love, marriage, and relationships.
“Real love has very little to do with hearts and flowers and diamonds,” say the Shechtmans, who wrote Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage (Bull Publishing Company, 2004, ISBN: 0-923521-81-X, $16.95). “We all know that, deep down, but Valentine’s Day perpetuates the stereotype. And look at it in context. You give a gift, you get a gift, you gaze into your partner’s eyes, and you spend the next 364 evenings of the year ignoring him or her while you watch TV or run the kids all over creation. Why would you work toward a healthy marriage one day out of the year and neglect it the rest of the time?”
Of course, what the Shechtmans think you should do may not be what you’d expect. Certainly, they do not recommend spending more “couple time” snuggling in front of the fire or taking up tennis so you can join your spouse at his hobby. Known for their counter-intuitive approach to keeping marriages strong, the Shechtmans are more likely to bluntly tell you to “get a life” and insist that your partner get one, too.
So what about Valentine’s Day? Are they suggesting that you refuse to participate on principle? Well, no. (They like a good box of chocolates as much as the next person!) They simply advise that you use this holiday to set some goals and jump-start some healthier relationship habits. For example:
-Take ten minutes each day to pursue true intimacy. In Shechtman-speak, intimacy has little to do with sex or increasing the time you spend together. Indeed, they insist that the best marriages are low maintenance. It’s not about quantity, but quality. That means communicating on a deep, meaningful, real level. When your partner goes on a rant about how much he hates his job, don’t just patiently bear it and then respond with a litany of complaints about your own job. Instead, probe deeper to find out how he feels when his employer berates him, or more to the point, why he complains about his job every day, yet refuses to search for a new one. Then you’ll be getting somewhere. Intimacy is not “What did you do today?” but rather “How did you feel about what you did today?” It’s about emotional connection. It’s about getting to the heart of the matter.
-Set a growth goal for yourself to be completed by next Valentine’s Day. That’s right, for yourself. In order to be a good partner, you have to be interesting. And to be interesting you have to grow and change. It’s that simple. Couples who do nothing but sit in front of the TV night after night stagnate. They start to bore each other. Worse, they start to bore themselves. So vow that, a year from now, you will have found a job in an exciting new field . . . or have trained for and completed a marathon . . . or have painted a landscape and shown it in the local art gallery. Do something you’ve always wanted to do and you’ll have new experiences and insights to bring to the relationship.
-Take your partner off the emotional welfare roll. Unconditional love is a sacred cow in our culture. Many marriage counselors will insist that you can’t change your partner, nor should you try. That, say the Shechtmans, is bull. In fact, if you don’t make demands on your partner, you don’t really care. Your love is nothing more than a handout, an entitlement. More often than not, the unspoken rule is I won’t challenge you if you won’t challenge me. Make this the year that you finally take your partner off the emotional welfare roll—challenging him or her to get out of the recliner and lose that extra thirty pounds, or to stop gambling away your retirement money, or to finally quit complaining and find a new job. Sure, conflict may be introduced into your mutual toleration society, but that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it’s necessary to bring deeper issues to the surface.
-Don’t use “the laundry” as an excuse to avoid personal growth. Perhaps you feel that you are there to “support” your partner, to cater to his every desire. If your role in the relationship is to prepare extravagant meals, to keep the house spotless, to iron your partner’s pants to a razor sharp crease, sorry. The Shechtmans say you don’t get off that easily. Selfless devotion will not keep a marriage alive. Ironically, living through your partner instead of cultivating a life of your own is a form of abandonment. “The brutal truth is that a ‘Stepford wife’ can easily be replaced by a housekeeper, a drycleaner, and a pizza delivery service,” they say. “A true partner is irreplaceable.”
-If you have kids, regularly hire a baby sitter. In many marriages, children “take over” once they arrive on the scene. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of sitting home with the kids night after night after night. After working all day, you’re just too tired to make the effort to go out —and besides, you feel guilty about “abandoning” your child since he spends so much time at daycare. Drop the guilt, advise the Shechtmans. You and your partner need some “adult time” to reconnect emotionally. “Couples who make their kids the center of their lives often feel empty and at loose ends once the kids vacate the nest. This also puts a crushing burden on the kids, who end up feeling like failures,” they say. “You need to cultivate intimacy with your partner throughout your marriage so that when the kids are grown and gone you’ll still have something worthwhile to say to each other.”
“If some of this advice surprises you, it’s only because we’re steeped in a ‘greeting card’ culture that promotes a superficial view of what love really is,” say the Shechtmans. “If they’re honest, most couples who have moved beyond the honeymoon phase will admit that the syrupy sentimentality of Valentine’s Day just seems, well, silly. They can’t relate to it. Real love is, well, real. Sometimes it’s even uncomfortable. But a life worth living isn’t a comfortable life. It’s an adventure. And that’s what love should be, also.”
About the Authors:
Morrie Shechtman is a personal and corporate consultant with thirty years of experience. Morrie’s academic background includes an M.S.W. with a clinical specialization in psychotherapy. He also has his A.C.S.W., the professional credential required for independent practice. He has taught at distinguished universities throughout the United States, has worked as a therapist and counselor, and now also runs a successful management consulting company, Fifth Wave Leadership.
Morrie’s first book, Working Without a Net: How to Survive and Thrive in Today’s High Risk Business World (1994), is widely used as a reference in corporate America. It is utilized as a textbook by a number of universities and is used by many government agencies in management development training.
Morrie’s second book, Fifth Wave Leadership: The Internal Frontier is available on this website at www/morrieshechtman.com/store
Arleah Shechtman is a psychotherapist with twenty-five years of experience counseling individuals in committed relationships. Arleah’s academic background includes an associate’s degree in business mid-management, an undergraduate degree in organizational development, and an M.S.W. with a clinical specialization. She also has her A.C.S.W., the professional credential required for independent practice. Her continuing education has focused on work with adolescents, work with small groups, and work with people experiencing grief and loss.
About the Book:
Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage on this website at www.morrieshechtman.com/store
For a review copy of the book or an interview with the authors, please contact Morrie Shechtman, at (406) 260-7631