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APW Book Club—For Better, The Discussion

For the most recent APW book club, we read For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, by Tara Parker-Pope. This was the first time I’d gone with a book club pick that I hadn’t yet read (after a wonderfully democratic voting process), and that was perhaps an error. Let’s just say, I wouldn’t have picked it as a good APW match if I’d read it. As we discussed in yesterday’s book club round up, there were problems. Correlation does not,  in fact, equal causation; egalitarian marriages are very possible; and gay couples are not a brand new development to be studied, even if gay marriage in the US is just now becoming legal (but thanks for playing, researchers). But, what are you going to do?

So, I thought I’d dive in with a list of awesome things I’ve learned, and let us discuss the good and the bad of the book in the comments.

Things I Learned:

  • Women can sniff out immune system genes called ‘major histocompatibility complex’ or MHC. Women think partners with very different MHC to their own smell delicious. But! Hormonal birth control screws up our ability to sniff out compatible mates, so researchers think ladies looking for a partner to pro-create with should maybe get off the pill. I realized I was off the pill when David and I got together, and was oddly relived. Men? Well, they can sniff out fertility. Ofcoursetheycan. (p. 54)
  • Don’t show (or f*ck, feel!) contempt for your partner. While lots of book clubs had a problem with the idea that eye rolling is a negative (p. 136), I generally agreed that dismissive, in-anger eye rolling, along with other signs of personal contempt—attacking your partner personally, cursing at them, calling them names, can lead to huge problems. I was reminded that relationships work best when built on a foundation of respect, and that I should go out of my way to maintain that respect, even mid-fight. I might roll my eyes at David in jest, but I’m going to not roll them at him in seriousness.
  • In a related idea, it’s good to start arguments with a complaint “I wish we had sex more often,” than a criticism, “You never want to have sex. You’re always too tired. What’s happened to you?” And you definitely don’t want to start off with contempt or sarcasm “Everyone you know has a sh*tty idea of what it means to pleasure their wife, so I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that you’re a failure at it too.” (p. 157). While these sound obvious when laid out in black and white, I know our lives would be better if we always remembered this rule. So, noted.
  • You can deescalate an argument with clarification phrases, non-threatening words, affirmations, and open-ended questions (p. 164).
  • The myth of compatibility (p. 153). I’m a big proponent of the idea that we work well together as a couple because A) We were a pretty good match in the first place (and made a good initial and rational decision to purse that), and B) We work hard at it, and have pretty realistic expectations. I like when research backs me up. Parker-Pope says, “The truth is, compatibility comes and goes, and there is no such thing as a couple who is compatible all the time. Good marriages aren’t about being compatible all the time. People in a good marriage know how to manage their differences.”
  • Particularly when there are kids in the equation, “A fair number of marital health researchers advocate quickie sex—just to keep your sex life going” (p. 174). Um. Noted.
  • Stop worrying about one thing or another ruining your life and marriage (see kids), “Research shows that marriage satisfaction is generally quite stable over the life course, with only modest changes.” Rad.
  • It broke my heart that most heterosexual men say that their wife is their best friend or only friend. ONLY FRIEND? Waaaah! After reading that section, David and I had a talk. I don’t consider David my best friend, or even my friend, exactly (maybe because once upon a time he was my best platonic friend, so I know the difference. And there is a difference). He’s my husband, he already has a role that’s full and rich and deep. Learning that marriages flourish when there is a strong outside community made me want to focus on building our community a bit more, and worry about my husband’s best-friend-ness a bit less.
  • Celebrate good news. Remember when we went to Mexico when David got a job? Yeah. We should keep doing that, even if you substitute “crack open a bottle of champagne” with “go to Mexico.”

But, still, in sum? We read the wrong book. Sh*t. I’ll be picking up Spousanomics now, thanks ESB.

Now your turn. Discuss. And while there are plenty of problems in this book worth hashing over, let’s also discuss what we learned, either from the book, or just from thinking about the book. Because I’m a firm believer in the fact that while love is an awesome thing, you still need relationship SKILLS if you want to make it to any sort of finish line.

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