The New Rules of Marriage: What you need to know to make love work

by Terrence Real

Reviewed by Cascade Spring Cook

July, 2009

I just finished reading The New Rules of Marriage: What you need to know to make love work by Terrence Real, and I highly recommend it. It's my new favorite book on relationships. It's a wonderful, entertaining and practical book on how to create authentic intimacy and great relationships.

Terry Real's catch phrase is Relationship Empowerment, which he says is: "I was weak. Now I'm strong. I'm going to bring my full self and full strength into this relationship. I'm going to stand toe-to-toe with you and do my very best to insist on healthy intimacy between us because I love you. Because I love us, our relationship. And because we both deserve it."

Here are some of the things I enjoyed in the book.

The Golden Rule of relationship empowerment is: "What can I give you to help you give me what I want?"

What does this mean? A friend told me it sounds like magic.

I'd say it's an attitude as much as anything - an attitude which  promotes cooperation rather than confrontation.

So, for example, his first winning strategy is Shifting from Complaint to Request. In that, I'm helping you give me what I want by letting you know what I want in a way that allows you to feel good about giving it to me. I'm encouraging your positive motivation rather than nagging you or emphasizing the negative.

His second winning strategy is Speaking out with Love and Savvy. The starting point for this is to remember what you're trying to accomplish before you start speaking. Yes, you may be trying to get your partner to perform a certain action, but most importantly, you want to create a loving relationship. So come from a place of love, and tell your partner what you're feeling while remembering your love. He suggests asking two key questions before speaking: What's my goal? and Is what I'm about to say going to lead me closer to or further from my goal?

I really resonate with the question, "How can I help you give me what I want?", because Zhahai and I have long talked about being, and helping others be, incarnational allies. As I see it, the question is about how to be allies. As Real points out, "The question at once asserts the wants of the speaker while at the same time respecting the listener. It takes as a given the listener's goodwill, honors the relationship between them, and offers, with humility and sincerity, to act like part of a team."

Terry Real works to help people stand up for themselves - and for their relationship.

He lists 5 losing strategies in relationships:

  1. Needing to be right
  2. Controlling your partner
  3. Unbridled self-expression
  4. Retaliation
  5. Withdrawal

He points out that you work on a relationship by working on yourself inside the relationship. You can't control the outcome, you can't make your partner change - but you can change yourself. We need to actively shape the relationship, asking the question, "What can I do to make this better?" As he says, "a good relationship isn't something that you have but something that you do" and that you keep doing minute by minute throughout your life.

One comment that will resonate with poly folks: "The most reliable long-term sexual stimulant is the ability to be truthful." (Passion is often the casualty of acquiescence).

His winning strategies in relationship empowerment are:

  1. Shifting from complaint to request
  2. Speaking out with love and savvy
  3. Responding with generosity
  4. Empowering each other
  5. Cherishing

Something my husband Zhahai and I have long thought is vital: "One of the great paradoxes of intimacy is that in order to have a healthy, passionate relationship, you must be willing to risk it." We need to be willing to rock the boat - skillfully.

He acknowledges that monogamy is unnatural, but he thinks open marriage generally doesn't work ("generally" doesn't work - that's probably true, though clearly some of us are making open  relationships work). However, he's not preaching monogamy at us.

There's lots more, and he has some wonderful examples to show us what he's talking about and to keep our interest up. Sure, we've heard a lot of what he has to say from other people, but I find reminders are helpful, and his presentation is entertaining as well as enlightening. He has excellent examples of how he coaches couples to follow the winning strategies.

For the NVCers out there, I found it interesting that he has four steps that are mostly similar, but a little different than the NonViolent Communication way of expressing what you want. The NVC steps are express  a) your observation, b) your feelings, c) your needs which you want to have met, and d) your request. The relationship empowerment steps are report a) the observable behavior, b) the story you made up about it, c) your feelings about it, and d) your request for the future. So instead of talking about your precious needs, you're acknowledging what's going on in your mind. I rather like that. I always had trouble coming up with the "need" that my issue relates to - I got embroiled in questions about what's a real need. However, it's clear that my feelings about an action are directly related to the meaning I attach to it. Acknowledging my story softens the interaction, because I'm reacting to my story, and it can lead me to think more about why I made up that story.

This book is going to go on the top of my list of recommended books on relationships. A must read for those interested in conscious relationships (whether open or monogamous).

2009 by Elaine Cook

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