Can the keys to a happy relationship be found in one man's list of tips?
Credit: Troubled relationship photo via Shutterstock
When the newly divorced motivational speaker Gerald Rogers took to Facebook, posting a list of bits of marriage advice he said he wished he had known, his heartfelt advice was heard, liked and shared by thousands of people.
While Rogers' list has certainly struck a chord, experts on marriage and relationships say they have a range of reactions to the advice. While some of the tips on the list are great, they say, others may not hold up very well for some people. What's more, important pieces of the puzzle are absent from the list, they say. [6 Scientific Tips for a Successful Marriage]
LiveScience asked experts to weigh in on Rogers' advice, and to choose which tip from the list they feel is most important. Here's what they said:
A beautiful piece of poetry
Dr. Mark Banschick, a psychiatrist in Katonah, N.Y., and author of "The Intelligent Divorce" (Intelligent Book Press, 2010), said what struck him the most was the poetic beauty of Rogers' realization.
"It's a beautiful statement of how a man can make a woman feel special, and live life in a full way," Banschick said. "We need people like this to inspire us."
Beyond the poetic inspirations, an important part of the advice is Rogers' point about not trying to change your partner, Banschick said.
"It's not your job to change or fix her," Rogers wrote. "Your job is to love her as she is, with no expectation of her ever changing. And if she changes, love what she becomes, whether it's what you wanted or not."
"That's very pragmatic and solid advice for everybody," Banschick said. "Make sure you find the right person — you can't change a person. Marry the right person."
Forgiveness is tricky
Jane Greer, a marriage and family therapist and author of "What About Me? Stop Selfishness from Ruining Your Relationship" (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2010), said she found the majority of Rogers' points terrific.
"He talks about focusing on the positive things, staying in the moment, working on the marriage, being aware that you have to keep the love alive and you can't just take it for granted," Greer said.
But some of the advice, Greer said, needed more clarity; otherwise, it could prevent some couples from truly solving their problems. [I Don't: 5 Myths About Marriage]
For example, Rogers wrote, "Forgive immediately, and focus on the future rather than carrying weight from the past. Don’t let your history hold you hostage."
But Greer said, "Just saying 'forgive' is unreasonable, unrealistic and would perpetuate people's struggling."
For example, in a marriage in which there's been infidelity, lying or hurtful behavior, forgiveness isn't simple, she said. "The expectation that you're just going to forgive somebody and get over it is not only unrealistic, but it can really lead the person who's been wounded by the hurtful behavior to a vulnerable place, and a place that it might happen again."
So, what can people do if they can't find it in themselves to forgive immediately, as Rogers prescribes?
"Forgiveness is the first step," Greer said. "Your partner has to apologize to you, and then you want to be able to say, 'I forgive you, but how are things going to be different?'“ Greer said. The partner who committed the adultery or broke the trust needs to be willing to change, rebuild the trust and make sure it doesn't happen again.
Greer's favorite tip among Rogers' advice is the invitation to "fall in love over and over and over," she said.
"That mindfulness of falling in love again and again, continuing to grow with your partner and fall in love with who they've become. That's what keeps the relationship dynamic," Greer added.
However, not all change is good, or should be tolerated.
"There are things that are simply your bottom line — you can't accept and you can't live with them, and they need to be compromised around," she said.
Learning relationship skills
Denver psychologist Susan Heitler, author of The Power of Two Workbook: Communication Skills for a Strong & Loving Marriage (New Harbinger Publications, 2003) also said Rogers' point about not trying to change your partner was her favorite tip.
However, the point itself is not enough, Heitler said. Most people need to focus inward, looking at what they can do differently in response to problems, and learn the skills for discussing difficulties.
"If both people in a relationship learn skills for talking through conflicts in a cooperative and productive way, both grow and change for the better throughout their years together," Heitler said. "Without the skills, relationships are at risk for a long, gradual, or short and steep, downhill slide."
Heitler also said there's one important piece of advice missing: to focus on good listening.
"The biggest mistake most men make is insufficient listening," she said. "They ignore, they don't take seriously their wife's concerns, or they debate what she says, responding to what they see as wrong and missing the point of what she is trying to convey."
Some men seem to be more interested in being right, or making a better point, than in responding in a helpful way, Heitler said. Research has shown that such men are more likely to get divorced, while a good predictor of a successful marriage is men's "responsivity" — that is, taking the wife's concerns seriously and responding with helpful action, she said.