Resolution, Not Conflict

The guide to problem-solving.

Marriage: the Ultimate Collaborative Venture

The power of two in marital partnership can make life great, or miserable.

Note: The following excerpts from The Power of Two by Susan Heitler are from the book's introduction.

I believe in marriage. 

Marriage opens the doors to many of life’s most rewarding blessings, from sharing coffee in the morning to sharing a bed at night.  In my opinion marriage is one of life’s ultimate privileges and the core structure of a stable society.

What exactly is marriage?

Legally it is a partnership contract.  Emotionally, marriage commits you to comingling your lives—side by side, hand in hand, heart to heart.  When you agree to marry, you commit to joining forces for purposes of housing, finances, children, sex, leisure, fostering each other’s realizations as individuals, digesting disappointments, celebrating triumphs—together writing the music of your lives.…

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What is the Power of Two?

In mathematics, when you multiply a number by itself, you raise it to the power of two.  As opposed to addition, where adding a number to itself merely doubles it, raising a number to the power of two causes exponential growth.  For example, 10 + 10 = 20, but 10 x 10 = 100. 

A similar increase happens in marriage.  When two individuals form a lifelong couple partnership, their communal power becomes more than twice what they each held separately.  When two become one in marriage, that union can generate the power source for a life of love, nurturance, strength and joy.

That's why research has shown that married couples in general enjoy more of life's blessings than singles.  Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher summarized this research for their book The Case for Marriage.  Married folks' enjoy better physical health, experience fewer emotional disturbances, rate themselves higher on happiness levels, report more satisfying sexual lives, earn more money, and even live longer lives. 

Interestingly, cohabitating without a marriage or civil union legal status did not confer these blessings.  The research suggests that formalizing a collaboration with a formal marriage contract, like formalizing a business arrangement with a clear partership agreement, benefits people.

Sadly however, the opposite results do emerge in some marriages.  The immense energy unleashed when two join into a couple does not always go to create good.  It can become the power to hurt.  The energy of your interaction as a yoked together twosome can constrict your life, demoralize you, and provoke frustration and resentment instead of love and joy.  Being single can be far more gratifying and healthy than attempting to collaborate and instead deflating each other. How come?

Collaborative attitudes and collaboration skills are essential.

When partners’ attitudes are oriented to both of them wanting the best for each other and also for themselves, the power generated by their union enhances both of their lives.  Attitudes of either excessive altruism (I’m all about you) or narcissistic selfishness (It’s all about me.) by contrast undermine the potential benefits of marital partnership.  

Similarly, spouses need high-level emotional self-regulation, cooperative dialogue and collaborative conflict resolution skills to implement this desire to be both a blessing for each other and personally fulfilled.  Couples with these skills have the highest potential of avoiding the risks of hurting themselves and the other that are inherent in living as a couple.  Marriage is for grown-ups.

Couples with the requisite mature attitudes and skills are most likely to succeed in channeling their relationship energies into building a lovingly shared world.  Fortunately, these skills can be learned.  If you want to be in a loving partnership, and especially a marriage partnership, prepare yourself.  Clarify the attitudes and master the skills you need for marriage success!

As the wise King Solomon long ago wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes,

Two are better than one…

For if one falls, the other will lift him up; but if one falls alone, there is no second to lift him up.

When two lie together, they warm each other; but one alone, how can he keep warm?

If one is attacked, both can stand up against him; and a three-fold cord cannot be quickly broken. 

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Susan Heitler, PhD is a Denver clinical psychologist who specializes in helping couples build collaborative relationships.  Her website poweroftwomarriage.com makes the kinds of work she does with couples in her clinical practice available via the internet in a low-cost, always-available marriage education program.

Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is the author of many books, including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. She is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University.

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