More than twenty-five years ago, a Unitarian minister named Robert Fulghum published a book with a simple credo: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The book became a best seller; its title became a cultural meme. While it was not overtly a philosophical book, it espoused a philosophy with which we could all identify: life is not really complicated. We all learned at a very early age how to live successfully with other people, but we all seem to have forgotten it as we grew older.
The same philosophy can be applied to marriage, but books on marriage tend to make it complicated. Some cloud marriage in theory with little guidance about how to actually be married; others offer advice without much theoretical basis. Some are based on science and brain research and depict the process of change as deep and complicated, requiring a steep learning curve for the couple.
However, most books on marriage agree on one thing: couples want to be happy and do not know how. And each offers its view of the perilous journey from misery to joy. For some, the reasons for a couple’s unhappiness are located in the intrusion of childhood into their adult relationship, and the couple needs to achieve profound insights into their unconscious urges. Some books go to the other extreme, viewing a difficult relationship as the result of missing relationship skills; they send couples off to a sort of couples camp where they can practice. Ignorance of relationship skills is another possible cause, so couples are advised to take classes together. Pure stubbornness about their willingness to change, or “resistance,” is often cited, so a stint in therapy may be considered necessary. But all couples are counseled by all marriage books that happiness is on the other side of change.