Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review: "Finding the Love of Your Life" by Neil Clark Warren


I have long thought about how relationships are broken in America. Divorce rates are ridiculously high. Pretty much every one of my friends who’s been in a relationship has had their heart torn from their chest by a breakup or cheating. It is clear to me that we (America) are doing something wrong. And so I am always happy to hear out proposed solutions to our problems.

“Finding the Love of Your Life” by Dr. Warren proposes a solution. There are a billion relationship books out there, but this one is unique. Or at least its author is unique. After writing this book, Warren went on to use his principles to start the most successful marriage match-making site to date: eHarmony.com. 5% of US marriages are arranged by eHarmony. That’s 542 marriages PER DAY (Ref 1). So what does he say?

Summary

The big idea, as I read it, is that marriage is successful if the match is well-chosen. The book is well summarized by Warren’s statement on the back cover, “Here is a startling fact: The selection you make of a marriage partner may well have more to do with the quality of your marriage than everything you do after getting married.” Warren, a psychologist, relates his feelings about a couple who fell in love and wants to spend the rest of their lives together, “What? Do you know what ‘the rest of your lives’ means?” (9).

The first chapter talks about pitfalls of a partner: don’t marry too young (<28 years old), too quickly (<2 years of dating), with too much eagerness, with unrealistic expectations; don’t get married for someone else (i.e. a parent); don’t get married without seeing all of a person’s life; don’t marry someone with ‘personality problems.’

The later chapters mostly discuss criteria for mate selection. “Find a Person to Love Who Is a Lot Like You” (47) is a critical chapter, one on which eHarmony was largely built. He compares similarities to assets and differences to liabilities, “For couples, similarities are like money in the bank, and differences are like debts they owe” (49). In the last part of the chapter, he identifies 50 preferences ranging from heavy “Life goals” to superficial, “Temperature of home during the day and night,” and the more of these that are in common, the better (61).

 Some of the chapters are less-intuitively titled, but identify characteristics that are important for success in marriage. One characteristic, being “healthy,” is important for both partners; both partners need to have a sense of inner security, a respect for the truth, the ability to collect and weigh all the information, and then can make authentic decisions.

Warren argues that while dating, it’s important to develop passionate love (I think he’s talking about eros). It made me very happy when Warren quoted Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes to explain this kind of love: “First, your heart falls into your stomach and splashes your innards. All the moisture makes you sweat profusely. This condensation shorts the circuits of your brain, and you get all woozy. When your brain burns out altogether, your mouth disengages and you babble like a Cretin until she leaves” (79). He believes that sex itself should wait until marriage, but that the passion is essential before it. He then explains that you also need something else, ‘compassionate love’ to maintain the relationship when the passionate love wanes (I think he’s talking about agape here). You need “…a strong bond including tender attachment, enjoyment of the other’s company, and friendship” (92). They need to be selfless in their love for each other, but must recognize that this cannot involve losing one’s own self in the relationship. He also identifies skills in conflict resolution as important in successful marriage (115).

In chapter 9, Warren argues for the importance of marriage and commitment, “I am convinced that our society’s fundamental problem is the breakdown of the traditional family. And I’m further convinced that the family will never be structurally sound again until we begin to take seriously all that is involved in commitment” (132). Almost as if he lost a wrestling match with himself, he admits, “In the final analysis, and not without a major struggle within me, I believe that love is a decision. I admit that it is tough to have to exert willpower and determination to love someone,” and then brings this around to his thesis, “It is so much easier when love flows naturally.”

--> On to "Critique"

2 comments:

  1. My mother and step father fought endlessly about the house and car temperatures. I'm not sure if agreement on the thermostat is #1 on my list of partner requirements, but I do vow to only settle down with a man who understands that you can layer when you're cold, but you can only de-layer so much when it's hot. Air conditioning and heater compromise ensues.

    So he believes in waiting til marriage for sex. Are sex-related questions part of his eHarmony initial "quiz" for matching? Or does he just recommend crossing your fingers for the next two years and hoping to God that your partner is really into communicating and learning?

    With regards to relationships falling apart in America, does he mention anything about the changes shown from decade to decade and the influence of religion or increasing lack of/gain of, etc. on the increasing breakdown of marriage? That would be interesting. I'd like to see what he has to say about that. Adding to the list! :)

    Thanks for sharing the review David!

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  2. Perhaps I'm the strange one. I've heard temperature is a really important factor for people. But this is a new problem: we didn't have heaters/AC 100 years ago. Did marriages work back before we had air conditioners and heaters? In adding a comfort, we have added strife.

    I'm almost certain sex questions are on the initial survey. I think everyone hopes that their partner is into communicating :) "About what?" is the question :P

    He doesn't talk about it, but Sociologist Bradley Wright has an excellent series on divorce and religion: http://bit.ly/ifcdf6 (and, if you're interested, a great one on sex and religion: http://bit.ly/hHLM91)

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