“Why didn’t I think of that?” is my response to Judson Swihart’s How Do You Say, “I Love You?” (InterVarsity). This 95-page book is fantastic in its depth and simplicity. Men and women say “I love you” and hear “I love you” in different ways. It is almost as if a man speaks German while his wife speaks French. Thus, no matter how much they say, “I love you,” the other has difficulty getting the message.
How do we solve this problem? “It is the primary task of every marriage partner to discover the languages that are used and then to learn to effectively use these languages to communicate feelings and attitudes of love” (p. 14). It seems so simple, so obvious; but there are couples who are screaming “I love you” to their partners and never getting through because they do not understand how the other person needs to receive love. “Love expressed is not sufficient. It must be heard to have any meaning. If it lands on deaf ears, it is ineffective” (p. 16). When partners speak different love languages both feel hurt and neglected, not because they are not loved but because they do not know how their spouse says, “I love you.” This book is intended to help both parties speak the same language.
Swihart has written a fine book. Out of the hundreds of new books being published on marriage and family themes, how do you determine what has potential?
The best marriage and family authors are seminar leaders and conference speakers. This is the first criterion I use in selecting good books on marriage and family. After that I look for books by previously published authors—although two of these wrote bombs this time around. Finally, I want a book that deals in depth with a specialized aspect of marriage or family living as Swihart’s does. These criteria narrow the field for me as I examine the publishers’ latest attempts to woo my dollars.
I detect certain trends from a score of books I received as a representation of what was published over a twelve-month period. First, there is a mild tendency to use ideas developed by other authors without giving them credit. I particularly noted some authors who drew from Norman Wright’s publications without giving him credit. This ought not to be.
Second, husband and wife teams are writing more books (Mace, Miles, Mayhall, Christenson). This has its comic aspects. Jack and Carole Mayhall each wrote exactly seventeen chapters. Women’s lib will have truly arrived only when each writes according to his/her ability without having to be concerned about numerical equality.
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Increasingly, marriage and family books are in manual format. Users are not only to read the books but to write in them. Extensive assignments are often given. This is an excellent trend because simply reading without doing often leaves a person with the knowledge that something is wrong, but no insight into how to correct it.
One of the more pleasant trends is the move away from the extreme positions of women’s liberation/male headship. Increasingly, people recognize that whether the husband is the head or a partner, his role is described by loving service to the rest of the family.
Finally, there is an almost overwhelming rehash of material treated more effectively in earlier books. The latest is not necessarily the best, advertisements to the contrary notwithstanding.
The manual format is exemplified by two of the best recent books. What do you do When You Don’t Agree (Herald) author James Fairfield asks. Is conflict good or bad for a marriage? Ever since publication of The Intimate Enemy counselors have said that conflict is neutral. Our methods of dealing with conflict are either good or bad. Conflict, properly handled, is an effective means of growth. In fact, some would go so far as to say that conflict resolution is the primary way we grow in interpersonal relationships.
Given this basic attitude, Fairfield teaches people how to fight—effectively. The principles for fighting are drawn from a wide variety of sources. Little in this book is original, but it is original for a Christian to put this material in one book. Others allude to the value of conflict resolution, particularly Norman Wright, but no one else has yet put together the material on fighting into a Christian context. Regrettably, the book is frustrating to read. The chapters are too short, often only 3–4 pages. While the author knows well the literature on conflict resolution, he has not organized it well. Nonetheless, because of its manual format, much good could come from working through it. It would be a particularly valuable tool in counseling a person who does not know how to handle conflict.
The patriarch and matriarch of American marriage enrichment have created another gem using the manual format, How To Have a Happy Marriage (Abingdon). David and Vera Mace challenge, “We are even prepared to guarantee that any normal couple can improve their relationship if they will faithfully follow our directions.” They follow this with a manual “meant to be written in” that gives a six-week, self-help program for marriage enrichment.
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How good is your marriage? A chapter is devoted to helping you assess your level of adjustment. Do you communicate well with your spouse? A chapter teaches you how to improve your communication. Is your fighting effective or destructive? The Maces suggest a pattern for conflict resolution that will help you grow through fighting.
At the end of each chapter is an assignment. The first half of the assignment is for a two-hour session each Saturday during the six-week period. In addition the couple use a tool developed in marriage encounter called ten and ten. Each day they write down their thoughts about the marriage relative to the subject under discussion. Then they share what they have written. Eventually this procedure becomes oral rather than written.
Improperly handled anger destroys people and marriages. The Maces propose a three-step process for dealing with anger. First, admit it. Second, promise the other person you will not attack him/her because of your anger. Finally, work with the other person to resolve your anger. This means that the whole focus of the interaction is resolution of the problem creating the anger. This is so different from attacking the other person—the way most people handle anger in a marriage.
Other recent books contain chapters or ideas worth mentioning. Linda Dillow in Creative Counterpart (Nelson), for example, shows women how to establish priorities for their lives with a “Priority Planner.” At the same time her chapter on being sexually available for your husband is exceptionally good. Many women would object that their husbands would take advantage of them if they were always available. Dillow counters, “Someone who bangs on the door forty times when it is locked only knocks once if you open right away.” Dillow presents sexual freedom without farce.
Every woman who becomes a Christian before her husband should create a plan to win him to Christ suggests Godfrey Exel in Live Happily with the Woman You Love (Moody). Similarly, John Lavender in Your Marriage Needs Three Love Affairs (Accent) says that a man will come to Christ only when he sees the benefits for himself. The woman who becomes less of a wife because she is now a Christian will have difficulties winning her husband. These two books speak to a neglected area of evangelism as part of their total presentation.
Ralph Martin, with Husbands, Wives, Parents, Children (Servant), offers a traditional book on marriage that is almost nineteenth-century—except that he has learned that leadership and servanthood are synonymous in New Testament thought. He writes with refreshing candor that the foundation for Christian marriage is a growing Christian life where the fruit of the Spirit is evident. Whereas he says nothing new (apart from his emphasis on communal living) his book radiates a spirit of godliness and Christian commitment rarely communicated in print.
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The Christian Couple (Bethany Fellowship) by Larry and Nordis Christenson contains much of value, but it is so mixed with questionable material that I cannot recommend it. I am particularly concerned that the Christensons advocate “natural” contraception. In an extended chapter they suggest that couples should not use “artificial” means of contraception but should use the woman’s natural cycle. For them this might have been successful (although their family would have been much larger had it not been for miscarriages), but it would place an unbearable burden on many families. Besides, I seriously question whether most couples would be able to handle the complicated figuring necessary to follow this method.
Most parents today have given over the task of child rearing to the professionals (psychologists, physicians, social workers) writes Christopher Lasch in Haven in a Heartless World (Basic). As a result, children have lost all respect for authority because they never learned to follow authority at home. Nonetheless they still submit to authority most of the time because this is the easiest thing to do. Parents need to reestablish their authority in the home. Although he suggests no ways to accomplish this, his basic thesis is needed. Being a parent is too important a task to give to the professionals.
Marriage is a business writes Paul Hauck. In Marriage Is a Loving Business (Westminster) he proposes that people are only happy in a marriage when they think they are getting as much as they are giving. He suggests that many marriages would be happier if each partner spelled out for his/her spouse exactly what he/she considers a minimum level of acceptable behavior. He is right. But marriages based primarily on this idea would simply be the association of two very selfish people. Maybe that is better for some, however, than an unsatisfying association of two selfish people.

G. Douglas Young is founder and president of the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. He has lived there since 1963.

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