Fans of “Just the Way You Are,” Billy Joel’s 1978 Grammy-winning Song and Record of the Year, listen up: Steven Craig has some relational advice for you.
“Don’t go changing to try and please me [… ] I need to know that you will always be / the same old someone that I knew.” Both outlooks, Craig says, forecast doom when it comes to managing your love life.
Read more new and notable nonfiction in February.
In this provocative relationship guide, The 6 Husbands Every Wife Should Have, the Michigan-based clinical psychologist, corporate coach and radio host offers numerous tips, quizzes and exercises to help couples negotiate what he identifies as the six stages of relationships and shifting roles for each partner.
Drawing on nearly 20 years of counseling experience, Craig offers several insights that fly in the face of conventional relationship views, among them: traumatic events often strengthen relationships; you can and should seek to change many things about your spouse; avoid compromises; and perhaps his most pivotal conclusion: “Most marriages don’t fail because people change, they fail because people don’t change.”
We were anxious to speak with this couples-therapy specialist to learn what prompted such controversial theories.
You’re a busy man. What made you decide to write a book?
I’ve always wanted to write a book, but after working with enough couples, I kept seeing the same things over and over again: people coming in and saying, “Well, the problem with our relationship is that he changed or she changed.” And of course, I’ve always said we should change, and that’s a core part of this book.
People would sort of argue with me—“No, no, the problem is that he changed, and you shouldn’t change.” We marry somebody, and we don’t want him or her to change. That’s a major flaw in the way we look at relationships. We think change is either impossible or bad, and I’ve always thought it imperative: we have to change and grow.
As I saw more and more of this resistant mentality I thought this is a message people need to know because our divorce rate is terrible, relationships continue to suffer on all fronts, and maybe a core issue is that we’re going about it the wrong way. Maybe if we start from the perspective that changing is a part of it, we could lower our divorce rate and improve our relationships. So that’s where I got the idea.
So where does our resistance to change come from? Is it a distinctly American phenomenon?
I don’t think it’s an American phenomenon—I think it’s a human phenomenon, and its causes are twofold. I think we’re afraid to change as people because there’s so much unknown with change, and society reinforces it. Society has created the resistance because we’re all so afraid to change that we spread the message Don’t change, and it becomes ingrained in the way we look at ourselves and our relationships.
Now, in many ways we’re taught that you’ve arrived when you’ve reached adulthood, like all your changing and growing don’t occur until you’re an adult, and then you get married and you have kids—whatever the standard thing is—and then you’re done.
So between those messages lurks the idea that you shouldn’t change anymore. We get that message repeatedly. People get married and say, “I love you just the way you are—don’t ever change,” and we think that’s a good thing. But if you and your spouse haven’t changed in 10 years, you have a real problem.
Do you feel any extra pressure to have your house and relationship in order when doling out advice of this nature?
Actually that’s a great question. I don’t feel any pressure at all because part of the core of this book is that we make mistakes. We are all flawed, which is why we change and grow. Some things we do are selfish or immature. We make all sorts of major and minor mistakes all the time, and I know that I’m not perfect.
It’s people who think that they can’t change, that they’re not flawed, that there’s one way of doing things, who end up getting into deeper trouble. I’ve made mistakes; I’m going to continue to make mistakes, and it’s my job as I make mistakes to change and grow and figure things out. Relationships aren’t static, and neither am I. So I don’t have that undue pressure.
Another fascinating observation you make is that the person with the weakest coping skills tends to dominate the relationship. Is that something you’ve known for a long time?
Years. There isn’t a textbook that says this, but it’s its own book right there. It’s another realization that comes from years of listening to and observing couples and groups working around the least functional person, who’s controlling everything. It’s sort of an a-ha moment I had along the way.
So much of this is applicable in more than just relationships—it applies to families, in business, in schools. However we’re working in our lives, embrace change and recognize when you’re the one who’s not changing or adapting, and realize that you’re sinking the ship.
You seem to take a pretty bleak view of love: “When we fall in love, we believe we’re falling in love with a person, but we really fall in love with the sense of security, oneness, and deep connection that we hope this person will bring us someday […] relationships built solely on love are usually doomed.” Are you a fan of Valentine’s Day?
Yes, I love Valentine’s Day. I am a giant fan of love. Love is what makes the world go round. It’s what pulls us together and gets the whole machine started. Even Valentine’s Day is a great example of how we celebrate love.
The problem is we can’t get married just based on love. We put everything in the love bucket rather than thinking love is what gets us started and how we then build a relationship is based on all the things we do after we’re in love.
All those people out there we know who are getting divorced, they were once in love, too, so there has to be something more. That’s why I say love gets it started, but it’s the changes we make, our experiences of maturing and growing together, that reignite the love over and over again.
Erika Rohrbach spends her days helping international students at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and her nights and weekends in northern New Jersey.