In Discovering a Dynamic Marriage, author Joy Peterson answers upfront the first burning question readers will have: “Why another book on improving your marriage?” Joy understands this question, having read countless books on marriage during the quarter century she has been a practicing psychotherapist and more than thirty years as a wife. And she rightfully asks, “How can it be that even after the millions of words written on the subject, the divorce rate still stands at 50 percent, as it has for the past half-century?”
Joy notes that even couples of faith fail in marriage just as frequently as others. In fact, she developed the Discovering a Dynamic Marriage program first at her own church when it became overwhelmed with the need for couples counseling. With a few other longtime married couples, Joy embarked on creating a program to fit the needs of couples, and this book naturally grew out of the program. Now, even if readers can’t personally take the Discovering a Dynamic Marriage course, they can benefit from Joy’s wisdom and experience by reading this book together. Because of the exercises included, Joy recommends each person in the relationship have his or her own book so they can work through it together.
Perhaps the most significant part of this book is it builds toward asking couples to write a relationship agreement. The book is then divided into twelve chapters, each one devoted to a different aspect of that agreement as it relates to a relationship. The chapters include Values & Vision, Partnership & Collaboration, Health & Fitness, Spiritual & Religious, and several more. Couples must come to agreement on all of these areas, such as when will each member of the couple exercise so the children are watched, and it is fair to both members, or what values will they share and agree to pass on to their children. Joy states regarding the Values clause, “If the Values clause of the agreement is to have any real power, mutual accountability is key to its success. One of the rules you will need to adopt is a pact that each partner is responsible to point out agreement violations. Explore together what form accountability will take.” A relationship can only work if people are in agreement, and most relationship problems come from people making assumptions or not stating what they want in the relationship, so I think Joy is both wise and practical in having couples work on writing down their relationship agreement to make sure they really are on the same page.
I especially appreciated the many examples and stories in the book used to illustrate the points made. Joy reveals how sometimes people are blindsided in a relationship because of assumptions. For example, she tells the story of a woman who announced that she wanted a divorce, even though her husband clearly loved her. When the situation was explored, it turned out she felt unappreciated because he never bought her what she asked for on her birthday or Christmas. That might seem somewhat trivial to some, but it serves as an example of how unstated expectations and unwarranted assumptions on both the wife and husband’s parts can cause problems in the relationship.
Joy also offers a list of “Rules and Guidelines” for a successful and transformative experience. I found many of these rules to be surprising but always true and often brilliantly insightful. Just a few of these are:
— Nobody wins unless everybody wins, and never at the expense of another.
— Honesty involves telling your truth in this moment, relevant to this discussion, not a hidden past.
— Miracles can be a slight shift in perspective—understanding from another’s viewpoint.
In this short review, I can’t mention everything about Discovering a Dynamic Marriage, but I’ll close by saying I found many helpful surprises in the book. I especially thought the discussion on parenting was valuable, and the final chapter on extended family and friends is usually overlooked in other marriage books. Joy makes a good point that the in-laws, grandparents, stepparents, and even best friends are all involved to some degree in the marriage and help to determine its success and failure, so couples need to be clear about how their relationship exists within all these extended relationships.
If you’ve read all the other marriage books and not found them helpful, then Discovering a Dynamic Marriage may well be the answer you need, provided you and your spouse are willing to commit to doing the work, and if you haven’t read any other books, you would do well to begin with this one.
For more information about Joy Peterson and Discovering a Dynamic Marriage, visit the author’s website.