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What's your marriage stage?

Learn how to build a stronger, healthier bond with your partner.
/ Source: TODAY

In “7 Stages of Marriage,” Dr. Rita M. DeMaria and Sari Harrar offer advice, quizzes and exercises to help you understand your relationship and the natural stages of marriage. Here's an excerpt:

Introduction Go to a party and observe the couples in a room, and chances are you’ll have a difficult time telling which ones have struggling marriages. But knowing which ones are happy is downright easy. It’s right there, in the smiles, the glances, the body language. It’s there in the way they listen to each other, or stay close to each other, or tend to each other’s needs. It’s there in the way that other people are drawn to them, as if the couple’s good fortune and joy is a contagious condition others would gladly catch.

When we observe a truly happy couple, walking hand in hand, talking, laughing, flirting, it naturally touches our heart. Seeing successful marriages gives us all hope; it reminds us that much more than a successful career, a pretty house, or impressive vacations, the best thing in life remains a deeply shared and lasting love.

The Seven Stages of Marriage is not simply a book about the ups and downs, pushes and pulls of marriage over a couple’s lifetime together. This is a book about hope. Hope, mostly, that each of us can achieve the joys and benefits that a good marriage can provide. But also hope that as a social institution, marriage is not decaying, as so many pundits would tell you.

We acknowledge that their evidence is compelling: The divorce rate in America, at roughly 50 percent, is depressingly high. The number suggests that the majority of the people who are married are generally unhappy, secretly wishing for an alternative, more fulfilling, and free lifestyle. If this is true, they note, then surely marriage is an institution that has passed its prime.

We don’t buy it. And neither do tens of millions of happily married American couples. When Reader’s Digest surveyed 1,001 people about all aspects of their marriage, the results were a welcome respite from all the negativism. These people — a statistically valid cross-section of married adults of all ages, backgrounds, and locations — gushed far more than they griped. They reported that their marriages are very important in their lives, and that the pleasures of matrimony far outweigh the hassles. While certain stereotypes still hold true — Husbands, can’t you clean a little more? Wives, can’t you communicate a little more directly? — many “truisms” about marriage are actually fallacies. Marriage can be fun, adventurous, freeing, and stimulating. So they told us, at all ages and stages.

Of course, we need to be realistic. Since marriage today is less obligatory than it once was, and with divorce so readily attainable, one could argue that those who stay married are naturally more happy with their decision and lifestyle. And the research makes clear that all marriages have at least some challenges and points of tension. But in writing this book — a process that included incalculable amounts of reading, interviewing, studying, and observing — the emotion that kept coming forth was hope. At every stage of marriage, the difference between war and peace, misery and joy, tears and laughter, is often not that large. Listening better, enjoying each other a little more, showing more compassion — these are not brutally hard changes to make. But their benefits can be larger than you can imagine.

We made sure that there are many things in The Seven Stages of Marriage that distinguish it from other books on marriage. The first is the obvious: the seven stages themselves. We believe these stages capture the evolutionary path of a relationship more succinctly and accurately than any previous such attempt. More important, we believe our core message — that the joys and issues of marriage are distinct at each stage, and need to be handled in ways appropriate to the stage — represents a new paradigm in how we counsel and improve marriages. Intuitively, that makes sense. And yet it is surprising how so many of us treat marriage as a steady state, without growth or change or evolution. Living day to day to day causes that — it’s hard to see change when life plays out in such a slow and steady flow. This book will open your eyes to how much your relationship has and will evolve, and why being sensitive to that is crucial to the contentment you seek.

There are many other new ideas here, as well as several “aha!” moments. For example, the incredibly important role of laughter in a marriage, and the decreasing importance of sex. (Yes, sex is still important, but it is far less of an issue to most couples than some experts would have you believe.) We’ve also worked very hard at coming up with quizzes, exercises, and advice that will both surprise and delight you. First, because they are fresh and new, and second, because they are so easy to do!

Finally, you will meet a wonderful cast of characters as you read. More than 1,000 married couples shared with us their insights, frustrations, and stories in the making of this book. Their comments and observations, which are spread throughout, are bound to touch your heart and stimulate your mind.

The Seven Stages of Marriage is not a relationship repair book — though if that is how you use it, it will do the job wonderfully. It is a road map to greater happiness, no matter what stage you are in, no matter how blissful or melancholy your relationship is today. You will learn about why your marriage has progressed as it has, as well as where it might go. Most of all, we believe it will give you hope that the joy, passion, and love that brought you to marriage in the first place are not only sustainable, but ready to grow anew with just a little tending. Be open, give our advice a try, and enjoy the journey!

Sari Harrar

Rita DeMaria, Ph.D.

Excerpted from “7 Stages of Marriage: Laughter, Intimacy and Passion Today, Tomorrow, Forever,” by Rita M. DeMaria and Sari Harrar. Copyright © 2006 by Rita M. DeMaria and Sari Harrar. All rights reserved. Published by . No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.