Improve Your Marriage – Don’t Overlook the Obvious, by Russell A. Irving

Assuming you are married, if someone asked you if you were happily married, what would you say? Would you have to think about it? You just might, if you read Improve Your Marriage – Don’t Overlook the Obvious, by Russell A. Irving.

Published by CreateSpace and released June 6, 2009, Improve Your Marriage – Don’t Overlook the Obvious isn’t like other books designed to improve your marriage. There are no verbose, detailed chapters filled with medical or psychological jargon to confuse you and no complicated exercises for you and your spouse to attempt after the kids have gone to bed and you are exhausted and just want to watch the news. Instead, there are 222 pages of tips and advice, common sense, and tidbits to ponder, all written in a colloquial style. The book is not presented in typical chapters and paragraphs, but each page contains several phrases and ideas designed to provoke ideas and thoughts on improving your marriage. For instance:

“People remember lies much more often than they remember truths.”

“Spouses withdraw into video games and the Internet, when their mate ignores them, or there is no quality, ‘fun’ time together.”

“If you can muster energy for a flaring temper, then you can muster energy for a heated passion.”

This isn’t the type of marriage manual that you will devour in one sitting in an effort to perfect your marriage by tomorrow. You will keep this book on your coffee table. You will come back to it again and again. Your guests will take a look at it and comment on the interesting format and common sensical approach. You and your spouse, or partner, or significant other, will occasionally laugh at how glaringly obvious some of the advice is, and blush at how blunt the guidance pertaining to sexual intimacy is.

I found Improve Your Marriage – Don’t Overlook the Obvious to be a quick, enjoyable read. Initially, I was put off by the uncommon format and the simplicity of the recommendations; it struck me as childlike. Twitter-istic, if you will, intended for those with limited attention spans. But as I continued reading and discussed parts of it with my husband, its value became clear. For most of us, including myself, it is the little things that chip away at you, at your marriage. The truisms presented here are interesting and thought-provoking, even for the happiest of couples, making this an appropriate guidebook for those looking to improve a troubled union, or simply to make a good one better. This book is clearly not designed for those in truly disturbed marriages, grappling with domestic violence or substance abuse.

Intrigued by this book, I took the opportunity to ask Mr. Irving himself some questions about what motivated him to write this book, and his opinion on other marriage-related topics:

What inspired you to write a guide to improve other people’s marriages?

Decades ago, after years in human services and spending time with friends and family, I realized just how many people lacked the basic skills to be happy living a Single Adult life/ being in a relationship. I created and conducted numerous workshops and classes both through adult education programs and independently. Response was phenomenal, and media in multiple states dubbed me an expert in the area. Eventually, I married an incredible woman. (With an incredible story in itself, but that’s for another day and time.) Over our 24 years together and through various career changes, I always found myself paying attention to the relationships of those around me.

During all of the above, I saw and heard people complain about issues in their marriage, often without a positive resolution. I saw people repeating the same behaviors expecting different results. There were some who were afraid to ‘rock the boat’. There were others who wasted much time and money for counseling when all they truly needed was to pay attention to what was going on. There were people over-complicating and over-thinking their issues. And, finally, after seeing just how many married people settled for less of a relationship than they deserved, how many divorced individuals had valuable lessons learned that needed to be shared with those who were still married, the devastating impact of divorce on children, listening to ‘marriage bashers’ receiving great publicity; often those with their own failed marriages and seeing books which were so wordy or which chose one sex as the main ‘villain’ in a marriage, I decided that it was time I stepped up to the plate, again. This time, on behalf of married individuals.

How would a book like this be useful for modern couples today?

There is that trite saying that ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’. Marriage is not that much different today, than in years past. Certainly, the changes in women’s rights, the roles of the sexes at home and at work, the sexual revolution, media messages, and so much more has impacted marriage. Yet, if one looks carefully, they will see that there are still some who want to carry on a ‘traditional’ ’50s or ’60s style life. There are those whose households are very different. Yet, at the root of any marriage are some basic ‘truths’. Most of us never had the opportunity to study relationships in school/college. Many had ‘dysfunctional families’ growing up. (Actually, who didn’t? To some extent?) The format that I chose (see next answer) is probably the largest ‘concession’ to the differences, nowadays.

Your book is a collection of interesting bits of advice, written in a colloquial style. Why not write a book with specific directions on how to improve a marriage?

Deciding upon a format was probably the easiest of the decisions which I made. Too many other guides were so full of fluff, prose, 30-syllable words…that it was easy for readers to become bored or turned-off. And, if there was a point that resounded with them, it was not an easy task to re-find it.

We also live in the age of ‘Headline News’ and Twitter. Of sound bites. Short attention spans and our desire for the ‘bottom-line’ reign supreme. It uses a format found in such NY Times bestsellers such as ‘1,001 Ways To Be Romantic’ or ‘Life’s Little Instruction Book’. Few sentences. Powerful, common sense, often over-looked advice. Finally, and most importantly, I know that a huge stumbling block for couples in resolving issues is all of the ‘distractions’ afforded by extraneous action/information. Think of it this way, Seana. There have been countless books written about topics covered in the Ten Commandments. (The ones in the Bible.) Yet, don’t the single sentences of the original, say it all?

Would your advice in Improve Your Marriage, Don’t Overlook the Obvious, work for couples that live an alternative lifestyle? Would gay, lesbian or transgendered couples benefit from your advice as well as heterosexual couples? Why or why not?

Absolutely! In the Foreword to IMPROVE YOUR MARRIAGE – DON’T OVERLOOK THE OBVIOUS and in the Q&A section, I mention that there are many types of relationships. That there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all advice or advice that applies at all times in people’s lives. People are people. I do not expect that everything offered will apply to everyone. That said, in all committed relationships, there are basic types of roles which the individuals play. Having worked with and having had gay and lesbian friends, over the decades, I believe the book could prove valuable to anyone, including transgendered couples.

Where did you get most of the advice you presented? How much of it was taken from your own experiences and marriage?

Contrary to what many folks might believe, Seana, it took a good year to write the book. Amazing some might say, considering the brevity of the advice. But, did you ever try to summarize a major situation into 1, 2, or 3 sentences only? It is not an easy task, by any means. That said, the advice truly came from decades of listening to and observing those at workshops, classes, at work, ‘eavesdropping’ on those nearby at a restaurant or a bus or a party, or…much either came from or was reinforced by my own marriage.

I am so lucky to have My Bride of 24+ years! Does that mean that we do not have arguments or complaints? No! But, it does mean that we work through them. Sometimes better than at other times. And, that Seana, is part of the beauty of IMPROVE YOUR MARRIAGE – DON’T OVERLOOK THE OBVIOUS. Its format allows one to easily find something that probably applies to a given situation, currently being faced. And, it is not a substitute for those who truly do need professional counseling.

Have you ever had a reader express an opinion that your advice seems geared toward one sex or the other?

No, to be honest. In fact, I attempted to be very careful as to avoid pronouns of ‘he’ or ‘she’. (However, I do believe that there is one which specifically mentions a man and one which specifically mentions a woman. Out of 500+ segments, I believe that is an ‘extremely positive ratio’.) I have had multiple non-traditional jobs in my life. I realize that relationship roles are so specific to a given couple, that to make the advice gender-specific was not going to be very helpful. And, I have witnessed too many instances of a spouse admitting to having feelings which are normally attributable to the other gender.

Do you think that the parts of the book that deal with sex and sexual desire could be interpreted as an oversimplification of what is often a very difficult and complicated part of marriage for a lot of people?

In my Q&A section, Seana, I discuss the amount of attention paid to sex, sexual desire, and other physical/ romantic expressions of intimacy. Most people would probably agree that the person they married was not their platonic ‘Best Friend’. Yet, for so many couples, typically after financial stress, sexual issues are the largest source of tension, unhappiness, anger, and that said, and knowing that I truly believe that most issues in a marriage have, at their heart, very easily explained problems and solutions. I do believe that many of those people who wish to maintain the status quo in this area, regardless of the costs to themselves, their partner, and relationship will find one excuse or another to dismiss what is offered.

I have heard both men and women complain that they are too tired, or their spouse doesn’t know what to do to please them, or that they have a disability, or that one of them is too fat, or too old, or too…But, ultimately, regardless of the validity of the stands taken, there are truly fairly simple ‘answers’ to problems involving sex/ physical intimacy.

Now, Seana, ‘simple’ does not mean ‘easy’. So I do not pretend that implementing these will be a piece of cake or transform a marriage instantly, as if one was making instant oatmeal. But, one needs to begin, ‘somewhere’. And, isn’t sexual or other physical intimacy, something beautiful? And a ‘great reward’ that one can allow oneself to enjoy with that person whom they have committed to share their life and dreams with?

Can you share a success story that your book inspired?

I remember when I gave the book to a man who was in his second marriage. After asking for feedback, he said that one night, he and his wife were thumbing through it. Sort of chuckling at places, as to how simple and logical much of it was. Then, he said, there were some things that opened discussion for them. Things that were not causing major problems. But, they then realized just how much they meant to one or another of them. And then, how by making little changes, the quality of their normal, ‘up-and-down’, ‘basically-good-marriage’, improved. He had thought that only couples having major problems would need a book designed to improve a marriage. The book is written so that couples from newlyweds, to those who were previously married, to those who have been together for decades, could all derive some benefit from it.

What can we expect from your next book? Is there a next book in the works?

Yes, there is a ‘next book’. Actually, several. But, I have asked readers to go to our website, and share their experiences (both positive and negative) through our various related websites. Or, to send them to us by mail, at Express Yourself, P.O. Box 603002, Providence, RI 02906.

Because I do not believe that ‘one-size-fits-all’, I acknowledge that there will be some-to-many folks who would benefit, even more, by reading the experiences of others. So that I intend to intersperse, relevant submissions, alongside the 500+ segments in the book, and create an ‘expanded version’, if you will.

If I may, add the following…Marriage, regardless of the genders involved, can be an incredible experience. And, at any point in time, the quality of the relationship can be improved. And, all of the ‘little things’, as well as the ‘major issues’ do add-up. And, have an impact. I know that people, far too often, overlook ‘the obvious’ when it comes to diagnosing what is wrong and choosing a solution. It is my hope to help reduce that number.