Change is possible. One of the biggest changes we need is the courage to engage in conflict rather than run from it, only to have an explosion. In the entirety of my ministry, conflict resolution, or peacemaking, is the most often used skill set used. I discovered the norm for most people is naivety on how to fight clean. If only there was a book that deals with this topic well, is positive, and gives hope. Joe does a masterful job laying out a philosophy and tools to help us engage in conflict.
“The Emotionally Secure Couple: The Key to Everything You Want in a Healthy Relationship” would be best read in order for the first reading. While one can go back and use the book as a reference guide later, each chapter does an excellent job of building to the next. The foundation is built well in the first 13 chapters. Chapters 14 through 22 give you the tools to live out a productive, healthy, and loving way to address inevitable conflicts. Make no mistake, even the foundational chapters are practical in nature. When we change how we think and process things, ultimately our actions will change.
A thing that is great about the book is exercises are given to help make the point of a chapter. Many books I’ve read have these (dreaded) discussion questions at the end of the chapter. Joe hits you with helpful questions or activities in the middle of the chapter. It is refreshing and honestly takes the sting out of books that give questions at the end. This also helps do something that is challenging for a book, it makes you feel like you’re getting a counseling session from the author.
Engagement is a word used often throughout the book. Don’t run. Don’t explode. (Joe uses different terms that challenge the way we view conflict.) Rather than becoming defensive or shutting down, the push in the book is how by engaging we not only resolve the issue, but we actually help the other person become better. Fighting does not have to be messy, it can actually be a time of growth and building a stronger safer marriage. This is different than thinking win-win. It is intentionally helping the other person know they are valued, heard, and secure.
“When we build relational equity, we create a space where bad things can happen but not define the relationship. We create space for a fight to occur and no one has to pay. We move back to a time where differences are celebrated.” Often people hear the term “emotional bank account” for this concept, but that is a little simplistic. It is more knowing the person you love to the extent that when there is an issue, it is safe to be dealt with by both. The book invests significant time explaining emotional equity, but also demonstrating how by fighting clean you actually build on this. This concept is the keystone to the book. The philosophy and the practical tools all hinge on building emotional equity in a marriage.
“It is my belief that any couple can come back from anything. They simply need to learn how to build the most important ingredient into their relationship and answer some basic questions every day.” The book doesn’t come from a perspective of fixing you, but rather equipping you. The power of choice is real and too often ignored. Choice is critical to the book. While there is trauma we may face and need help processing, it does not have to define the decisions we make moving forward. While Joe often challenges conventional wisdom, the challenge actually brings more hope to us rather than slavery to whatever.
“When you engage them by obviously seeking to better understand what exactly it is that they are saying and the emotions that are driving those words, you are telling them by your actions how much you actually love them.”
“Being intentional is the lynchpin that holds everything else together when you are working on building your relationship.“ While this is one of the rules of conflict resolution, it is truly the bottom line of the book. We get out of a relationship what we put into it. If we want our relationships to grow, we must choose to use skills that will build the other up while we are and or frustrated.
While many of my ministry minded people may not like the lack of Bible directly referenced in the book, it is there. The book is not a theology of conflict resolution or marriage. There are plenty of other sources out there. But when applying Peter’s instruction to “Love your wife in an understanding manner,” this book unpacks how to do that. I would highly suggest that while teaching on marriage to use this book to make the love aspect happen.
In pre-marriage counseling one of my key aims is to equip couples to fight clean. This book will be the cornerstone to making that happen. The other aims is to connect them to a counselor for key issues that need to be processed, financial planning, and planning the wedding. Wedding planning often allows couples to immediately practice the conflict resolution skills they’re learning.
Read for your own marriage. No marriage is perfect, and often those of us who help others can struggle to take care of our own family. Read the book. Do the exercises. Fight cleaner than you already are. The approach to the book is refreshing. Too often, especially in church contexts, we go to the honor, love, authority issues in marriage conflict. This neglects when the writer of the Song of Songs says: ‘This is my lover and my friend, in me he finds peace.’
The bottom line:
“The Emotionally Secure Couple: The Key to Everything You Want in a Healthy Relationship” is a must read because it changes the way we view conflict in relationships. It is more than conflict can be good. Joe gives a clear pathway to how you can make it good. This work seeks to change the perception of marriage. In doing so this book is not a shot across the bow, it’s a direct hit. We would be wise to engage and be intentional about changing the narrative around marriage. “The Emotionally Secure Couple: The Key to Everything You Want in a Healthy Relationship” shows us how.