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I is for Imagination

Initially, I planned to write about Integrity. The word gets thrown around a lot in conversations about good behavior. 

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Initially, I planned to write about Integrity. The word gets thrown around a lot in conversations about good behavior. But I don’t tend to use it that way. It’s too preachy. When I talk about Integrity, I typically use it the same way architects use it: to mean whole,undivided, and sound in construction.

This would have been an easy direction to go given that the Gottman Method features its own architectural metaphor, the Sound Relationship House. The SRH derives its integrity from the twin pillars of trust and commitment. Without these, Dr. Gottman suggests, the “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” won’t work. I would have argued that it’s just as important for you to have personal integrity – a sound internal construction – as it is for you to have relationship integrity. But that would have been too preachy. 

So I turned my attention toward Intent. Intentionality is an essential ingredient of a healthy relationship. When intentionality fades, couples drift into that “ships in the night” stage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard couples tell me they feel more like roommates than lovers. 

I tell them to do something… anything. It doesn’t have to be therapy, but it helps. Maybe just pick up the Seven Principles book and give the exercises a try. It doesn’t have to be a standing date night, but that helps. You could learn a new game together – this one is my favorite recommendation. Commit to Spaghetti Sunday or Wine Wednesday or MONday is FUNday. Pick a show to binge on together. It almost doesn’t matter what you do, just do it on purpose. 

I don’t need 750 words to talk about Intent, so I considered writing about Infidelity. But then I’d need a lot more than 750 words. Intercourse. That’s a stretch. Individuation. Snore.Ignorance. It’s bliss. Check. In-laws. Another time. Ultimately, I was stuck without the right word heading into a family vacation to Disney World.

Have you ever considered the power of Imagination? Walt Disney did. And he discovered that power was limitless. The Disney parks are a testament to idea that there is no such thing as no such thing. Talking mouse? Sure. Sleeping Beauty’s castle in southern California? Why not? Build a Walt Disney World in central Florida? You bet. And let’s make sure that everyone who visits has an experience they could only call magical.

Entire theses have been written about the Disney philosophy and business model. I won’t attempt to explore those here. I’ll just say that wandering around Walt Disney World, I was constantly in awe of the power of imagination. Often enough it was some detail or presentation at the parks themselves. Just as often it was the astonishment on my daughter’s face or the laughter in her voice. For just a few days we forgot that we were real people living in a real world. We were Treasured Guests at the Happiest Place on Earth. 

I am, of course, a champion of trust and commitment in a marriage, and I believe they are required for making marriage work. That said, I really do think at least two other pillars are required. The first is Hope, which I won’t expand here except to say that a couple with even a grain of hope has a chance. Imagination is also required.

I believe, as Dr. Gottman has suggested, that marriage is a creative endeavor. Whenever two people come together in a relationship, they are creating a brand new culture. Genesis says that in a marriage, two become one. That process requires some creative math. The top floor of the Sound Relationship House invites couples to create shared meaning. ALL creative endeavors require imagination.

In a marriage, imagination is a willingness to believe that your relationship can be different than your parents’ or even different than than your own relationship six years ago. Or six months ago. For engaged couples, it’s the active dreaming about what their relationship will be on the other side of the altar. For couples in distress, it’s a chosen conviction (aka Hope) that the relationship can be better than it ever was before. For you it might simply be MONday is FUNday.

In any case, you have to be willing to expand your thinking and to risk believing there is no such thing as no such thing. Your marriage can have integrity with trust and commitment, hope and imagination. Start today by planning that one thing you never thought you could, or would. Find a therapist. Go to a Magic Kingdom. Do something. Anything. Imagine the possibilities. 

*On a totally different note, but because I know you’re interested in “marriage,” I want you to read Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross. It’s a complicated but ultimately satisfying novel aboutintegrity and intent and imagination in a marriage or three. It was the perfect read for my vacation, except that I finished it too quickly and now I’m without a book. When you finish it, email me at [email protected] or Tweet me @kzbrittle. I want to talk about it with you.

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Zach Brittle is a Certified Gottman Therapist, best selling author of The Relationship Alphabet, and host of the highly-rated podcast Marriage Therapy Radio. He has a private practice in Seattle, WA and offers online coaching to couples across the country. He he has been happily married to his wife for 20 of 21 years. Together they have two daughters, a minivan, and most of the silverware they received at their wedding.

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