Skills Aren’t Enough

Marriage Minute # 83 Skills Aren’t Enough

From my book, Marriage Minutes, available on

I recently heard a friend mention one those wry bits of wisdom that we all ought to know. He pointed out that when it comes to marriage, or parenting, or work, we certainly do need skills, but good skills are never enough by themselves. “After all”, my friend said, “Thelma and Louise were both good drivers.” As you likely remember, Thelma and Louise end it all with a giant but insufficient leap into the canyon.
If you liked the movie, but want a different and satisfying ending, try the movie “Leaving Normal” with Christine Lahti and Meg Tilly. I think both the movie and the ending are better.
Back to my topic, my friend has a point about the many skills available to a couple that often go unused, even though people know about them. I remember an ald joke about the farmer who was asked why he wasn’t going to the Grange Hall to see the new film about how to be a better farmer. He replied that he already knew how to be a better farmer and wasn’t using what he knew. There has to be some “want-to” in most everything we do, or all the skills in the world won’t help.
Good marriage also requires that we want the right things. While there can be many optional preferences that not ever couple needs, there are some things that we all need. (In fact, we need them if we are single.) Qualities of honesty, genuine respect of others, commitment, and certain other “must-haves” are at the core of good relationships. Yet, many marital problems, and many books about improving marriage are more about moral and ethical issues than they are about mental health or skills. One of the troubling things that we deal with after observing marriages for a while is that many troubled, even violent marriages, are in the mess they are in because of “skills”. By this, I mean skills for manipulating, for confusing their partner, for abusing in cunning ways. A “smarter devil” is a devil just the same.
I’m not recommending any of the imposed sets of rules, or phony role lists that many people place on marriage. Bertrand Russell, in his classic article about Morals and Marriage, warned that moralism and legalism in marriage is used to control other people, rather than build good lives together. And, if you study ethics, you find that few things are really written in stone. What I’m recommending is a love that is both objective and passionate; a love that is dedicated to controlling itself and guiding itself in building a nurturing relationship.
So, let’s don’t put Thelma and Louise in the driver’s seat.

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