I came from a mother who embraces the "Self-Help" philosophy of improving our lives. Growing up our bookshelves were always filled with volumes citing ways to be healthier, secrets to loving yourself or someone else, practicing Tough Love, coping with alcoholism and how to find happiness. Sometimes I would peruse those books but never really "got" how a book could help you put your life back together or how words had the capability to make you happier. Apparently none of the early versions had the correct information because when my mother gives me books to donate to the library often times there are several current self-help titles among them. She is one of many who want to believe that it could be as easy as reading a book, that one of the books she purchases will finally hold the answer, the secret, the golden ring to happiness and self-actualization.
In college I intently read The Road Less Traveled and People of the Lie. Reviving Ophelia was in there at some point and one semester while dabbling in Women's Studies I found myself deep in Fire in Belly:On Being a Man. I remember reading them and having hope for myself, my future children, and mankind. There is a sense of power and potential you maintain while reading books that are intended to pull you out of your comfort zone. You read and all the while your insides are screaming "I can do this! I can make a difference!" Then you finish the book and that feeling of empowerment slowly leaks out of you because you are not submerged in the message on a daily basis.
And this is where The Love Dare was different.
For 40 days the first thing I did was check my email and receive my assignment for that day. I lived intentionally in my marriage for 40 days. On Day 1 I had to resolve to say nothing negative about my spouse for that day. I tried to take it a step further and vowed to say nothing negative about him for the entire 40 days. I wasn't trying to "one-up" the challenge but I know that I am quick to judge and am often much harder on Vinnie about what I view as his inadequacies than I need to be. To be successful at starting and completing The Dare you had to be honest with yourself, your spouse and your marriage. And that, in my opinion, is a tall order. We get so comfortable in our actions and our words that we assume too much, too often. The Dare forced me out of that plush place and put me into a place of reflection.
Early on in the 40 days it was easy to see that my efforts were worth it. We were communicating better and more frequently, there were few harsh words between us, he was openly appreciative of things he never seemed to notice before and we were happier in general. He had no idea I was participating in The Love Dare but was pleased with this alien that had replaced his short-tempered judgmental wife.
At the end of the 40 days I stopped The Dare even though I knew I should have continued to focus on the main behavior changing components. It was easy to lose focus, to let happy-alien-wife be replaced with demanding-expectant-woman. I noticed, he noticed. I rented Fireproof and we both watched it separately. He wanted to know when I was going to start The Love Dare and when I told him I had already done it I was met with surprise because he had taken for granted the positive changes that were evident a few weeks earlier. Now we ask each other what day we are on and laugh because he has to get past Day 1 before moving on. He claims he doesn't have "the recipe" but I think it may show up in his in-box soon.
Simple changes can do a lot to any relationship but it was obvious that it does take two people to make marriage successful. After all, marriage is a union of two people and it takes the efforts of both to keep it working. The "self-help" business is booming and you can read all you want but if you don't actively make changes to your behaviors and thoughts you aren't going to gain much. As with anything from running a marathon to making a marriage work it is about effort. You won't finish the race if you haven't put in the mileage for months before and you won't be sitting in the Meijer Cafe drinking coffee (Okay, so Vinnie would rather die than sit in the Meijer Cafe but I just love those older couples that I see there!) when you're 80 with your spouse unless you train everyday to make there.