Elizabeth Weil Author of the new book, No Cheating, No Dying: I had a good marriage. Then I tried to make it better., Elizabeth Weil, discusses the process of trying to make her good marriage great. BY STEVE COOPER
Images Courtesty of Scribner, Illustration by Steve Cooper
Elizabeth Weil, author of the new book, "No Cheating, No Dying"
“ I think marriage is intensely private for people and so we donít talk about it with each other, with our friends and family the same way we might talk about issues with raising children.”
MARRIAGE STATS Married: 11 years Kids: 2 Notable: Elizabeth Weil is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. Her husband, Dan, is also a writer, and they had a good marriage. Then, Elizabeth decided she wanted to put as much focus and attention on her marriage as she had in the other aspects of her successful life. So for a year Elizabeth and Dan attended marriage education classes, went to therapy, read marriage self-help books and much more. Elizabeth has craftily weaved the story of their relationship and the journey of their last year of marriage in her new book, No Cheating, No Dying: I had a good marriage. Then I tried to make it better.
 When you first thought of improving your marriage, how did you decide where your marriage needed improvement?
It all happened pretty organically in that I started realizing that I wasnít thinking very hard about my marriage, I was coasting. Everything was good, but because it was all good I wasnít paying too much attention to it; which isnít saying we didnít have particular fights, but it was more an attitude I wanted to bring to my marriage, more than an effort to solve a specific problem.
 Did it surprise you when you were looking at all the self-help books at how many of them are written from that perspective?
It did! I think, like a lot of people, I was sort of afraid of self-help books about marriage. I thought self-help books about marriage would be for people who were in big troubleóthey were the kind of thing that you would shove under your arm as you walked up to the counter at the bookstore. Somehow I was a little embarrassed about the idea of working on marriage and then, as you know, you realize a lot of people are thinking this way. When youíre outside of it thereís a feeling that its not for you or that you donít need it or that if you did need it, it was admitting defeat in some way.
 Why do you think people are afraid to try to improve their marriage, even if itís in a good place?
I think change is scary. I think marriage is intensely private for people and so we donít talk about it with each other, with our friends and family the same way we might talk about issues with raising children.
I also think that because marriage is a partnership, change is more scary. What if you start discussing something you sort of implicitly negotiated in your lives, whether itís how youíre going to spend your money or how youíre going to spend your vacation time or whatever it might be and you start discussing this with your spouse and you disagree more than you thought. Are you going to wind up making a change that puts you farther away from your ideal? So I think the attitude is maybe itís better to leave just well-enough alone.
 Do you find it ironic that people will seek an enormous amount of advice when it comes to parenting because everyone pretty much agrees thereís no handbook on how to be a parent, but people donít have that same attitude toward marriage, as in weíre assumed to know how to have a relationship because we got married?
I think itís fascinating how comfortable we are at seeking expert advice about raising children. I have a six-year-old and a nine-year-old, Iím in the thick of it, and everybody talks about the issues theyíre having with each other, with fairly casual friends, with your childís teacher. You know, thereís all these people youíre having discussions with about am I doing it right, could I be doing it better in raising my child. People are not having those same conversations about their marriage.
 You have an entire chapter on how we really donít know what makes a really successful marriage. Did that surprise you or discourage you from moving forward once you started digging into the research?
I found it fascinating that we really know so little, that science has brought so little to our understanding of love and marriage. I was very surprised by that. And once you start digging into the research, it doesnít start becoming less muddled. The human heart is really complicated, marriage is constantly shifting and complex and personal. My main feeling was surprise that there wasnít more of a solid base to stand on.
I really came to feel that in my life it doesnít matter whatís right for the couple next door, or it doesnít matter whatís right for the 2,500 couples that some professor at UCLA surveys for his study. What matters is whatís right for you and figuring out whatís right for your marriage.
 Now that the book is out, what do you hope couples will get out of reading your book?
I hope people talk to each other. The most gratifying response that I get, and I get it a lot, is, "I read your book and I had the most intense conversation with my spouse." Or, "I read your book and I so related to it." I had written a piece about our marriage in The New York Times and one of the criticisms was, ďWhy is your marriage news? Why is your marriage important?Ē And itís not, but everybodyís marriage is important to themselves. We all need ways of thinking about it and talking about it and thatís what reading can do for people. I hope that happens. I hope people read the book and think about it and they have a great conversation at home.
 Do you know what a great marriage looks like now compared to a good marriage?
Thatís a hard question. I donít think itís the same for everybody. I guess in my case I would say that a good marriage was a lot of fun, we communicated well, we enjoyed each other, everything was good, but we had some blind spots to each other. I think in the great marriage we more seamlessly connect with each otherís needs. I do feel that in some way youíre more integrated in to the forefront of mind on any given thing that comes up in any given day in, "How is this for Dan?"
Would you now define your marriage as great?
I think so, people look at you cross-eyed if you tell them that.
I think thereís nothing wrong with telling someone you think you have a great marriage.