The Marriage Manifesto by Kelly M. Flanagan, PhD

Marriage Manifesto

In his first e-book, Dr. Kelly Flanagan addresses how the consumerism that shapes modern life infects and damages marriages as well.  Using examples from his personal life and popular culture, Flanagan clearly outlines what the reader can expect in the preface and introduction.  His first two chapters frame his argument nicely and provide realistic expectations for people who are looking for help with their marriages.  He also provides advice for those who feel they are in abusive relationships, and recommends a course of individual—opposed to marital—therapy.  Flanagan is careful to affirm the inherent worth of the individual regardless of whether the marriage ultimately thrives or fails.

That affirmation of the individual’s inherent worth, along with a call for acceptance of one’s imperfections (both one’s own and one’s spouse’s) is the strongest message of the remaining chapters, even stronger than the threat from consumerism in marriage.  While consumerism undoubtedly contributes a great deal to the re-valuing and de-valuing of one’s marriage partner, it is not the only cause for such harmful actions.  Flanagan is (rightly) more concerned with encouraging acceptance and affirmation than blaming a consumer culture for marital problems, though he clearly believes that our consumer culture negatively affects our approach to marriage as well.

There is no simple step-by-step plan for improving your marriage to be found in this book.  Rather there is a heavy emphasis on understanding and accepting our individuality and uniqueness—as people and as couples—which by definition defies simple one-size-fits-all solutions.  This emphasis sets Flanagan’s work apart from the many other books on marriage that assume all couples are the same.  Another strength of this book is the recognition that a couple’s story does not begin on their wedding day; both individuals bring their own histories, their own baggage, and their own woundedness to the marriage, and none of that goes away with the exchange of rings.  Flanagan’s approach honors those histories and the individuals who lived them, and incorporates them into the marriage story.

Some chapters were originally published as blog posts and still read as such, ending with a question or a call to action.  Such endings, while perfectly appropriate for blog posts, don’t work as well for chapters located in the middle of a book.  However the writing overall is of a very high quality.  Flanagan avoids jargon, and provides examples from his children’s lives, his clients, and his own personal experience to powerfully demonstrate certain points.  It is engaging and easy to read.

While firmly grounded in secular psychology, Flanagan employs language commonly found in religion.  Important elements to his approach include grace, redemption, forgiveness, sacrifice, dignity, mercy, humility, and unconditional love.  However he introduces and recommends these concepts in such a way that they are accessible to people of all faiths or of none.  They are presented as a counter to consumerism in marriage, and any relation they may have to religion is incidental (though not accidental, in my opinion).  This makes this book helpful not only for non-religious people looking to improve their marriages, but for religious people who may be uncomfortable turning to secular psychology for answers.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is in a marriage relationship.  Four stars.