No Cheating, No Dying is part memoir and part thinking person’s self-help book — a charming and illuminating look at a happy marriage and the therapies, exercises and attitudes that might make it even better, or not. Elizabeth Weil is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Dan, and their two daughters.
Are you too comfortable in your relationship? Has the spark fizzled between you and your significant other? If so, Elizabeth Weil’s new book, No Cheating, No Dying, might just be the perfect read this Valentine’s Day. Weil discusses ways you can reignite the spark in your relationship, using examples from her own marriage as kindling. Be proactive in showing your partner how much you care. Do more things together that you might not otherwise. Weil will show you how to improve your relationship by making you laugh at hers.
In this interview, Elizabeth Weil explains the sentiments behind the creation of her book.
No Cheating, No Dying’s subtitle says it all: “I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make It Better.” What made you decide to try to make it better?
I’d noticed that I was always trying to make everything better — my work, my house, even my stupid half-marathon time (which is not very impressive) — but I wasn’t trying to make my marriage better. It was the center of my life, and I was being uncharacteristically lazy about it. So I decided to stop being lazy.
Can you remember the moment when you decided to embark on this project?
Absolutely! Dan and I both work at home. I’d been thinking about this idea — what if we set out to really work on our marriage in the same way we worked out on our careers and friendships and all the rest? I’d just watched a video [of] the psychologist John Gottman promoting a couples therapy retreat he holds on Orcas Island. It seemed so indulgent — and so outside anything Dan and I would ever do. Anyway, I walked down to the kitchen and said to Dan, “What do you think about putting lots of effort into improving our marriage?” He laughed and said, “I can’t think of anything worse.”
What did you do to improve your marriage? What worked, and what didn’t?
Oh my goodness, we did a lot. We did marriage education classes, lots of different kinds of therapy, including sex therapy. We poked into our thinking about money, religion, and in-laws. We had some great adventures, too, including swimming from Alcatraz Island back to San Francisco. There’s a lot of research on the importance of doing surprising, novel things together. The swim was one of the best parts.
What was the scariest part of this whole process for you?
The scariest? Two specific moments, both of which happened in therapist’s offices. In the first, I realized that Dan was not the crazy one in our relationship as I’d always assumed. I was equally if not more crazy. The second was realizing that what I ‘d thought was an innocent little lie, told in our first few months of dating, still [had] the potential to undermine the trust in my marriage in a serious way.
What surprised you most during the course of writing this book?
One of the biggest surprises was how intensely people reacted to the idea, particularly when I told them I was committed to being 100% honest. The idea of writing a true marriage story made people very nervous. I kept going back to that Tim O’Brien story from The Things They Carried, “How to Tell a True War Story.” ”True war stories do not generalize.” ”You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you.”
Would you advise other couples to try to improve their marriages? What about couples who think their marriages are “good enough”?
Make it better while it’s still good! We’re very comfortable with this idea in terms of our physical health. It’s the whole idea of wellness. It’s equally important with marriage. Don’t think you need to wait to fix something until it’s a major problem. Then you have to deal with the original problem plus all the secondary damage it’s done.
If newlyweds asked you for advice, what would you tell them?
Cherish your spouse – and be proactive about it. Call right now and tell him or her that you think she’s incredibly brilliant or he’s breathtakingly handsome. Put yourself out there. And when you’re feeling really annoyed and stuck, which you will one day, stay proactive. One great mental trick is to imagine yourself in each other’s shoes. Really imagine it, in detail — the specific shoes, maybe even the whole specific outfit. There’s this amazing photos series called Switcheroo, in which couples dress as each other, even take on each other’s gestures and facial expressions. It’s empathy embodied and it’s so beautiful.