Dr. Les Parrot is a renowned psychologist, marriage expert and conference speaker. He often partners with his wife, Leslie, and the couple has written several books together. Their latest book is entitled, The Love List.
Les, “The Love List” is an awesome book for couples to read and experience together. Please give us an understanding on how the book is really meant to be used by couples.
Well, this is probably the most practical book that my wife Leslie and I have ever done. We’ve written a number of books on marriage and this book is designed to tell you exactly what to do. We kind of dropped the theory and the explanations and said, “Here’s the game plan”. It shows you two things to do, once-a-day, in your marriage, two things to do once-a-week, two things to do once-a-month, and then two things once-a-year.
We have “to do” lists for everything in our lives like grocery shop and work and so forth. But rarely do we think about having a list of things to do to enrich our marriage. And that’s what this book is about.
It seems that recently many marriage experts have come out on the radio and publications and they all have these lists of one kind or another. So again why do couples need just another list to use?
The way this book was born, was when we spoke to a group of professional athletes and a coach said, “Hey, ?dummy’ your stuff down, just tell us what to do.” And that’s why I refer to it as a “game plan”. And that’s how we came up with this list. We also studied the couples in the top ten percent to find out what it is they’re doing well. What are the habits that they’ve seemed to have cultivated in their relationship? So these little eight habits that we talk about in the list are the things we see making a big difference and a lot of couples are really flourishing.
Is there anyone “love list”, daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly, from your book that’s more important to follow than any other?
No, I don’t think I’d give one of them more weight than the others. I do know that the things you do daily really cut a new groove in your marriage. I talk often to newlyweds and I jokingly say “choose your ruts carefully, because you’re gonna be in them for a long time.” But this book is about cutting grooves into your relationship that are really positive. So when you, for example, take time to touch once a day and find something that makes you both laugh once a day, those two daily habits really enrich a couple’s experience on a day to day basis.
You did mention in the book how laughter could be good for you, physically, as well as just emotionally. Can you talk about that a little?
Yeah, it’s really true what Proverbs says, that laughter is good medicine. We know, in fact, that many people believe that you can survive nearly anything if you can laugh about it. And there is something psychological about that. We also did some research that laughter releases endorphins and endorphins are our body’s natural healing agent and physical pain reducers. It’s amazing that God has built that within our system to bring that about when we laugh. All the more important to do it in our marriage.
Also in your book, you discussed when the pain of feeling alone or being angry exists, we should bring that up to the surface. How can we best approach this topic with our spouse?
We recommend two things once a month: rid yourself of harmful residue and fire up passion in the bedroom. When we say, “rid yourself of harmful residue” — it’s like an engine, there’s gunk that builds up in an engine over time. Anger is one of these things. The same thing happens in our relationships, especially in our marriage. We call that “unfinished business” and it nags for our attention and some of the predictable areas are finances and emotions. There’s a lot of deception that goes on between couples when it comes to finances. And there are a lot of unresolved issues around emotions, like anger. And that’s why we say, “Hey, put on your calendar, once a month, this is our chance to just sit down after dinner or over a cup of coffee and just kind of clean up, tie up all the loose ends that we have in our marriage. ”
You also mentioned how good it feels to shower our partner with praise. What can that do for our own spirit as well as the person we’re praising?
We say to boost your partner’s self-esteem once a week. This is perhaps the most challenging one on the list, I think, for a lot of people because we take it for granted. We think that we are boosting our partner’s self-esteem, because sometimes we think positive thoughts, but we don’t necessarily say them. Once a week if you are on the lookout to praise your partner and be specific about it, it not only helps them but it boosts your spirit as well. It’s just a remarkable thing to know that you have helped your partner become the person they were designed to be. They need the right circumstances and to know that they’re accepted and loved and appreciated and respected. And that goes a long way.
Why do you suggest that the “love list” should become habitual?
There are little habits in our marriage that we fall into whether we want to or not. And what this book is about is really being intentional with our habits. It’s cultivating eight little habits on purpose, not just doing it because we just fall into it, but because we know they make a positive difference. When you make it a habit to be on the look out, for example, humor in your marriage every day and you don’t even have to begin to think about it — it’s just a reflex — you’re going to notice a significant amount of joy and happiness in your relationship that wasn’t there before.
You mentioned that you personally are one that likes lists and structured things because it gives you a road map or guidance on how to do it. And I’m not that way. I’m very, very loose. I have my own habits. But it just seems that after reading this book, personally, I just felt that this was an easy thing for me to attach to.
Well, I know that I am a big list guy. I keep my little electronic list and live by it. And my wife, Leslie, is like you. She’s happy go lucky and spontaneous and yet she really has come to believe that this list is one that she enjoys following. This is a fun list. This isn’t “Oh, no, I gotta do this,” because you notice a difference that’s so positive right away.
How long would it be before couples can begin to see results if they ascribe to the “love list”?
Well, you do these two things once a day, take time to touch and find something that makes you both laugh, and you begin to notice a difference immediately. If you are on the look out for things that make you both laugh, you begin to study your spouse and how he/she laughs and what they laugh about. In fact, in each chapter, we have a little self-test and in that particular chapter it’s called “accessing your funny factor”. If you begin to talk and get kind of serious about humor, you begin to realize that this is something that we could do a whole lot better. And so as soon as you get that flash of insight and see something to do you notice a difference immediately.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us on your own?
Let me just highlight the suggestion that we have for once a year. And that is to review your top ten highlights. We began doing this with real intention in 1997. And this literally has become a tradition for us at each year-end. We order Chinese food and we sit down with a journal. I write about a sentence a day on what happened that day and so it’s easy for us to review that. But you don’t have to be that compulsive about it. You can look at your date book, or you can review the photos you took that year or what have you. But review your year and recount, make a list, a tangible list that you write down, your top ten highlights. It’s important because it really does help you chart your course for the next year. You could say, “Here are some things I want to repeat. Here are some things that we need to make sure we don’t go through again”. And that’s one thing I guess I’ll leave with you: when you come to this time of year, this is something that is really a gift to your marriage, if you want to give it to yourselves.
Copyright © 2003 Marriagetrac
Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University and the authors of When Bad Things Happen to Good Marriages and the newly released The Love List.
Read more from Les Parrott at realrelationships.com.