Tod Jacobs and Peter Lynn, NOT A PARTNERSHIP

Tod Jacobs and Peter Lynn, NOT A PARTNERSHIP

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Tod and Peter, to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for coming on my show.

Tod Jacobs: Thank you so much for having us.

Peter Lynn: Thank you so much.

Zibby: Thank you also for your contribution to married couples everywhere with your book, Not A Partnership: Why We Keep Getting Marriage Wrong & How We Can Get It Right. Tell me about how the two of you teamed up to write this book to help everyone else.

Tod: Maybe I’ll jump in here. Peter and I had been working together, teaching, counseling at an institute in Jerusalem that I cofounded back in 2005. It was not our intention when we opened up this institute to primarily deal with issues of marriage and relationships. What the institute really is based in is best and brightest young men in their, let’s call it the twenties and thirties primarily, average age around there, close to thirty — these are guys who want to take about a year off minimum, two years maximum. They want to come and they want to delve into classical Jewish text, philosophy, Jewish law, Hebrew language, character building, leadership training, ethics, things like that. One of the things we found over the years was that these guys were amazingly well-prepared for pretty much everything in life. They had, many times, Ivy League backgrounds. They had incredible academic backgrounds, incredible professional backgrounds in a whole host of professions. Yet there was kind of a common theme. Everybody seemed woefully unprepared for something that they all claimed was the most important thing that they were looking forward to. That was their married life someday. Yet they didn’t really have a clue how to do that successfully. I think that’s a common theme that we see in our society almost no matter how well-educated you are and what kind of professional background you have.

Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Then of the other fifty percent that remain married, how many of them are really sparkling, perfect role modeled kind of marriages for people to grow up and say, aha, that’s what a great marriage looks like? People are marrying later. It’s a bit of a mess for many, many people. We just started delving into a combination of things. One was, Peter has an incredible background in positive psychology. I started delving into a lot of the classic mystical works and later what’s called works of character building that are classic Jewish ways of preparing people for marriage, young men, young women. We found that pulling those two things together, we started doing marriage education. After doing that for a decade and a half, we looked back and we saw, wow, the couples that were formed out of the training that we were involved with have a divorce rate that is one tenth of the national average, which means some people get divorced. Still, it’s a five percent divorce rate instead of a fifty percent rate. We thought, this is maybe something that we should be sharing more broadly. That was really the decision to think about doing a book, which we subsequently did.

Zibby: Did the people who came to the counseling opt in? Is it a representative sample, or is it people who are particularly already invested in making their marriage work?

Tod: This is mostly an opt-in group. In other words, ninety-five percent of the students who come to us are unmarried when they come, again, whether they’re in their twenties or in their thirties. Very few of them are already married or have been married. It’s almost like a clean piece of paper, a clean piece of parchment to start writing some of the foundational ideas of marriage on. Obviously, they have to unlearn lots and lots and lots of bad paradigms we all grow up with and got used to, whether it’s from Hollywood movies or social media or all the kind of influences that have an influence on the way we think about relationships. We just found that, A, they got more interested in having a real relationship as they became less fearful of it. B, we found that by having some level of preparation for what a great relationship looks like and what the role of a spouse is, we found that people were way more ready for it and then when issues came up, much more prepared to deal with the issues as well. By the way, we’ve been kind of holding the hands of those who invited us to remain part of the counseling in their relationships as time went on. We’ve seen the ideas not only play out in terms of preparing for marriage, we’ve also seen them play out in fixing problems that have come up and dealing with problems that have been difficult in the early years or even, in some cases, the middle years of marriage by this point.

Zibby: About how many people do you think you’ve counseled in person at this point?

Tod: Probably upwards of a hundred and fifty, something like that, different couples.

Zibby: That’s great. Amazing. The part that spoke to me right away that I just loved — you give so much advice, obviously, in the book. You were talking about how in order to invest in a marriage, you have to give more and how people have the wrong framework to think about marriage and how the way you love a dog, the more you take care of something, the more you love it, or him or her or whatever. You said, “There was a great rabbi who pointed out that people have the concept of love exactly backwards. We go through with the assumption that if someone will do for me, will care for me, will give to me properly, then of course, I will love them in response. But the truth of the matter is that it’s exactly the opposite. We love where we give. Why do parents love kids more than kids love parents? Because they give more.” You keep going. You say, this is the rabbi, “You have to flip the whole paradigm and start giving and giving and giving to her, and then you’ll love her. Then you’ll have a real marriage.” Actually, you had said this to a group. Someone responds by saying, “Whoa.” This is a highly educated group. You were on a roadshow, right? You were in finance before.

Tod: Yeah, we were on a roadshow. It was three or four of us from JP Morgan — my background was as a Wall Street analyst — and a few senior consultants from McKinsey & Company. Again, high-powered, highly educated group of people. I think everybody on the plane was married at some stage. The oldest person on the plane was probably in his late fifties. It went down to this young guy who I was talking to in that story. The beginning of the story was, we’re thirty thousand feet in this private jet and this young analyst starts complaining about his wife. She’s just not doing it for him anymore like she used to. She doesn’t take care of him. She’s not as kind to him. She’s not as sweet to him. He’s falling out of love with her. He’s just kind of tired of it. That’s when I told him, “You got to flip your paradigm. This rabbi taught us that you love where you give. If you want to start loving your wife, instead of waiting for her to give to you so that you’ll love her in return, try giving to her. See what happens.” The beautiful ending of the story was that two months later, he comes up to me in the office. He says, “You won’t believe it. I’m madly in love with my wife again. I’ve fallen in love with her again because I decided I had nothing to lose by taking your advice. I started giving and giving and doing things for her and buying her things and taking care of her and taking her out,” and whatever it was. He said, “Suddenly, I find that I’m totally in love with her again.” We’ve seen this play out just countless times. You want to love, start giving.

Zibby: Wow. It seems so simple and so obvious. Yet it’s just not how any of us think about it. How crazy that you can literally turn love back on in a snap just by shifting something? I feel like love is so elusive. I had it, but now it’s gone. I fell out of love. It seems like it’s such a whimsical thing. In fact, it can be very intentional.

Peter: That’s one of the things to add to that. We speak about it so often in the book. Great marriages are built. When people make proactive efforts to build their marriage, and especially via this — we always say the book speaks about the ultimate PDF manual of how to make your marriage function at full capacity. That’s basically one word, which is giving. When people proactively engage in their marriage by giving, it’s unbelievable to see. What’s fascinating is that the person who benefits the most is the person who’s doing the giving, just all of the great feelings that it brings. You see this. In my background in the field of positive psychology, there’s a whole world called positive interventions. Meaning, what can you do in order to bring more positivity to your life? Tell me some practical things. According to the research, the fastest and quickest intervention for you to get out of your bad state of being, whatever that is, you’re having a bad day, a rough week, the fastest thing you can do is start giving to someone. You’ll see the quickest result as far as the change in your mood. It’s really quite amazing to see. You see it across the board.

Zibby: Although, I would say, I’m thinking of moms in particular who might argue with this and who give so much that they almost have nothing left. You can overdo it, right? I feel like if you’re always caring for other people and never even so much as taking care of yourself, that’s also not good.

Peter: Listen, when people don’t take care of themselves, then a lot of times the giving comes from an unhealthy place. Of course, there’s a healthy degree of, this is giving in a normal capacity. This is giving in a healthy manner. We’ve all seen it manifest in unhealthy ways. You’re right. When it happens in an unhealthy way, when people don’t take care of themselves, then the whole system falls apart very fast.

Zibby: What else do I need to know? Now I’ve decided I want to quickly change my mood. I’m going to start giving immediately, perhaps in a new way or to people I don’t normally give to or to find fulfillment in my own happiness. I’m just pretending, theoretical me. Obviously, I already do everything perfectly. Now I can turn around and give back to my husband. What else do I need to know a hundred percent that you have found is the undiscovered gold of marital happiness?

Tod: The way we constructed the book, the book has big-picture paradigms, conceptual frameworks that we feel are critical to having a healthy marriage and to thinking about it properly. Then the second half of the book is all practical implementation of, how do you get there? We think that if you really boiled down the big picture of concepts, they boil down to three paradigms. One of them we just spoke about, which is that you love where you give. A second is to, and maybe it’s really the first, is to get a definition that’s a little deeper than we normally think of in terms of what marriage is. When we started looking at the book, we said, how should we define marriage? You can define it legally. You can define it the way Webster’s defines it. You can go on HuffPost and see what they call marriage. Really, what we found was that there’s a much, much deeper picture you can start out with. Then you begin in accordance with it. The picture as we’ve defined it is that marriage is two people coming together completely committed to acting in the capacity as a spouse that my beloved needs me to act in and committing that through thick and thin I will help try to give that person the life that they want and deserve. Obviously, an unhealthy version of that would be a little bit what you were describing a moment ago which is that if somebody is the one-way giver and the other side is dysfunctional, doesn’t notice it, has no gratitude, it can be very, very problematic.

If two people walk into a marriage not with the idea of, what can I get out of this? but, what can I put into this to build that person? then what happens is that two people can really build something much, much bigger than the two of them, not lose themselves in that process, but really find themselves in that process and become bigger in that process by building the other. It’s almost a cosmically unbelievable dynamic that two people can build something so special. It is focused on the other. As Peter pointed out, the biggest beneficiary, ironically, winds up being you yourself. It’s not that you kind of manipulate and it’s a calculated thing. I really want a great life, so I’m going to try and give to this person so I really become — no, it really is focused on the other, but it turns out that the consequence of that is that you yourself wind up becoming bigger. The bigger you become and the bigger you see yourself and the more you’re able to give and the less selfish you are, a person can really have an incredibly happy experience. Paradigm one is, define marriage as a vehicle for giving and for building the other person and for building something much bigger than the two of us.

Zibby: Sorry, just to jump in. That implies you’re both able to do that and that you both want to give to the other person and that you possess those traits and skills. I know you mentioned this. Obviously, it can become very problematic. You have abusive spouses. You have people who cheat on their spouses or narcissists or all sorts of people who are not upholding their end. Then it doesn’t matter how much the other person wants to put in. You can’t do anything about it. Then it’s almost a lost cause. It’s almost like it starts before all of this. You have to choose someone who is on the same page with you about the giving itself. It almost starts before the practice. It starts in the choice, essentially, right?

Peter: That’s what we speak about so much. Like Tod was describing, we find that especially the students we were dealing with and many places we’ve lectured at is that we find that people spend so much time preparing for so many things in their life, especially their professional lives, getting ready for it, and this degree and that degree and you name it. Then we saw as people are walking into the most important thing in their life — you ask them, what’s their number-one priority? They’re going to say their marriage. They were totally unprepared. What we feel is so important is if people have these ideas clear before they go into a marriage, they’re going to make a much healthier choice. Now, let’s be very clear. Things do come up. People have psychological issues that come up. These things need to be dealt with, a hundred percent. Imagine if you have two people who get married and they’re on the same page as far as what they’re getting themselves into. That’s already so far ahead of the game, which can really be a game changer especially as things could become rocky later on.

Zibby: What if people really change? That’s another thing. You can feel like that and say that at the beginning. Yet as life progresses and things happen, someone kind of deviates from the emotional contract, if you will.

Tod: You’re a hundred percent right. Look, there’s many stages at which we think this information, this education can be helpful. Obviously, in a perfect world, we educate our children, our students to be ready for marriage. By the way, most people that stand and face each other to take those vows or whatever marital ceremony that they’re going to have, whatever that looks like, generally speaking, if you asked those two people, what’s on your mind right now? they will tell you, I just want to make the other one happy. When people enter into that relationship, what we’re talking about is top of mind. The problem is they don’t realize that a lot of things are going to happen in the early stage of the marriage. First of all, the freshness is going to wear off. There’s a natural explosive energy in the beginning of a relationship which people think, mistakenly, is what’s called love. As soon as that begins to fade — by the way, that’s not called love. That’s a free gift called inspiration getting me involved with this person, helping me see the greatness of this person and downplay some of the — nobody’s perfect. We need some way of seeing something in a person that just really draws us to who that person is.

When that fades, what you’re left with is a choice. Am I going to now decide that I am committed to rebuilding and getting back through a process of work and toil and sweat and energy? By the way, which is pleasurable if you do it correctly. That shouldn’t sound so negative. I know it does, but it shouldn’t. That thing that you got for free in the beginning, you can actually earn through the process of building your marriage over a period of time. Really, the ultimate goal is that the two of you are as in love but in a much more meaningful way that you’ve earned as you were in that beginning stage. Part one is, let’s hope that you think about this before you get married so that you can face this. Probably, lots of your listeners, and certainly lots of our readers, are people who are now in a marriage. As you’re describing, financial problems came up. A health problem came up. This issue came up. Things like infidelity, by the way, that’s very, very hard to put back trust into a relationship. That’s a little bit outside of — that often needs professional help. Many times, that’s going to wind up being in a broken marriage. There are also dysfunctional people, no question about it. There are people who absolutely cannot function in a marriage because of their narcissism, selfishness, dysfunctionality, etc., but that’s not the vast majority of people. It doesn’t need to be.

What we found is, somebody may be married, and the marriage is not so fresh. It’s not going so well. They’re getting a little tired of each other. This one’s kind of ignoring and in their own space. This one’s kind of ignoring and in their own space. The old habits begin to resurface about being kind of a selfish person like they were before they got married. What we have found is by refocusing on the idea of giving and making it fresh and beginning to build respect again — I’ll give you a classic example. When two people meet and they’re going out, they do everything possible to impress each other. When I was dating my wife-to-be, when you were dating your spouse-to-be, how did we dress? How did we speak? How did we smell? How did we look? How did our hair look? How courteous were we? You say to somebody, now try to build that snapshot in your mind of what you were like when you were dating. Now take a little snapshot of yourself on the average evening at home.

Zibby: Ugh.

Tod: That’s a cringeworthy moment for most of us. That’s an embarrassment because if you think about it, why am I not still doing that for the most important person in my world? By the way, when I go to work, I don’t look like that. When I go to work, I don’t sound like that. When I go to work, I’m wearing nice clothing. I’m made up. I look good. I smell good.

Zibby: Now you’re making me feel bad. When am I supposed to wear my sweatpants? No, I’m kidding.

Tod: But you can wear your sweatpants. That’s fine. You’re not meant to be formal at home. I say you. We. We are meant to remember that the person across the table, across the room, in the other room is the person that is the most important person in my entire universe. That’s the person who deserves the best I’ve got. That’s the person who deserves the most respect from me. Unfortunately, what we do is we let our guard down because we want someplace we can be ourselves, so to speak. We’ve talked to couples about this. The pushback is usually, hey, come on, I was acting when I was going out. I got to be myself when I’m at home. The response to that is, no, sometimes you need to act at home as well. The classic example there is when you come home and you’re in a rotten mood and your three-year-old runs up to you and says, Mommy, Daddy, come sit with me on the floor. I want to show you my fingerpaintings. I have four hundred fingerpaintings. I want you to see every single one of them. You’re tired. You’re in a horrible mood. Your boss yelled at you. You lost a deal and whatever it is. Aren’t you going to act? Aren’t you going to put on a huge smile and say, nothing I’d love to do more than sit down with you on the floor right now for the next hour and look at bad fingerpaintings? It’s all that. Now, it’s acting, but it’s not acting in a negative way. It’s becoming really what I want to become if I have control over myself. I want to be a good father. You want to be a good mother. We want to be good spouses. It’s just really rising to the occasion and not letting our lower self drag us down in ways that affect others in very, very negative ways which they don’t deserve.

Zibby: Wow. This is amazing. First of all, you need to give this to every rabbi. I don’t know if you already do this. I don’t know what your marketing plan is or was or whatever. Any rabbi who’s marrying people should be giving this to their congregants, at least. I have a bunch of cousins who are about to get married. Now I’m like, oh, perfect. Obviously, I can give this to married friends, but that’s a little bit insulting. You guys need some help. Here’s a book. As a gift, this should be the go-to gift, and not just for Jewish people at all. I happen to be Jewish. This is just lessons culled from Judaism that apply to any relationship. It should really be for anybody.

Tod: We tried to make it universal. You don’t have to be religious. You don’t have to be spiritual. You just have to want a real relationship for this material to speak to you. That’s certainly what we believe.

Zibby: It’s common sense. You’re not hawking anything totally out there. This all makes perfect sense, as you laid out so nicely and neatly in the book interspersed with lots of personal stories and work. It’s something that everybody really needs to hear. Do you do personal sessions? I feel like I want to have the two of you talk to all these people I love before they get married. You should take couples. You should charge a fortune and have a bunch of people come and get the download. Marital insurance, you could call it.

Peter: Right. You should know also — I just wanted to push back a little bit. What we do find is that people who are married — you’re married ten years. You’re married fifteen years, even more than that. I find that if you take a couple, we tend to think, this is the way it’s going to be. This is what it is. What we have found is that when you take couples who have been married for a period of time and they make the switch to, hey, let’s put some work into this, let’s try and change the patterns a bit, you can take an okay marriage or even a good marriage and with a little bit of effort and some marriage education, it’s awesome what can happen. You can now take a couple that’s been married who are in their forties and their fifties and their sixties, and they find that spark again. It’s funny. For me, I’m almost more excited about reaching out to those couples than I am about the ones before they get married. I agree with you. Before they get married is crucial. So many couples out there, in some way, give up when they’ve gotten to a certain place in their marriage. They have a certain amount of kids. They say, okay, this is what it is. The answer is, it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little bit of effort and some tools out there — we do not lack access to tools. There are ten trillion social media platforms that are discussing marriage and relationships. There’s so much out there. With just making a small amount of effort to say, let’s change things up a little bit, let’s learn some new things, it can take a marriage which could really use a bit of freshness, it can take it to that next level. It’s really amazing what can happen.

Zibby: Wait, I think I cut you off before. You said that there were three things that divided up the book. The second one was where we had started. Then you introduced the first one. You have to finish off now with the third before we keep everybody hanging here.

Tod: Absolutely. The third paradigm is that marriages don’t happen, they are made. As much as that sounds sort of obvious, if you actually take a look and think about how we grow up thinking about love, it’s all passive. I fell in love. I was swept off my feet. Especially now where we’re in a world where things don’t last very long and we crave newness, you combine the social media experience where I’m always seeing that everything in everybody else’s lives looks always fantastic and fresh and wonderful, and then I’ve got this vision that love is passive and I just fall in love and if I could just meet the right soulmate — by the way, they say in corona, you don’t need a soulmate, you need a cellmate, a C-E-L-Lmate. At any rate, this idea that it’s kind of passive and I find my soulmate and then everything’s just supposed to be fine as long as I find the right person, we think that that’s almost completely wrong.

Obviously, you need to try to find the right person. You need to find a person whose values you share, who you’re attracted to, who you respect, who respects you. You get that person. They get you. That’s the fundamental gating factor for committing to somebody. The point is that once that commitment happens, you have to realize that it will require giving, work, thinking about it, prioritizing it. Without that big picture that paints everything I do in marriage, I will fall naturally back into the Hollywood romance vision. They meet. They sweep each other off their feet. Usually, something bad happens that separates them. At the end of the movie, they fall into each other’s arms again. The curtain goes down. That’s the end of the movie. Of course, we all know that the next day the curtain comes back up. That is now act two, scene one, where the choice is going to be made. Oh, wow, that person is not quite as exciting as I thought they were, not quite as funny, not quite as attractive. I’ve been duped again by life.

Or I can say, wait a minute, I got into this and now I’m going to start actually prioritizing it, working on it, building it. A is get your marriage vision right. B is realize that you love where you give. The more you give, the more you will love. C, realize that this will be a process of making this work and investing in it. My background is investments. I will tell you, I never found a higher return investment than marriage because the well-being and the intimacy and the trust, almost everything a person wants and needs to have a meaningful, happy life can lie in a powerfully good relationship. We believe that it’s not something that just happens to that lucky few. We really believe that anybody almost at any stage as long as it’s not totally been destroyed by dysfunctionality and abuse and things like that can really restart their marriage and get it moving again.

Zibby: Wow. Thank you, guys, so much. See, you gave. I’m just taking, but it still improved my mood. Now I’m going to go give this back to the people in my life who I think could really use it including everybody listening. Fantastic book. Fantastic advice. Loved the whole framework. I am sad to not be on Zoom with you guys for the rest of the day so you can help me through all my inevitable stumbles. It’s just such a good reminder to step up for your marriage. Just step it up. Do little nice things. Maybe leave a little note somewhere. It doesn’t have to be such a big thing. Little things make such a big difference. Thank you for this reminder. Thank you for all your time.

Peter: Thank you so much for having us. We really, really appreciate it. Keep up all the great work.

Zibby: Thank you. You too.

Tod: Thank you very much.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

Tod: Bye.

Peter: Thank you.

Tod Jacobs and Peter Lynn, NOT A PARTNERSHIP