To Understand Each Other, TBP #41

“That is what marriage really means: helping one another to reach the full status of being persons, responsible and autonomous beings who do not run away from life.”   — Paul Tournier 

63 short pages. Written in 1962 by Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician. Succinct. Forthright.

Chapters with titles such as, “To Achieve Understanding, We Need to Want It,” and a quick three-page chapter titled, “My Husband Is a Mysterious Island!” In the latter, he talks about the “thrill of discovery.” He writes, “If you think that you know your wife or your husband, it is because you have given up the real attempt to discover him.”

In the chapter titled “To Achieve Understanding, We Need Courage” he writes, “A complete unveiling of one’s inner thoughts, an absolute necessity for real and deep understanding, demands a great deal of courage.” He goes on to relay the importance of being a safe place for the other.

To listen without judgment or criticism. To listen without offering unsolicited advice.

“If they are not understood, it is because they have not opened up.

…Why, then, is it that so many people in my office say to me, ‘With you I can open up, because you understand me’? The truth is rather the reverse; I understand them because they open up.”

Throughout the pages, he emphasizes the universal human need of being understood. The theme is reiterated from every angle in every chapter. The importance of listening. Of showing compassion and kindness and empathy to the one who shares vulnerably.

“Marriage then becomes a great adventure, a continuous discovery both of oneself and of one’s mate. It becomes a daily broadening of one’s horizon, an opportunity of learning something new about life, about human existence, about God. This is why in the beginning of the Bible God says, ‘It is not good that man should be alone.’ Man here mans the human being: ‘It is not good that the human being should be alone.’ The human being needs fellowship; he needs a partner, a real encounter with others. He needs to understand others, and to sense that others understand him.

Such is the very intention of God in instituting marriage, according to the Bible. Alone, a man marks time and becomes very set in his ways. In the demanding confrontation which marriage constitutes, he must ever go beyond himself, develop, grow up into maturity. When marriage is reduced to mere symbiosis of two persons essentially hidden from one another, peaceful though such life may sometimes be, it has completely missed its goal. Then it is not solely the marriage which has failed, but both husband and wife. They have failed in their calling as a man and a woman. To fail to understand one’s spouse is to fail to understand oneself. It is also a failure to grow and to fulfill one’s possibilities.”

Tournier’s book is a perfect quick read for anyone who is in any contact with another person, ever. The concepts aren’t new. God Himself walked in the cool of the day and conversed with Adam and Eve. Relationship experts are still writing and speaking on the value of understanding.  Mainly, care. Care deeply. Listen. Listen for understanding.

I love the possibility of what can happen when people understand one another better. When there’s a trust so deep in the relationship that the sharing brings about healing and transformation… “to grow and to fulfill one’s possibilities.” May it be so.

Rating: 3 out of 3 stars.

It’s definitely staying on my shelf. This is a great resource… and an occasional re-read.



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