We’ve always liked the word “synergy.” It is a dynamic word, sounding a little like energy, and it has an almost magical meaning: a combination where "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" — one plus one equaling three, five or more.
The word comes from the Greek word "synergia," meaning “working together.”
We hear the term used most often in business, but its most artful and appropriate application is in marriage. It’s a wonderful thing to see a married couple where the husband and the wife have different personalities, different skills and different approaches that complement and enhance each other.
Some seem to have the idea that a marriage can be measured by how few disagreements or differences there are between partners. It’s also common to hear people say that children should never see their parents disagree or argue.
In fact, we think the best marriages are often full of differences and even disagreements. Real synergy can occur from good communication and by merging or coming together from different starting points. And it is actually good for children to observe that each of their parents has individual opinions and ideas.
Of course, it works well and creates synergy only when there is mutual respect and resolution of disagreements. And children who see their parents argue (hopefully never violently or threateningly) need also to see them work it out. When appropriate, parents need to make a point of telling their children what they disagreed on and how they resolved it. This teaches kids that it is good to have your own opinions, but also good to talk things through and learn from each other.
I (Richard) once sat by a marriage therapist on an airplane who, learning that I wrote books on the subject of family, told me that over the course of his long practice, he had discovered three kinds of marriages that were totally conflict free. Fascinated, I prepared to take notes.
The first, he said, is a union where one is so totally dominant and the other such a doormat that there is never any disagreement. One just calls all the shots and the other one goes along.
A little disappointed, I still had hopes for the other two. The second type of conflict-free marriage, he said, is where the two partners live such separate lives and operate on such different tracks that there is not enough overlap to produce a disagreement.
Well, maybe the last one will be hopeful and good, I thought.
“The third kind of no-conflict marriage,” he said, “is where one of the two is dead.”
One way to develop marital synergy, and to dissipate conflict and minimize disagreement, is to have a private, weekly “feelings session” or “testimony meeting” where the two of you, in a respectful if not spiritual environment, each take a few minutes to share your feelings with each other. Start with the positive, but share any moments when you felt misunderstood or disrespected during the past week, and take the opportunity to apologize for any hurt you may have caused. Talk about your love and your beliefs, and share your heart.
Way back before we were married, someone told us to “never go to bed mad,” and to “never let the sun set on a disagreement.” We tried to follow that advice, but we were up way too late on way too many nights. And some of the arguments got worse as the hour got later.
We finally modified the motto to: “Never let the week end without resolving any hurt feelings or disagreements.” In the peace and spirit and respect of a private couple meeting, this usually seemed relatively easy to do.
Marriage can become a genuinely synergistic relationship where the developing oneness of the two of you never robs your individuality and yet becomes greater than the sum of its parts and eventually creates a combined entity that is more capable, more joyful and more perfectable than either by itself.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or at valuesparenting.com, and follow Linda’s blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.