Clifford J. Sager MARRIAGE CONTRACTS AND COUPLE THERAPY New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1976, 335 pp., $15.
It can be said at the outset that this book was written by a master in the field of marriage therapy, and the reader will be well rewarded by this most practical presentation. The author states that his purpose was to offer a series of hypotheses that will contribute to an understanding of why people behave as they do in marriage and in other committed relationships, to offer an approach to therapy that is based on those hypotheses, and to dispel the mistaken idea that marital therapy is a modality valuable only for the treatment of marital problems and is not indicated for treating individual distress. He also states that the central concept is that each partner in a marriage brings to it an unwritten contract - a set of expectations and promises, conscious and unconscious. Whatever plans Dr. Sager had for this volume have been more than fulfilled. The idea of a marriage contract is indeed unusual, and the elaboration of his ideas is refreshing, practical, and timely.
It was difficult to decide which chapter to select for its special appeal, since they were all outstanding. However, I was particularly impressed by Chapter 6, "Behavioral Profiles." Dr. Sager speaks of seven partner profiles - equal, romantic, parental, childlike, rational, companionate, and parallel. This is fascinating reading.
Chapter 7, describing partnership combinations, is also a very excellent contribution to the subject. The idea of contracts is novel. Dr. Sager states: "In the interaction each partner is attempting to achieve fulfillment of his/her individual contract, including ambivalences and selfimposed deterrents to fulfillment. Each wants more from the partner than from anyone else in the world and each is willing to give something in exchange for what he wants, and so they play games on testing, faith, teasing, love, suspicion, coercion, threats, manipulation, and the thousand other ways of attempting to get what each believes he wants, or to see to it that he or his partner does not get what is wanted. Thus partners try to elicit from each other reactions that will fulfill their fondest wishes, as well as prove the truth of their worst fears or suspicions."
There is also a very interesting Appenda I ("Reminder List for Marriage Contract of Each Partner") and an Appendix ? ("Intrapsychic and Biological Determinants"). The bibliography is extensive and offers an opportunity to those interested in the subject to develop additional material for writings of their own; it conforms to the chapters and is very well organized.
After reading this book, I began to apply some of Dr. Sager's findings to my own marriage and was quite interested in some of my conclusions. While it is true that the average psychiatrist, who does not limit his practice to marital therapy, may not be able to apply extensive investigation in each instance, he should be able to cull a great deal of valuable information that he can apply in a general way to those of his patients who do have marital problems. I have already begun to utilize some of the author's ideas in a few selected cases and have observed a curious response by these patients.
Dr. Sager's thinking about education for people before marriage is noteworthy. I agree with his statement that while such an approach is extremely desirable, most young couples are in great haste; they often make some type of contract shortly after their meeting and seldom veer from their decision. Occasionally, when I attempt to dissuade a couple from rushing into marriage, the suggestion is met with resistance - par for the course.
Many of Dr. Sager's comments convey the wisdom of Solomon. The reader will be impressed by his descriptions and explanations giving insight into his approach to people, to life, to marriage, to behavior, to therapy. This book is eclectic, very well written, very interesting, and hard to put down. One also develops a closeness to the author - not always the case in reviewing a book. I certainly recommend this book to all professionals in the field and believe that all of us will be extremely grateful and pleased to have it in our libraries. Many of us will find it extremely useful and a source of reference over and over again. Dr. Sager is to be complimented on the delivery of such an outstanding work.