‘You Can Be Right, or You Can Be Married’: Lessons for Marriage, Learned from Divorce

courtesy Simon and Schuster
courtesy Simon and Schuster

We think about divorce in terms of "failed" marriages, but author and filmmaker Dana Adam Shapiro's new book is a reminder that often our best shot at finding lasting love comes from the personal growth that occurs in the aftermath of a painful break-up. Over about four years, Shapiro, whose documentary Murderball was nominated for an Academy Award, travelled across the country interviewing hundreds of people who had survived a tough divorce and published many of their stories in the collection 'You Can Be Right (Or You Can Be Married).'

Related: Dana Adams Shapiro's Filmography on Yahoo! Movies

When Shapiro, now 38, hit his mid-30s, he witnessed his many of his friends' marriages start to fall apart and wondered why. At the same time, he hadn't been able to sustain a relationship over the long haul. "I've been a serial monogamist for over 20 years," Shapiro tells Shine. "I've had five three-year relationships and one year-long relationship but I've never been able to make the honeymoon phase last until the actual honeymoon. So this really began as a self-help project in the purest sense."

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He says he began asking questions, but "you can't ask those types of personal questions of your friends-so I decided to write a book. I figured I'd learn a lot more from failure than from success." Shapiro calls his experience "three and a half years of radical, voyeuristic therapy" and says he's come away with the tools to be a better husband one day. When he asked people to really take a look at themselves and their part in the disintegration of their relationships, and not to just assign blame, the same lessons came up again and again:

1. Show your true self

"Accelerate the inevitable. Be yourself as quickly as possible because it's all going to come out eventually. There's no valor in putting on a brave face, it's a mask like any other. Have the courage to be vulnerable."

2. Be honest

"Telling the truth is so much easier-every lie requires a lifetime of maintenance."

3. Be alert

"Don't paint the red flags white. Complacency leads to avoidance, avoidance to withdrawal, withdrawal to resentment, resentment to adultery, and adultery to divorce."

4. Fight Fair

"Getting along is easy; you need to learn how to fight fairly and productively."

5. Make an effort

"Unconditional love is for children and pets. In romantic relationships, you have to earn it-and re-earn it-all the time. And that's a good thing."

6. Talk about sex

"Discuss the dirty. Know each other's sexual boundaries. Explore the fantasies, whatever they are, because if you don't they're just going to get played out somewhere else.

7. Sweat the small stuff

"Death by 1000 paper cuts is far more common than getting stabbed in the back. At some fundamental level we are what annoys us, so if something is bugging you, say it. Nicely."

8. Stay true to yourself

Author Dana Shapiro
Author Dana Shapiro

"Compromise is essential, of course, but it's just as dangerous to compromise too much. You can't fundamentally change who you are to please somebody else and nobody can do that for you. It's best to love with abandon, sure, but you can't abandon yourself in the process."

Some of the interviews in Shapiro's book can be hard to read in their brutal candor. Marriages wrecked over cheating, deception, and abuse. He found that, "our capacity to deceive was truly shocking. People are terrific liars," he says. Ultimately, though the message is one of redemption. "On the other hand, our capacity to forgive-and to remain hopeful about love-was even more shocking. It was truly inspiring."

What do you think are the keys to a happy, long marriage? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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