“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Isaac Netwon gave this profound quote centuries ago, but its spirit lives on today when we meet authors who truly add to our understanding of how the world works and how disparate schools of thought relate to each other at a deeper level than expected. I had this sensation recently while reading Shawn T. Smith’s The Tactical Guide to Women and its connection to Thomas Stanley’s work in The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind.
While Stanley’s work is more famous for what it says about millionaire lifestyle choices – smaller houses, used cars, deferred consumption, etc. – a small part of his work does address the relationship between marriage and wealth. In particular, he notes that divorce is devastating for wealth building. 92% of millionaire households are led by couples and 96% of millionaires believe that having the right spouse was an important part of their wealth building journey. As part of this process they selected for spouses who were intelligent, sincere, reliable and affectionate and as a result had 1/3 of the divorce rate of poorer people. This is a crucial insight for those on the FIRE journey; it’s a quest best attempted in pairs and with a well-chosen partner.
That said, Stanley is not a relationship expert and his findings are based on polling. His work points out the path people should go down without laying particularly clear markers for how to find the trailhead or avoid going off course. Shawn Smith fills the gap superbly. A clinical psychologist with years of experience in clinical therapy providing relationship counseling for couples, he realized that many men needed to think more deeply about their needs and the character of their partners before jumping into marriage.* With today’s divorce courts being biased against men, the best defence for avoiding financial ruin is not playing the marriage game at all until you are truly sure.
To that end he argues that partners need to have what he calls the “bright triad” of emotional traits: clarity, maturity, and emotional stability. The first trait is indicated when a partner can maintain solid communication skills under any circumstance and doesn’t resort to passive aggressive or childish behavior. She must also have an inquisitive mind that is open to hearing other opinions and possibly changing her own. Lastly, they must be assertive in their thoughts and opinions. Many people bottle their emotions up and never share them with a partner until it is too late and bitterness dooms the relationship.
Maturity is denoted by five non-negotiable emotional skills: insight; intellectual nuance; resilience; internalization; and self-maintenance. They need to be able to interested in facts as much as their own personal perspective and be able to hold two emotional positions at the same time (I love you and you piss me off immensely!). They need to be able to hold conflicting thoughts and read between the lines. On top of this, these skills must hold in good times and bad. A spouse must be able to take personal responsibility for their failures and stresses in their life and not externalize all of their problems on others – one of whom will eventually be you! Lastly; they must be able to keep up their physical fitness to the point where it will not interfere with their emotional and mental fitness, which causes conflict.
Finally, men should avoid women (and vice versa) if they have mental health problems. The odds of divorce double when this is the case. Mental health problems include behaviors like substance abuse, depression and anxiety, and unresolved emotional injuries. Unless the partner is taking active and aggressive treatment for their problems, they must not be tolerated. It is not your job to rescue someone with these problems; it is their job. The problems go so deep that they will exhaust anybody who gets involved and rob much joy out of life.
These observations alone would make this an excellent primer for guys struggling to interpret what their partner’s behavior might mean for the future. However, Smith continues further than this and details some of the worst mistakes that guys make that doom many relationships. For one, a man must define and defend their values. If she isn’t a suitable fit for your world, then you shouldn’t ditch yours for hers because that will lead to a life of bitterness and disrespect. Guys must also establish bright lines between what it means to be a boyfriend, a fiance and a husband. You should never invite a partner to live with you in their own house, or accept responsiblity for any of their obligations, unless you are actually married. Co-habiting too early often kills relationships and, pouring salt in the wound, makes many men legally responsible for supporting their girlfriends if things end up in court. Finally, delay marriage until the relationship is at least 2 years old. Most couples go through a 12-18 month honeymoon phase when courtship begins and don’t really begin to notice and dwell on their partners faults until afterwards. You should try to survive this “back-to-reality” phase before ever tying the knot or else you may discover one day that the love of your life turned into a stranger.
In conclusion, I strongly recommend that everyone read this book. Even this summary, which may seem comprehensive, excludes many key insights that readers will find extremely valuable when negotiating their relationships. A new giant has taken center stage and it will be a long time until someone else can stand above it.
* He also has a book for women who are negotiating the romantic field, The Women’s Guide to How Men Think.