in: Family, Featured, People

• Last updated: May 30, 2021

Marriage as a Master Mind

Vintage couple riding on motorcycle.

A couple of months ago we discussed about the concept of “Master Minds.” If you remember, the idea of Master Minds was popularized by success guru, Napoleon Hill. Hill believed that when two or more minds came together with positive energy, a definite aim, and complete harmony, a “third mind,” was formed. All the participants in the Master Mind have access to this third mind which helps the individuals in the group form new ideas and receive inspiration. Thus Master Minds meet with the goal of mutual improvement.

While Hill pointed to examples like the Master Mind formed between Andrew Carnegie and his business partners, he believed that “the blending of the the minds of men and women” produced “the most effective alliances” of them all:

“A man and wife may live together, accumulate a fair sized or even greater fortune, rear and educate a family, without the bond of harmony which is essential for the development of a  Master Mind. But all of these alliances might be made more powerful and effective if based upon a foundation of perfect harmony, thus permitting the development of a supplemental power known as the Master Mind.

Plain co-operative effort produces power; there can be no doubt about this; but cooperative effort that is based upon complete harmony of purpose develops super-power.”

In my experience, Hill was right on the money; in our effort to become superhuman and reach our full potential, there may be no greater tool than the Marriage Master Mind.

The Art of Manliness: The Product of a Third Brain

A moment captured by Brett and Kate McKy.

If you’ve been reading the Art of Manliness for awhile, you’ve probably noticed that many articles on the site are written by me and my wife Kate. We run the whole site together, actually. Now, I suppose some folks might find it odd that there’s a woman working on a site about manliness, but I think the results speak for themselves.

Kate is one smart cookie. Her degree in history and experience as an editor have been invaluable resources. And it’s not so much that she has a perspective of manliness from the female side of the fence as that she has an incredible insight into the human experience as a whole.

So Kate and I work as a team in building AoM. She’s the behind-the-scenes maestro, doing the lion’s share of the editing and keeping track of the hundreds of little details that go into running a website. I’m in charge of the direction and voice of the blog, interacting with readers, implementing ideas, doing PR, and generally keeping things manly. We both write, research, find images, and brainstorm.

When it comes to writing posts, whichever of us has been thinking the most about a subject will start it off, and then the other person will take a look and edit, add their thoughts, and trade it back. And that could happen a couple more times. We talk through things and bounce ideas off of each other until a final product emerges which is far better than if just she or I had written it ourselves.

In short, the Art of Manliness you enjoy is the product of the “McKay Master Mind” and would not exist without the creation of this magical “third brain.”

Other Examples of Married Master Minds

Johnny and June Cash playing guitar.

“It was at the period of my mental progress which I have now reached that I formed the friendship which has been the honour and chief blessing of my existence, as well as the source of a great part of all that I have attempted to do, or hope to effect hereafter, for human improvement…What I owe, even intellectually, to her, is in its detail, almost infinite…I have often received praise, which in my own right I only partially deserve, for the greater practicality which is supposed to be found in my writings, compared with those of most thinkers who have been equally addicted to large generalizations. The writings in which this quality has been observed, were not the work of one mind, but of the fusion of two.” -Philosopher John Stuart Mill on his “most valuable friend,” wife Harriet Parker

When you work together as a married team, you start to notice that there are a lot of other Married Master Minds out there as well.

Many books are co-authored by a husband and wife team; in fact, Kate and I have married friends working on a DaVinci Code-like novel right now, where she writes the book and he does the historical research.

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett were the Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winning husband and wife team who wrote the screenplays for films such as The Thin Man, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Jared and Jerusha Hess are the Married Master Mind behind Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre; the couple wrote and directed the films together.

Many small businesses are run by a husband and wife team, or “copreneurs” as they’re sometimes called. We take Gus to a doctor’s office run by a husband and wife who are both pediatricians.

In San Francisco, Brian and Irene Michaud are not only married and both cops, but they’re partners as well.

Four married couples have jointly received the Nobel Prize for their scientific research: Pierre and Marie Curie, Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, Carl and Gerti Cori, and Frederic and Irene Joliot.

Trevor and Heather Wurtele are top professional Ironman athletes who are both husband and wife and devoted training partners.

One of our favorite bands, Mates of State, is composed of a husband and wife team who tour the country with their kids in tow.

Johnny Cash and wife June Carter worked and toured together for 35 years. It was she who co-wrote one of Johnny’s biggest hits, “Ring of Fire,” and the couple won two Grammy awards for their duets.

And so on and so forth.

Of course, there are also lots of situations where a husband and wife don’t do the exact same thing, but are in a similar field and can talk shop. And there are cases where the maxim of “Behind every great man…” holds true, and the wife is an unofficial, but essential support in her husband’s endeavors. For example, many politicians will say that their wife was practically their campaign manager while they were running for office. And many a husband, from diverse walks of life, has used his wife as a sounding board from which to bounce off ideas and get feedback.

Every Marriage a Master Mind

But you don’t have to run a business together to make your marriage a Master Mind. In fact, some couples would find the lack of barriers between their professional and personal lives rather undesirable. Kate and I can spend almost 24/7 together without getting sick of each other, but we’ve been told we are unusually compatible. It’s certainly not something for everyone.

But any marriage can be a Master Mind. Hopefully, you’ve already got two of the components of a Master Mind down already: positive energy and complete harmony. You might even have the third leg as well—a definite aim. There can be a lot of worthy goals to have as a couple, but to form a Master Mind, be sure to add this one to the mix: mutual improvement. That is, helping each other grow, expand, improve, come up with new ideas, and have new experiences. A Master Mind marriage is one in which each spouse helps the other become better and reach their personal goals. This process is called “self-expansion,” and it doesn’t just benefit each individual partner, it also greatly strengthens the marriage as a whole. Researchers have recently found that “the more self-expansion people experience from their partner, the more committed and satisfied they are in the relationship.

A true Married Master Mind is achieved when spouses not only grow, but grow together, achieving a powerful oneness. A quote from a recent New York Times article on the subject of marriage and self-expansion explains how this works:

Additional research suggests that spouses eventually adopt the traits of the other — and become slower to distinguish differences between them, or slower to remember which skills belong to which spouse.

In experiments by Dr. Aron, participants rated themselves and their partners on a variety of traits, like “ambitious” or “artistic.” A week later, the subjects returned to the lab and were shown the list of traits and asked to indicate which ones described them.

People responded the quickest to traits that were true of both them and their partner. When the trait described only one person, the answer came more slowly. The delay was measured in milliseconds, but nonetheless suggested that when individuals were particularly close to someone, their brains were slower to distinguish between their traits and those of their spouses.

“It’s easy to answer those questions if you’re both the same,” Dr. Lewandowski explains. “But if it’s just true of you and not of me, then I have to sort it out. It happens very quickly, but I have to ask myself, ‘Is that me or is that you?’ ”

It’s not that these couples lost themselves in the marriage; instead, they grew in it. Activities, traits and behaviors that had not been part of their identity before the relationship were now an essential part of how they experienced life.

All of this can be highly predictive for a couple’s long-term happiness. One scale designed by Dr. Aron and colleagues depicts seven pairs of circles. The first set is side by side. With each new set, the circles begin to overlap until they are nearly on top of one another. Couples choose the set of circles that best represents their relationship. In a 2009 report in the journal Psychological Science, people bored in their marriages were more likely to choose the more separate circles. Partners involved in novel and interesting experiences together were more likely to pick one of the overlapping circles and less likely to report boredom. “People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person,” Dr. Lewandowski says. “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”

How to Form a Married Master Mind

The key to turning your marriage into a Master Mind is to always be challenging each other to be better and bringing your best self to the relationship.

Take an interest in what each other is working on. If your wife is working on a new project at work or at home, ask her about it. Don’t just nod your head and act like you’re listening–ask some probing questions. Challenge her thinking. Ask your wife to do the same with you about your work.

Help and offer support when you’re able. Even before Kate and I worked on the blog together, we helped each other with our individual endeavors. When Kate was working on her Masters thesis, I read it through a few times and offered suggestions on how it could be improved. And when she started teaching community college, I helped her plan a few lectures where I had some expertise in a particular subject.

And in turn, she helped me. When I was an undergrad, I was a terrible writer. But with Kate’s help, I improved substantially. She helped me edit every one of my term papers and offered suggestions on how I could improve my writing. When I was preparing for the LSAT (the law school entrance exam), Kate worked with me on questions I was struggling with. And when I was on the law review, Kate (God bless her) read and edited my entire 30 page law review article about two really boring environmental law statutes. Bottom line, even though you’re not “officially” working together on projects, you can still operate as a team.

Talk about stuff other than work or kids. When Kate and I go out to restaurants, we like to people watch a bit. Something we’ve consistently observed are couples who sit across from each other in silence the entire meal, or if they do talk, they talk about their kids or work.

Sure, I understand. Kids and work become a big part of your life when you’re married and have a family. But I think it’s important for a couple to engage each other in other subjects.  First, it keeps the relationship fresh, but more importantly, talking about varied subjects in a substantive manner can help improve different facets of your life. I can’t count the number of ideas I’ve gotten for the blog from conversations with Kate about random topics.

Need stuff to talk about? Then read! Kate and I are always reading books, articles, and blog posts, and always asking each other, “Have you read anything interesting lately?” Then we’ll have a great conversation about politics, religion, and culture. And of course getting out and doing new things will give you good fodder for discussions as well. Have a little friendly debate sometimes!

Check your pride at the door. In order for any Master Mind group to work, you have to check your pride at the door and be willing to accept feedback and criticism. This can be especially hard in a relationship because it’s easy to personalize criticism–both in the giving and receiving. When we first started working on the blog together, Kate and I found this pretty challenging, but with a lot of effort, we’ve become much more in-sync and understanding of our different working and communication styles. You need to have a mutual understanding that you only give criticism that has the purpose of uplifting and edifying. Each person in the relationship has to constantly check themselves to ensure that pride never rears its ugly head. Also, you can’t be afraid of calling the other person out when you notice they’re out of line. This creates conflict, of course, but you learn to work through it.

In that same vein, don’t make everything a competition. I’ve seen couples where the husband and wife try to one up each other. It’s a recipe for disaster. Be companions, not competitors. If your wife experiences success, be genuinely happy for her and don’t get jealous. You should expect the same from your wife.

Regular meetings and yearly retreats. Kate and I have daily meetings where we discuss not only issues affecting the website, but also our home life. We share what each other has planned for the week and see if there’s anything either of us can do to help each other.  We also discuss finances, assign chores, and make grocery lists. Boring stuff. But it’s at those daily meetings that our Marriage Master Mind syncs up so everything runs smoothly in the McKay household.

Another tradition Kate and I have is to take at least one yearly retreat where we make long-term personal and couple goals. We usually do these on a weekend camping trip. There’s something about the outdoors that recharges and inspires us. We’ll spend the day hiking and talking and then sit around the campfire that night writing down our goals in our respective journals.

Children need a Married Master Mind. If there’s ever a time when you need the power of a third brain, it’s when you have kids. You and your wife have this incredible responsibility to raise these little people to be fully functioning adults. As new parents, Kate and I have seen how useful it is to have two people working together to raise a baby. It’s also funny to see how our gender differences are already popping up in how we approach parenting, but how our differences actually make for better parenting overall.

Marry a woman who’s on board with the Master Mind idea. If you’re not married, but plan on getting hitched one day, you might be thinking, “How do I find a woman who wants to make our marriage a Master Mind?” That’s a good question. I know several men who complain that their wives don’t support them in their goals and endeavors, while their wives expect them to be supportive of their goals. These men are really frustrated and unhappy in their marriages. And who can blame them?

An important key in making the Married Master Mind work is having a spouse who’s on board with the idea. Some people are just so selfish and self-centered that they’ll never want to have a relationship based on the idea of mutual support and encouragement. Or they’re so dull that they’ll never have anything to contribute on their end. No matter what you do, a Marriage Master Mind won’t work with these people. So picking a spouse that will be supportive from the get go is an important factor in the success of a Married Master Mind.

The reason I knew Kate was going to be such an amazing wife was the support, encouragement, and feedback she gave me before we were married. When I was on my two year mission in Mexico, she wrote encouraging letters to me every month and sent me incredible care packages. When we were dating, she offered to read and edit my school papers. And we never ran out of interesting things to talk about.

A Married Master Mind takes work and dedication, but it’s a powerful tool in reaching your full potential. Nothing is better than putting your head together with your wife and forming a magical third brain which spawns fresh ideas and new inspiration about life. A Married Master Mind allows you to grow as individuals and become a strong, powerful unit that’s ready to take on the world.

Are you part of a Married Master Mind? Share your stories and insights with us in the comments!

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