The second important cause of conflict is our abuse of that wonderful faculty, imagination. Imagination enhances our lives by supplementing the inadequacies of the real world, or our experience of it, and can also give us the vision to transform present reality into something new and better. As a creative faculty, imagination has a particularly exciting part to play in art and literature, invention and discovery. Imagination builds castles in the air in which children and the young at heart can dream their dreams in peace. We must not undervalue dreams, for they lead us to a wonderful world where everything is possible. But we must not forget to wake up from these dreams nor, like Don Quixote and countless other dreamers, confuse dreams with reality.

So what is imagination? The power of imagination is a typically human function which, unlike the five outer senses we share with animals, such as touch and sight, may be regarded as an inner sense. Our ability to think is our second inner sense, which we use to attain our third inner sense, our ability to understand. When we perceive something with our outer senses and want to understand it, we have first to imagine it before we can think about it.  

If we imagine something, but are too lazy to think about it, instead of gaining understanding we develop prejudices. These are off-the-peg, second-hand opinions that are the product of accepting the judgements that result from other people’s thinking without first examining them ourselves and weighing them in the balance of our own understanding. Such second-hand, impersonal thinking may come from friends or family or from books, newspapers, radio, television, or even from education and other sources.

Throughout its long history, the human race has always had a tendency to build up a body of settled opinion clad in the robes of universally received tradition. This is usually flattering when applied to ourselves, derogatory when applied to others: other races, other social or religious groups, other customs. We embrace these prejudices because we find them comforting, or because we are too lazy to form independent opinions of our own, or because they flatter the good opinion we like to have of ourselves.

What has all this to do with marital problems? A great deal. Many couples live together for years, fondly believing they know all about each other and in reality ignorant of everything except a paltry collection of ideas, opinions and misconceptions that each has built up about the other on the flimsiest of evidence. One day, when your imagination is off duty, you may open your eyes and be unpleasantly surprised to find you have been living with a stranger all these years. Perhaps you have heard the story of the couple on their Golden Wedding day.

'Unselfishness is what marriage is all about,' said Mike. ‘For fifty years I’ve been eating chicken legs because I knew you preferred the breast.'

'But I don’t,' said Joan. 'I prefer the leg, but I always gave it to you because I thought it was your favourite.' 

Touching though it is, that story illustrates how little many couples really tell each other. Yet if we have not even discussed such simple matters as eating preferences, think how much harder it is to share our ideas about more important subjects like our relationship and marriage itself.