Marriage counseling and therapy isn’t always for everyone, and many couples struggle to find methods for navigating tricky and sometimes daunting aspects of relationships and marriage. However, Santa Monica locals Charly Ligety and Les Starck have recently changed the game in relationship-therapy for couples everywhere with their startup company Very Engaging and its tangible games, activities, and lessons now available in their books.

Ligety and Starck, both originally from out of state, first met in an elevator that neither knew was taking them to both of their first days of their new job, working in the same office for commercial real-estate banking. They looked at each other and realized that they were wearing matching Brooks Brothers shirts and khakis, and “looked like we had called each other and coordinated,” recalled Starck.

The two of them hit it off through work and became friends quickly. At the time, they were both recently engaged to their current wives, and both were going to premarital counseling. Over many talks, they began to share relationship experiences and found parallels between many of the issues that they were experiencing with their respective partners. Hence, they began cultivating ideas for what would later become their startup company. Starck recalled some of these conversations they shared.

“We stepped out of the elevator and realized right then and there that we were starting the same job that day,” Starck said. “So, we met at work, and from there, our friendship grew. We spent a lot of time over lunches discussing various problems and opportunities to create meaningful and fun solutions to those problems, and over time started talking about the Very Engaging book and it just seemed like something we had to at least try to create, so we went for it.”

After early 2016, the two of them started brainstorming and slowly piecing together what would later become their books. They were determined to create a literary medium that could help couples sort out issues, both ones that were “silly” or light, as well as the deep, typically concerning topics that couples tend to sidestep or avoid, in an entertaining yet meaningful way. They began to create numerous activities, “spit-balling ideas back and forth constantly.” These activities, for example a “gazing contest” or a fill-in-the-blank or a drawing activity, are designed to help couples attack meaningful issues in an entertaining and game-like fashion, while still sustaining the drive for compromise and solutions.

“There’s a lot of great products out there for couples to connect with each other, but there’s a big missing piece in the middle – on one of side of the spectrum you have pre-marital counseling, which is highly structured and quite serious in tone – the workbooks that accompany those sessions are a little dry, with black and white pages with a lot of writing and no friendly or playful tone – it all just feels like work. Then on the other side of the spectrum, you have all of these party games and card games that are fun to do with friends, for example Cards Against Humanity, but the only thing you accomplish from them is having a great laugh. While laughing is important, these games do not really get to the heart of any meaningful, structured conversations. So we saw an opportunity to combine the benefits of pre-marital counseling and a lot of that research with the playful design and humorous tone of many of those card games,” explained Ligety.

They saw an opportunity to combine the two ends of this spectrum into one product. The two of them started out by reflecting upon their own relationships and pondering different ways to approach different problems. They experimented with different conversation prompts and ideas. Soon, they had created hundreds of these activities, and needed some way of testing them out, other than just at home. They started to send them to many of their friends who were in relationships, and received what they recall as some of their best feedback. They also both credit their wives with helping them immensely throughout the process and giving very constructive “blunt, honest, feedback.”

Neither of them were previously in the marriage industry, so they realized soon after starting to delve into the project that they needed to work with professionals. They reached out to many other therapists and counselors for feedback and advice with their activities and ideas. Every page of their finalized copy has gone through many hands before completion.

“It was a collaborative process,” said Starck. “Every page is the result of many layers of feedback we have received from our wives, our friends, couples in all stages of relationships, and marriage therapists.”

The books themselves come in two versions. One book has the cover of “Hers” and one has the cover of “His.” They correspond directly and all activities are designed to be done together, with each partner holding and working in his or her own copy. Though may seem at first glance as though they are designed for only husband and wife, these books work just as well for same-sex couples. On their crowdfunding page, they are available for purchase as “His + His” and “Hers + Hers” as well as “His + Hers.”

“We wrote the books with general, neutral language like “your partner” to keep the format flexible – so whether you are talking about your wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, man, woman, all can fall into that generalized language,” described Ligety. He described how they have been testing the activities on same-sex couples from the get-go, and even noted how some prominent bloggers in the gay community had posted about their books on social media. “This book is not just for straight couples, it is for all couples,” he said definitively.

To help their startup and to get the books in the right financial spot for retail sale, they have been crowdfunding through Kickstarter, a site that allows people to fundraise online while also making available other bonuses to donations. They set out with the goal of $25,000, and are near but still have a little ways to go. Their Kickstarter allows viewers to make a simple $10 donation with no reward, a $35 donation with a book set along with other small items, a $100 donation with even more rewards, all the way up to $500 with the reward of 25 book sets and pencils. They explained that crowdfunding helps them get a good sense of their customers and helps promote the products in a way that forms community.

With only 10 days to go in their fundraising, they are hopeful, though they do need a handful of more backers on their crowdfunding page. Their financial goal is essential to allow them to sell the books and make them available to the most people possible. They are also excited and are looking forward to spreading their message and making their guidance methods available to help improve relationships everywhere.

“It seems like a lot of the divide in politics boils down to a general lack of knowing how to communicate with each other, and being able to articulate your perceptions and your viewpoints in a calm and constructive manner. There is a need for more people to have empathy for one another,” Ligety said. “I think that this book is really the first step that a lot of people can take, not only in communicating better with their partners, but also helping to find ways to talk to other people. Having the ability to create a space with your loved ones to articulate your thoughts about your future goals or your values about money, or various aspects of your life, is actually very important to how you perceive the world around you and how you treat others. The product is timely in that way. It is a communication guidebook. It’s between two loving partners, but there’s a bigger purpose. We can always learn something new about ourselves and our partners, and this is just a great way that people can have fun while doing it.”

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