Monday, December 10, 2012

Holidays, Young Couples and the Families Who Love Them

An unanticipated negotiation for young couples sometimes comes in the early years of marriage - which family to spend the holidays with - his, hers or try to do both? It does not occur to couples in the blissful stages of the wedding and planing for marriage that their holidays will never be the same.  The couple has to pick one or the other family to spend each holiday with which means one or the other spouse will not be with their family.

 Along with the richness and beauty of becoming a couple,there are inevitable losses.  Not being with your family on the holiday 100% of the time on your timetable is one of those losses. I imagine it is a loss as well for the families of the young couples who now have to share their children with their child's spouse's family. There is a certain latent hostility inherent in in-law relationships which surfaces in  all the tacky in-law jokes that you hear.  Sharing is hard, especially sharing your adult kids and your treasured family traditions.

How do we gracefully untangle from this complex family tangle?

Letting go is probably a good start. Do not cling too tightly to the past and make space for your family traditions to morph into something new.  I know this is easier said then done.  You are a family in transition now - integrating the comforting traditions of the past with the new life that is weaving into the present.

Let yourself grieve and mourn as you let go of your childhood holiday traditions.  Judith Viorst has a classic book called Necessary Losses.  This is one of them.  Grieve the loss of the old so you can welcome the new.  It will save a lot of conflict and wear and tear.  For those of you who embrace Christmas - along with the birth of the Christ child, embrace the holiday season that your family is birthing anew.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holidays and the Fantasy of the Perfect Family

     Holidays are more complicated then they appear.  Oozing with expectations from one too many fantasy-creating Hallmark images, holidays can be a recipe for disaster.  The pressure to create a picture perfect family scenario of a thankful family carving the turkey is enormous. Those fantasies can lead to crushing perfectionism with our longing for what we wish had been.  Our longings can cause us to try too hard and overlook the family that we do have now, in real time.  Stir in a little alcohol at a family gathering and you can have a real mess.  
    How can we avoid exhaustion,spending more then we have, trying to do it all, and other symptoms of addictively seeking the perfect holiday?
1.) Staying in the here and now would probably be a good start.  Rewinding to the past or fast forwarding to the future, probably won't enhance what you have now with the possible exception of fond and idealized reminiscences.  They are probably okay.

2.) Radical acceptance of your family members is another good idea - with all their well known imperfections and character defects.  Don't be mad at them for the discrepancy between your idealized notion of who they ought to be and who they are.  Accepting them for who they are, loving them as is can be the beginning of authentic intimacy.  I believe that I discovered that truth when I was teaching Marriage and the Family at DePaul when I taught about developmental stages of marriage. It's true.  You have to mourn the idealized notion of who you wish your mother, father, son, daughter fill in the blank, oh yes, last but not least, spouse were. Then you have the glorious opportunity to love them for who they are...which might actually be cooler then who you wish they were and all the resultant resentment that goes along with that.

3.) For the final ingredient, stir in a little gratitude.  I remember once having a whopping fight with my husband over the exact perfect positioning of the Christmas tree - in front of the window or in the corner? It was a classic fight for a holiday perfectionist and guaranteed to ruin anyone's day who happened to be within earshot.  An acquaintance came by and marveled at the beauty of our tree.  Somehow she dropped the fact that they did not have or could not afford a Christmas tree. It caused an immediate shift in my perspective about the  necessity of the perfect tree.  I suggest that you ask yourself How important is it? before you relapse into a holiday snit.  And be grateful for the beauty of the half of your glass that is full.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Maturity in Marriage

So, I was all set to write another post on unconscious fear of intimacy.  I still will do that.  God knows there are plenty of reasons to be fearful of intimacy - both conscious and unconscious, real and imagined.  I found myself pondering what's really important in marriage?  The older I get - the longer I both practice and am married, I realize that what's really important in marriage are the basics.

1.) Kindness - when in doubt don't growl or grumble at your spouse.  An unexpected kind word or thank you will reap dividends in the emotional bank of marriage.  The esteemed, revered and frequently quoted marriage researcher and therapist, John Gottman, has learned from many hours of research and observation of couples that a harsh start-up in conversation dooms the rest of the conversation to a downhill, slippery slope of re activity.  Duh.  If you think about it, it is common sense 101.  A tone or comment of kindness at the outset of a conversation guarantees a better outcome.

2.) Saying sorry -  The 12 Step Programs (AA, Al-Anon) have a step which goes something like this When we were wrong, promptly admitted it. How's that for humility?  Let's say you and your spouse are having words.  What's the single most disarming thing that you can do to put a halt to the skirmish?  Admit your part in it. Let's say you're 1% wrong and your spouse is 99% wrong.  What's the right approach? Acknowledge your 1%.  Own up and take full responsibility for your 1%. And then point out their 99%? You may wonder.  The answer is no.  Take responsibility for your part in the kerfuffle.  Trust me you have a part in it.

3.) Bend and you're less likely to break - A little flexibility goes a very long way in marriage.  When in doubt, surrender.  Butting heads and power struggles are very characteristic of the early stages of marriage.  Duking it out over the usual - time, money and  which direction the toilet paper roll should hang may have a certain passionate exhilaration in your early twenties but the charm wears off rapidly and the winner often turns out to be the loser. 
Here's a noble for instance.  This weekend my incredibly flexible and hardworking husband wanted to have dinner at The Texas Roadhouse. A noisy restaurant full of red meat eaters is pretty close to my idea of hell on earth. In Wisconsin, no less.  In the middle of a two hour ride home, no less.  Much to my credit, I did  not moan, bitch or kvetch. I know right from wrong.  The poor dude had been riding a lawn mower non-stop for three days straight. A steak it was...Love is sometimes eating at The Texas Roadhouse in Wisconsin.

4.) Your spouse can not read your mind - Say what you need.  Wishing your spouse knew exactly what you want and need and will produce it unsolicited is a common but somewhat infantile fantasy. Do not expect your spouse to read your mind. It is not reasonable or realistic.  You gotta let 'em know.

If couples who have been married a long time want to comment on the cement that has kept them together for all these years, I would love to hear from them.  We need a little first hand experience which will no doubt put my steak eating sacrifice to shame. What are the basics that have strengthened your marriage?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Intimacy: Longing and Fear

Why do so many of us yearn for intimacy yet unconsciously sabotage it? What are we afraid of? An awesome part of our humanity is to love and crave a soul mate and companion with whom we can share our hearts and our lives. Why is achieving this wonderful and most basic human longing so complicated?
        Let me give you the short version of the answer to that question.  Obviously, the answer is as complex as each individual situation - but I will give you some broad stroke thoughts on the answer. This is after all, Marriage Therapy 101.
     This profound longing for closeness and intimacy can stir up equally profound and often unconscious fears.  A fear of abandonment, for example, is a common anxiety that starts to stir.  If you have had a loss earlier in your life, say the loss of a parent by death or divorce, that fear of abandonment is easy to trace in a concrete sort of way.  Sometimes it's just a free floating fear without an easily traceable source.
     Here's how this issue can get re-enacted in real time.  Let's say a couple is taking baby steps towards feeling closer and more intimate. Seemingly out of nowhere, they are bickering and conflictual. One or the other has made a seemingly random comment that pushed the other's buttons and an argument has ensued.    
      What just happened here?  As they were tiptoeing into the waters of increased closeness and bonding, an unconscious fear of intimacy kicked in for one or the other or both of them.  They are not consciously aware of picking a fight because they are afraid of being close.  It happened unconsciously and served it's purpose.  Although they are no longer as close as they were a few minutes ago, the unconscious fear of abandonment which they were not conscious of in the first place has gone away as well.
     Now what?  In our intimacy scenario that we have described here, the couple squabble until they are now more separate then they were in the beginning of this encounter.  Once they have pushed each other apart, reconciling behavior kicks in.They don't want to lost the other person. One or the other starts to make up until they are back at the original place they were when this all started.
     When I was training at the Family Institute many years ago, we called this The Intimacy Feedback Loop. We learned that there were predictable patterns of intimacy that couples learned to dance with one another which were to some degree calibrated by their unconscious fears of intimacy.
     Thirty years of practice and a lot of life later, I have learned that couples don't always fit into a tidy little diagram.  Life is messier and more wonderful then that. However, there is something to this model.  What fears might you have of intimacy? Once they are conscious and you are aware that they are in the mix, you can avoid re-enacting them.  Feel free to send them along under the comment section. I will be happy to address them in a highly confidential manner on this blog.
      I love the saying from the 12 Step Programs, Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  It is possible for a couple to change their dance of intimacy.  I see it every day and it warms my heart.  Well, maybe not every day but often enough to know it's possible.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012


As a therapist, I am better at a dialogue then a monologue.  I want to write about relevant ideas that you the reader would like to hear about - from my perspective as a marriage therapist. If you the reader have any subjects - that are appropriate and I feel like I can reasonably address, please send them along. In the meantime, coming up soon, I will start a series on resolving conflict - I have some awesome suggestions that will definitely work.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sex and the Sabbath

I have always been intrigued by rhythms of work and rest. Being a worknik myself-  which is a funky way of saying workaholic -  probably explains why. In our culture it may sound noble, but it's actually a cruel and punishing way to live. Everyone I know is on fast forward.

When I picked up the book Sabbath The Day of Delight by Rabbi Abraham E .Millgram for 75 cents at the used book corner of my library, I did not know what I was in for. This book has become my friend and adviser.

The book describes a prescribed period of time where work is prohibited.  By God, no less. Preparations for food and other necessities are completed in advance. It is a sacred day of rest.

The Sabbath starts at sundown and ends the following sundown.  It opens with a prayer lighting of candles  fresh bread challah, flowers on a white table cloth and a home made meal. Parents bless their children and prayers are said over the Sabbath meal using wine and spices.

In the words of a Jewish sage that I read, The Sabbath is a day about being not doing. It's a day of re-charging our batteries - spiritually, physically and psychically so that we can go back in the world re-newed and refreshed.

In case you are wondering, I am not Jewish. Discovering the Jewish observance of the Sabbath was like falling down a rabbit hole for me that opened into a whole new world.  It is a breath of fresh air in a caffeinated world that is always on fast forward.

Your time perception changes and 24 hours feels like forever. One Christian theologian calls the Sabbath a Cathedral in time.  Rabbi Heshel calls it a preview of eternity.

How does all this relate to marriage? you may be wondering by now.  I googled sex and the Sabbath. I discovered that sex is not only allowed on the Sabbath, it is encouraged and endorsed.  In fact it is a mitzvah.

Consistent with enjoying food, rest, family and other delights, sex between a married couple is one of the delights of the Sabbath.  I have come to think of sex as the glue that holds married couples together. How sweet is it that sex has been a part of this ancient practice for centuries. A truly profound book on the subject of marriage for people of all faiths is Sex, God and the Sabbath by Rabbi Alan S. Green.

You may wonder what I am thinking as a marriage therapist.  The answer is Shabbat Shalom.  Have an awesome Sabbath. Go for it and your marriage will flourish, in fact it will be a little preview of heaven on earth.  I have it on very good authority.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Real Marriage - Hope Springs

....that elusive American movie screen subject: an honest how the New York Times describes Hope Springs. Personally, I thought it was a terrific movie about marriage. Unlike Abby and Ira a movie which scoffs at marriage, Hope Springs portrays a real marriage and its possibilities.
        Unsatisfied with a marriage where passion has dried up like an old grape, Kay (Meryl Streep) begins a determined but civil campaign to re-engage Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) in an intimate marriage. Snoozing in front of the TV every night before he toddles off to his own bedroom, Arnold does not look like a likely candidate to have his marriage jump started. He eats the same breakfast every morning and reads the newspaper barely making eye contact with his pleasant wife.
Kay reads about a week long marriage intensive therapy session in Maine. She tells Arnold that she has purchased tickets to Maine and that she is going.  She hopes he will too. Arnold's last minute arrival at the plane just as it it about to depart is the first sign that he is in this too.  His willing if somewhat passive compliance bodes well for the future. 
        After they arrive in Maine and have several sessions with Dr. Feld the urgency to fix the marriage kicks up a notch.  Arnold is finally getting how unhappy Kay is. It's time for him to make his move. To watch cautious, frugal Arnold finagle his way into a lovely restaurant to take Kay followed by a breathtakingly romantic evening in a beautiful room upstairs in an inn warms the cockles of this marriage therapist's heart.  This guy is finally getting it - he needs to pursue his charming wife or risk losing her. Kay is a great role model for communicating what she needs without begging, cajoling, criticizing or tearing her hair out.  You know in her quiet and demure way, she means business.
        Arnold almost succeeds in a spectacular seduction scene and then, inexplicably, he is unable to complete the act of making love to his wife.  Just when you thought they were going to live happily ever after.  In their next session with Dr. Feld he is very matter of fact - he discharges them home with a new therapist...pleased with how far they have come.  Accepting the almost spectacular seductions in marriage is an act of wisdom and, as they say,life. It does not always end like in the movies.
       Back in their every day predictable life in Omaha, Kay has not been mollified. It's a real marriage or no marriage for Kay. There are no ugly threats or ultimatums.  She's packing to go stay at her friend’s house to take care of the cat. I don't know how Arnold has figured out that this is in the works but he gets that it's now or never. With courage and boldness he marches into her bedroom and they make love for the first time in five years. The earth moved. The marriage was revived.  The next morning, they go through their predictable breakfast routine. Arnold almost leaves like usual but retraces his steps and gives Kay the mother of all good-bye kisses. You know he will be back for more.
      Kay and Arnold are what I would call marriage heroes.  They hang in there despite a very long drought in their marriage. Neither of them had an affair of an addiction or any other garden variety means of acting out. The tolerated a severe drought in their marriage and yet they persevered and stayed married.  Kay did not give up her dream for a real marriage including sex and all. Lots of older couples with all the complexities of aging in both sexes simply throw in the towel so to speak when it comes to sex but not Kay or Arnold.
      As this couple whose love life had died, giggles and renews their vows  in the final scene , you see the transformation that has taken place and that transformation, in fact resurrection, in marriage  is possible.  They are my heroes.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Movie Review

A friend recommended Ira and Abby to me, a movie about marriage and about therapy.  You might say it takes a swipe at both.  I am personally, all in favor of movies that satirize therapy. As therapists, it's good to see ourselves caricatured  and to giggle at the element of truth that is in all good caricatures. Most of the time, we therapists take ourselves way too seriously.

 Like a manic defense, behind the comedy, this movie presents a cynical picture of marriage as essentially an empty ruse. The seemingly good marriages have undercover affairs. The adorable couple who marry twice during the marriage, finally divorce for the second time at the end of the marriage and promise never to marry again.

If commitment, enduring the tough times, forgiveness and the kind of hanging in there that transforms relationships into mature love is not what marriage is about, I don't know what is. You'd  never know that from watching this movie.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Distancer

Last Monday I talked about the pursuer in the pursuer/distancer dyad.  This week, I will talk about the distancer.  Of course. this is a two step. This is a dance that two people dance together and sometimes roles change - the distancer becomes the pursuer and so on.

Some of these interpersonal formulas are a bit simplistic but essentially true. I hope you will hang in there with me and that this is helpful in your relationship.  Keep in mind again, that this is a two step - both partners participate.  It is my experience that the distancer is sensitive to what might be perceived as efforts by the other partner to control.  Let's say the pursuer says to the distancer, You never say you love me. It is unlikely, unless the distancer is very mature, that he or she will turn around and say You're right, honey. I'll work on that.

A more typical response from a distancer would be to not respond at the moment.  The request may register but be experienced as an effort to control.  The distancer is more likely to respond on his or her own timetable. The dynamic is just a titch oppositional.  If the request is perceived as a demand, on an unconscious level, the distancer sometimes will dig his or her heals in. If the request is perceived as a demand, wisdom is not too escalate the requests at that moment in time.

The other sensitivity of the distancer is to real or perceived criticism. If the distancer, who is likely working hard to do things right, feels accused or attacked, he or she will no doubt pull into their shell and withdraw a bit.  A gentle request coupled with a little appreciation goes a long way. Honey, it means so much to me when you say I love you.  I would be thrilled if you would say it more often will go a long way.  Trust the translator in so many marriages, what is happening is that the pursuers attempt to reach out is perceived as a criticism and the cycle takes on a life of its own.

And, I always remind my clients that John Gottman, marital guru, says that a harsh start-up is doomed.  Don't even bother going there.     

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Patterns of Pursuit in Marriage

There are predictable patterns of interactions that take place in relationships- especially intimate ones. One  pattern that everyone recognizes is the pursuer/distancer.  In short - one person pursues, initiates and reaches out for connection and love in whatever shape or form is meaningful to them.  This is not necessarily a conscious plan, more of an instinctive reaching out.

  What happens in the pursuer/distancer  dyad is that when the pursuer reaches out, the distancer may pull away or at the very least not respond on the timetable of the pursuer. And the chase is on...creating what I learned to call at the Family Institute, an intimacy feedback loop.  That is a technical term to describe the dance of intimacy that takes place in normal every day relationships. When the chase takes huge swings - say between intimacy and violence- it is on the more dysfunctional end of the continuum.  Most relationships have a dance of intimacy - that is what makes them both fun and frustrating.

This is where most marriage manuals would step in with a clinical example. I generally hate clinical examples and skip over them if at all possible.One of the best descriptions of this dance is in and article by Joseph Barnett called Narcissism in the Obsessional Hysteric Marriage. I will do my best to track it down for you - there were no such things as links when this article was published, but it is timeless.

Essentially what happens, to simplify the dance greatly, is that the pursuer reaches out and is sensitive to real or perceived abandonment - a late phone call or no phone call at all, a glance that is not returned or a rebuffed advance are hurtful to anyone but some people are particularly vulnerable to this type of wound. Early childhood losses magnify the sensitivity to here and now losses.   The pursuer intensifies the chase in an attempt to repair the wound and to re-connect.  Each time the distancer pulls back and does not respond  in what the pursuer experiences as a reconciling or healing gesture, the pursuer is wounded.  Finally the pursuer gives up the pursuit and chills - most likely hurt and annoyed. When the pursuer stop pursuing, giving the distancer a chance to experience the loss of connection and intimacy, most likely the distancer will turn around and finally seek the pursuer becoming - the pursuer himself or herself.  Maybe I should have stuck with a clinical example after all.

The moral of this story - if you are a pursuer and find your self in a pursuer/distancer chase - is to chill. Chill meaning don't continue the pursuit for now.  Let your  partner or spouse know what you needs are. It hurts my feelings when you come home late. I would appreciate it if you would make every effort to get home when you see you would or to call and let me know you will be late. When they do respond to your request, be sure and let them know that you appreciate it.  Excellent self care and focusing on yourself, again, for the time being, will help when you are in the middle of a relentless pursuit.  In fact paradoxically, ending the pursuit will turn the whole thing around.   

I'll give you a little time to digest this and talk about the distancer in my next post.  In the meantime, I welcome dialogue and questions from readers.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Two More Resources on Sex

I got several inquiries about other resources about sex - here are several resources you might want to check out. David Schnarch is a highly regarded marriage therapist.  In an age when you had to pick either a sex therapist or a marriage therapist, he integrates both.
So, I'm bringing this book to your attention Secrets of a Passionate Marriage.  I've read the book at several different times in my life, listened to the book on tape and heard Schnarch speak, back in the day, at the Family Institute. I remember thinking his book was a bit steamy and graphic. I double checked the review on Goodreads to see what other people thought of this book. People tended to love it - although several people thought the author's ego got in the way. So, if you're looking for an interesting resource on sex in marriage, you might want to check this out.  Schnarch maintains that people have their best sex in their fifties and sixties.  That's good news for some of us and gives the rest of you something to look forward to.

The other book that I kind of liked is called Sheet Music:Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage. I discovered this book by Kevin Leman randomly on my Kindle and was pleasantly surprised.  BTW, this book is written from and references a Christian worldview. If you are not comfortable with that, stop reading now. If that is your worldview or at least you are open, I found this book to be rather delightful. No puritanical principles in this book - but a picture-  another steamy one of the gifts in store for married couples. This author does not tip toe around.

If you have resources that  you would recommend, don't hesitate to send them in on comments.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Promised Book Review: A Marriage Memoir

No Cheating No Dying. I Had A Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make it Better by Elizabeth Weil is a marriage memoir, the story of one couples sojourn into the land of marriage enrichment programs and therapies.   Like a therapy travelogue, this is a great book for couples who are thinking about heading down the path towards marriage improvement and are unsure where to start.  Elizabeth and her husband Dan try a smorgasbord of options and their dialogue and observations as they tip-toe into each new experiences are nothing less than hilarious and refreshing. 

Take their highly regarded, psychoanalytically oriented marriage therapist who does therapy in a reclining lawn chair due to her bad back and reminds Dan of Stephen Hawking.  Her initial comment that they need to find a problem and not just focus on their strengths leaves me scratching my head and thinking that’s a titch arrogant but overall the therapist makes interventions that I  think are pretty good,. As the couple leaves their first session, I find myself thinking they’re going to dump her for sure.  
Liz and Dan’s reactions to the marriage gurus who they encounter on their journey, “What the f--  kind of name is Harville?”are heartwarmingly authentic in a field where everyone takes themselves terribly seriously and assumes they have found the one true way.  By the way that would be Harville Hendricks, of course.  You could safely refer to him as a marriage guru.

A glimpse inside the heads of Liz and Dan as they leave their sessions provides a little humility for seasoned professionals like me who can’t actually read people’s minds as they are leaving our offices.  Other pilgrims on the road to marital betterment will surely be able to relate to Liz and Dan’s reactions to the therapists, educational groups and self help efforts along the way.

The glimpse into their marriage while be comforting to couples who are wondering if they are the only ones with issues.  Liz shares the heartbreak that reverberates through their marriage with the loss of their baby, as well as their joys, struggles and eccentricities.    Most importantly, you see transformation begin to take place in their marriage as they begin to experience the other person’s perspective, to give-up their hard fought realities and put themselves in the other person’s moccasins, so to speak. They stayed in marriage therapy after all. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


     Want to watch a marriage transform?  Watch the Lifetime TV show Seven Days of Sex.  When I  heard about the show, I thought to myself great another tacky reality TV show. The last thing I want to do is spend my time watching any reality TV show, much less the tacky ones.  My husband (wouldn't you know) wanted to see it and I thought given my line of work, I should keep an open mind.

     I have seen about four couples on this series undertake this exercise of having sex for seven consecutive days. By the way, the TV show is  remarkably tasteful.  There is no skin shown. When it's time for the couples to do what they've signed up to do, the bedroom door closes. Nothing elicit or tawdry,

    At the beginning of the week,  some of these couples are snarly and surly.  They are resistant and mean.  You might say they are totally not in the mood. By the end of the week, they are giggling with one another and purring like kittens. The couples who were spitting nails and one another at the beginning of the week are renewing their vows with tears in their eyes. It is a very credible journey and a testament to the power of sex to jump start a marriage.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

SARCASM that's really random you may be saying to yourself.  What does sarcasm have to do with the subject of marriage?
     Far be it from me to keep you guessing.
     Sarcasm is generally bad for marriages.  My understanding is that it is from the Latin word meaning tear flesh. It is an efficient way to express anger and possibly even amusing, but efficiency and wisdom are often unrelated.
     Generally, sarcasm will hurt your spouses feelings and piss them off.  If they are not the picture of maturity they may retaliate and lash back and then you are off to the races.
     Anger is a totally valid and legitimate feeling.  It is appropriate and helpful to express your angry feelings in marriage.  Take down your shield.  It hurt my feelings when you....will get you a lot closer to resolving your angry feelings then a pithy, sarcastic statement. An empathic spouse will be able to respond to your expression of hurt and vulnerability. You may even get a sorry somewhere along the line.
     I know  words like that hurt me when... may sound foreign to lots of you. It may sound contrived or like something you read in a self-help book or, perish the thought, marital therapy blog. But they do work.
      Sarcasm, although not identical, is a kissing cousin of contempt. And anyone who has ever been in marital therapy or read John Gottman, marriage researcher and most-likely to be quoted by your marriage therapist author,knows contempt in a marriage is a very bad thing. In fact it is  a predictable foreshadowing of divorce. You don't want to go there.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


So, if you are still checking in on this blog, you may be wondering where the heck I have been. The answer would be that I have been musing...on what subject to write about next.  What subject is profound and worthy of discussion? Sex, sarcasm, gratitude and more on infidelity are subjects that have been swirling through my mind.  I got one nice note from a reader telling me that my posts were funny and please keep posting....that inspired a true therapist to invite you to send me a quick comment about any subject you would like me to address.  I promise to comment. The comments that I receive are anonymous and I promise to respond in a way that respects your anonymity.  That should be easy to do since as far as I know I won't know who you are.  Don't worry, I will keep sending out my random musings with or without questions.  In fact, I will randomly muse in  my very next posting. Look forward to hearing from you.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Money and Control

All marriages are a dance of the right balance of freedom and control. That dance applies to money in marriage as well. A phenomenon that I have often seen in marriage is that when one spouse holds the reins tightly, the other spouse may exert their autonomy by spending.  This predictably will result in the more conservative spouse pulling in the reins, verbally of course, resulting in frustration on the part of the spouse who is more liberal in their spending habits. This is what's called a control struggle. I should also mention that over spending on one spouse's part will elicit rein tightening on the others.  This works both ways.

That's why a negotiated and agreed upon cap on your spending can save you a lot of hassle.  If you find yourself in this kind of money dance where one spouse becomes the money cop and the other spouse the money bad guy, start talking about your issue in a non- reactive, non-judgmental way to avoid further polarization.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

More Thoughts on Money and Decision Making

Last week's blog post was about an underlying truth that wise and mature couples practice.  When in doubt about spending, defer to your spouse.  If you can.  I appreciate that is much easier said then done.  It may not always be possible but when it is will be a great investment in your marriage if not in getting your own way.

Other bits and pieces of wisdom that I have learned over the year are as follows: pick an amount over which you will not spend without a marital consultation - say $50, $100, or $200.  After that, have an agreed upon amount over which you will confer with one another about the purchase.  Like a boat for example.  Do not purchase a boat without conferring with your spouse. The same goes for a pet.  I once bought a Saint Bernard for a boyfriend decades ago.  That's how I know what I'm talking about regarding unilateral decisions and pets.  The same concept applies for smaller pets but that may be a posting for another day.

Don't make big decisions unilaterally.  That is the moral of today's post.    

Monday, April 9, 2012

Money 101

Money and marriage...or is it marriage and money? You've heard all the warnings about how struggles about money are the root of all evil in marriage leading down the slippery slope to divorce court.
I'm not entirely sure that is true but I am glad to share what I have learned on my journey as a marriage therapist and, in my civilian life as a married person.
I'll start with the basics. Money in the here and now - real time, as they say. Not money as a symbolic and perhaps unconscious way to act out hostility and who knows what else but just plain old money issues.
First of all, consensus is great when it comes to spending money in marriage. I would say, when in doubt, check in with your spouse before spending money. It will earn you currency in your marital emotional bank. Take out your cell phone and call. Honey, I'm thinking of buying a $200 pair of shoes. I really need them so my chiropractor won't scoff at me for wearing such crappy shoes which make my back ache and then I am snarly at home. I know they're a lot of money but I think they will be a great investment. Okay with you? How could anyone say no to such a heartfelt and reasonable request? It is always good politics not to mention thoughtful and reasonable to check in with your spouse before you make a large-ish purchase. There's lots more to be said on the subject of marriage and money but I think this is a pretty good over arching principle to start out with. When in doubt, check in with your spouse before you spend.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


A friend who checks up on my blog postings graciously mentioned to me this morning that next week will have been a month since my last posting. Life happens. After a lifetime of what I brazenly call near perfect health, like a bolt of lightening, sciatica took over my body and I have been like a human pin cushion from the waist down for three weeks or so - I lost my Kindle, I swear caused by cognitive discombobulation caused by the pain from the sciatica, and my computer needed to be replaced leaving me computerless for 10 days or so.
Geez, the last thing I need is a therapist who talks about her own issues instead of listening to me, you may be saying to yourself. I don't blame you and trust me, in my office, it's all about you and your marriage. Perhaps my life lessons can have some relevance to your marriage and marriage in general.
One thing that I have learned during this slightly out of control chapter of my life is that people tend to get snarly when they're in pain. That would be me. I have often not had enough compassion for my husband who is a titch older that I am and has very creaky joints. Be nice to people who are in pain. It takes over a big percentage of your life and waking moments.
Take great care of yourself. Slow down. One of my wisest mentors used to always say to me like a mantra Listen to your body. I pass that wisdom onto my clients as well. You can't really love someone else unless you love yourself first.
Meanwhile, at the risk of sounding like little Susie Sunshine, this chapter of my life is giving me a chance to slow down, realize that despite my considerable grandiosity I am not super woman, and get back in touch with my physical self. As I have been slowly and meditatively swimming in the pool - something I never would have done without this bolt of lightening, it occurs to me that pain might be a gift...I actually mean that.

Monday, March 12, 2012

No Cheating, No Dying by Elizabeth Weil

Imagine my surprise when I opened the Book Review Section of the New York Times Book Review section and saw a review of a book by the author who I mentioned in my previous post. Did you follow me on that?

In last week's Sunday NY Times she wrote a piece about how most therapists are intimidated by couples therapy. As a couples therapist, I took umbrage at that but ultimately knew it to be true. I too was a less then seasoned couples therapist once and I know how complicated a treatment modality it is. I shot off an email to Ms. Weil and a letter to the editor at the NY Times. Imagine my surprise at a prompt reply from Liz Weil.

If you're following this blog, you might want to check out her book which describes her and her husband's sojourn through the land of marital improvement - including following a do-it yourself-remedy from a self-help manual, a psychoanalytic couples therapist, a marriage education class and an Imago therapy workshop, and surely not least, sex therapy. I should mention that they started with a reasonably happy marriage. I don't know about you all, but personally, I can't wait to read it.

Maggie Scarf, the reviewer who is one of the best writers on the subject of marriage who I have stumbled across over the decades likes the book. That's a pretty good endorsement. If you read the book, let me know what you think. How does it compare to your journey? I'll let you know my 2 cents worth.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How Not to Find a Couples Therapist

Elizabeth Weil revealed a dirty little secret in her article Three's A Crowd in this past Sunday's New York Times. The secret which is pushed back in the recesses of most seasoned therapist's consciousness goes something like this most therapists are intimidated by couples therapy. There I said it. To quote her quote by Richard Simon editor of Psychotherapy Networker, "It is widely acknowledged that couples therapy is the most challenging." Mon Dieu! No wonder there are so many unsatisfied former marriage therapy customers running around. Marriage therapy is a very tough treatment modality and lots of therapists are not comfortable with it.

Lest I do her essay an injustice, read it for yourself. Here's the link. Or go back and read it later.

There are however a few of us ripe and seasoned therapists kicking around who by virtue of professional and personal experience love marriage therapy, are not remotely intimidated by squabbling couples and, in my case, feel as proud as a mother hen when couples report greater intimacy and peace in their home. It does happen as an outcome of marriage therapy.

Given that marital therapy is a very complex treatment modality and given that therapists are coming out of the closet and admitting they are "intimidated" by marital therapy, finding a competent marital therapist requires a specialized search. Do not. I repeat do not pick a marital therapist off of your insurance panel just because you will only have to pay a $25 co-pay. Randomly picking a marriage therapist off a list is a bad idea. Your marriage is a precious investment. I always tell my clients that I am a lot cheaper then a divorce attorney - I don't mention by more then 50% from a low end divorce attorney but that is also true. If you want to save time and money pick someone who knows what they're doing.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Forgiveness is such a profound yet simple, topic. I amaze myself that I have the chutzpah to write a heading entitled Forgiveness and then attempt to address is in a few paragraphs. It is, however, a key ingredient to surviving the every day, nitty gritty of marital conflict and the horrific betrayal of infidelity.
What is forgiveness? I would define it as a conscious, intentional decision to let go of an angry response that you would be entitled to in order to balance the scales of justice. From my perspective, forgiveness is an act of the will, not an emotion. Don't expect to wake up one morning feeling "forgiving." In all likelihood, it is a decision that you will make. Forgiveness, despite what most people think, is not dependent on the other person saying sorry, a big sorry or a little sorry. Or making amends, as they say in the 12 Step Programs. From my vantage point it is an act of the will.
In the context of infidelity, forgiveness is not a cheap and easy Get Out of Jail free card for the spouse who has been unfaithful. The spouse who has been betrayed needs to feel the pain, anger, hurt, indignity of the infidelity as long as it takes. If the couple is in a safe place, such as a marital therapy context. The betrayed spouse needs to be able to express their feelings as long as necessary to the spouse who has been unfaithful. Is there a time table for this? Think months not days.
If the spouse who has been unfaithful wants to salvage the marriage, making amends by just listening - and listening - and listening, as long as it takes is the best way to repair and bring healing to the marriage. Being defensive, justifying and blaming will only bring the process back to GO. It's all about the unfaithful spouse taking responsibility for their behavior and hearing the other person's pain.
It goes without saying that unequivocally, contact with the third party involved in an affair needs to an in order for the marriage to move forward. Unequivocally.

P.S. Although I am a save-the-marriage under almost any circumstances kind of person, from my perspective infidelity is a divorce-able offense.

Monday, February 6, 2012

INFIDELITY - More Tips on How to Manage It

Infidelity is a painful issue to write about, and pulverizing to live through. It is a heartbreak beyond a heartbreak. It is the ultimate betrayal. But, it is survivable.

This is a nightmare that I have lived through with couples many times. There are things you can do that help.

If you have been unfaithful to your spouse and you want to reconcile, I have found that full disclosure works best. It may seem counter-intuitive but in my experience spouses who have been betrayed find solace and hearing all the details. Don't stop reading. I can't fully explain, but they do. Their fantasies are undoubtedly worse then the actual facts. Cheated on spouses know on a global sense that they have been betrayed. It is much better, generally, and in my experience to connect the dots and give them the whole truth.

If you don't disclose at least the fact of the affair, your marriage, for all practical purposes goes on hold. You may stay together under the same roof, in the same bed but a lie about an affair is the beginning of the death of a marriage. And filling in the details is oddly comforting to the spouse who has been cheated on. After the whole truth is out on the table, forgiveness can begin. More to follow.