10 Wishes I Have For My Son and His Future Wife

original_marry-me-christmas-proposal-card edited Wedding experts say that the three-month stretch between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day is prime time for proposals. With the sparkle of Christmas and the promise of the new year lending an air of romance, nearly forty percent of couples choose this time to get engaged. To my delight, this year, my son and his fiancée are among them.

While the coming months will be taken up with writing guest lists and weighing the pros and cons of a winter wedding (with its possibility of ice storms) or a wedding in June (with its guarantee of mosquitoes) I’m keeping in mind the many years that will follow.

Millions of couples marry each year. Like my son and his fiancée, and my husband and I, they’ll step into marriage bright-eyed, optimistic, ready to give it their all. The good news: despite all the challenges that marriage can bring, a vast majority of them will succeed.

To my son, my lovely future daughter-in-law, and all of you who are newly-engaged, here are my hopes, wishes and words of advice:

1. Some problems are easy to resolve, while others will require patience, effort, and creativity. Though there will be things about which you disagree, never consider a problem to have been solved when one person wins and the other loses.

2. A good marriage requires that we act like grown-ups without forgetting the importance of being thoroughly silly. Please don’t let life’s challenges keep you from laughing at yourselves and feeling delight at making snow angels in the year’s first snow storm. (Or even the second.)

3. None of us comes into marriage with all we need for success. We learn “on the job” — benefiting as much from our failures as our successes. When the going gets rough it’s most often a sign that we need some new skills, not a sign that we need a new spouse.

couple painting4. Though all of us who love you wish for the wind to always be at your backs, there will be times that the winds of life blast you right in the face. In whatever hard times that come, may you have each other to turn to. Please remember that you’re on the same team. Even when things are hard. Even when you don’t see eye-to-eye.

5. We learn a lot more from listening than we do from talking.

6. Marriage is a long, ongoing negotiation about how two people are going to run things. Money. Intimacy. Parenting. Chores. As your needs change, so will your agreements. You can dig in your heels, or you can collaborate. Collaboration is a lot more rewarding.

7. As you move through the years, you will see your friends divorcing. Don’t panic. Divorce isn’t contagious. Though there’s no guaranteed way to “divorce-proof” your marriage, your best shot at a loving and lasting marriage is to be a husband or wife your spouse would be foolish to leave.

8. Don’t believe anyone who says that marriage doesn’t take work. Marriage, like anything else worth doing, takes focus, commitment, and willingness to go outside of your comfort zone. For some people, work is another word for drudgery. I think that work, in the context of marriage, is another word for love.

9. It’s always a good idea to be kind.

10. All that stuff about better or worse, good times and bad — it’s totally true. Forget about wedded bliss and living happily ever after. The best of marriages are a combination of difficulty and delight, surprise and predictability, aloneness and intimacy. A good marriage is about loving, despite disappointments. Regardless of differences. It’s about knowing and accepting each other, opening your heart come what may — creating a life that allows your love to grow deeper and more generous with time.

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What Can I Do If My Partner Won’t Go To Couples Therapy?

There’s no getting around it. Your marriage is in trouble and it’s time to get help.iStock_000025095355XSmall

Yet, despite all the good reasons you offered and how nicely you asked, your spouse is dead set against therapy and is unwilling to budge. Continue reading

Making It Last… and Last and Last

What if when you said “until death do us part” you were signing on to a marriage that may last as long as a century?

Today TIME.com ran a piece that talked about how with the possibility of some of us living to be one hundred fifty years old we may live long enough to have two or even three very long marriages.

I began to wonder, instead, what one would need to do to have one marriage that would remain vital and satisfying for a hundred years, or even longer? With a mere thirty-five years of marriage under my belt, my first thought was Continue reading

When One Partner Is Out and The Other Is In

What To Do When Your Spouse Wants A Divorce And You Still Think There’s Hope

Anyone who’s been in a relationship for more than ten minutes knows that no two people will see eye-to-eye about everything. One’s wearing a sweater while the other is fanning herself. One puts ketchup on eggs while the other is horrified.

Fine, you say. There’s no need to agree. You can like tomato and I’ll like tomahto.

But what if your iStock_000008507563XSmalldifference is about something more serious than diction or condiments or setting the thermostat? What if one of you desperately wants to hold your marriage together while the other has met with an attorney and is now spending every spare moment looking at apartments on Craig’s list?

You can’t very well agree to disagree about this.

If you were to poll twenty-five couples therapists, at least twenty-four of us would say Continue reading

Two Feet In

The difference between involvement
and commitment is like ham and eggs.
The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.

– Martina Navratilova

iStock_000008611889XSmallWhen I first met Beverly, she was a newlywed— for the fifth time. Though she’d assured friends and family that this one was for keeps, several years later she was, again, getting divorced.

“Why do you marry these men?” I asked when she announced her engagement to husband number six. “Why not just date them, or move in with them?” I said, knowing that one time she’d married a man she’d met only four weeks earlier while having coffee in Starbucks.

Her answer: Continue reading

Better Than Chance

There’s a Turkish proverb that says, No matter how far you have gone on a wrong road, turn back. I find this notion deeply comforting: that things can change, that people can turn their lives around, that it’s never too late to try. Even if it’s the eleventh hour. Even if their wheel’s in the ditch and they’re almost out of gas.

It’s amazing how long people will suffer in dreadful relationships U turn OK signbefore seeking help. Five, eight, ten years. Sometimes even longer. For many couples, I’m the last stop before they call a divorce attorney. Some have been deemed “incurable” by a previous therapist who simply didn’t have the skills to effectively help them.

“I don’t think there’s much we can do about your marriage,” one therapist told a volatile couple I now see. “But if you decide to divorce, I can help you with that.” This she declared before the end of their third session.

As a couples therapist, it’s my job to be optimistic, to be open-minded enough to look beyond the ostensible train wreck in order to see what’s possible. Sitting with people on the brink of divorce, Continue reading