Fights Driving You Crazy? Try These Three Words

Say you’re about to get into one of your typical fights. The fight you’ve had ten thousand times before and it always ends badly. The one where you say this and your partner says that and the next thing you know you’ve turned into a matched pair of lunatics.

Maybe you slam a door or you yell. Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 9.04.47 AMMaybe you turn into an ice queen or a sniper or you go silent as stone. Whatever your style, if you’re like most couples, when trouble brews you do the one thing that’s 100% guaranteed to get you into a fight. You get sucked in.

What if instead of “going with the flow,” one of you gets a grip on your sanity and says: Let’s. Back. Up.

Short, sweet, and incredibly powerful— if you have the wherewithal to not only say it but do it.

Let’s back up is the next best thing to Continue reading

Complaining: The Anti-Problem Solver We Know And Love

Last April, at the annual Couples Conference in Manhattan Beach, therapist Michelle Weiner Davis said, “When women tell you that they’ve tried everything, what they really mean is that they’ve said everything.”

Precisely, I thought. Every day clients announce “I’ve tried everything” when the truth is they’ve barely begun to consider their options, let alone act on them.

Like the woman who came in last week for her first appointment. 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 say tomato and I’ll say 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

Want A Better Marriage? Change One Thing

Yes, just one. Even if there are ten things that keep you from being nominated for Spouse of the Year, start by changing one.iStock_000026522045XSmall copy

Maybe it’s your grouchiness or the way you’re quick to complain. Perhaps it’s your chilliness or your all-bets-are-off style of fighting or how you’ll hang onto resentments until hell freezes over. Then again, it might be your “look.”You know which look. I’m talking about the look that says, this again? Really? You’ve got to be kidding! The look that’s guaranteed to set your partner’s teeth on edge.

When I ask people to identify one thing they could do to be a better relater, very few Continue reading

Marriage Advice You Should Definitely Ignore

As a newcomer to the world of marriage blogs, I’ve been spending a lot of time checking out what relationship advice others have for their readers. What I’ve found has run the gamut from truly thought-provoking and inspiring to useless and impractical. The most troubling, however, is the overly romantic and idealistic advice— advice that perpetuates dangerous myths about marriage that can send a struggling couple right over the edge at a time when what they need is support.

Are they kidding? Open book and  butterfliesI thought when reading a recent Huffington Post blog that talked about couples striving to be “two souls merging into a beloved unity.” How useful is it, I wondered, to set the bar just this side of the stratosphere by telling couples that together they can make “time stand still?” Countless bloggers talked about soul mates in perfect harmony and a surprising number of them used the word “bliss.”

When I sit across from a struggling couple, bliss is the farthest thing from their minds. In fact, Continue reading

The Change We Need Most

Most couples come into therapy seeking something they cannot have. Whether they’re struggling with trust or facing challenges in sex; fighting about money, or kids, Helpor the day-to-day nonsense like who left the half-and-half out on the counter; whether they’re reeling from the impact of an affair, or a job loss, or a death in the family, or pushed to the edge because one partner works too much, or spends too much, or drinks too much. Even if they aren’t quite sure what their real problem is, most people believe that the solution lies in someone else’s hands. My job is to help them see that it doesn’t.

Though there may be couples who seek therapy to make “a good thing even better,” I rarely encounter them. Most of the couples I see are in the throes of a crisis, a good number of them quite near the breaking point. All are worn out and discouraged by the ways that they’re stuck and many believe that they may be beyond hope. The couples I see have come in looking for answers, hoping I can tell them exactly what steps to take to get out of their quandary.

“What should I do?” they ask, Continue reading

“I Should Do What??”

Trust and Forgiveness After An Affair

One of the first questions most people ask when seeking couples therapy after an affair is, “Can my marriage survive? Are people really able to heal after a betrayal like this?”

It can be reassuring to hear that, yes, a great majority of couples are able to not only survive, but eventually thrive in the wake of an affair. Yet for many, repair can, at first, seem beyond reach and forgiveness can seem all but impossible.

Today’s New York Times ran an article about the need to reestablish trust after an affair. Molly O’Shea, the marriage and family therapist interviewed in the article, said that she asks the betrayed spouse “what it would take to regain trust and what the cheating spouse can do to prove the affair was a mistake.”

Most of her clients tell her that they have no idea what it would take for them to regain their lost trust. iStock_000018557790XSmallMany assume that nothing will help. The problem, she believes, is that “they’re just so angry.”

I believe the problem is the flawed question she’s asked them. 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

If you find marriage to be challenging, raise your hand…

With today’s marriages crumbling at a near 50 percent rate, the age-old question, “Can this marriage be saved?” is on the minds of millions. Here in the U.S., nearly 700,000 people seek marital therapy every year. While some are looking to fine-tune a marriage that is, in many ways, healthy and intact, most are couples in trouble, fearing their situation is beyond help, that it’s too late, or that they have married the wrong person. Many fear that divorce is the only way out of their difficult marriage.

All have discovered that it’s much easier to get married than it is to be married.iStock_000000460790XSmall

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, most of my clients still come into therapy believing that marriage should be easier than it is. I hear it every day: “If it’s this hard,” people say, “something must be wrong.” Many feel terribly alone, believing they are the only ones struggling. They think that if they just did the simple things they were supposed to do— the things all the successfully married people must surely be doing—their marriages would be fantastic, too. And most are convinced that if their partner weren’t so difficult, everything would be fine.

The truth is, married life is a challenge for everyone, without exception. None of us come into marriage with all the tools we need for success, nor do we have a guidebook or a road map to make our journey easier. So marriage ends up being much harder than most of us expected. But that doesn’t mean something is wrong; it simply means that marriage is a tough teacher and we all have something to learn.

As a psychotherapist with more than thirty years of clinical practice, I’ve seen all the classic issues that people encounter in their relationships. I’ve seen what creates change, and what impedes it, what makes marriages thrive and what makes people miserable. And time and again I’ve seen couples give up on marriages that could quite likely be saved had they been given the proper guidance and encouragement to do so.

This blog will explore intimate partnerships from a variety of angles, with the overall goal of helping people make sense of why marriage is so predictably difficult, frustrating, and seemingly impossible to navigate. While I have no quick-fix solutions to offer, I have plenty of tried and true ideas about what couples can do to create a marriage that is more sane and more fun; a marriage that not only lasts, but serves as a source of great joy and self discovery.