Archive for the ‘Relationships/Marriage’ Category

According to Gottman, a prominent marriage researcher and therapist, “in healthy, stable relationships couples have at least five positive interactions for every negative one.” (If Only I Had Known, 166)

What’s your marital ratio? 5:1 actually seems pretty low to me. It would be interesting to keep a chart, even for a day, and figure out your own ratio. If it’s worse than 5:1, get thee to a counselor!


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“Interestingly, major surveys of the practices of ‘family’ therapists…have found that whole families make up only about one-third of ‘family’ clinicians’ work, and that couple problems constitute the presenting problem in almost two-thirds of their cases.” (Clinical Casebook of Couple Therapy, 1)

This reminded me how easy it is to obscure marital problems with the complications and chaos of stepfamily dynamics. How many stepmoms have you seen blame the children or the biological mother for her unhappiness, when her husband is really the one who needs to step up and make the family work? My hunch is that, in most troubled stepfamilies, the marriage is the entity that needs the overhaul.

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Though there are lots of different methodologies, and every case is different, most couple therapy tends to be short-term—around 12 sessions. If you have a partner reluctant to incur the financial and temporal cost of therapy, this could be motivating news!

If there’s been infidelity, however, therapy instantly swells to a year or longer. (You might want to remind your partner of that fact, too!)


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My couple therapy professor claims that thousands of studies have been done on what makes a successful marriage, and they all point to two things and two things only:

1) Respect for each other


2) A sense of humor

When couples have no respect or appreciation for each other, when they don’t have a sense of humor about their life together, the relationship tanks.

It makes sense to me. A relationship without respect and humor would be depressing indeed. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that relationships that have these two magic components can’t also be unsatisfying. You can be respected, you can laugh, and still be flaming peeved about other things.

If these findings are true, though, it would be interesting to use them as a litmus test in marriage counseling. Like if you see a couple with nothing but contempt for each other, you could just tell them to save their money for the divorce! Okay, I’m joking. Therapists would never do or say that. But it does make me wonder whether couples who descend to those levels can ever climb back out.

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This quarter I am taking a class in couple counseling—a course that has, so far anyway, convinced me that there are few things more difficult than doing couple counseling. I honestly don’t know if I am up to the challenge.

Yet this experience has been juxtaposed with the single most significant development in my marriage since approximately 2004: my own recently-terminated course of couple therapy, in which my husband graciously agreed to have our own child.

Is he thrilled out of his socks? No. But in about three months’ time, he went from adamant naysayer to willing father-again. He’s doing it because he loves me, and he wants me to be happy. He’s doing it because his desire for my fulfillment is stronger than his fear.

I finally have the marriage I knew was in there somewhere. All these years, there’s been this blight on our relationship, the proverbial elephant upending the couch and shattering the china. It was hard to make sense of a marriage that worked so very well until I broached the one subject that most couples take for granted.

Even more important, perhaps, we’ve had to talk a lot about what we want, and don’t want, for our future. We’ve had to make it concrete.

It would be magic to be able to do this for other couples, to turn terror and agony into intimacy and growth. I don’t know if I have what it takes.

But I’m a believer. Whether or not I’m blessed with a child of my own, counseling has bridged our marital chasm. I’ll always have therapy—and my husband’s courage—to thank.

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According to my couple therapy professor, three things change a relationship permanently: children, infidelity, and domestic violence.

I don’t dispute the claim. I can see how all of those would indeed change a relationship forever. But I have to wonder where that leaves people who begin a relationship with children already in it. It’s almost like we experience that same kid-transition that everyone else does—only we have to face it right at the beginning, years earlier than couples who start without kids. We go through that permanent change without ever having experienced the stage that comes before!

I know this is a sad realization for many childless stepparents. They mourn not having any carefree years before children. They know they can never have that just-us-two life that so many others take for granted.

Yet there’s probably a positive in this, too. I imagine that, when we childless stepparents have kids of our own, the marital transition is less earth-shattering than it would be if there were no kids at all. After all, we’re used to sacrificing, shuffling around our lives, and making time for our marriages in the midst of hectic life. We know what it takes to make a relationship work with kids in the picture.

(One last note. It’s funny how the assumption still seems to be that most people meet, get married, and have children—in that order. All we hear about in the media is how blended families are now outnumbering first families, but in my classes I definitely get the feeling that no one would mention stepfamilies if I didn’t. And this is amongst ever-sensitive therapists at a very highly regarded school! Nuclear families are always discussed as though they are the vast majority. So either the statistics about stepfamilies are just wrong, or my professors don’t find it necessary to discuss our peculiar plight. I just don’t know.)

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Well, I’m pretty excited that school has started again and I can start to bring you heaps of interesting material from my studies. This quarter I’m studying couple counseling (does that sound weird to anyone? “couple’s counseling” sounds better to my ear), so I’m sure there will be lots of relevant stuff I can share.

My professor, who’s been a marriage counselor for a looong time, told us that therapists almost always like one member of a couple better than the other. And that the person they tend to like—at least in a heterosexual relationship—is the woman. Why? Because regardless of the therapist’s own gender, s/he is usually adept at communication and navigating emotions, just like women tend to be. Thus the therapist is more likely to connect with the woman.

Of course, this is just one man’s experience—and his point to us students is that we need to work around these biases—but I couldn’t help but wonder whether my current couple counselor prefers me to my husband. He’s done a great job of not seeming biased, but I will admit it gives me a little kick to think that he might be siding with me all along. Hee hee.

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