When Is a Marriage Beyond Help?


One time in a land far away a client asked me if I could help her save her 15-year marriage. Her husband was threatening to leave her, was stonewalling and was generally emotionally cold, but she said he was willing to see me. I worked with him for several months, and they stayed together.

However, one day a year later as I was preparing to leave the community, she approached me, very troubled. This is what she said: “You’ve turned my husband into everything I ever wanted in a husband. But I don’t want to be with him.”

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Healthy Marriage: Some Advice about the Five Conditions of a Lasting Healthy Marriage

Healthy Marriage

Many marriages start off as good marriages, but over time turn stale or even hostile.  At any given time huge numbers of couples are searching for ways to get their once healthy marriages back on track. There are five necessary conditions or factors which together can help you maintain (or rebuild) a strong, healthy marriage.

If you were to delve, you would probably find that virtually every troubled couple has neglected one or more of these key conditions. Of course, there are other things that can mess up a marriage, but neglect the following at your peril.

Look after yourself first.

If you place your highest priority on your physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual self care, you won’t wake up one morning to realize you have been a household servant or a meal ticket for the past decade.

Encourage each other in self-care from the beginning and in times of greatest need you will be able to really count on each other. If you have neglected self care in your life, you or your partner may cut and run when the going gets tough.

Your highest priority has to be to take care of yourself at all levels. Do whatever you need to do. Self-care is the ultimate in unselfishness.

Do not merge your identities.

Always remember that each of you is a person in your own right. You have an identity.

Woman in many cultures are particularly vulnerable to the trap of merging their identities with their partner’s, but men fall into it too. We call it “codependency” when identities merge.

If you find yourself already slipping into merger, work on getting out of it. Always defend vigorously your partner’s right and your own right to be your own persons. Merged identities are incompatible with a healthy marriage.

Enjoy the show.

Pay attention to the changes in your partner as he or she evolves throughout life, and enjoy the show. There will often be spurts of personal growth and sometimes periods of stagnation, but the constant is change. That’s the flow of life.

It’s truly fun to watch our kids grow. Why should watching our partners grow be any different?

There is nothing to be afraid of. In an intimate relationship you have the privilege and opportunity to observe up close the twists and turns your partner will go through as he or she evolves.

Everyone changes; it’s just that the changes are more subtle in a 45 year old than in a 15 year old.

Support the growth even if you don’t understand it. Expect your partner to support you too as you evolve.

When I hear someone say, “He’s not the man (or woman) I married,” I know they are missing this crucial point. If they say, “I can’t change—that’s just the way I am,” they are missing the point at an even more fundamental level.

Never stop doing things together for fun and laughter.

No matter how difficult and serious life gets at times, never stop doing things together for fun—things that make you laugh.  Laughter is a requirement of any satisfying life. Laughter with a partner is part of the cement that can keep you together for a lifetime. Neglect it at your peril!

If you want more excitement, take up skiing…

Stay deserving of your partner’s trust by steadfast fidelity. No matter what, don’t have an affair. It offers a very temporary burst of excitement, but it is an assault few marriages can survive. (Many times an affair is staged simply to end a marriage.)

To rebuild trust and commitment after an affair you will probably need professional help, and even then there are no guarantees you will ever regain the level of trust you once had.

If you are an excitement junkie, find a more respectful way to get adventure.

Committed to Change? How to Avoid a Major Self-Sabotage Trap


If you are like most of us, there are some things you’d like to change in yourself. Perhaps you’ve even made New Years resolutions to change.

This kind of commitment is good. Commitment is one key to losing weight, getting in shape, learning a new skill, finding your soul mate, getting a better job, learning a new language, running a marathon, going back to school, drinking less, spending time with your kids or communicating better with your partner.

Commitment Gets Things Going

You may be one of those people who can commit to personal change and follow through just like the women in the weight-loss adds on TV. If so, congratulations!

Enter Self Sabotage

If you are like most of us and run into problems following through, however, perhaps you are sabotaging your intentions without even realizing it. Does the following example apply to you in any way?

Fred (fictitious name) is an admitted functioning alcoholic. He holds a good job, but although he won’t admit it to anyone, he knows alcohol is taking a toll on his productivity and his health. He spends evenings with his wife and kids, but he’s more present to his glass than he is to them.

Fred has repeatedly tried to cut back on his drinking and occasionally, like for the past month, he has even managed to stop drinking altogether for a time. But every attempt has eventually failed. Repeated failure, of course, does nothing for his self confidence and mental heath. In Fred’s own words,

I have a drink and then I just don’t stop. It starts with a drink with my friends after work. Then I pick up a bottle and take it home so I can have one drink. Then I have two or three. Within a week I’m drinking just as much as I ever did—or more. I can’t seem to change. It’s always the same. It’s just the way I am.

Before you read on, can you spot how Fred is sabotaging his attempts to change? Read what he said again if you need to.

Be Clear about the Remedy

Now, notice how Fred described his alcoholism in the present tense. He quite obviously has been talking about it that way for some time. And he is telling the truth as he sees it. Although Fred had no alcohol for a month, he said,

I have a drink…I don’t stop…I pick up a bottle…I take it home…I have one drink…I have two or three…I’m drinking…I can’t seem to change…It’s always the same…It’s just the way I am. 

The problem is that Fred’s truth is about the past, that is, how it has been up to the recent past.

By repeatedly stating his problems in the present tense, he continues to anchor these ‘truths’ in his identity.

The alcoholism has become part of his identity as a human being. It is how he sees himself. It is the message he sends to his subconscious mind and to the universe every day.

If this is his daily message to the universe, how could a mere New Year’s resolution possibly change anything? The answer is, “It can’t!”

Fortunately for the human race there is a way around the problem that allows the desired changes to come about.

The Key: Let the Past Stay in the Past

When you want personal change, talking about the past as if it is the present is a huge form of self sabotage.

Let’s reword what Fred said, putting the past in the past:

When I had a drink, I just didn’t stop. It started with a drink with my friends after work. Then I would pick up a bottle and take it home so I could have one drink. Then I would have two or three. Within a week I was drinking just as much as I ever did—or more. I couldn’t seem to change. It was always the same. It’s just the way I was.

Can you see and feel the difference? Read the two versions out loud if you need to.

Get this: If you want to clear the way for the new to emerge, never use the present tense to describe what was true of your life in the past.

Try it Right Now with Your Own Wants

Think of three things you want to change, and write them down in the past tense. Now for each one use the present tense to write down what you want the change to look like and read these out loud a few times.

Change is an exercise in allowing things to happen, but you have to get out of the way.

Trust and the Healthy Family

trust of a childOne time I heard a man I knew say to his wife “I don’t trust you. But don’t take it personally; I don’t trust anyone.”

What made his statement particularly bizarre was that this same man expected trust from everyone else—his employees, his business associates, his creditors, and yes, his wife.

The fact is you need people to trust you to order a meal in a restaurant, to have a credit card or a driver’s license or even to be out in public. You can’t get on in life without others trusting you.

But neither can you get on in life without trusting others too. You trust your employer will pay you. You trust the driver of the car arriving at the stop sign will stop and not run into you.

How does trust develop? The fact is you started off in life in a state of trust.

You had an implicit trust in your parents on whom you were totally dependent for nourishment, love and safety. As you grew more independent, you internalized the trust your parents gave you and began to trust yourself. With good parenting and a bit of luck you grew up to trust yourself and to trust others.

The key to trusting others lies in trusting yourself. Can you trust yourself to walk away when you haven’t been treated well, to keep a cool head under pressure, and to seek assistance when you get stuck? If “yes,” then you can trust others easily.

I personally have a rule of thumb about trusting. I assume everyone I come in contact with can be trusted. If 3% of the people I meet are untrustworthy, I’ll be wrong 3% of the time.

The man who said he doesn’t trust anyone, on the other hand, will be wrong 97% of the time. Without radical change in his outlook, he may well end up isolated, lonely and miserable

Trusting everyone doesn’t mean you have to be stupid or gullible. Don’t give return business to someone who has overcharged you. And don’t look for a marriage partner in a bar. Don’t depend on friends for a ride home if they are drinking.

The origins of inability to trust are usually found in childhood. Children who have been abused, betrayed, abandoned or put in danger often have big trust issues as adults.

Difficulty trusting yourself and others can create havoc in relationships. It may lead to an inability to commit, fear of intimacy or promiscuity. Major trust issues can evolve into suspiciousness, jealousy, stalking, spousal assault and even murder.

The inability to trust can lead to terrible parenting and huge conflicts with your children, especially as they move through adolescence. Young people need parents who trust themselves, knowing that they imparted to their children good attitudes and self-care skills. They need their parents to trust that they will survive and learn from their inevitable mistakes.

So if you find yourself having difficulty with trust, recognize it for the serious emotional and spiritual disability that it is and get appropriate help. Trust is a key to a fulfilling life.