Having finished reading fellow (gal) blogger, Sharon Wolf's stunningly honest post entitled, "Do as I Say, Not As I Do," I must say that I have great respect for her courage. It takes guts to admit defeat when one is supposed to have all the answers. As a marriage therapist and best-selling author, I, too, have been fortunate to have had far more than my share of 15 minutes of fame. I brush shoulders with the best and brightest in the field. I am not surprised by her confession that one's marriage-saving wisdom isn't always easy to implement in one's own marriage. Some of the most prominent and well-respected marriage experts in the field are on their second and subsequent marriages. Nothing new here. However, as I read her wonderfully written account about what she tried and what didn't work with her husband, the psychotic optimist in me (I didn't write the book, Divorce Busting randomly) couldn't help but notice that perhaps Sharon left several stones unturned when trying to mend her failing relationship.
• Marriage-saving Tip # 1- Don't be complacent about a ho-hum sex life
For starters, having sex only three times in fifteen years hardly constitutes a robust sex life. Nor does having separate bedrooms, though not uncommon, be thought to lead to intimacy and connection. While it's unclear as to whether Sharon or her ex-husband initiated this sexual anorexia, it barely matters. Chances are, one person longed for sexual contact more than the other. My book, The Sex-Starved Marriage, spells out what happens to marriages where one spouse is yearning for more physical contact and the other, less interested spouse thinks, "What's the big deal, it's only sex." But to the spouse desiring more touch, it's a huge deal because it isn't "just sex," it's about feeling wanted, appreciated, attractive and important. And when this major disconnect happens in marriage, intimacy on all levels tends to drop out. They stop spending time together, laughing at each other's jokes, eating meals together and even showing interest in each other's lives- like reading the other partner's manuscript or caring about the other partners' need for cleanliness, for example. If you're married to someone whose love language is touch and you're not touching, resentment and distance are the inevitable fallout. Resentful spouses generally don't have much empathy or desire to please.
But a sexual desire gap isn't a marital deal breaker. There is much couples can do to bridge the gap. And with more touch, miracles often happen outside the bedroom.
• Marriage-Saving Tip # 2- Spend time together
By Sharon's admission, her focus on work and the resulting success takes time and energy. Could it be that her ex felt like a second fiddle to her career and resented his not being a priority? Could it also be that his bitterness left him feeling disinterested in reading her books. Could her time away from him have led to his feeling cheated as one might if their spouse were having an affair?
When my book, Divorce Busting, was published, reporters asked what I believed to be the number one cause for divorce in our country. Although they expected a sophisticated psychological explanation, mine was simple. Couples need to spend more time together. They seem to prioritize everything but each other. I feel certain that therapists like Sharon and me would be out of work if more couples understood and took this very simple principle to heart. Insist upon sacred alone time, no matter how busy your lives might be, no matter how demanding your children. "The best thing you can do for your kids," I always say, "is to put your marriage first."
• Marriage-Saving Tip #3- If all else fails, do nothing
And finally, I give Sharon a lot of kudos for all of her hard work in trying to improve her marriage. She sounds like a real trooper. She tells us, "... it took my exhaustive exploration of every marriage counseling trick of the trade and trying them at home to realize that nothing was going to make us work." However, in my practice, I've noticed that sometimes one spouse is doing ALL the work while the other spouse does NOTHING. Relationships are like see saws. The more one person does, the less the other person has to do. So, had Sharon been my client, I would have encouraged her to take a marital sabbatical and stop working so hard to get him to change. Stop asking for things. When a Well-meaning, "fix-it addict," backs off, it often marks the turning point in marriage. It's counter-intuitive because we all believe that the harder we work, the better the results. But when it comes to relationships, a more accurate saying is, "Insanity has been defined as doing more of the same and expecting different results." I couldn't help but be curious as to how her now-ex husband responded when she finally stopped trying and threw in the towel. Did it paradoxically pique his interest?
The truth is, Monday morning quarterbacking is an easy thing to do, especially when it comes to someone else's life. Plus, not all marriages can or should be saved. It's just that my heart goes out to Sharon to read about her loneliness and missing her ex. However, without knowing her personally, I have a strong sense that regardless of Sharon's choice to end her relationship, she will unquestionably land on her feet. And I imagine that the countless couples whose marriages have remained intact thanks to her help, will be cheering her on.