All couples have ups and down. My marriage certainly had a big down 30 years ago, alternating between fighting and indifference—The latter felt worse. 

Barbara and I did therapy but it didn’t help enough.

I then suggested that we, separately, privately, write what we liked and didn't like about aspects of our marriage: sex, communication, children, money, career, and recreation. For each, we wrote one behavior we would commit to changing and one behavior we wished our partner would change.

Then we showed each other what we wrote, agreed on what each of us would try to change, and that we'd meet in a week to rate our success.

During the week, when we saw our partner doing something good, we'd give a thumbs-up, something bad, a thumbs-down: No lectures, no recrimination. Just the thumbs-up and thumbs-down.

The next week, at a dinner out, we rated ourselves on our success in implementing the new behaviors and asked each other if s/he agreed with our self-ratings. The "meeting" ended with our agreeing on the behaviors that each of us would work on the next week. Key was that each of us proposed behavioral changes for ourselves, not for our partner. The partner's job was only to okay it or to suggest an alternative. We then just enjoyed dinner, intensity over for the evening.

We had those weekly dinner-out meetings for about two months, and that has remained key to keeping our marriage on a more solid footing. It's been 30 years since Barbara and I had that marriage summit. We've now been together for 41 years and hope to continue for a long time.

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to his articles here on, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on Of Nemko's seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. His bio is on Wikipedia.

Most Recent Posts from How To Do Life

The Story Game

A game you can play with yourself or a client that can yield key revelations.

Use of Music in Counseling and Coaching

Artistic ability—music, photography, even coffee-making—can enhance sessions.

A Workover: 33, Successful, He's Tempted to Chuck it All

The exchange between a caller to my NPR-San Francisco radio program and me.