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.

Recent Posts in How To Do Life

Addressing Your "Laziness"

Ostensible laziness can be caused by any of five factors, each with its own cure

Addressing the Fear of Becoming Irrelevant

A worry that's common among older people.

Stories of Seclusion: Afraid He'd Lose His Temper, He Hid

Injustice, especially if it could cost your livelihood, can cause great anger.

Stories of Seclusion: After Winning the Lottery

The drive to be creative can know no bounds.

Stories of Seclusion: Embarassed into Isolation

The price of an affair can be great indeed.

Stories of Seclusion: An Immigrant Shocked at Her Workplace

How a too laid-back workplace drove a woman to drink: tea.