I am fortunate. I actually get to turn marriages around from miserable to joyous. I get to give children the gift of a future with happy parents. I work with couples determined to rescue, revive, resuscitate, and recapture marriages headed for divorce or terminal loneliness.
When summer comes, I love to create the rich food flavors of Provence, France. Have you ever thought of the parallel between creating fabulous and nourishing meals and cooking up your own fabulous and nourishing marriage? In summer of 2009 I began to jot down parallels: After office hours I often enjoy dining on luscious Mediterranean dinners on our marshlands deck. For Christmas that year, partly tongue in cheek, I drafted a rough edition for The Herald, of “Dr. Coche’s Recipe for the Happiest Marriage in the World”. Recently I dusted off the recipe and found that it creates a breezy list of gourmet coupling ingredients.
Last month I met with Aric and Jeanine, a clever couple who had taken our communication skills workshop to freshen up a 45 year marriage. Aric, a retired corporate consultant to the science industry and his wife, Jeanine, followed up the course with a consult. I began by asking how the active listening and negotiating skills were going. Aric looked embarrassed. “Not well. It is agony for me to talk about how I feel. And I know I should listen more deeply but it tries my patience.”
Jeanine interrupted harshly. “To be perfectly honest, after all these years of hearing Aric complain, I don’t really want to hear how he feels.” She looked oddly smug and I wondered what her Cheshire cat grin meant. It seemed out of place.
“Does it make you happy to know that you do not care what your husband thinks?”
“No, but I need to be honest. Everybody thinks we have this great marriage. If they only knew. It can be brutal.”
The interchange between them clarified my confusion. “You both are living in that special kind of loneliness reserved for couples who know how to appear intimate to others but who feel doomed to a barren emotional life together. Now I know why you came all the way from New York. You really need to inject fresh energy into your sluggish marriage.” They nodded.
To move energy into a positive direction, I began by handing them a copy of my recipe. They smiled as they read it, and I asked Aric and Jeanine to rate their marriage on a scale of 1-5 in terms of each of the ingredients:
1. Needs tons of improvement
2. Needs improvement
4. Not too bad but could use polishing
After you read the recipe below, grab a pencil. Rank your relationship on each ingredient:
The Happiest Marriage in the World
This recipe serves two, but nurtures all children, grandchildren and friends who know the couple.
Baker’s Dozen Ingredients for the Happiest Marriage in the World:
1. Commit fully to the self-discipline needed to practice skillful loving each day
2. Insist on habits to maintain financial security
3. Maintain a sense of humor regardless of the severity of any disaster
4. Prioritize forgiveness of yourself and your partner
5. Pleasure one another, creating joy on all levels each week
6. Build a foundation for safe sexual vulnerability through total honesty, especially when it hurts
7. Celebrate your shared history at each holiday and family event
8. Listen fully to your partner, especially when you do not want to hear what is said
9. Honor a private time to be alone with each other each day
10. Appreciate the differences between you and your partner
11. Discipline yourself to treat your partner like your best friend
12. Minimize harshness and maximize hugging, kissing and snuggling each day
13. Walk tall with pride next to your beloved
This recipe requires a lifetime of simmering to blend the flavors to perfection.
The goal is to have your relationship provide you with some of the happiest moments of your life time. And that is a great gift indeed.
To consider: Look at your ratings. How many scores of 5 do you see? How many would you like? How can you break through to the happiest marriage in the world?