Linda and I were interviewed a few weeks ago by Tara Leonard, a reporter for Santa Cruz Style, a local magazine. We’ve gotten some great feedback on the article and thought that we’d make it available for those of you who don’t have the good fortune to be residents of “Surf City”. The article contains some great “nuggets” about relationships that Tara coaxed out of us in the time that we spent together. We’ve put together a slightly abbreviated version here, but if you’d like to read the article in its entirety check out www.santacruzstyle.net (p.47) on line. Enjoy!

Our culture is fascinated with romantic love, but the movies always end at the wedding and the assumption of happily ever after. Charlie: It’s rarely happily ever after. There are always going to be challenges and we need those challenges to grow and to deepen our connection. We need to learn how to use those difficulties to strengthen not only the relationship but ourselves. Linda: There’s a line in our first book, “Great relationships aren’t discovered, they’re created.”

So you don’t believe in soul mates? Linda: I do believe in soul mates, but I don’t believe there is only one. A lot of people could fit the bill of soul mate if your intention is strong to create a great relationship and the other person has similar intentions. It’s a romantic myth that there’s somebody out there with whom you won’t have to do the work that most relationships require.

Is it true that most people wonder at one time or another, “Am I married to the right person?” Charlie: I’d say that question comes up for 9 out of 10 people we’ve dealt with. Linda: We’ve heard, “I’ve never considered divorce. Murder yes, but never divorce!”

So it’s not the kiss of death? Charlie: No, it’s the kiss or normality. Linda: You’re awake, you’re aware, and you’re not in denial, because there are rough patches and it would be abnormal not to have some doubt. It’s a wake-up call. Charlie: Exactly. What specifically is the concern? Let’s take a look at that. Maybe there’s something you can do to address that concern so you don’t feel anxious about it.

What are the most common reasons people come to marriage counseling? Linda: Accumulated anger and resentment that hasn’t been dealt with. You need to find a way to speak difficult truths and not keep harboring them. It’s either going to explode or the two people are going to drift away from one another. Another cause is stagnation and boredom. People get into conditioned patterns and routines. Those are two things that can really take relationships down if they’re not addressed. Charlie: The quick answer is a failure to learn effective conflict-management skills. Instead we attack and defend or withdraw, avoid or deny. Most of our work has to do with helping people learn effective ways of managing differences.

You’ve written that differences are inevitable but conflict is optional. Can you elaborate? Linda: It’s how you work through differences. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with the relationship or the individuals, they just haven’t learned how to negotiate without blame or judgment.

Is that a result of the culture we live in? Charlie: Look at how our political system works. It’s adversarial. There is no intention to work cooperatively. In fact, that is seen as weakness. The prevailing way of doing things in business and politics is the opposite of what works in relationships. Linda: To have a cooperative partnership, people have to be linked heart to heart. That level of openness requires a lot of courage, to speak about tender feelings such as how frightened we are, what we need and what hurts.

But no one is teaching young people skills in communication, trust, etc. Is that why 50 percent of marriages still end in divorce? Charlie: Sixty percent for second marriages, and more for the third. There is a growing awareness that these are critical skills for children to learn. When studies look at the factors that determine the quality of life, the number one thing is the quality of relationships. Linda: A lot of people are either suffering and standing it, or breaking up the family. People settle for so much less than is really available.

Is that where your concept of enlightened self-interest comes in? Linda: If you want to have a happy life, you have to have a happy wife. It’s in his best interest for her to be happy and in her best interest for him to be happy. Charlie: It’s so obvious, but it’s hard to do. The principles that we deal with are not rocket science. But it’s one thing to understand them and another to live them, because we’ve developed so many strategies over the years to protect ourselves from being emotionally wounded.

What happens when you add kids to the equation? You have written that couples should prioritize their marriage over the kids. Can you elaborate? Linda: It’s a huge stumbling block for couples. What the job doesn’t get, the kids get, and then the relationship gets leftover scraps. I always recommend date night to couples. It’s the best gift that you can give your kids, a model of a humming-along partnership, parents who are really happy together, not just business partners, room mates or co-parents.

Your first book was 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married. Tell us about a few of those. Linda: One of my favorites is that the greatest gift you can give your partner is your own happiness. Another is the quality of your attention. And one of the most important questions you can ask your partner is, “How may I best love you?” Charlie: It really comes down to commitment. What are you committed to? Are you committed to being with each other in a way that honors the integrity of the relationship by being willing to work through whatever comes up? Couples hit these walls and instead of saying, “Okay what do we need to do now?” one or both decide that it’s too much work.

In your second book, Secret of Great Marriages, you interviewed dozens of couples who have been happily married for decades. What themes came through? Linda: These were hungry learners. Personal growth was important to them. The secrets to success were threads through all of their relationships: commitment, communication, humor, forgiveness, compassion, empathy and often a fulfilling sexual relationship.

How often are most happily married couples intimate? Charlie: There is no generic answer to that question. It depends on everyone’s needs. But you have to create an emotional environment in which intimacy can take place. Linda: I like to say that foreplay is everything that went on since the last time we had sex. It’s the whole context of the relationship.

Like who cleans the bathroom? Charlie: That’s not an unimportant issue. Linda: Because it’s about caring and respect.

Not everyone has time or money for marriage counseling. What should they do? Charlie: There’s a line in the book, “If you think marriage counseling is expensive, try divorce.” Linda: You have to know that you’re worthy of having a great relationship and there are ways to learn how to do that. And you have to have some humility in admitting what you don’t know.

Is there a lot of pressure on your marriage to serve as a role model? Charlie: Don’t look to us to model your relationship after. We’ve worked hard on our relationship, but it is uniquely our own. You have to create your own.

What is one key message we can take with us? Linda: Make your intimate partnership a very high priority. It’s energy in, energy out. Charlie: Your relationship can provide you with more happiness than you’ve ever imagined. Whatever you think is possible, it’s way more. It takes work to get there, but it’s worth it!