Two months ago we got a call from Christa Martin, the editor of Good Times, our local weekly Santa Cruz newspaper. Christa told us that she was planning to write an article that focused upon ways in which couples can enhance their chances of creating long-lasting, loving partnerships. She had read our book, liked it and thought that we might have something to offer her readership which includes many men and women who are losing hope regarding the prospect of finding the “right” person and creating a long-term, committed partnership. She asked us if we would be willing to have a conversation that might lead to an article. We did, and three weeks later we found our story featured on the cover of the paper. This month’s newsletter features an edited version of the article, which includes two sidebars addressing frequently-asked questions and concerns that often come up in relationships. We hope you enjoy it.
My parents’ marriage lasted 17 years. I have a friend who’s 34 and already on her second marriage. Renée Zellweger was married to Kenny Chesney for only four months, and the Pam Anderson-Kid Rock nuptials were even shorter than that. These days marriage is like Halloween candy-it tastes good for a while and when you’re sick of it, you throw it all in the garbage can.
Everyone is aware of the statistics. Half of all marriages end up in that emotional refuse pile. And now, 60 percent of second marriages are targeted to fail. But some people manage to move through their difficulties.
Linda and Charlie met in Boston in the 1960s. She had just turned 22; he was 21. She was a student at Boston University; he had dropped out of school-although he would eventually return and complete his studies. Linda had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years and was looking for someone to distract her from her loss. She was in a “no more goody two shoes phase.” Charlie was riding motorcycles. They happened to be at the same party when Linda saw two motorcycle helmets lying around.
“I asked my friend Joe, ‘Who goes with the helmets?'” “He pointed to Charlie and another guy. The other guy had a girlfriend.”
That night, Charlie and Linda started dating. Things moved quickly and in a few weeks they were living together. “It’s not something we recommend,” Charlie reflects.
“It would have been way better if I had spent some time with myself, healing my grief, instead of running straight into the arms of someone else,” Linda adds. In 1977 they got married. “We were still so young and foolish. Looking back on it, I think it’s a miracle we made it,” Linda says.
As the years rolled by, garden-variety problems surfaced, and eventually a weed sprang up. A year after their first child was born, in 1974 Charlie had an affair with his secretary. He quickly told Linda about it. “I’m not a very good liar,” he admits.
“We had a policy of being open with each other,” Linda says. “And it’s really worked out well for us, even though it’s not always easy to be honest. We recommend it. Things can get very deteriorated in a hidden way, and can be hard to repair.
“And this was plenty hard to repair.”
Divorce discussion No. 1 came up. Linda joined a women’s group and got herself back into the workforce. “I thought we might not make it; so I had better start making my own livelihood and not depend so much on Charlie.”
They got into counseling and got some help in repairing their damaged marriage, which included them both acknowledging the ways they had each contributed to things breaking down. “The thing that takes couples down isn’t the affairs, said Charlie, “it’s the lies, withholding truth from each other. It destroys trust, and trust is the foundation of relationships.”
Linda adds: “One of the things we learned was that when people have affairs, it’s not necessarily about the sex. She (the secretary) represented being single and unburdened by a family. That happens to a lot of people with the birth of a first child. They’re staggered by the responsibility and act out in different ways.”
Working through the reality that there had been an affair, they healed the broken places in their marriage and all was well. For a while.
In 1982, now with three children, they moved to California. Things drastically changed. They went from being co-parents with equal responsibilities, to Linda managing the family while Charlie worked a corporate job that put him on the road seventy-five percent of the time. Their new lifestyle took a real toll on their marriage.
With things breaking down again, divorce discussion No. 2 came up. “The company demanded total loyalty from people,” Charlie says. “They owned you. It was not the kind of environment that was supportive to marriages. Almost every person who was married ended up getting divorced.” At that point, they had been married 13 years. They sought help again and attended some relationships workshops. In 1987, Charlie quit his job and became Mr. Mom for a year while Linda hit the workforce.
I was very burned out from five years of overwork and I was really missing the connection with my kids which had been badly damaged during all of my time on the road. After I quit, Linda and I switched roles and I became the primary caretaker while she threw herself into starting our own business. I got a real appreciation for how much is involved for the caretaker of the family and how necessary it is to give time to the marriage,” Charlie says. “Those two lessons have stuck with me permanently since that time.”
Where’s the Bandage?
After leaving his job, Charlie and Linda decided to offer workshops for couples and singles who wanted to enrich their relationships. The first class filled up with 60 participants. “Our main focus was to help couples to communicate more effectively, to become more responsible, and to break the blame cycle,” Charlie says.
“We try to help couples to view each other through eyes of gratitude rather than through fault-finding eyes. It’s a simple concept, obviously easier said than done, but with practice it can transform a relationship.” Linda adds.
Over the past twenty years Charlie and Linda have held workshops throughout the US and in many countries overseas. They also consult with clients in person and by phone. They typically teach two and five-day workshops, and often conduct seminars at Esalen Institute in Big Sur. “When relationships break down, it’s usually because people are trying to get each other to satisfy their needs,” Charlie says. “Rather than trying to coerce your partner into fulfilling your desires, a better approach generally is to ask yourself “What do I need to give myself so I’m not so dependent on you to fill me up?” The challenge is to be able to be responsible for yourself and be open and vulnerable and depend to some degree on your partner, without losing your own integrity.”
But don’t get them wrong. While the Blooms are definitely in the business of helping couples, they also recognize that some marriages just aren’t going to make it. And some maybe shouldn’t. However, they agree that most couples give up way too soon or don’t get help soon enough…
“Many couples divorce over much less than we have gone through,” Charlie says. ” I think that overall people divorce before they’ve given it their best shot and if they had stayed in the process and worked at it, and gotten good help, if they made the effort, many of the people who divorced could have saved their marriage, without a doubt.”
Some people really do marry the wrong person, and sometimes it’s best to part ways. There are some bona fide mismatches, and every marriage may not deserve to be saved”, Linda explains. Charlie adds, “However, there are not as many mismatches as people may think. What people call a mismatch often has more to do with a failure to develop adequate relationship skills, than a mistaken choice of a partner.”
The Blooms’ goal is not necessarily to keep people together. “It’s to help them to become clear about what it is they really want in their relationships and to develop the skills necessary in order to fulfill their intentions,” Charlie says. At the very least, they believe that if a couple puts in the energy and effort to see if their marriage can survive, even if it doesn’t, they’ll still win because they’ll separate knowing they didn’t leave any stones unturned.
“In our workshops we challenge people but we’re not confrontational,” Charlie says. “We encourage them to reconsider some of their beliefs and attitudes about certain assumptions they may be holding. For example, we might challenge the idea that, ‘It shouldn’t have to be so hard,’ or ‘If we were really meant for each other we wouldn’t have all these problems.” Things can at times be difficult, painfully difficult, but that isn’t necessarily evidence that you’re with the wrong person or that you’re not cut out for marriage.
“Most people don’t enter marriage having developed the skills necessary to create and enhance great relationships. We learn as we go. It’s ALL on the job training! We know as well as anyone how frustrating that learning curve can be, but we also know what it’s like to get on the other side of it. If people really knew what was possible and trusted that they could achieve it, there’s no question that they would hang in there longer to try to get over the humps. If I had seven words of advice to give to couples who are struggling, it would be “Don’t give up. It’s worth the effort!”
Love Sick? Some Signs That You Need Help
Inability to resolve arguments.
The feeling on the part of one or both partners that no matter what I do, she/he won’t listen to me.
Repetitive argumentative cycles that don’t ever feel complete.
Entrenched and prolonged feelings of blame, hopelessness, self-pity or resentment.
Communication impasses that don’t respond to efforts to dissolve them.
Patterns of emotional, verbal, physical or sexual abuse.
Prolonged periods of time that are devoid of emotional or physical intimacy.
When your best effort aren’t enough to improve things.
When most of your communication leaves you feeling frustrated, sad, frightened or angry.
When most of your differences seem irreconcilable.
When you’re thinking about calling the divorce attorney.
Most couples wait too long to get the help they need and as a result it takes longer to dissolve negative patterns and the likelihood of successfully working things out is diminished. Waiting until things get ‘real bad’ may seem like a good idea, but generally results in having a difficult or painful situation becomes unnecessarily prolonged. When an intervention is made in the early stages of a relationship breakdown, it may take as few as one or two sessions to resolve. Once destructive patterns get entrenched, it’s likely to take much longer.
101 Things I Wish I Knew
For those who decide to keep the embers burning in their relationship, the Blooms have some fuel for them. The couple wrote “101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last” as a tool for couples contemplating marriage. It’s also a guide to keep love alive after the nuptials. Each tidbit contains a nugget of information and is accompanied by a story or vignette.
Tips to Make Love Last
From the book 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married:
The greatest gift that you can give your partner is your own happiness.
You can’t express feelings of appreciation and gratitude too much.
When in doubt, ask your partner, “How may I best love you?”
When two people are connected, the biggest problems become workable. When they are not, the smallest difficulties seem insurmountable.
A loving marriage can heal old emotional wounds better than the best therapy.
Constructive criticism generally isn’t.
There’s no greater eloquence than the silence of real listening.
It’s not conflict that destroys love, it’s the coldness and resentment that is bred by withholding feelings.
Secrets are lies.
If you can’t be happy without your partner, you won’t be happy together.
Love isn’t just a feeling, it’s an action that demonstrates caring.
Expectations set us up for resentment.
The cost of a lie is far greater than any advantage that is gained from speaking it.
Trust takes years to build but moments to destroy.
Nothing deadens sexual desire more than unresolved differences.
Creating a great marriage generally takes more time and effort than it seems that it should.
In order to thrive, love requires separateness as well as togetherness.
The amount of joy and fulfillment available in a loving partnership is considerably more than you can imagine.