Marriage Minutes

The Book by Gerald Ford

“Marriage Minutes”


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Dreams Can Come True

By the way… my next Couple Communication Workshop is September 18-19. Give us a call at 281-277-8811 to find out more.

This is from Emily Dickinson. I share this with concurrent thoughts about the shared dreams and other life-goals of individuals in a marriage. Will it matter what we were? …can I be a part of my spouse’s quest to fulfill dreams?

“Each life converges to some centre
Expressed or still:
Exists in every human nature
A goal

Admitted scarcely to itself, it may be,
Too fair
For credibility’s temerity
To dare.

Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,
To reach
Were hopeless as the rainbow’s raiment
To touch

Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;
How high
Unto the saints’ slow diligence
The sky!

Ungained, it may be, by a life’s low venture,
But then,
Eternity enables the endeavoring

All of a person’s behavior is aimed at the same set of personal goals, what Dickinson refers to as “some centre expressed or still.” Our marriages and all of our relationships will fare better if we attend to the purposes we have behind them, energizing them. They also work best when both people have the same motives. “Surer for the distance”, the highest motives for marriage will produce the best marriages.
But, it is this same set of goals that says so much about us in all of our life. A person with poor goals in one area of life will have this same quality of goals in other areas.
The writer, Pat Gundry, said it well. “It is not the perfection of the original match that will make or break your marriage. Rather, it is the kind of person you decide to be, every morning, for the rest of your life.”
It is likely that if your goal in one part of life is to just get by with the least possible effort, your marriage will be drawn by that same goal. If your goal is to only do what you “feel like”, your marriage will have the same disastrous results as you will see in your other areas of life. The good news is that excellent goals for responsible living will contribute to a good marriage, provided both partners have these goals within themselves.

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Marriage Minute # 95 Heathcliff and Catherine
from my book, Marriage Minutes, available from

I won’t spoil the story for you if you haven’t read it. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, has much to say about the strangeness of relationships, misplaced values, prejudice, and the madness of trying to control other people’s lives.
Heathcliff and Catherine love each other, and they are actually much like each other. They are well suited for each other, and they both go to great sacrifice to be with each other. They seem made for each other, except for one tragic difference, and that is, all the other things they love. Catherine is too much in love with good breeding and social position. Heathcliff becomes too much in love with revenge.
Catherine has another problem. She believes Heathcliff should be able to bring her the moon, or do other amazing things to make her happy. She is like those people today who believe that if they are unhappy, it must be because they are not effectively loved. Expectations of mind-reading, of always being understood, and always being served by others, become the plague of relationship misery. The woman who is sad because she has little of no relationship has a valid complaint. Yet, the woman who is sad because her relationship doesn’t do everything for her that her soul will ever need, will have only sadness because relationships will never replace the healthy and growing personal self. “Become successful and I will be happy”, she might say to her husband, but it will not be so.
Heathcliff had another problem. He believed that he could steer the rest of the world by his fervor for Catherine. If he only knew how little he controls in this life, he might have made some different choices, and would have had more real control, of himself. Letting himself be judged “unworthy” by unworthy judges, he tried every plan he could think of, but his plans didn’t have the cooperation of all those around him. Imagine that. Yet, today men are still are still trying to “prove” themselves by proving more than will ever be true, especially without the good relationships we need in this life.
Bronte does much in her book (of wonderful prose, by the way) to warn against the false images of men and women that still plague the world of love. Each generation seems to have to re-invent the process with the same mistakes. It’s a shame that good experience doesn’t always get passed down. Bronte called Wuthering Heights a “misanthrope’s heaven.” Can you imagine heaven for people who hate people? Most of us would call it something else.
Charlotte Bronte, Emily’s sister, described well the missing element in the lives at Wuthering Heights. In spite of the passion, the supposed love, and all the human effort at creating the world in their own image, the missing element was “kindness.”
Charlotte said, concerning Emily, “… nothing moved her more than any insinuation that the faithfulness and clemency, the long-suffering and loving-kindness which are esteemed virtues in the daughters of Eve, become foibles in the sons of Adam. She held that great mercy and forgiveness are the most divine attributes of the great being who made both man and woman, and that what clothes the Godhead in glory, can disgrace no form of feeble humanity.”

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How things are Not supposed to be.

Marriage Minute # 94 Macbeth  (a hard lesson)  from my book, Marriage Minutes, available at

Let’s take a minute and visit that great marriage and family therapist of many years ago. I speak of none other than William Shakespeare, himself. He told us about Macbeth and his wife, and how things are Not supposed to be.

Act one, scene seven, opens with Macbeth struggling within himself about the thoughts of murdering the king. His conscience is about to win out, when the struggle gets harder. He considers this royal friend of his, Duncan, one who has a reputation for kindness, but where has the kindness gotten him. He is about to be executed. Will Macbeth keep his own kindness? Will he give up on what doesn’t seem to be working for others? But, he cannot possibly murder the king. Enter Lady Macbeth. Finding that Macbeth is feeling virtuous, again, she attacks him with accusations of cowardliness; this Macbeth who is an honored and valiant warrior. Yet, this one person’s opinion seems to affect Macbeth beyond measure. It is then that Macbeth makes one of his greatest statements…

“I dare do all that may become a man; who does do more is none.”

Sadly, this may have been the last time he would say such a fine truth. Lady Macbeth begins to excoriate him with words meant to bring about shame. Isn’t he a “real man”, after all? Doesn’t he “love” her? These thoughts will seem familiar to the modern mind since coercion and emotional bribery are still part of the perverted views of marriage that some “modern” people still hold.

Yes, Macbeth will stab Duncan when he is unguarded and he will smear the blood upon the innocent chamberlains. Macbeth becomes someone he has never been, and hides his true self, saying, “false face must hide what false heart doth know.”

Every time Macbeth begins to waver, Lady Macbeth gives him a speech about, of all things, manhood. She appears mild and gentle to the world, but behind the scenes she is vicious. “Now, be a good boy, and go out there and kill the king!” (No, that wasn’t Shakespeare, but it could have been how she said it.)

This kind of interchange can sound painfully like some modern discussions. They happen when a man believes that true manhood must be discovered in the eyes and estimates of one or more other persons, rather than discovered in the true meanings of goodness, They happen when a woman believes that true womanhood must be discovered and played out in secret games, rather than discovered in the true meanings of goodness.

This same Macbethian crime occurs when a man or a woman uses love to coerce and bribe another person. When they use shame as a weapon they ignore the fact that true love need never be more important than conscience, since true love doesn’t tempt one to do evil.

Among other things, this story also shows that true manhood and true womanhood cannot be defined by appearances. Macbeth and the Lady looked like such a fine and noble couple. She seemed so nice and he seemed so good. But, appearances don’t tell the whole story. When kindness doesn’t seem “manly”, and when honesty doesn’t seem “womanly”, perhaps we have gone beyond what “becomes” a man or woman.

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The Curse of Creative Listening

Marriage Minute # 93 Psych—ed (From my book, Marriage Minutes, available at

Around 1910 an interesting play, “Psych—ed”, was written by Hughes Mearns, containing this odd line of dialog.
“As I was climbing up the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish, I wish he’d stay away.”

In a recent interview I was asked about the most difficult type of marriage counseling that I encounter, and I thought of this verse by Mearns. One of the most difficult marital problems we deal with, is the problem that doesn’t really exist. The person just isn’t happy, and they think it is the marriage that makes them that way, but it is not because of the marriage, at all.
Their spouse hears accusations of failure and, if they are mature, they look honestly to see if the accusations are valid. But, then they see that the accusations are just the thrashing around of an unhappy soul; one who dares not take responsibility for their own happiness.
Real happiness has a lot to do with living up to our own standards, and living out our purpose, rather than having someone else “make” us happy. It is magical thinking to believe that the core of our happiness has its foundation in someone else, or that the décor of our life is dependent upon someone else’s artistry. It’s the problem that isn’t there, not on the stair, at least, and it is the problem that won’t go away due to someone else’s effort, because this nebulous unhappiness is self-inflicted.
Please understand, there are many problems that are created by someone else, and many marriages fail because of the behaviors of the other person. But, this is a different creature. Let’s be careful not to make our spouse the person they become. Day after day of demanding that they “make the world go away”, can make any spouse consider going away.
Thinking back, we may find that the person who seems to blame their marriage for all the problems of life had blamed someone else before the marriage. Perhaps the single adult should watch out for the person who seems unhappy with a lot of people. They may not be looking for a rescue; they may be looking for the next person to blame.
Have you heard the joke about the man who was speaking to his wife on his cell phone when she told him to drive carefully, because she heard on the radio that someone was driving on the wrong side of the freeway. He replied, “It’s worse than that. Everyone out here, but me, is on the wrong side of the road.” The first thing to do with a problem on the stair may be to make sure it isn’t ourselves we are meeting.

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What Do You Mean, “Love”?

Marriage Minute # 91 What Do You Mean, “Love”?
(From my book, Marriage Minutes, available on
You go out for a walk in the woods because a friend told you that these woods are full of beautiful songbirds. Because of the unpaved trail, the weather outdoors, the bugs, and other attitudes you walk into the woods while yelling about how awful things are. When the birds don’t show up, you get confused and you get demanding. You scream, “Sing to me.” You soon storm out of the woods, calling your friend some new names. Why did your gentle friend hear the birds, while you do not? This walk in the woods just wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.
Maybe you should hire a birdwatcher.
You go into a marriage because you have always heard how wonderful it is. But soon, you start to wonder why this other person is not cooperating with you, and why they haven’t made you deliriously happy. You decide that marriage doesn’t feel the same as going out with your friends most nights of the week. Maybe you want to be left alone more than you are, or maybe you are left alone, too much. You don’t hear what you want to hear, and you scream, “Sing to me.” Or, maybe it’s the other way around- maybe your spouse talks, and you had not considered this possibility.
Maybe you should interview the fellow who scared the birds away. This is the story of the man or woman who is called, ”not the marrying kind.”
Or, consider Christelle Demichel, a French woman whose fiancé died seventeen months prior to the wedding. Apparently, this is no great problem for the French, in whose country it is legal to marry someone who is deceased. The law went into effect in 1959 so that a fiancé would still be able to inherit from the deceased.
Demichel appeared wearing black, carrying yellow roses, and stood alone. She said the wedding was loads of fun, just like a wedding is supposed to be. (Was it really how she thought it should be?) Most of us want a wedding to have more to it.
I’m not a birdwatcher, but I have been a people-watcher for a long time. It does seem to me that something gets lost in the translation from wedding to marriage, and from expectation to understanding and participation.
Harriet Lerner said it well in her book, The Dance of Connection. She said, “Falling in love tells us absolutely nothing about whether a particular relationship is healthy or good for us.” She points out that it doesn’t matter if we call it “love or sauerkraut”, The main question is not about the intensity of love, but whether or not the relationship is about what is good, and about whether or not we are navigating “our part of it in a solid way.” Does this love increase or inhibit our ability to be authentic and self-disclosing? Are we committed to these two things? If the answer is No, then perhaps several answers should be No.

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Skills Aren’t Enough

Marriage Minute # 83 Skills Aren’t Enough

From my book, Marriage Minutes, available on

I recently heard a friend mention one those wry bits of wisdom that we all ought to know. He pointed out that when it comes to marriage, or parenting, or work, we certainly do need skills, but good skills are never enough by themselves. “After all”, my friend said, “Thelma and Louise were both good drivers.” As you likely remember, Thelma and Louise end it all with a giant but insufficient leap into the canyon.
If you liked the movie, but want a different and satisfying ending, try the movie “Leaving Normal” with Christine Lahti and Meg Tilly. I think both the movie and the ending are better.
Back to my topic, my friend has a point about the many skills available to a couple that often go unused, even though people know about them. I remember an ald joke about the farmer who was asked why he wasn’t going to the Grange Hall to see the new film about how to be a better farmer. He replied that he already knew how to be a better farmer and wasn’t using what he knew. There has to be some “want-to” in most everything we do, or all the skills in the world won’t help.
Good marriage also requires that we want the right things. While there can be many optional preferences that not ever couple needs, there are some things that we all need. (In fact, we need them if we are single.) Qualities of honesty, genuine respect of others, commitment, and certain other “must-haves” are at the core of good relationships. Yet, many marital problems, and many books about improving marriage are more about moral and ethical issues than they are about mental health or skills. One of the troubling things that we deal with after observing marriages for a while is that many troubled, even violent marriages, are in the mess they are in because of “skills”. By this, I mean skills for manipulating, for confusing their partner, for abusing in cunning ways. A “smarter devil” is a devil just the same.
I’m not recommending any of the imposed sets of rules, or phony role lists that many people place on marriage. Bertrand Russell, in his classic article about Morals and Marriage, warned that moralism and legalism in marriage is used to control other people, rather than build good lives together. And, if you study ethics, you find that few things are really written in stone. What I’m recommending is a love that is both objective and passionate; a love that is dedicated to controlling itself and guiding itself in building a nurturing relationship.
So, let’s don’t put Thelma and Louise in the driver’s seat.

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Bird in a Gilded Cage

Marriage Minute # 82 Bird in a Gilded Cage …from my book, Marriage Minutes, available on

Let’s lighten up a bit in this article, with a story from history. My wife, who is a historian, always shares stories from her research and writing, and she is a great story teller, but some of the most interesting stories come from her own family history. Meet Haslem Marshall, who was a young Sea Captain when he came ashore at Galveston in the 1840’s to build a house, near Morgan’s Point. He had decided he wanted to leave the isolation of the sea, marry, and settle down, so his search for the ideal wife began. He designed and built a wonderful house. Thinking of the ideal wife, he built a home-place that all the neighbors could admire. He had it all planned out, except for the obvious. His search for the ideal wife came to an end when the one he had chosen, turned him down. (i.e. dropped him, kicked him to the curb, cancelled his passport, quenched his ardor, gave him the “no, John” letter) He had described the elegance of his house, over the months of building it, as the gilded cage, but he lamented that he could find no canary. Devastated over this rejection, he set fire to the place, burned it to the ground, and returned to the sea. (“Good as I’ve been to you.”)
Life went on for a while and a somewhat older and much wiser Haslem Marshall came ashore, again. This time he had no elaborate expectations and he met a real person, Melinda Millsaps, a daughter of Isaac Millsaps who died at the Alamo. Her brother, Ephraim, is my wife’s ancestor. This time Haslem started with the relationship, and made the plans with her, rather than for her. They lived happily ever after, raised a family, and a farm, together. (Key word)
Now, what are the lessons of Haslem and Melinda? 1) Smart women, and smart men, don’t want to be squeezed into someone’s mold. And, it’s actually a good thing, since a person without their own personality can get really boring over time. 2) You are better off starting marriage with real people, not projects. Ever see the movie, Citizen Kane? At the end of the movie, Kane has all the characters in his life just where he wants them, but sadly, they are all statues, not people. 3) You build the home to suit the family, not the other way around. Maybe your spouse, or your child, doesn’t want to be a trophy-person. 4) It’s all right to dream, but honor each other’s dreams, share them, and dream together.

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Humanity as a Partnership

Here are two more articles about Assertiveness in the Collaborative Relationship… from my book, Marriage Minutes, available at

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Marriage Minute # 28 Humanity is a Partnership

Someone commented to me that they had never heard me talk about co-dependency. They supposed that I didn’t really believe in it. That is not exactly true, because I have recommended Melody Beattie’s book, Codependency No More, many times. Also, I recognize the original meaning of the term as used by people in chemical dependency treatment. The term referred to the people in the life of the alcoholic or drug user who would lie, and excuse, and cover up for them when the usage would otherwise get them in trouble. It has come to mean anyone who puts aside the development of their own life and identity for the sake of keeping a relationship; a relationship that grows ever more one-sided. One of the humorous lines about co-dependency is the one about the co-dependent person who was on a falling elevator- and someone else’s life passed in front of their eyes. It is sort of like being the personal assistant for someone else’s personality.
But, my friend was right about my not using the term, and here is why I don’t. First, from the academic side, I don’t find the term defined very well in the literature. It doesn’t have a good basis in research. Since it can mean too many things I hesitate to talk about it with people. Second, since it can mean so many things, it is too easily placed as a label on almost everything. It is the answer that doesn’t answer anything.
But, here is the main reason. I fear that our popular culture with its popular psychology has done “Too Good” a job at treating this supposed disorder. The sacrifice has been replaced with selfishness. Here’s what I mean.
A person asks their spouse’s opinion, but their spouse refuses to give it, fearing that giving this information will keep their spouse from making their own decision. “But I am only asking for your thoughts as input.”, this person says. Then they hear, “You’re just being co-dependent.” What have we done with our ability to pass ideas back and forth?
Someone says, “Can you help me with this?” They hear something like, “No, I am learning not to be co-dependent.” This is further justified by a remark like, “It is time I looked out for myself.” Why do we have to be doing one or the other? Why not care for others and for ourselves, as well? Why not develop the social skill of being able to say either “yes” or “no” when appropriate, without having to be entrenched in self-protection.
Another person becomes a chronically angry spouse, using rage to gain illegitimate power and control. When their spouse doesn’t take on the same rage, this rational spouse is accused of being co-dependent. Then, if a wise friend tells the raging person that their rage isn’t getting them anywhere, and that they should stop the tantrum, the rage-aholic defends themselves by saying that they don’t want to be co-dependent.
In our self-centered age, kindness and caring for others have been relegated to the categories of “low self-image” and co-dependency. Personally, I want a humanity that is not what author Joyce Milton calls, “a one-man show.” While there is a sense of dependency to be avoided in life, there is also a sense of selfishness that may be even more dangerous.

Marriage Minute # 29 Taking Care of Myself

Ever hear someone in a marriage speak those famous words, “It’s time I took care of myself for a change. . . ”, and wonder what they meant? I have heard it from several clients over the years and when I ask what they mean, I have heard several different answers. This goes to show that you have to ask or you may never know what they mean. Now, before I talk about what they may mean by these words I have to ask another question. Why do we suppose that marriage means that we have to choose one way or another? How do we get to the point of lopsided marriages? Do we start out being lopsided when we believe some of the cultural myths of our day? These cultural myths start us out unbalanced when they say things like, “You have to really take care of your husband/wife and make them happy.” The myths are furthered by such words as, “take care of the male ego”, or “women are funny like that.” These myths reflect the reluctance in our culture to treat ourselves, and others, as individuals. These myths provide ways to avoid the good work of learning about who we really are.
Have you ever read about the top ten intimacy needs? David Ferguson, a great theorist in this field, has said that in his research there are ten needs that keep showing up. And, they show up in all people, male or female. Here is his list. These needs are: Acceptance, Security, Appreciation, Encouragement, Respect, Affection, Attention, Approval, Comfort, and Support. All people have most of these needs They will rank them differently from person to person, but they are the same needs. We won’t know unless we ask, and understand.
When a newly married couple starts out with an understanding of each other’s needs and has the commitment and skills to work toward fulfilling them, the lopsided relationship is avoided. (Of course, balance requires regular maintenance throughout the marriage.) Most marriages start without this preparation and find that adjustments must be made later. It is within this kind of marriage that we most often hear the words regarding “taking care of myself.” But, marriage doesn’t have to be lopsided.
Sometimes when a person says they need to take care of themselves, they are learning that their marriage has been lopsided, and are starting to express their own needs. Some people panic when they hear this because they believe that now someone else is going to be neglected. Some people fear that the family is going to suffer at the hands of a “new sheriff in town.” If the power is going to shift, everyone grabs for a more secure hold. The truth is that none of this power struggle has to happen. When “expression” is valued, and “understanding” is sought, then a loving family can learn a great lesson. With skill and commitment they can see that each person has the right to their legitimate needs, as well as the obligation to the needs of others. They can say, “I will reveal my needs and expect others to respect them, and I will understand your needs and will respect them.” This does not mean we can meet all expectations, especially those that go beyond reason. This does mean I care about me, I care about you, and I care about us.
The bride is not selfish, and neither is the groom, when they want to be in the wedding pictures. In like manner, the wife is not selfish, neither is the husband when they both want to be in the marriage picture.

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Seasoned Speech

Marriage Minute # 31 From the book, Marriage Minutes, available on

“Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
Colossians 4:6

This verse is about assertiveness. It is about strength, because Grace is strong, and not weak. The Assertive person is not trying to do something to someone else in order to get their point across, but rather they are doing something to themselves in order to deliver their thoughts, feelings, wants, etc.
This Assertive person invites others to see their perspective, but they are not trying to force the other to change their mind. (Force being the key word…) Neither are they going to let their own mind be driven into silence.
Grace seasons our speech, makes it flavorful, shows the passion we have for not only our ideas but also for the relationship. Grace preserves, like salt does, preserves the good will of our love, preserves the goodness of the relationship, and preserves the bond we say we want in our relationships, especially our most treasured relationships.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. “The good man brings out of [his] good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of [his] evil treasure what is evil. “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Matthew 12:33-37

These words of Jesus describe Assertive speech… truthful, direct, from a good heart

From James, chapter 3 (NASB)
1Let not many [of you] become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2For we all stumble in many [ways]. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. 3Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and [yet] it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire, the [very] world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of [our] life, and is set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8But no one can tame the tongue; [it is] a restless evil [and] full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless [our] Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10from the same mouth come [both] blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11Does a fountain send out from the same opening [both] fresh and bitter [water]? 12Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor [can] salt water produce fresh. 13Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and [so] lie against the truth. 15This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

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