I've Got Issues...And Peace


Boulder, Colorado,
October 22
Family, marital, and individual psychotherapist. Mother to four who no longer need my services but still enjoy my love as I do theirs. I specialize in stepfamily dynamics and difficult transitions. I try to write from the heart with a sense of vulnerability, humor and a frank look at myself. Art shown: "Four Pots" by Lindsey Leavell


Editor’s Pick
MARCH 8, 2010 9:02AM

See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me

Rate: 64 Flag

The Marriage Ref 

The Marriage Ref made its' debut on NBC last week.  This latest reality show takes marriage to a new low.  “Real couples” bring an issue they’ve been arguing about and celebrity “judges” decide which one is right.  

It’s like a marital boxing match without the gloves.  One of the spouses is declared the winner.  While the show is surprisingly witty and entertaining, I couldn’t help but think of the couples I’ve worked with in my private practice and of my own marriage.

Years ago, my husband and I went to a nationally known marital therapist.  Part of my agenda in going to the counseling was so my husband could find out how wrong he was and how RIGHT I was.

It didn’t take long for us to get into the back and forth accusations like a tennis match between John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.  Oh, couples love to play the blame game and it can be hard for the counselor to get a word in edgewise.

Not for our no-nonsense therapist.  He gave us about ten seconds of this fruitless power play before he stood up, looked at us and said, “Oh, I’m sorry.  I thought you were here for marriage counseling.  I thought you were here to find out how to understand each other more, love each other deeper, and try to bring a new level of intimacy into your marriage.  You don’t want that, you want a referee.  There are plenty of marital therapists out there who are willing to do that, but I’m certainly not one of them and I’d be happy to show you both to the door.”

Well, the nerve of him!  I sat there like a red-faced child who’d just been reprimanded by the principal.  But like compliant children, we stopped, and started to dig deep and do the hard work to learn to truly love.

Ten years later, we’re still learning.  It’s no easy feat to live with the same person, day in and day out…well, not if you want intimacy, not if you want to really learn about yourself and them, not if you’re willing to allow your partner to be your mirror to all those blemishes and shadows we all try so hard to cover up and hide.  Disillusionment of ourselves and our partners is the pathway to intimacy.

Couples don’t need the Marriage Ref.  They need to be open, flexible and curious.  Being “right” may feel victorious in the moment, but it’s a real libido killer in the bedroom.

What is it that any of us want, desire, crave, and long for?  Why do some of us, despite a failure or two, continue to look for that soul mate, the one who will “complete” us (a very bad idea by the way)?

When it gets right down to it, human beings just aren’t as complicated as we like to make ourselves to be. 

We want to be seen…seen for who we are, darker sides and all.  We want to be felt in that way that someone is so connected to us, that when we feel pain, they feel it for us too.  They can empathize and we find relief in knowing that we have an ally.  We want to be touched, we crave to be touched whether it’s in the full blown passions of wild and unrestrained sex or the gentle holding of the hand while watching a movie in a dark theater.

I love to tousle my husband’s curly hair as he passes me by, and I love it when he comes up from behind me as I’m rinsing the dishes and whispers words that should only be kept between the two of us. 

But we are a stubborn group of people and it is often easier to focus on the silly, the superficial and the insistence that we are right.  

When Ego is in charge, there will always be a winner and there will always be a loser.  Like the producers of the Marriage Ref, couples are often only interested in content.  In my practice, couples love telling me their stories as if they were Gloria Allred in the courtroom and then turn to me as if expecting some kind of verdict.

I say, “Sorry, I’m so not interested in the content.  I’m more interested in how you negotiate conflict as a couple.  I’m watching the two of you as you speak to each other.  I’m watching how you are speaking, your tones, your looks, your lack of touch, your avoidance of each other’s eyes.  It’s not about the content. There will always be content, The content will change but it will always be there.  It’s how you handle the content that matters, how you learn to listen, be open and flexible.

John Gottman, a leading relationship and marriage researcher has come up with what he calls, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”  His research shows that these four factors are the greatest predictors of divorce:

  1. Criticism
  2. Defensiveness
  3. Contempt.
  4. Stone-walling (the silent treatment)

These may seem obvious, but there are often times in the moment, we just don’t care and care only about the insistence in being right.

Gottman’s research on successful relationships shows that 63% of happily married couples don’t “agree” on most things.  But they’ve learned to accept and honor the differences between themselves.  They have become experts at negotiating in loving ways. 

Hugging the person you love at least six times a day is a huge boost and preventive medicine for relationship, and for each negative thing said, there needs to be five positive things to counterbalance the words that have wounded.

I love the line in “Notting Hill” where Julia Roberts’ character who is also a famous American movie star, says to the man she’s fallen in love with, a man who is overwhelmed by her fame, “I’m just a girl asking a boy to love me.”

See me, feel me, touch me.  If we were all more willing to provide that to the ones we love, there would be a lot less appeal for shows like The Marriage Ref and a lot less work for me.


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love this line, because it says so much in so few words: "We want to be seen..."

but, alas, now I'll be humming "deaf dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.." all day, and, as many will attest, my singing is best left for the shower...
Thank you so much for this little article. My wife and I are in counseling right now. Perfect timing, for me anyway. Thank you again.
Accept and honor differences? There's an idea ...
Any married person would be well advised to read that third to last paragraph every morning to start the day.
Definitely a show I'll pass on
Mary, this is wonderful. You so clearly know what you are talking about when it comes to relationships, and you are obviously a fabulous counselor. Thank you for capsulizing the important stuff here.
So true, so true. There will always be content. It's how we handle the content. There's a movie (Ballroom Dancing? I can't remember the name) with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon in which one or both of them realize that what people really want in a partner is to have a "witness to my life." That line struck me . . .
Great post Mary! I love Gottman's list and am happy to notice that my wife and I have none of those (well, very infrequently). This is a post that I hope gets read by a lot of couples!
Mare, you have nothing to fear. There will always be a boat load of work for you to do! The human condition, at it's very worst, shows up in marriage and relationship, time and time again. It's a given! However, as you so elequently and knowingly stated, couples can "become experts in negotiating in loving ways." That is a huge undertaking and one that both must enter into with fierce committment.
Defensiveness. My bete noir - as natural to me as breathing. Fortunately, we went to counseling before we married and our counselor helped us both to have tools to recognize and work around these things as they come up. Thank goodness for her!
Mary, I not only understand what you're saying....I agree completely with every word. What's frustrating in my own marriage at times is the fact that I CAN see my own faults in my marriage...and yet, it doesn't seem to matter. I try working on them, but always end up repeating the same mistakes over and over.
It's so stupid!
You know my disdain for pop culture trash, and the dumbing down of society, so... I can't believe the shyte people spend precious time watching, looks like your profession will be booming!RRR
To accept and to honor differences, oh yes. I mean, we want to be democratic, we imagine we are democratic, well... it´s nice to start at home, with those we love and who mean so much for us. It´s a very rewarding adventure. Thanks!
Getting past the winner/loser thing--so true. Great post.
So right, "It' s not about content." I especially like the giving hugs and say five nice things for every hurtful one. Tough, but necessary.

The people who come to you are fortunate...the ones who watch tv...should spend more time talking!
I thought the Marriage Ref was shallow and tried to make comedy out what were ridiculous marital issues... I switched the channel after the dude was shown in a tanning bed. Long live reality and true depth to seeking out the why's to the issues that divide in marriage.
This is a thoughtful, thought provoking piece. "The Marriage Ref" is a spin-off from America's Funniest Vidios, right? Incipid, trite or a brilliant reflection of our times? You get right to the point -- it's not the details that matter in arguments, it's the handling of them that counts. We get so caught up in our details and proofs and "no I said, no you said, what I meant was..." So busy talking, justifying, and then getting lost in a labyrinth of tangents and getting more frustrated and justifying and explaining the tangents, opening up ancient past arguments to justify the presents ones..... And no one stops to breathe and ask what's "really" bothering you? I love you and want to listen to you. What you say is so true. We just want to been "seen." I want to be "heard" too. Which means I'd better open my ears and clean the lenses through which I "see" him. Great job, Mary. Rated!
Great post, Mary, and well said. "There will always be content."

Now if I could just convince my bickering squabbling children of that...
This post makes me wish I were married. (sigh)

Great post and being a witness to my parents 26 year long marriage, seeing it thrive and grow younger with each anniversary, I know without a doubt that you are right.
Ya think going on national television and airing dirty laundry is going to help your relationships? NOT
This is great! I'd be interested in your thoughts on my post: I married a lion.
Rated by the Kilgore Trout of OS.

Reason: Use of the headline from Tommy.
Thanks for these great insights, Mary. Who needs a marriage counselor when we have you!!
Right on Mary! Great advice. I always thought "you complete me" should actually be "you compliment me, and I you". No one is ever really complete and if they think a spouse will complete them, well they're just naive.
Very well done. Thanks for posting. Rated.
Mary, when are you gonna write something I even vaguely disagree with? Seriously, this is just brilliant. Oh, and I did bring myself to watch the second episode. Everything you say here was evident in that brief, yet vacuous period. And the most important thing, for me anyway (speaking as a serial divorcee) is the paragraph I'd already been privy to, the one where you say "Couples don’t need the Marriage Ref. They need to be open, flexible and curious. Being “right” may feel victorious in the moment..." This is far and away the most cogent and trenchant observation among many here. It's a job, a joyous one, but it is work, in that we need to remain at all times mindful. People don't, though. They believe (because this is what we are taught) it will just happen.

To enlarge upon what Moana said, this makes me wish I were married -- again. Oh yes, I'm far from done with the institution. The past few years on my own have allowed for important work and some of the major points you make here have become very clear to me (and I will not point fingers, it does take two, whether it's to fail or succeed). I do want to be seen and felt, but most of all heard, to be acknowledged. I'm learning how important that is, that it must never be sacrificed for the sake of some parlor trick passing for relationship.

This really struck a chord with me, if you couldn't tell. Absolutely beautiful observations from one who is way ahead of the crowd on the learning curve. Rated!
Good post mary...didn't see the new NBC show but let's be real...these shows are never what they are supposed to be, they are so staged and it is not suprising that they have to do the right/wrong thing.....pick sides and choose a "winner". Hope the viewers don't put alot of stock in this kind of counseling. Obviously when counseling is sought things may be at a crossroads..couples have to be open and understanding and be willing to navigate some bumpy waters, but in the end it either works or it doesn' you said (thankfully) regarding "completing" the other person....only "you" can complete "you".....and I am not even sure what a "soulmate" really is. When an individual does the work to know and understand themselves that will open the door to understanding within the relationship.
Took a pass on the show, but loved the post. Marriage is work, but it needs to be wise work. As soon as I stop wanting it, as soon as I stop being willing to work for it, my wife becomes a roommate rather than a wife.
"We want to be seen…seen for who we are, darker sides and all."

We want someone to accept our darker side. But don't we really want to be understood as the person we are striving to be. Our better self, as it were? The one we are perhaps close to being?

You are the pro.
I keep Gottman's 5:1 rule (positive to negative interactions) in mind ever since I read it. I think K and I are actually doing even a bit better than that, but we also find it's easy over time to let some snippiness and even contempt slip in, even when you love each other. It's like that saying about liberty -- intimacy requires eternal vigilance!

That said, I found The Marriage Ref funnier than I expected. At least the first show, the one on after the Olympics with the stuffed dog and the stripper pole. I agree with you on how it reinforces the power struggles that kill relationships but so far they seem to be trying to choose couples who actually really love each other a lot but have a silly little conflict that can be easily resolved (not to mention generate some laughs).

All couples have those, and most learn to laugh about them even without being on TV. K and I have running jokes about our minor power struggles, as many couples do. I actually find humor is one of the best ways to put those little conflicts in perspective and to prevent them from becoming important. I love process, and believe it's important in a relationship when needed, but sometimes choosing to "poof" something away with laughter is better than putting it under a microscope.
That was a beautiful post, Mary.
I tend to tell myself that I'm allergic to marriage (had two brief ones, and couldn't get out fast enough). But your post made me re-think that a little. Perhaps what I'm allergic to is being seen, felt, and touched. That level of intimacy on a day to day level sounds terrifying. The four predictors of divorce are all just very effective methods of pushing our loved ones away.
Your post gave me a lot to think about. Instead of telling myself that happy marriages are impossible, perhaps i need to ask myself why i hold on so tightly to that belief. Why am I so afraid to be seen, felt, and touched? And what can I gain by walking through that fear?
Rated Big Time.
I saw only the first one, where the husband had the dead dog he wanted to stuff and put in the front hallway. That one did have a definite right and wrong, and thankfully the panel was clear on that point (although I thought the recommendation of keeping the stuffed animal and putting him in the attic was still a little stupid). But you're right it's unusual in relationships that it's like this. I don't plan to watch this.
Won't even watch the show. I learned early on that if there's a "winner" in a marriage showdown then the marriage is the "loser". It isn't about right and wrong (or rather, it isn't JUST about who's right or wrong) it's about partnership.

The fault, dear Mary, lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.

Another (much more famous) Bill said that. Although not to Mary. :-D
Wise words Mary. I have a feeling you are one excellent therapist. The difference I notice the most between years of being single, and now living with a man, is that I have a witness to my life. And one who is on my side -- and vice versa. If you smile and hug someone every time you pass in the hall, you are a long way toward success.
Though not mutually exclusive I would add to Gottman's list of predictors of divorce the one that sunk my own marriage: resentment. Like the drip from a faulty faucet, the constant drip of resentment has the capacity to flood whatever goodwill might once have existed, replacing it with something fermenting and volatile.
Really interesting, My husband and I watched one episode of the show and hated it, mostly because of the "victor" and "vanquished" nature of the "help" offered. This analysis is infinitely deeper and more meaningful in the context of actual problem solving.
Really lovely piece Mary and so spot-on.
I may just link this to facebook and see what kind of comments it gets there. For my money, there just isnt much to add to your very well stated piece.
Mary: I'm not a therapist, but I play one on TV. Well, I don't play one on TV. But I could play one on TV. Okay, I'm not a therapist and I don't play one on TV and I can't act so I couldn't play one on TV, but I do probably need a therapist. Still, from personal experience I think we should wait for "the one," our soul mate.
As far as the show goes I can't imagine why anyone would want to go on such a program much less watch it. It seems to tawdry and self loathing.
Yes, marriage is a completely different family from the one we grew up in and rebelled from. I'm glad you said it so succinctly!
Oh what a lucky man I am. Great post babe.
@ Owl_Says_Who: Can't believe someone else remembers that quote from that movie! That line also struck me at the time, and stayed with me for quite awhile.

Below is the full quote as spoken by Susan Sarandon's character in "Shall We Dance?":

"We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'."
Very nice post! I haven't seen the show (no interest) and your piece supports why I won't watch it.

I agree with the following statement:

Gottman’s research on successful relationships shows that 63% of happily married couples don’t “agree” on most things. But they’ve learned to accept and honor the differences between themselves. They have become experts at negotiating in loving ways.
Great post. Marriage is only difficult if you can't take a good look at yourself and I had a lot of issues. My husband taught me about marriage and I know if you are a competitive person at all or want to play the women vs men thing, who's smarter etc. trouble will brew. Love, honour and respect mean that you should hold your partner in a reverned place. Thirty- six years married, maybe that's why we know this stuff. You are a very insightful person and it shows.
Yes. People must know they are there, that they count to their partners.
Great post. I love what the marriage counselor said to you--it's so wise. Gottman is right about the Four Horsemen.
Wise and wonderful post, Mary. Thanks for this.
You should host your own show...with your post title! Great.
"Do you want to be right or happy" was the best advice I ever received, :)

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Brian: Thanks for reading and now, thanks to you, I've had that song in my head all day. But I love it and I loved Tommy. Saw it several times on stage. Your singing sounds like mine!

DH: I wish you and your wife all the best. How wonderful that you are committed enough to be doing the work with a therapist. This is not an easy thing to do. And it's always challenging to look at ourselves to see where, surprise of all surprise, we have contributed to our own relationship difficulties. Life is humbling.

Gwool: Ya think?

Procopius/Steve: Thanks...and I'm going to do the same thing!

Tom: I'm pretty sure that regardless of this post, YOU were never going to watch this show!

Lainey: Ah, Lainey thanks so much. I appreciate that a lot coming from you.

Owl: Yes, we spend so much time focusing on the silly content. And of course, some content is very real, but it's still all in how we address it. Thank you for reading. That beautiful quote from "Shall We Dance) that I have written down somewhere is listed above in one of the comments.

Roger: You and your wife are fortunate and actual grown-ups, a rare event in the world of adults! Thanks for reading.

Just Cathy: I love the way you say "fierce commitment" because for most of us, this is exactly what it takes. And humility. And the letting go of our end of the ropes. And our cleaning up our side of the street. The work is worth it.

Blue in TX: Thank goodness for your therapist, but more importantly, thank goodness for the wisdom of the two of you! A therapist, even a good one, can say the same thing to 5 couples and only one will actually listen, practice, look at themselves and reap the benefits. The two of you deserve all the credit.

patricia: Well, one thing I think I may know about you, and forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think you can be very hard on yourself. We all have a "judge" voice out there that loves to tell us how we're not changing, we're never going to change, etc. Self-awareness is the most important criteria for permanent change. You have that. Some patterns run deeper than others and take longer to practice. That's all. Just keep being self-aware and practicing (make sure you have new behaviors to replace the old ones) and practice practice and remember, it's two steps forward, one step back etc. etc. I have one pattern I've been working on for years so I understand your frustration. But it's just something that needs a little more time and patience. So be patience with yourself. You are a wonderful loving person.

patrick: So how do you reconcile your disdain for pop culture and the fact that I'm a therapist who does driveling American Idol posts? Looks like I may need more therapy! I always appreciate your comments and good humor.

Marcela: It is an adventure and a challenge isn't it. One thing I'm learning to say to myself more and more when my husband and I are disagreeing about some trivial thing is, "So what?" Really? Am I going to be on my death bed worrying about whatever the dumb thing was that I can't remember anyway?

sophieh: Thanks for reading and your comment. Yeah, committed relationships are not the best places for competition!

BuffyW: Yes, less time on TV crap and more time talking. But for many men, less talking and more touching!

Chuck: You know of which you speak. I've been very busy so haven't been able to comment much, but I'm taking the opportunity to tell you I'm so happy to see you back here! I never commented on your leaving post because I wanted to stay in complete denial and wait for your return. I'm so glad I was rewarded with your return!

Joan: We make it so complicated don't we? GREAT comment.

froggy: Hey, if you figure out a why to get your squabbling children to understand that, fill me in!!! I need to know!

Moana: I love this, "seeing my parent's marriage thrive and grow younger with each anniversary"...that is so beautifully put! I wish this for you too as you want it and am putting out great intentions for you to find and work towards what your parents have modeled for you.

OE: Yeah, WTH? I can't imagine there's a whole lot of juicy ju ju going on on the rides home from the taping and one was declared right and the other wrong. Nightmare.

Deborah: I will read your post and make a comment (please be patient...I've had clients most of the day and more shortly...but I love your posts and want to read and have it in big RED letters). Thanks for reading here.

ronnierayjenkins: I knew I would be able to weed out the Tommy fans. I loved that show, I loved that makes me a little crazy in the best of ways.

Karin: Thank you so much for your kind words. I really really appreciate them.

AJ: It really makes me happy to see this post helped further clarify all the hard work you've been doing. Who knew what we were doing in our early 20's? Some got lucky but for most of us, we're learning the hard way. Have you read any of David Deida's stuff? He can go a little extreme, but I like a lot of what he has to say. Relationships can truly be a spiritual path to knowing ourselves and others. And it can also be the most ridiculously difficult insanity producing process. I'm excited for you and I want you to experience this in your life in the best of ways. You deserve it! Once again, thanks for this most supportive comment.

lorimarie: Your birthday is tomorrow!!!! Okay, yes, what does "soulmate" mean? People get way too hung up on this fantasy word. Not to say that you can't feel like you're with your "soulmate" but it is often way too romanticized. People think they find their soulmate, then reality hits, then they get disillusioned and say, "Well, they weren't my soulmate so buh bye" and then they lose the opportunity for so much learning.

jimmy: You are one wise husband. Once one person decides no more growth, no more stretching, the relationship is doomed to roommate status for sure.

Nick: I think we want both and one more thing. We don't have to love each other's darker sides, but we want to know we're loved despite them. And yes, we want to be loved and encouraged to be ALL that we can be. And in the meantime, we just want to be loved for "as is". You're as much a pro as I am. We're all human beings trying to figure this crazy stuff out, aren't we?

Silkstone: You make an important point, not about the show because it is, as you said, entertaining. But I can't get past the premise of the winner and loser. The point you made that I just love is the humor that you and your other bring into your power struggle ego conflicts. Humor is a fantastic distiller in a moment of tension and can quickly dissipate any escalating argument. Great comment!

big fat trauma queen: I love your honesty and self-reflection and can I say as someone who feels great affection for you, you're on to something!!!! And it's big and I'm excited and let's PM/talk about this sometime if you ever want to. It's a huge revelation. And of course because of your experiences there would be a huge fear of intimacy. But you've healed in so many ways,so maybe...just maybe...

Kent: Well, I think there are many situations where if you were to only focus on the content, you could easily declare who is right and who is wrong. But again, not the focus. It's on how the couple was negotiating the stuffed dog thing that counts. Underlying needs here on the man's part could have been explored more thoroughly (and I vaguely remember this part) but I for one couldn't take my poor dog's stuffed head in the front hallway! I'd love to know though how the couple fared when they were home alone with that decision.

Bill S: Once again, you leave a great wise comment that adds icing to the cake. Thank you!

Lea: I love the "witness to my life" thing and as a woman who has been both single and married, your wisdom runs deep. And it really is so much more simple than we make it. Thanks for reading!

Maerwynne: I agree with your thoughts about resentment, although Gottman's research perhaps didn't specify that "untreated resentment" will eventually lead to contempt...a duh of a deathblow to a marriage. Thanks so much for reading.

mamoore: Thank you!!!

Ann: Yes, "actual" problem solving is so important. We love to regurgitate our stories and problems rather than getting past the hurt emotions and becoming allies to solve the problems rather than perpetuate them. Thank you.

Tim4change: Hey, are we facebook friends? Why aren't we facebook friends? This needs to change asap (unless I have sudden dementia and we already are, but I don't think so). Thanks for your comment.

john walker: I have no doubt you could be a kick ass marital therapist. After reading your incredibly wise post on sex and women, you'd be the bomb!

geezerchick: Thank you!

WalkAwayHappy: It is truly hard work isn't it and the bigger question should be WHY? Why is it so darn hard for us? But yet it is. I guess it's like having a beautiful garden. No way can you have a beautiful flowering garden with the daily consistent weeding, nurturing and caretaking of it. Yet, we often treat our relationships with so much casualness and then are surprised when we are in the rocky roads.

Beo: Hey, thanks for making a comment! A rare treat. I am one lucky woman to have you who is as "fiercely committed". Kiss kiss.

Scheherezade: Thank you SO much for finding that quote and putting it up. That is one of my favorite all time marriage quotes from that movie. Beautiful and comforting and reminds of the gift of the witnesses in our lives.

Kanuk: I love Gottman's research on what successful marriages are made up of. What a concept? Oh, we don't agree? So what? Whatever. It is what it is. Now, let's get back to loving each other. Thanks for reading and commenting.

cindy: 36 years married and happy? I'd say you're the insightful one and you and your husband have my full and total respect. It is possible. Thank you.

Jonathan: Important point. We need to know that we matter, that we will be missed if we're gone and we need to return the favor.

susanmihalic: Oh yeah, that marriage counselor set us straight. BTW, his name is David Schnarch and he wrote Passionate Marriage. A great book for couples.

Denise: Thanks Denise and this is off the subject, but you are looking awesome these days!!!
Brown Eyed Girl: Isn't that a great title...and song? I need to download right now I love it so much! Thanks for reading.

Lady Miko: I have a girlfriend who loves to debate everything. She's very good at it and she's usually "right". And she's usually alone. It's difficult to take!

trilogy: Rest assured. I can only do catty and snarky for one TV show and American Idol works for me in that regard. This is not to say that I won't do a recap or comment on a TV show or movie, but it will be more along these lines, something more authentic to my heart. The American Idol is my weekly indulgence in pure I love the singing! As for knowing John Gottman's stuff, he probably wishes he knew it sooner. He's on at least his second marriage. We're only human and I'm glad you're out of that bad marriage and passing on your wisdom to your daughters.
In my practice, couples love telling me their stories as if they were Gloria Allred in the courtroom and then turn to me as if expecting some kind of verdict.

I say, “Sorry, I’m so not interested in the content. I’m more interested in how you negotiate conflict as a couple. I’m watching the two of you as you speak to each other.

This is very wise. Helpful article. Thank you! spades.
Wow, Mary... just... wow. I wish my husband and I had someone like you to mediate our ongoing conflict of a marriage. Just getting him to agree to counseling in the first place is a conflict. Those "Four Horsemen" certainly apply to us: Criticism and Contempt from him, Defensiveness and Stone-Walling from me. We wouldn't even rate an appearance on "The Marriage Ref" because there isn't anything funny about our arguments anymore.

BUT... on a lighter note, "The Marriage Ref" is entertaining, as long as they keep the issues simple. I find myself agreeing with the wives (lol--they think they know what a conflict is!). No stripper pole in the bedroom, if the wife doesn't want one. No putting the dead stuffed family dog in the hallway where everyone can see it, if the wife doesn't want it there. Hah, marriage should be so easy!
@Owl_Says_Who and @Scheherezade: That is a wonderful quote, and so true. A huge loss when a marriage disintegrates is the loss of TIME... the "witnessing" of, and the caring about, all of the many shared moments of two combined lives.

@Maerwynne Dilston: Yes, resentment is corrosive, and its' damage is very difficult to repair. When I decide to write about my marriage, many of my posts will be in this vein.
Like the article..and “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

Makes all kind of sense..even as I ignore it all in my own marriage....
My question is why any one would want to know what Madonna or Alec Baldwin thinks of their marriage? I mean, hello?
Didn't/won't watch the show - I don't do reality train wrecks in my waking life, so why would I do them on TV? But I think jimmymac has it absolutely right (paraphrase): "As soon as you stop "wanting" it, you get a roommate; not a husband or a wife". If I ever get married, I'm putting that in my vows. Wise and wonderful words to live by.
Successful relationships are simple because of the strong binder called love. It refreshing to my heart to read such a wise assessment of relationships. Wise, true and beautifully written.
Rated for elegance.
I believe you drew a fine clear map to the exit from marital dead ends. Which seem so damned hopeless.
You nailed it, in "See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me", using boxing matches, court trials and the drive to win to explain what’s at the heart of countless marital arguments. And failures. I understand a little about trials if not marriage, and when I got married the wisest lawyer I know, a sort of folk hero of his day, warned me about trial skill in these words: “Don’t take it home with you.”
Competition and the drive to win seems rooted in Americans, and winning’s fun, so maybe that drive slithers inevitably into American marriages. And is harder to root out than bamboo.
Which is to echo what you said better, and in enlightening detail, said extraordinarily well, in "See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me".
Thank you for this wise and wonderful post. I don't watch reality TV; I have enough reality all on my own, thank you very much!
Foremost the show is for entertainment. When you take it at face value it is funny like America's funniest home videos. Of course it is not dealing with heart of the matter subjects. It is scripted and the supposed arguments are strange and are picked for their entertainment value. I don't think the show is trying to be serious.

Someone struggling with real life marriage issues would most likely not find the show funny or someone as yourself who sees hurting couples on a professional basis. And I agree marriage is not about who wins or looses arguments. It is about two people growing together in trust and mutual respect.
Hugging is so underated. At the end of a long day, a good hug is exactly what I need to make everything better.

Thanks for this insightful post.
Well written post. Rated. The premise of the show is stupid. But, I did love watching Ricky Gervais. He cracks me up no matter what he's doing.
This is beautiful, Mary. So thought provoking, thoughtful and well written. You reminded me of so many things I am inclined to forget. By the time I got to the end I was feeling remorseful. It's so hard to remember that love, real love, is eventually going to bring you face to face with everything you've been running from, in yourself and in others. It's so hard to not keep on running, closing our ears and screaming. I wish I was better at all of this. I shall just have to use this same patience and love on myself or there'll be absolutely no overflow onto my significant others. You write beautifully; such wise things said with such a fresh elegance.

I just came across this posting today as I was looking up the rankings of my latest post (ego!). I am struck by much of what you say here because it resonates with many of my past relationships. I am on a journey to discovering how to become more intimate with my boyfriend without pushing him away because of many of my fears and past experiences.

One thing I've often told myself is this: Do I want to be right or loved? I prefer the latter. Like a lot of humans, I often get hung up on the small things which then become the big things because I give them nurturing to grow.

I appreciate the idea of being seen, understood and touched. It's easy to feel invisible or small in this world. Having someone make you feel otherwise is truly a blessing.