Category: Don’s Blog

BFF spouses are the road to a satisfied life

“I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them–it was that promise.”  

― Thornton Wilder, The Skin of Our Teeth


“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

There are a lot of reasons to get married; love, the tax break, or even the having some certainty live out an idea of how one’s life should go. Another is the desire to commit to your best friend (“best friends forever”) publically that you will be with him or her forever, no matter what. Science has proven that when it comes to having a fulfilling life, it’s this part about being best friends that matters the most.

Recent studies have substantial evidence on marriage satisfaction and happiness regarding a Set Point for Happiness. One main finding is that individuals who consider their spouse to be their best friend are more satisfied with their lives overall. Twice as satisfied, as it turns out.

”     Those who are best friends with their partners have the largest well-being benefits from marriage and cohabitation, the research now tells us. The wellbeing benefits of marriage are on average are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend.” About half of the individuals studied told that their partner is their best friend; half didn’t. Of married couples interviewed, 53 percent of men listed their spouse as their best friend, while 43 percent of women did. Of unmarried but cohabiting couples, the percentages were 48 percent for men and 44 percent for women. The scientists then looked at age, gender, income, health status, and previous life satisfaction, and concluded that when you marry your best friend, you’re far more satisfied.

When deciding on a mate for life, people tend to place a lot of emphasis on a wide variety of factors. These are some of the common ones:

  • Is s/he educated enough?
  • Does s/he make enough money?
  • Do we have similar values?
  • Do I get along with his/her parents?
  • Do we know how to fight well?
  • Does s/he make me laugh? Is s/he reliable?

These are all useful things, but what science is really saying is that if you want a fulfilling partnership and satisfying life, there’s one question to add to the list that should arguably be put at the top:

  • Is s/he my best friend?

As we know, or hope to be the case, a best friend has your back; he/she supports your dreams and aspirations. A best friend is someone you are able call anytime, anywhere, without feeling like they’ll resent you for it. A best friend is that person you put as an emergency contact; it’s the first person you think about when something wonderful happens at work. They know all your quirks and, while may get irritated by such quirkiness, they love you anyway. A best friend can challenge you in deep ways because they know the ins and outs of your psyche, and, again, love you anyway. They’re the kind of person who steps up and who’ll take care of you in times of need – make soup and draw you a bath when you’re sick, even if they’re busy, press you to see a doctor, because they genuinely want you to feel better.

This is what you ought to keep in mind if you’re looking for a way to examine the status of your current or future romantic relationship. If you’re already married to your bff, then this is cause for celebration, and certainly some heart-felt gratitude. Maybe you never thought about this before, or could articulate it this way, but it does prove what you’ve known all along: you live a happier, healthier, richer life because of that gorgeous, flawed, sometimes grumpy, often generous, always interesting, perfectly imperfect person you chose to marry. And it you are seeking marriage get busy finding a best friend – which usually means by being a best friend, and then building a life upon this friendship.

Don Paglia



Perversity and Playfulness in Couples PART 3 of 3

This third installment picks up from the previous two blogs called Perversity and Playfulness in Couples, and providing some further conclusions and additional and perhaps more practical suggestions, as well. Enjoy.


As already stated, it is far more effective when each party within a relationship/marriage focuses primarily on his/her own Self, on being a non-anxious presence, well a person who is self-differentiation. Regardless what their partner is or isn’t doing/saying, you can only focus on your part of the interaction. This means being non-reactivity and non-anxiousness, irrespective of how your partner is being. Easier said than done! Of course it’s easy to be calm, cool and collected when your partner is being great. When they’re in a foul state it’s another matter. We’re not usually tuned into how our own actions and words occur for our partner – how we “land” over there in the other’s world – and how our stuff inadvertently starts triggering our partner’s reactivity. Without any mechanisms for seeing what we cannot see – we operate in an automatic pilot – a knee jerk way that launches us into an escalating state of mutual button pushing all in a matter of seconds. Thoughts and words have power in our lives. We say or think things we presume as “right” or correct” or “the truth”. We thought this thought so it must be true! We are addicted to being RIGHT.

Our thoughts are just … thoughts. Becoming aware of our thoughts as what we make up or create, and by not assuming them as anything more than just thoughts, we are able to become a discerning person. This IS the avenue for living a powerful life. We think thoughts, but rarely think about thinking thoughts. We would do well to see our thoughts as only thoughts; and to separate us from our thoughts. In other words: We are NOT our thoughts. We have thoughts and we are the one making them up.  Knowing this frees us to create better thoughts; empowering thoughts, thoughts that even inspire us. If I think the thought ‘you hate me and even want to see me harmed,’ I will feel upset and afraid. These feelings of upset and fear will predictably cause me to either avoid you, or be aggressive toward you.

Thoughts affect our feelings. Feeling affect our behaviors. Knowing we are the one creating the thought, in the first place, liberates me to make different thoughts. Don’t believe everything you think!

Related to how our thoughts impact our lives, our use of language reveals a lot about us. Our very words and thoughts tell more than we may realize, or care to realize. It’s paramount to actually listen to our own words; to listen to our own thoughts. As an example: If I say “I can’t” I’ll feel trapped, or stuck or weak. If I say “I won’t” I’ll feel empowered and able to choose. If I say “I like you, but I hate you” I’ve negated the first part of the sentence with the word” but.” If I say “I love you and I hate you,” both parts of the sentence can stand as true.

Thinking Serious Thoughts

Even more than the words we use is the angst or seriousness of how we use them. For example: When couples is first dating they talk about all sorts of positive things enjoy spending time together, and “have fun” together. They go lots of places and attend fun events. You could say they play – at the beach, or lake, or the mountains. Maybe they play cards, board games or do organized sports, perhaps they love the theatre or movies, or going out to dinner. Eventually their relationship moves into a courtship stage – this old fashion term for being involved romantically with the intention of marriage. They tell others they’re now engaged. When they do this they even tell friends and family they’re now in a “serious relationship.” Somehow we link commitment to seriousness. Whenever we do this we inadvertently torpedo the relationship into one of lessening the fun and play – the thing initially was so fantastic – because we have serious-up the relationship! Equating responsibility with seriousness moves the couple into an anxious state. Perhaps they start having worries or concerns about their own capability to be married, or they wonder if this is the right one to marry. This seriousness starts to up-end things they previously enjoyed and were the hallmarks of their joyful relationship: having fun and being playful with each other takes a nose dive and things like flowers, cards, small gifts, and surprises fall by the way side. Dating becomes routine or the energy within the relationship lessens. There is antidote for this downward spiral toward seriousness: More play; more spontaneity.

When counseling with an extremely serious couple I insist they learn to play. I call it “parallel play” in their relationship. I have them envision they are three-year-olds who never got much play time with other three-year-olds, and who grew up thinking all the blocks and toys and games were there just for themselves. Then an adult came along insisting they now had to play other children. Maybe with a box of non-toxic crayons, or at the water table, and now they were supposed to make happy-face pictures, or pass around the toys to other kids, or suddenly get along with all the other children in what up to now were solitary activity. It’s unrealistic for three-year-olds to readily jump to cooperation; and I suspect most adults don’t always like it very much either. I might love to play with the dinosaur figures, while my partner likes the play dough. Only after we’ve had lots of parallel play time can we ever be free to build the Lincoln logs together. The two natural forces of separateness and togetherness get going really early on in us. Watch some preschoolers handle, say, a box of blocks, and you’ll know it isn’t very pretty.

I see couples that are so serious (i.e. anxious), and who are understandably caught up in serious issues: trust, or fairness, or power struggles. They cannot see the folly of their own respective behavioral patterns.  They think the issue is the issue; but it is not.  Most times the presenting issue is a symptom – a symptom that the couple is too close and emotionally struck-together. It’s a closeness that seems as if one of them gets a cut, the other one starts bleeding. They don’t know where one ends and the other one begins.  The issue must be addressed; and so does the symptom.


When Sandy and Roger (real names changed) came to see me it was after Roger admitted having an affair. Eventually it came out that this was a repeated pattern at various times over their almost 30-year marriage. I eventually instructed Sandy to start finding women for Roger. It was an attempt to provoke their need to be “playful.” Roger immediately hated the idea causing Sandy only like it more. It was a paradoxical intervention – an attempt at breaking through their old stuck pattern of closeness and distance developed for various reasons. After getting their attention, what became clear was how Sandy became attracted to Roger as a playboy. His playfulness was something she felt unable to be. My intervention was a push for Sandy to find her own playful side. Eventually she started pointing attractive women when they were at a restaurant. Roger was under-functioning in some responsibilities needed within a relationship. He found a wife as a serious ‘grownup” in their marriage. There was an out-of-balance within the marital union – a Mother-Child relationship, which is not fulfilling or sustainable. Getting Sandy to take responsibility solely for herself, and not for Roger, and in her learning to become also more playful was really meant for her to take better care of herself. You could make the case that Roger was doing all the “play” for two! By Sandy being overly responsible she came across as motherly instead of a spouse. Roger, trapped in his child position, was an acting out adolescent. The couple began to find better ways to rebalance their relationship; with some balance in each giving and taking, and the life and vitality flowed back into their marriage, paradoxically by each first focusing on her/his own needs and each making some important shifts to accommodate the other. Linear thinking will make it difficult to only see this husband as unfaithful and while this is true it is not the entire story.

Two Selves

When each partner moves along with her/his own life, focusing on personal growth and development, there isn’t much need for a focus on issues such as trust, or power, or any of the usual dramas that get going in a highly anxious (stuck) relationships. Rather each respects and trusts herself/himself to know how to be both playful, non-anxious, and how to grow in maturity. Also there is a self-empowerment that isn’t threatened by the other’s anxiousness. Nor does each have a need to threaten their partner. There isn’t confusion in seeing caring as anxiousness. Most assuredly each knows how to do some parallel play. You could say they know how to take their problems seriously, but not themselves or relationship seriously.

We all were very attractive two or three-year-olds with a great ability for play. Sometimes we were so inspiring and having such a good time we drew in the attention of the other young children. They may have stopped what they were doing to watch us. Sometimes one or two of those other children even began to take part in our play as they knew something was – and still is – extremely useful for our lives, and, as it turns out, in our relationships.

Individuals who still know how to play make great partners; are great lovers. Couples who master the art of play are magical to observe; there have a twinkle in their eyes – light without becoming flippant. They are capable of being gracious and seem to radiate. They exhibit a looseness while remaining solid and grounded.  It can be called grace in action.

Let us remember we do not get married to get happy. We need two happy people to make a happy marriage. Well, this is enough for now. Being so philosophical may be getting way too serious and would undo all that has been previously stated. I’m very serious about the importance of play? If you were seeking advice you need to take seriously, I am sorry. If you were hoping for “Seven Steps to Enlightenment Regarding Playfulness” or “10 Ways to Work on Marriage”, then you should have stopped reading long before now.  Hopefully you’ve sit a bit and smile. Maybe it’s time to go dig out those old board games. Maybe it’s time for a run to Toy R Us. Maybe pick up a couple of hula-hoops.

Perversity and Playfulness in Couples Part 2 of 3


Popular love songs with lyrics describing various physical symptoms the singer gets whenever he/she is around the beloved, or even when thinking about the other are supposed to be speaking about love. Lyrics like: “My heart starts pounding, my head starts spinning, and my temperature starts rising…” They are meant to describe love; but they do not. Rather these are classic flu symptoms. Anyone having them needs to see a physician immediately!

We also say things like how we “fell in love”, or that we “fall” out of love. Such notions about falling – in or out – are problematic. I hate whenever I fall. The last time I fell I did serious harm to my ankle putting me out of commission for several weeks. It was both a painful experience and not something one would look forward to again.

“Falling” in or out of love, or having flu-like symptoms, has little to do with love and more to do with fusion:  The noun fusion comes from Latin meaning to melt. Fusion is the act of melting things together; a blurring or globing into each other making one element indistinguishable from the other. In science, this process of merging atoms together creates energy, which is a good thing; an important thing in our physical world. In relationships whenever two people are acting and needing to be as ONE person, it is not good. It is a denial of ones’ own self. There’s an implicit or explicit notion that I am not enough; I need this other person to make me whole, or complete. Two people that love each other are still two separate, distinct people. This is essential for the sake of their relationship. An old teacher of mine used to love to say, “In order to have a successful marriage you need to worthy opponents.” He wasn’t advocating fisticuffs or violence; he was describing the importance of each party remain a self while also becoming a couple.

Hopefully each party is enriched by the love and caring of the other; and hopefully each brings something to the relationship so that there is some equity of both a mutual giving and taking. Ideally, one’s beloved stirs up in the other the capacity to be more of a Self – not less – so one grows and develops into a mature, adult that is fostered by this giving of love.

Love can be given by either providing a caring love or with a challenging love. The caring love is seen as kindness and acceptance, whereas the challenging love can come across by telling the other that he or she isn’t doing what he/she is capable of offering. “You’re better than that.” Nowhere is the idea that one makes the other person whole or complete. We already are whole and complete. If we aren’t, it’s our job to address this. What may passes for great poetry, novels or movies, is, in reality, is an unsustainable relationship. More marriages failure by the couples being too close (i.e. fused or stuck- together). What?


Consider this: you start out getting together, and this at first, it’s quite lovely. It feels terrific. Eventually, a togetherness begins to become a stuck togetherness – a blurring of each individual’s boundaries for where you start and I end and vice versa. That is, the two parties are not worthy opponents. Instead there is a “we-ness” and lessening of each individual into becoming overly dependent upon the other. They become inseparable, with little or no room for each one’s own identity. Tension up around differences – those differences that don’t get directly addressed.

Two major differing needs are the at odds within this now serious relationship build. Those differing forces of either the need for (1) Togetherness, or (2) Separateness mount.  In every relationship each togetherness-separateness continuum within the relationship.  One of parties in relationship needs more of one while the other partner needs more of the other. If these are at the extreme end of the continuum the differing need has them struggling with which of the two poles will be provided and at whose cost? If one gets all the closeness while the other is denied the separateness it is unsustainable. Or if one gets all the space and distance while the other is denied the closeness they need this is also unsustainable. There must be a learning to respect these differing needs and learn to compromise.

Throughout this process the couple must figure out: How can each party remain an I, while also being close to this other, while the other also remains an I?  There often seems to be more effort in getting the togetherness, at the expense of being a Self. Divorces come from this being too-close, as ultimately one or both cannot find a way to gain enough emotional space without going for physical space of an actual separation or divorce. For such couples divorce becomes their only logical conclusion for getting the distance lost and no longer available within the mistakenly designed restrictiveness created within their particular marriage. Thus some marriages that are not necessarily marriages; while there are divorces that are not necessarily divorces. We all know couples who say they are better friends with each other, and get along better, now that they are divorced. And there are those married couples who remain married but who have totally shut down and are distant with each other, sometimes even bitterly cold and form an “arrangement” while they live in the same household with separate bedrooms or on different floors.

The Importance of Humor and Playfulness

Besides learning to understand the differing felt need of one’s partner there is an important antidote: Humor and playfulness. Humor, can and does, serve most couples well. Humor helps the couple take their problems seriously while not themselves seriously. Humor offers a much needed space – a pause – a stopping of one’s brain surging with the intensity of any drama being played out within the marital relationship. Humor helps us to get to a place where we can literally lighten up how we are being, and the way we are being with each other. Each party needs to learn how not take what the other says/does, or did not say/did not do, as some sort of personal affront or attack. I’ve trained couples to reframe “that annoying thing he/she does as that cute thing their partner does…” Yes, you read it correctly. I’m being serious about this! More on playfulness later.

A Great Marriage

What exactly is a great marriage?  How does one work on having a great marriage?  Such questions are bigger than the scope of this short article. It’s enough to say the only great marriage one needs to be concerned with is his/her own great marriage. What would go into your great marriage is all that matters. Books, course, or professionals tell us largely useless concoctions as to what constitutes an outstanding marriage. Usually it is done in general terms, with broad, general guidelines, perhaps useful, but only to a limited point.

A Better Question: How does a couple create their own Great/Extraordinary Marriage? Or: How can a couple be more in love with each other in one year from today? Five years? 25 years? …than they already are right now?

Once a couple determines the WHAT they desire, the HOW is merely details, and also effort. A wise couple gets busy creating their personal, unique marriage by regular actions, behaviors, and milestones, into play in order to generate such a relationship.  They then ask themselves regularly how these actions and behaviors have been advancing, or distracting from, their extraordinary marriage. If an action enhances, keep it up. Add to them more that serve in this regard. If a behavior distracts, stop or change it or modify it. Playing with any and all their behaviors is the road map to becoming masterful lovers. It’s not rocket science!

Also I purposely used the term “PLAY,” It’s not a great idea to “work” on the marriage. This notion of working conveys a seriousness, pointing toward an intensity, both of which are problematic. Couples need to address their particular behaviors and weed out those things not getting them to their goal of a great relationship. They may even need to gain good communication skills, and learn some conflict management skills, and how to compromise. But, they need to be cautious that a focus on working hard isn’t a fixation about only getting closer or solely fixing problems, and neglects a basic need to maintain two Selves. This can be misunderstand as promoting selfishness, or even narcissism. It is the very opposite. An anxiously driven couple may great skills and techniques, but the skills and techniques will not carry the day when it comes to addressing their respective reactivity. Skills and techniques can even to used stay reactive stuck regarding the tension generated from the differing needs for togetherness and separateness. Learning how to respect these differing needs, finding ways to compromise, and developing ways for managing one’s self-differentiation –  meaning: learning how to not automatically react – is key. This is why humor and playfulness are so important. Learning how to remain calm when my partner is not calm is grace in action. It can only come about through learning to let go and to be able to laugh a little.


So it’s better to not work on the relationship. Instead learn how to play. Central to this notion of play is learning how to develop a focus on becoming the best mature, capable, and responsible person one can be.  What would an adult do in this particular situation?

This inquiry is not one about WORK! It is not about making the other party wrong, or making ourselves wrong. An either/or approach is reaped with seriousness. Whenever we are anxious we are reacting; not responding. It is a lack of self-differentiation, our inability to respond intelligently. Chronic seriousness means we are cut ourselves off from the higher levels of our brain functioning – without the capacity to reason or problem-solve, or to be creative and imaginative. Seriousness is the red flag for being anxious, and it means we’re operating solely from an unconscious level that prevents us from our greater human capacities as cognating mammals. Instead we’re merely reflexively being as reptiles.

Thank the hypothalamus in our brains for locking us out of these higher functioning capacities whenever we are anxious. But, the antidote, or the way back from this, is through getting ourselves calm and relaxed. Humor and playfulness are essential, as is prayer, exercise, yoga, and good music for starters. One can argue that humor and play are essential for healthy living. We have a poster in our kitchen that says: “Life is mysterious, don’t take it so serious.”

Let’s say, your car won’t start and you’re trying to get to an appointment on time. You get upset. You start flooding your brain with distressful thoughts. ‘I’m going to miss this meeting!’ You begin to feel frustration, anger, or helplessness. We have now diminished our ability to solve the car problem. This could be a great opportunity for someone else that’s interested in buying your broken down junk-of-a-car that at this moment you’re ready to run off a cliff. Becoming upset isn’t going to help you. Then you start remembering that it’s only a carjust a machine – that’s not misbehaving, or trying to treat you badly. You think, ‘It’s not personal.’ Such a great mantra for this latest of life’s upsets is quite handy. You sit, make a few cell phone calls until AAA arrives.

It Isn’t Personal

This advice also excellent advice for marriage, where we tend to take everything personally. Realizing that our partner is not doing whatever TO US (at least not initially) will more likely stem the tide. It is NOT personal. He/she most likely has a problem. But the problem is irrelevant for how you can respond. That response needs to be drawn from my mature, adult self. I can stay with my own integrity and remain calm regardless of whatever the other person is doing. Write this down: My partner’s behavior is never ever an excuse for me to act irresponsibly!

Repeat often: “It isn’t personal; it isn’t personal; it isn’t personal.” When we’re too close we lose this important focus. Then we cannot readily take the high road. We more likely launch into a tit for tat. This rarely bode well. We are too close. Fusion with an automobile, or with our marriage partner, is never, ever a healthy thing. Playfulness isn’t about being goofy or flippant or being naive. It’s all about getting some emotional necessary distance in order to gain a healthier perspective, in order to get back to the thinking, reasoning functions of our brain. Feeling upset merely lets one feel upset. Blowing off steam might be initially helpful, but not a viable long-term solution. Thinking calmly leads one to useful and practical solutions. Humor can and does play a very effective tool moving us outside a situation that otherwise dupes us into seeing as hopeless or unresolvable.

Paradoxical Interventions

Akin to humor is the use of paradoxical interventions. This might be as simple as going along with the given situation, and even exaggerating it into some absurd state. “This is the worst thing that could have ever happened to me. I think I’ll kill myself.” Or, “You’re feeling sick today? And, so what’s your point? You’re lucky and don’t have to go to that awful job of yours today!”

When my client George complains that his wife, Sue, (names changed) he contends that she makes an annoying facial grimace whenever she thinks he is worried. Her grimace causes George to become angry. I suggest he learn to misread her.

“Stop thinking you knows what that facial expression means. It might mean worry if you made such a face; but perhaps it isn’t that way for her,” I retort.

I continue: “What if you imagine her facial expression to be her new ‘sexy’ look?”

I ask him to consider misreading her this way. I tell him this not because this is correct or right, but because he can elect to see her in a less intensive way.  At first George laughs, and then considers my whacky idea. I am hopeful he may even come discover his wife as a more interesting person by such thinking. I push further and tell him, “This approach is really all about you, and has very little or nothing to do with your wife.”

I say these ideas so my client might be better able to give up the old, hypnotic hold his wife’s so-called grimace has had on him – one that has forged into a habituated pattern of their constant bickering.  I suggest he may not really know what “that face of hers” really means as an attempt to slow him down. Perhaps this pause will be long enough to foster him to address what is really going on within himself. His own reactivity does not come from his wife; it resides within. This, when all is said and done, is the only thing for him to address. Ironically by George addressing his own reactivity he’ll have a greater affect on the marital relationship. This is something he (or his wife) don’t yet know, but is readily available.

Back to our cars again. We might better off treating our partner as well as most of us we treat our cars?  If you don’t expect a car to deliver more than is possible, you don’t get upset when the car doesn’t deliver. Cars do occasionally break down. They need attention. Preventive maintenance can avert some of potential problems, but, after all, they are only cars. Some people neglect their relationship as they might ignore an oil light, or engine light, indicator. I once had an old 1959 Triumph TR-3. It was fun to drive with the top off in the summer. Every now and then the old British finicky automobile would break down. I tolerated this occasional quirkiness, and enjoyed it when it hummed along. I didn’t expect perfection. I suggest having a little bit more fun, and more tolerance in our relationships, as well. Take that love of your life out on the road for a good spin now and then. Crank up the stereo; try singing along. I hope you get the metaphor.

Playfulness is key. Learn to smile and be paradoxical. When was the last time the both of you had a belly laugh?  Look more endearing at your own respective nuttiness. Some humility can serve us as well. It is a lot easier to live with some of those “annoying things our partner does when we remember that we are no walk on the beach either, and in fact have annoying habits as well. Also view your own efforts toward self-growth as the primary and worthwhile endeavor. Life can be a bitch or a beach. Decide which one you want to have regardless of whatever evidence you think is around you. You will find all sorts of evidence to support which ever you choose.

And Play! Play together; and play alone. Cultivate enjoyment with each other, but also cultivate time for the Self. Your partner is not responsible to make you happy; you are not responsible to make your partner happy. First be good company with yourself. There is also entirely too much emphasis on communication and getting the couples to be close. I’m against this. We do fairly well with closeness in general, and could do even better. But each person needs to also take care of self. Let me put it this way: We’d be much more able to be intimate in our marriages if we first knew how to be separate. Playfulness points the way for such capacity to be a partner while remaining a self.

Perversity and Playfulness in Couples

PART 1 of 3

There is the story about the man who goes to see his doctor for an exam. After getting a very through checkup the doctor calls the man’s wife into his office without the husband and says to her that her husband is very ill.  The doctor says her husband has a life-threatening condition and things do not look very good.  However, if she is willing to be at the husband’s beck and call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is willing to cater to his every want and desire, making him special breakfasts in the morning, give him wonderful meals in the evening, sending him off to work with wonderfully prepared lunches, making love to him whenever he’s desirous of her, and generally doing everything to make him completely happy, for the next several months, there is a excellent likelihood her husband will pull through it and be okay.

The couple then pair up and as they are driving home the husband turns to his wife and asks, “So what did the doctor tell you?”

To which his wife replied, “He told me you’re going to die.”


Murray Bowen once said, “A good marriage is where you have two worthy opponents.” Although I have only studied Dr. Bowen‘s work in Family Systems Thinking and never met him – or Mrs. Bowen – nor do I have any insight into how they were as a couple, I imagine what he was addressing something akin to the “Pot and Lid” theory of marriage. It states: For every pot there is a lid. Or to put it more crudely, we get what or who we deserve. What this means is we seem to marry someone who is roughly at about the same level of anxiousness as we are. In other words, if you think your partner is the cat’s meow, you got what you deserve. If you think your partner is a horse’s you-know-what, well then…

This isn’t always so obvious. We might marry someone who hides their anxiousness or who expresses it differently, but the level of anxiety is usually right about up there where our own operates. If one is say, overly talkative, the other is often very quiet, or if one is over responsible the other may be under responsible. But these are still anxious responses of equal intensity.

But back to the notion of “worthy opponents” one could build a case regarding the doctor in the story as being in cahoots with the husband. We therapist types like to call this triangulation. But the point is that the wife is not buying it. She is as worthy an opponent as they come. Rarely does a partner respond to such irresponsibility on the part of their partner with this degree of style and grace. She doesn’t balk or cave into the anxious climate, which her husband and his doctor have created.

Undoubtedly a few of you are not buying into seeing the wife as the heroine. After all, you say, this man is sick. He needs compassion. He needs sympathy, understanding not obnoxiousness. My question to you, then, is this: Can the wife’s response be viewed as compassion? Is it possible that she is giving her husband exactly what he requires and is not giving into her own anxiousness and therefore providing an important challenge to her husband?

I contend that she is being playful, and in doing so she provides her partner with the best chance for life – metaphorically speaking and literally, as well.


Love and good will can take a couple just so far. The difficulty with love is that we are extremely vulnerable.  When we are in love we begin to confuse it with anxiety. Caring often turns out to be an anxious response. I become anxious, so I do something. Often what I end up doing is good for me since it relieves my anxiety, but it’s not necessarily good for the one I supposedly take the action for. I take care of you by doing something for you when the better thing may have been to challenge you to take care of yourself. I have a friend who drives himself like there is no tomorrow. Every so often his back gives out and he is laid up for a few days at home in terrible pain. He can’t move and he feels miserable and depressed. People come over and give him lots of sympathy and take care of him. The last time this happened I stopped by and said “Look, you damn fool. You’re stuck at home because you don’t know how to put balance into your life and you never give yourself a rest. I am certainly sorry for the pain you’re presently having, but I will not reinforce this pattern in your life by joining in with all the others and saying, ‘You poor thing.’ So while you lay here I suggest you spend some time figuring out how to make whatever changes you need to make so your back doesn’t have to take such abuse and strain all the time.”

Am I mean? Cruel? Judgmental? All I know is it would be much easier to be sympathetic and supportive and nice rather than to love by challenge. My friend knows I love him and I know him well enough, so I take the risk and address him this way. After seemingly kicking a man when he is down, he smiles and says, “You’re right.”  Eventually we even laugh about all those crazy people who have been trying to make him feel better. If the sledgehammer approach didn’t get him to come around, I was prepared to talk to him about making funeral plans.

End of Part 1 – Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Part 2 and 3 to come

Marriage is like dancing

Have you noticed at almost any wedding reception when the dancing begins there are some people who don’t dance? They never get up and participate in any of the dancing. Instead these couples just sit along the side lines at their table, and they merely watch the others out on the dance floor; while they themselves don’t dance at all.
Sometimes, there is one of these seated couples and one partner wants to dance but the other partner doesn’t so they just sit and watch other people dancing about on the dance floor. And the one that wants to dance sits there sad and resigned, or they’re resentful, or perhaps even angry. Occasionally the one that wants to dance decides to take some action, and this one leaves the table to seek out someone who is interested in dancing with them. They go off, while their partner remains at the table along with others who are not dancing, and this one that left then starts to dance with the new person, or maybe several others who like to dance and are interested.
Then there are the folks who do go out onto the dance floor and they do some basic dancing. Maybe years ago they started out learning the Basics. So now they do those same basic steps to all the music, dancing the same dance they originally learned regardless of how the music is. If it’s fast or slow they do their 1-step all across the floor. And even though it is not very interesting or really very attractive they seem to be having a bit of fun. After all, they are out there; they are out on the dance floor and they are dancing. They’re doing their dance – dancing the same way they first learned no matter what the beat of the music.
And then there are those coupes that really stand out. These are the couples who seem to know all of the different dance steps. Perhaps they took some dance classes, and then they continued to keep up by learning all the latest dances that have come along. And so these couples are out there on the dance floor and they really shine as they glide by seemingly effortlessly to the various beats of all the different dances – whether it’s the fox trot, the Chacha, the Lindy, or even the Tango. These few couples seem to really know how to dance; and as they do so we all are drawn to watch them. We are mesmerized by these extraordinary couples who look so beautiful and are so inspiring to experience – move along, together as one –
having such a wonderful time.