Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip # 67:

Part Two of Two:

  • A successful marriages require two adults.

Each party must bring into the relationship enough maturity and capacity to take care of himself or herself. Self-care is not selfish. It is responsible. Only the Self can take care of the Self. The relationship can only work if it is based upon an interdependence. It cannot be made from bringing together two dependent people. A complete union require two full Selves. Each has to learn how to love the other one even when the other is not doing so well, and appears as unlovable. It is relatively easy to love one’s partner when that partner is being gracious and kind. Who can’t do that? The masterful lover knows how to love the other one when he/she is a mess, or being a crank or acting as a jerk (by the partner’s definition, of course). These are the times when one’s partner is not even loving themselves. It is at these precise moments when the other partner needs step up. I call it a time to do some heavy lifting. He/she must see the lovability within their hurting partner.


  • Learn to love as adults love, not as an infant or as an adolescent.

This flows from the previous points. Children love mostly when they are getting love in return. When they believe that for whatever reason the love being given has stopped and they are not getting love, then they stop giving love as well. When this happens in a marital relationship both partners spiral back into an infantile and self-absorbed level of love. Such a love is not sustainable. Masterful couples take to heart their promise to love in both good times and in bad.


  • Give love not to get love back; although you will.

As previously stated masterful lovers love because they love. This becomes its own reward. This way of being becomes their way of life. It is their essence being fully expressed. It is what makes us feel the most fulfilled. Poetically we say it makes our spirit dance. There is a secret that only those who have progressed to become masterful lovers learn: You will actually get love in return most of the time when you give love; but this no longer the reason why you do so. You have found fulfillment and joy that comes from such giving.


When each party is giving love without concern that love is or will be forthcoming then there is an ever-flowing of love – an atmosphere gets generated – where love flourishes and expands. This atmosphere is where love permeates into the relationship and where it over flows out into their family, friends, community, and the world.


  • Each and every complaint our partner makes can also be viewed as a REQUEST.

Once one comes to see a complaint as a request something powerful opens up. If you can see that this complaint-request is actually coming from a place of love you can turn around any negative emotions into positive ones. Granted, your partner is most likely presenting this complaint-request poorly. It is true that he/she would do well if the complaint was formulated as a request and so it might be received in a more responsive way. But this does not have to prevent you from receiving it this way. Instead when your partner is upset or frustrated, and so blurts out some complaint with offensive or prickly words you can take the high road and reformat it yourself as a request.


This is actually good news. What? Yes. It is good that your partner has not stopped complaining. When they do stop you should worry. A partner that stops complaining usually means that he/she has totally given up on you. They judge you to not have what it takes and/or is weary of telling you a message you ignore or misread. So now they have quit and have become cynical and resigned. They have checked out.


Here’s an example of a complaint one’s spouse may make: Let’s say a wife complains to her husband that he works too much and therefore tells him: “You’re never home; you are always working and we don’t ever spend time with each other.”

Such a complaint could land like a smack in the face. The husband could feel unappreciated and/or misunderstood. However, there is a request behind such a complaint and it could be stated as a request like this: “Please spend more time with me. I miss not being with you. I get lonely when you are away so much.”

What is beneath the complaint? The accused can begin by speculating as to why one’s partner would want to spend more time together? She isn’t complaining that the neighbor or the sales clerk isn’t spending more time with her. She’s complaining that her husband isn’t doing so.  The answer is: this complaint lies in the fact that your partner loves you. Therefore she misses being with you and longs for more connection.


Whereas the original complaint could easily make the accused partner feel a number of negative things: pressured, hurt, misunderstood, or even annoyed and angry. By turning the complaint into a request and then recognizing that the request is based upon her love, this can readily make the accused partner now feel much differently: desired, or, happy, cherished and, yes, even loved. This is a far cry from merely taking the complaint at face value.


  • Marriage is an agreement by two imperfect people. It is an agreement to practice trying to love the other imperfectly and to keep on keeping on in this practice. When I recognize that I am no walk on the beach either, and can own that I have some annoying habits that my partner actually puts up with, then I have to ask myself, “Why can’t I also learn to live with my spouse’s annoying habits?” This is a lesson in humility.


  • You are not responsible for the other person’s emotions. Such thinking leads to a misguided blaming of our partner for our own unhappiness. Each person is responsible for his/her own happiness. You could say, “Happiness is an inside job.” Couples that focus disproportionately on toxic thoughts about each other risk ruining their relationship entirely.


Learning how to manage the on-going upsets and differences that arise as part of life and marital relationships, and focus more on their partner’s positive qualities and behaviors forges a solid and growing bond. These couples put their grievances in perspective. Therefore, mostly dwell on what you like and want and this will readily bring more of these things into existence. 


  • Masterful couples do well when each thinks he/she is getting a slightly better deal. We don’t get married to become happy. We need two happy people to have a happy marriage. When both parties understand that it is not their partner’s responsibility to make the other one happy; that it is each party’s own responsibility to make himself/herself happy, then there is no longer any pressure – or blame – imposed within the relationship. Be your partner’s biggest cheerleader but don’t become responsible. Be available to assist and support, and occasionally challenge.


  • We actually marry the person least capable of giving us what we each think we most need. This can seem like a terrible thing. It turns out to be, however, a blessing in disguise. That’s because when we stop assigning this task of finding happiness through our partner we can take on the responsibility for ourselves. Part of the solution is that we can learn to ask for what we want in more powerful ways. And at the same time lower our expectation that our partner can or will deliver every time. They cannot.  Remember: we cannot do this for them. So thank your spouse when he/she does deliver. Accept when they are unable to do so. And find other positive and healthy resources. Ultimately we need to find these within ourselves and are also best off when we seek our desires and needs from our source of Love: Our Creator.  

I cannot speak for all marriages; but I can tell you from my own experience this: When my wife and I married we did so in a Catholic church in the midst of family, friends and God. One that did in the presence of those gathered we made a vow – a promise – one that is counter-intuitive, and also counter cultural. This vow is also called a sacrament. The older word for it is covenant. We made a vow to be “faithful to each other in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, until death.” What we were really promising is that we would make good on an unknown future and that by God’s grace we would fulfill on it. This future was and continues to be unknown and yet we promise to fulfill on this vow made now over 51 years ago.

This is a radical way to live. It is what sets our marriage apart from just a contract. This sacrament is also what has provided us with tremendous freedom and power. Because of it we don’t need to dwell on all the “what ifs,” or the “shoulds or should nots,” regarding whether we are to stay together or not. That’s because with our vow we already have that handled.

From our vow comes different questions: HOW do we make this happen? What do each of us need to do to make this work?  Because I am committed to living an extraordinary marriage I am able to draw upon this future I call being extraordinary – and therefore this is the future I focus on living into.

Whenever I become stuck or get stymied I will ask myself, “What would someone who is living an extraordinary marriage do in this particular situation?” I then get answers like: “They go the extra mile.” “They do whatever it takes.” “They initiate the needed first step, second step, or how many steps it may take.” The point is by living a sacramental way in our marital life we are provided with a powerful yardstick in which to grow in our capacity to love. Not too shabby!

Successful marriages come from the meaning we assign to our relationship. If I say my wife and I have an extraordinary marriage. The sole reason we have an extraordinary marriage is because we say we do! In fact, as soon as I say this, all the ways I am not extraordinary start to show up. These ways of mine confront me and challenged me to reflect on them and find the ways that someone who is living in an extraordinary marriage would handle them? And I find answers that I believe could not otherwise be forthcoming.

It’s like saying I have a weight problem and so I ask how do thin people deal with weight and diet. Then I go and do those things – the things thin people do. If I want to obtain wealth I figure out wealthy people think and then I do those things? Figure that out what are the successful people doing in the areas you want success and go take on those things.

This applies to relationships: If you wish to have a successful marriage or committed relationships, go find happy and successful couples – folks that you even admire – and interview them. Get them tell you what it is they do, what they have learned along the way, and how they have succeeded. Then start implementing these very things into your own relationship. Experiment with these ideas; adapt into your personal life, and build upon them as they work or don’t work for your relationship. And while you are do so, make sure you’re having some fun at this process as well.