Monday, November 16, 2009
Great Marriage Article from MSN
Every marriage has its ups and downs, but when you hit a really rough spot, where do you turn? Sure, there's couples counseling, but not every couple (and definitely, let's face it, not every guy) takes to it. In fact, just as every relationship is different, so is the recipe for fixing it.
When you've got a good thing going — even if your relationship isn't as solid right now as you know it can be — it's worth taking some risks to hold on to it. And for people ready to try anything, there are some awfully imaginative ideas out there. Here, what five real-life couples did to get back on the road to happily ever after.
"We lived apart for nine months."
Christine Miller, 33, and Jimmy Miller, 34; married 7 years;
Wesley Chapel, FL
Christine: Six years into our marriage, I realized Jimmy wasn't on board with the reality of our life — we had a 4-year-old daughter and responsibilities, and he was still acting like we were in our carefree 20s. His whole Peter Pan, playful attitude was partly why I fell in love with him, but now it was breaking my heart. I was a broken record asking him not to party so much, and Jimmy wouldn't participate in counseling. I felt like I'd tried everything. Finally, I told him I wanted a divorce. He went into panic mode, promising he would do anything to get me back. But I really thought it was too late.
Jimmy moved in with a friend and eventually got his own apartment.
In the months he was gone, though, I found myself missing his whimsical approach to life, the way he could make friends with everybody. Most of all, I just missed us. I started therapy and realized that by not being clear about what I really needed, I was actually supporting much of Jimmy's behavior. I began to wonder if he could refocus his priorities and, if we pitched in together on our relationship, whether we might be able to make it work.
Driving home one night, about nine months after Jimmy moved out, I was remembering the book Eat, Pray, Love, the part when the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, hit rock bottom and called out to God for help. I did the same thing. I said out loud, "What is the answer?" Right then my phone rang; it was Jimmy. That was my sign that it was time to give my marriage another go. I told him I wanted to try couples therapy.
I'd never fallen out of love with Jimmy, but our counseling sessions helped me respect him again as a partner. He really had changed during our time apart. He rarely goes out now, and when he does he's home by 10. And he sold his motorcycle to help us pay off some debt. Those changes made it clear that our family was finally his number-one priority.
Jimmy: Our marriage started to deteriorate because Christine and I just weren't on the same track. I wanted to stay out until 4 in the morning on my motorcycle. Christine wanted me around more for our family. She suggested counseling, but I didn't see the need. But when she told me she wanted a divorce, I was devastated.
I told her from Day One that I would do whatever it took to make our relationship work. I moved out and began therapy to find out what I needed to work on in myself. My priorities began to change. When I was living with Christine, all I wanted to do was party. When I was alone, I just wanted my family back. I realized they were more important to me than anything else. I kept waiting for Christine to give me another chance.
Nine months after we separated, she finally did. We went to counseling, I sold the bike, and we moved back in together. Now, a year later, we're both on the same page, happier than we've ever been, and we just had our second child.
"We took a tantric workshop."
Tamara Hutter, 35, and Stephen Hutter, 43; married 11 years;
Tamara: After nine years of marriage, my husband and I were on the brink of divorce. Stephen would lash out at me over the smallest things, and I wasn't much better. I was so tired of arguing. We felt that we had tried everything, including months of marriage counseling, but nothing was working. Our anniversary was coming up, and in one last surge of hope, I went online to try to find a gift for Stephen, something that might help our marriage survive as well. I came across the Tantric Sex Workshop by Pala Copeland and Al Link in Ottawa. The testimonials from other couples who'd attended sounded promising, and I thought that we didn't really have anything to lose by trying it.
The workshop was very quaint. It took place in Pala and Al's home on the beautiful Ottawa River. Over the three-day course, they taught us tantric sex techniques, and we had time to privately practice them. They also taught us to create our own space to make love in, by adding pictures, soft lighting, and sensual items. The ideas were simple, but they taught us new ways of expressing ourselves and appreciating each other.
Now when I am upset, I can tell Stephen that we need to talk and it won't blow up into a big argument. The workshop also taught us that sex isn't just sex — it's a very spiritual way of connecting, which makes it a thousand times more enjoyable for both of us, physically and emotionally.
Stephen: Tami had told me she wasn't happy and that we needed time apart. Counseling only seemed to worsen our problems; we were two strong-willed people who fought a lot, and in therapy all our anger would come out. When my wife came across Pala and Al's workshop and suggested it, I was intrigued.
When we got there, I was nervous, but after Al started talking, my butterflies disappeared. I'd always been the type of guy to get angry if my eggs were cooked wrong in a restaurant. Pala and Al made me realize that I need to accept the things I can't change and move on. They had us reexamine the way we looked at, talked to, and thought about each other.
The "heart talks" technique they taught us was key. If something's bothering me, I tell Tami I want to talk. She listens, without responding. Then within 24 hours she comes back with her response. The talks diffuse confrontation and we both feel understood. I love my wife more each day and could not imagine what would have happened to us without this workshop.
"He enrolled in husband boot camp."
Amy McDougald, 41, and Steve McDougald, 43, married 21 years;
Amy: For most of the 20 years I'd been married to Steve, he was like two different people: really nice or very short-tempered. I never knew who was coming home from work that day. He seemed to hate my family, his work, many of my friends — and, at times, me. In 2007, a few days before we were going on a cruise, we got into a big argument over something small. I tried to walk out of our bedroom. Steve blocked my way, and I was so scared that I locked myself in our bathroom, refusing to come out until he left. That's when I realized I was afraid of my husband — and there was no way I could go on a cruise with him.
I was about to separate from Steve for the third time in our marriage when he announced he was going to a Smart Marriages Conference in Denver. Frankly, I doubted that a short conference would make any difference. When he came home, though, I noticed an immediate change: He didn't yell, and he was very affectionate. When he mentioned that Dr. Steven Stosny, the program's founder, also offered a three-day-long boot camp, I thought he should definitely go. If one day did this much, what could three days do? The answer: a miracle. After boot camp, Steve was able to admit for the first time in 20 years the damage and pain he had caused, and he became willing to work on healing our marriage. It wasn't easy; it took a full year for me to feel sure that Steve's anger issues were no longer a part of our relationship. But it was worth it.
Today, we love spending time with each other, and we even teach a class at our church to help couples improve their marriages. We celebrated our renewed connection by finally taking that seven-day cruise, and this time, I was more than happy to be stuck with Steve in the middle of the ocean.
Steve: Amy and I used to fight about everything. Over the course of our marriage, I became increasingly demanding and raised my voice if I felt like I wasn't heard, which would cause Amy to shut down and get scared. When she canceled our cruise because she didn't want to be alone with me for seven days, it was a big wake-up call. I wasn't ready to give up on us, so I went online and literally went shopping for advice and professionals that could help us in a short amount of time. I came across a conference called Smart Marriages. I was looking for an experience that was different from our failed marriage counseling sessions.
The conference helped me accept that I had an anger problem, and while there, I discovered that Dr. Stosny offers a three-day boot camp specifically for men to learn how to handle anger. At the camp, I practiced responding to hurt feelings with compassion instead of anger. I basically trained my brain with a new choice — to protect my wife instead of responding in anger. Over time, Amy has grown to trust and feel safe with me because I've stopped raising my voice, and I try to meet her needs. She associates me with positive feelings instead of negative ones. It's absolutely worth doing, and I'm so glad I did.
"I installed a stripper pole."
Gloria NeSmith, 38, and Stephen NeSmith, 40; married 19 years;
Gloria: After 18 years of marriage, I was bored and in a deep mommy slump; we have three kids, ages 16, 11, and 9. And, due to my low libido, sex had become an item on my to-do list. I'd been to see my doctor three times about it, but he couldn't find anything physically wrong. He said I needed to make a change in my life, that "fabric softener is not an aphrodisiac."
A friend of mine had started taking exotic-dance classes for fun and enjoyed them so much that she became a teacher. She's a married mom like me, and I figured it wouldn't hurt to try what seemed to be working so well for her. My first class was really hard! I was trying to keep up, wiping away sweat, and all the while thinking, How could this be sexy?! But I got into the idea of it and kept at it. Each week there was a theme — burlesque, '80s, bad girl, rocker — and I loved shopping for my costumes. I became more confident and excited about what I was doing, and it did wonders for my sex drive.
My husband now anticipates the nights I take class because he knows he's going to get to get "lucky". We even bought a pole for our bedroom so I can practice my moves for Stephen. By throwing on a wig or a fun costume and doing a sexy walk across the bedroom, I can go from housewife to hot in under 15 minutes.
Stephen: I love my wife, but after years of marriage, our relationship had become pretty stagnant. We're good communicators, but with three kids it's sometimes hard to actually make changes. There's no time! A few weeks after seeing her doctor about her low desire levels, my wife said she had a friend who taught pole dancing and that she wanted to try it. I told her to go for it, thinking that anything that might boost her self-esteem would be a good thing. When she came home from the very first class, there was something different — she had an extra bounce in her step.
Over the next few weeks, she became a totally different woman — energetic, confident. The classes brought a spark to our relationship, not just sexually but mentally and emotionally too. A lot of women get stressed out with kids, work, taking care of the house; pole dancing gave my wife something to look forward to, something that's just for her. I truly believe it's one of the main reasons our relationship is so good today.