Sunday, June 7, 2009


Having gone through a couple of failed relationships, I am certainly in no position to counsel the soon-to-be-(re)married or the soon-to-be-divorced. For those among us seeking to revitalize their marriage or contemplating a second marriage, here is some advice from marriage and family therapist, Dov Heller.

Here are five questions you must ask yourself if you're serious about finding and keeping a life partner.

QUESTION 1: Do we share a common life purpose?
Why is this so important? Let me put it this way: If you're married for 20 or 30 years, that's a long time to live with someone. What do you plan to do with each other all that time? Travel, eat and jog together? You need to share something deeper and more meaningful. You need a common life purpose.

Two things can happen in a marriage: you can grow together, or you can grow apart. 50% of the people out there are growing apart. To make a marriage work, you need to know what you want out of life! Bottom line - marry someone who wants the same thing.

QUESTION 2: Do I feel safe expressing my feelings and thoughts with this person?This question goes to the core of the quality of your relationship. Feeling safe means you can communicate openly with this person. The basis of having good communication is trust - i.e. trust that I won't get punished or hurt for expressing my honest thoughts and feelings. Make sure you feel emotionally safe with the person you plan to marry.

QUESTION 3: Is he/she a mensch?
A mensch is someone who is a refined and sensitive person. How can you test? Ask about your significant other: What do they do with their time? Is this person materialistic? Usually a materialistic person is not someone whose top priority is character refinement.

There are essentially two types of people in the world: people who are dedicated to personal growth and people who are dedicated to seeking comfort. Someone whose goal in life is to be comfortable will put personal comfort ahead of doing the right thing. You need to know that before walking down the aisle.

QUESTION 4: How does he/she treat other people?
The one most important thing that makes any relationship work is the ability to give. To measure this, think about the following: How do they treat people whom they do not have to be nice to, such as waiters, bus boys, taxi drivers, etc. How do they treat their parents and siblings?Do they have gratitude and appreciation? You can be sure that someone who treats others poorly, will eventually treat you poorly as well.

QUESTION 5: Is there anything I'm hoping to change about this person after we're married?
Too many people make the mistake of marrying someone with the intention of trying to improve them after they're married. As a colleague of mine puts it: 'You can probably expect someone to change after marriage for the worse'. If you cannot fully accept this person the way they are now, then you are not ready to marry them.

And for those seeking to improve their marriage, here's what Dov Heller has to say:

Both you and your spouse need to make a commitment to do the following: DON'T CAUSE PAIN, GIVE PLEASURE.

Here are a few reasons why more people aren't applying this principle.

First, most couples are simply not aware of this principle. There's so much written on the subject of relationships that everything is made to sound so complicated. Indeed, making things more complicated than they have to be is a basic problem of human nature.

Secondly, to apply this tool requires a conscious effort and much work. People often say that you have to work at marriage. But most people don't really know what that means. If you and your spouse commit to working on this tool, you both will come to understand the meaning of "working at a relationship."

Thirdly, to apply this tool successfully, you have to want to be a giver rather than a taker. Marriage is a great reality test. A giver is someone who is committed to minimizing causing others pain and maximizing giving others pleasure. Are you a giver?


In general, monitor closely how you talk to your spouse and don't let either one of you get away with saying anything that is hurtful or unkind. Point it out immediately. You should never accept any form of abusive treatment. Don't speak disrespectfully. Don't boss, give orders, make demands or be rude. Often we think because we had a bad day or because we are under a lot of pressure, that we are entitled to take it out on our spouses. Try to catch yourself the next time you feel like being abrupt or demanding remember to keep your mouth shut until you can speak nicely.

Watch your tone of voice. If you speak to your spouse with irritation or annoyance in your voice, you are giving your spouse pain. Don't criticize, put down, or ridicule. Never embarrass your spouse in public. If you must give your spouse some constructive criticism, don't do it on the spot. Wait two days before you bring it up so that you can be sure to be saying it without anger or an edge in your voice.

Watch your facial expressions. Looks can kill!


What’s amazing is that so many spouses do not have a complete picture of what their spouse likes and doesn't like. So sit down with your spouse and get a list of all the things that give him or her pleasure and do one of these things every day.

Smile a lot at each other. You'd be amazed at how much pleasure you can give each other by being conscious to smile as much as possible.

Before you say or do anything, ask yourself this question: "Will this bring us closer together or push us further apart? If it will bring you closer together, do it, if it will push you further apart, don't do it.

Always ask, "What can I do for you?" Look for ways to help each other. They are always there, if you open your mouth and ask you'll be sure not to miss them.

Have an honesty meeting once a month. Tell each other how the other is doing in both the pain and pleasure departments. The goal is to get feedback so you can improve upon your effort.

Lastly, it is crucial that, every day, you recommit to the goal to give pleasure and not cause pain. Great marriages are truly built one day at a time!

4 comments: said...

Nice post, and such a weighty decision, deciding who to spend your days with. I wonder how many people choose someone almost accidentally, the just fall in love, and then the love isn't what they thought it would be.

seniorsaloud said...

I agree. Most couples remain together even when the love is long gone because of the social stigma attached to divorce, especially in Asian cultures. What a waste of missed opportunities for happiness.

Anonymous said...

i wud say that like poles repel. Unlike poles attract.
In my humble opinion, its more GIVE GIVE n MORE GIVING than take for any kind of relationship to work.

seniorsaloud said...

When one partner gives too much, he/she will eventually grow tired and want to look elsewhere for someone new who can give and not take all the time. Maintaining a strong relationship is hard work!