Marriage Advice     

Someday you will probably fall in love, and when you are older, you'll want to get married (or at least live together, at first. But the unusual thing about living together is that it doesn't improve your chances of staying together if you decide to marry that person). And since divorce is painful and costly, you'll want to make sure you marry the right person. But "the right person" or "soul mate" is a marriage myth. People do not fall in love and live "happily ever after." It is impossible for two married people not to argue. Even if you married your clone, you'd still argue!

So, how will you know when you've met a person you can be reasonably happy with most of the time? person? A successful marriage also depends on the right "ingredients" (see below) and playing by the rules, like fighting fair when you disagree. Some also say that a happy marriage also depends on having "low expectations."

Picking the "right person" isn't enough for a happy, long lasting, and strong marriage. I didn't realize an obvious truth: being married isn't as easy as being single. You have to think about another person's wants. Now, everything you do affects another people, from when you get up in the morning, to when you go to bed at night. Most of your choices will require compromise. You won't ever get your own way again, and if you do, you had to convince the other person first!

How could I have overlooked something so obvious? I guess it was because I lived with my mom, and I didn't have to think about anyone but myself. She had her own life, and didn't ask for much.

Our marriage has lasted eight years, but we came close to divorce and saw several marriage counselors during the first three years of marriage. The biggest myth of marriage is that you need to find your soul mate. No! Marriage works based on being happy and being nice. If you have many friends, that means you can choose from a wide selection and be happy with whomever you pick. A divorce doesn't mean you didn't pick the right person, it may mean you just didn't know how to be married.

See ""The Marriage Myth: Why do so many couples divorce?" by Ellen McCarthy in the Washington Post; Sunday, June 27, 2010;

There are many books on how to make a marriage work that talk about communication, respect, and how to argue. But these are general principles that are hard to apply, because they are so general. General principles don't apply to all marriages. For example, most women life to get flowers and candy from their husbands. Helena doesn't. She thinks it's a waste of money. Most men like to watch sports. I don't. I think it's a waste of time.

The most important part in a marriage is doing what is important for the other person. That's what makes them feel special and loved. These are small things, but they mean a lot. Helena wants to see a clean kitchen sink each morning, wants me to empty the trash, keep the table clean, keep papers off the floor, and vaccuum. Those things let her know I put her needs first, that I'm thinking of her and that I care for her. She wants me to be aware -and give her credit- for all the things she does for the children: doing their laundry, fixing their meals, taking them to summer camp, giving them baths.

Because she does all these things, I only ask that she wear her hair long, don't threaten to cut it when she's angry, wear sexy clothes, stud earrings, and breathe deeply and count to ten when she's angry. When she does those things, I feel she listens to me, and cares about how I feel, but during an argument she won't do them and I feel like I wish I'd never married her.

But notice that there's a lot there that we don't argue about. We don't argue about money or how to spend it, because we both have good paying jobs. We don't argue about sex because our needs are similar. We don't argue about children, because we seem to agree on general principles. Since those are the things that cause many couples problems, it *is* important that you pick a person who shares your view of life but there are many people who could be that person. Your friends probably have similar views, that's why they are your friends.

Forgiveness is important, but it's the most difficult thing to do. Forgiving someone for the wrong they've done to you feels like you are rewarding them for behaving badly, and it feels like you are giving them permission to do it again. First, you need to explain to them why what they did hurt you. Second, you need to think of all the good things they have done for you and the children before they hurt you. If you can't think of anything, ask the other person to remind you. Without a doubt they will remember all the good things they've done for you that you have forgotten. Three, you should feel a little guilty for having forgotten all those things, and that will make it easier to cut them some slack.

  • 10_Ways_to_Marry_Wrong_Person
  • The Ideal Husband or Whom Not To Marry
  • Questions to Ask Before Marrying
  • What to Ask Before Tying the Knot

    Ingredients of a Successful Marriage

    In 2007 the Pew Research Center released the results of a large survey where married couples were asked for the factors that are "very important for a successful marriage."

    What Makes a Marriage Work   Percentage saying each factor is very important  
    Faithfulness 93%
    Sex 70
    Sharing household chores 62
    Adequate income 53
    Good housing 51
    Shared religous beliefs 49
    Shared tastes and interests 46
    Children 41
    Agreement on politics 12
    But none of these things matter if you don't like each other. When people fall in love and get married, they do like each other. But after enough vicious arguments, threats, name calling, throwing things, kicking holes in walls, and one slap, you lose your respect and love for each other. But with steady jobs, a house, and children, it isn't easy for one to leave. And I always hoped things would improve.

    One of the strangest discoveries I found about myself, is that the emotions I feel about someone change over time. The emotions Helena felt about me were a roller coaster, but I always thought of myself as a rock - dependable, solid, not inclined to negative emotions, either anger or lust. I will never be a roller-coaster, but I am not a rock. Fortunately, I'm more aware of my small ups and downs, so it is much easier for me to sit back and say, "Whatever. This feeling will pass."

    The ingredients to a successful marriage (table to the left) are important, but they aren't all necessary and they certainly aren't sufficient. The other person will do things you don't like, and they won't ever change, no matter how small they are. You have to like them in spite of those things. I think Helena uses too much toilet paper, and is wasteful with paper towels and sponges. These are simple things to correct, but she refuses to do it. To me that means my simple requests mean nothing to her. If I can't expect her to provide little things, can I count on her for the big things? The answer was "yes" because I'd framed the question wrong. Those things may have been important to me, but they weren't important to her. My health and safety were important to her, so I could count on her for those things.

    Be careful what you say, because some things you can't take back. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, a bad marriage can't be stopped.

  • A Marriage Map
  • 101 Marriage Tips + 3 more from your dad

    Avoiding Divorce

    It takes more than chemistry to build a healthy, lasting marriage

    The best book on marriage I've found is The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman. In the first chapter, he wrote something that blew me away when I read it.

    Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that communication -- and more specifically, learning to resolve conflicts -- is the royal road to romance and an enduring happy marriage....The most common technique recommended for resolving conflict -- used in one guise or another by most marital therapists -- is called active listening....successful conflict resolution isn't what makes marriages succeed.

    Helena and I went to eight or ten different marriage counselors and they all talked about active listening. It never worked for us.

    I learned to do the opposite of what I felt when we had an argument. I hug her when I don't feel like it. She keeps her mouth shut when she wants to say something. Another thing I try and remember when I'm angry at what she hasn't done, such as cleaning up after herself, I remind myself of what she has done that has saved me time -- cooking, giving the children baths, driving us to the Metro and child care.

    A Pre-Marriage Checklist -

    I'm always interested in how married people respond to the question, "How long after you married did you realize that you were going to have serious problems?" To my surprise many say, "On our wedding day!"

    When I asked Ken how long it took after the wedding to understand that he and his wife were in for some difficult days, he told me it was on the second day of their honeymoon. "We were in our room in a nice hotel," he said, "when I looked up in time to see my bride throwing a flower vase at me. Fortunately, she was a bad shot! The vase missed my head, but it knocked out the window. I was stunned and asked, "What's wrong?" She told me I would never understand. It's been 18 years and I still don't know why she threw that vase, let alone why she is upset with me about so many other things.

    In this booklet we will look at eight areas that will critically impact your marriage. These eight areas can provide helpful guidance in determining whether you and your prospective mate are ready to make a lasting, lifetime commitment.

    Here's a summary. For a discussion of each of area go to: Family Checklist

    1. Emotional Maturity
    2. Compatible Life Goals
    3. Similar Intellectual and Cultural Interests
    4. Education
    5. Vocation
    6. Family Involvement
    7. Friends
    8. Spiritual Interests


    More Pre-Wedding Checklists

    Marriage and Money

    Be sure to find out if you and your special friend have compatible views of money. Problems over how to spend money cause lots of arguments and are one of the reasons couples divorce.
  • Talk About Money Before Marriage
  • Financial Checklist
  • What should I know about my future spouse's finances?
  • The 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships by David Niven

    Your mother and I keep our finances separate. She paid for nursery school, day care and clothes. I paid for the house, food, car and home insurance, electricity, gas, property taxes, and put money into Education Savings Accounts and Maryland College Savings plan and a Vanguard 529. Earlier we split food expenses based on income. I paid 60%, she paid 40%. We never argued about money. We both are savers and don't have a desire to buy things. Her weakness is food and eating out, but not clothes.

    Marital Myths

    Marital Myths by Arnold Lazarus
      Myth #1: Husbands and Wives Should be Best Friends
      Myth #2: Romantic Love Makes a Good Marriage
      Myth #3: Extramarital Affairs Will Destroy a Marriage
      Myth #4: If You Feel Guilty, Confess
      Myth #5: Husbands and Wives Should Do Everything Together
      Myth #6: You Have to Work at a Marriage
      Myth #7: A Happy Marriage Requires Total Trust
      Myth #8: Good Spouses Should Make Their Partners Happy
      Myth #9: In Good Marriages, Husbands and Wives 'Let It All Hang Out'
      Myth #10: Good Husbands do Household Repairs; Good Wives do the Laundry
      Myth #11: Having a Child Will Improve a Bad Marriage
      Myth #12: Marriage Should be a 50-50 Partnership
      Myth #13: Marriage Can Fulfill All Your Dreams
      Myth #14: True Lovers Automatically Know Each Other's Thoughts and Feelings
      Myth #15: An Unhappy Marriage is Better than a Broken Home
      Myth #16: A Husband's Ambition Comes Before a Wife's Career
      Myth #17: If Your Spouse Wants to Leave, Hang on and Fight
      Myth #18: Dead Love Can Sometimes be Rekindled
      Myth #19: Competition Between Spouses Adds Sparkle to a Marriage
      Myth #20: You Should Make Your Spouse Over Into a 'Better Person'
      Myth #21: Opposites Attract And Complement Each Other
      Myth #22: Couples Should Not Reveal Personal Matters to Outsiders
      Myth #23: Don't Have Sex When You're Angry
      Myth #24: Be Satisfied with What You've Got

    How to Argue

    How To Argue

    Soul Mates

    If you look for the perfect person, your "soul mate," then you'll be searching the rest of your life. There is no perfect person, and circumstances may mean that the right person may come along at the wrong time.

    I don't believe in soul mates. There are a lot of people out there who will make a good spouse. But what's most important is how you behave with that person, that will determine how good the marriage is. My marriage to your mom is now wonderful, but at one time, I thought it was the second worst mistake of my life.


    Common Causes and Reasons for Divorce

    Your Parents Story

    Our Troubled Years

    Before your mom and I were married, I predicted we would have a really great marriage or a really bad one. And I was right. We've had both. Finally after five years of marriage, we now have a wonderful relationship. But getting here wasn't easy. We separated. Helena found an apartment for herself and you. I called divorce lawyer. I stood behind her car to keep her from backing out and taking you away. My tears spilled onto a pillow you were laying on, fearing I would never see you. After four days in jail, you and I cried together at our reunion in nursery school. Helena threatened to kill me. I struck her and went to jail and didn't see either of you for over a month.

    Give yourself 4 years before calling it quits. It takes that long to know each other and establish a pattern.

    Dating and Marriage

    Annabelle, your mom and I have had unusual experiences in dating. Your grandfather kept tight control of all three dautghers

    My checklist was a stupid one, but it isn't as bad as some. Some people look for people with a certain color of hair, some men look for women with big chests. When you're young you can be picky, but as you get older, you become less picky because the good ones have already been taken. Also, a pleasant personality can substitute for a poor appearance. In the eyes of some women, wealth is a good substitute for being old and losing hair.

    If you have a bad feeling about someone, call it quits.

    From the Teenagers Guide to the Real World

    "Asking people out is a pretty bad numbers game." Go to a shopping center and sit on a bench where a lot of people will walk by. Take a pad of paper and a pencil, and make two columns. In the left column, make a mark every time someone walks by that's of marriageable age and the correct sex. (In his book, the author says to make a mark for old men or women and little boys and girls). In the right column make a mark for the people - of the correct sex - that you'd like to go out with.

    Now after an hour or two, take a look. You'll see that there's a lot more checks in the left column than the right. And it gets worse -- it's a numbers game that goes both ways. Suppose your ratio is 20 to 1. For every 20 that walk by, one is acceptable to you. But of those that are acceptable to you, they have their own list, also 20 to one, so you have only a 1 in 20 chance (5%) of being on their list!

    Why might you not be on their list? Who knows? Why did you find only one out of 20 boys (or girls) attractive? Some were too fat, some were too thin, some had stupid hair, some wore ugly shoes... You are as fickle as anyone else. Why do some people like Chicken Nuggets and some like Fish Sandwiches? BECAUSE. There is no reason! It's totally random.

    If you do the math, the probability of you liking someone and them actually liking you back enough to go out with you is pretty minuscule. If the average for each person is 20 to 1, then that means there is a 1 in 400 chance of any given female actually saying "yes" when any given male asks her out."

    So don't take it personally!

  • Marriage, Kids, Money, and Happiness
  • Love and Romance Articles

    Evolution and Sex

    Evolution has played a cruel trick on humans. 100,000 years ago, humans needed to reproduce quickly. Girls can have babies starting about age 10 and continue to have them for 30 more years.* But the cruel trick is that the big brains we have and the world we've created means that you'll be interested in sex long before you'll want to have children. You'll be curious about sex even before you make it to high school. To be a good mother and give your children a good home means you'll have to graduate from college first. If you have a baby before that, you'll ruin your life and your child will suffer too.

    Why is Sex Fun? by Jared Diamond

    Is Sex Bad?

    Early Marriage

    Some states, Kansas for example, and West Virginia, I think, allow girls to get married at 12 and boys at 14 if they have their parent's permission. 200 years ago, that might have worked, but in today's society, it's ridiculous. In fact, most states now make it a crime for anyone to have sex with someone under 16. But how silly it is to be married but not have sex. The whole point of marriage was to make sure that if sex between a man and a woman resulted in a baby, that the baby would be raised by a mom and dad. It isn't easy for one person to raise a child alone. And most single parent families are poor.



    Don't get married too early and don't have babies too early. Enjoy your freedom. Once marriage and babies come, you'll find that you have a lot less time for yourself. If I'd married or had children before my Ph.D, I don't think I could have done it. Although some people can do it, I don't know how they did it, and it is much more difficult.

    I hope your mother regrets not being able to control her emotions. They have poisoned our marriage and I don't think it will ever recover. I am very sad because that means we can't set a good example for you.

    Your mother says she was upset with me because I didn't understand her, but several years later she realized that no one would ever understand her. Her parents didn't understand her. She thought her previous boyfriend, Laurent understood her, but she finally realized after all these years, he'd never been honest with her. She realized that she should stop thinking that the right person would be able to know what she needed. Understanding someone doesn't mean that people can read your mind.

    Marriage is harder than I thought it would be. I think it is difficult to learn how to live with others. Dating and marriage are like night and day.

    Marriage is hard because I don't control everything anymore, there's another person I have to think about to. I can't empty the garbage when I want to, or go bicycling when I want to. I can't convince them that I'm right and they are wrong.

    Your Wedding

    Weddings can be expensive. Your mom and I saved money by eloping to Key West, Florida. We rented bicyles and got married in our bikinis on the beach. (Later I rented a tux and Helena brought several dresses for the pictures we show our relatives)

    A Green Wedding


    Letter my Mom wrote about taking care of me -- a 1 month old baby

    There ought to be a class before you become a parent that teaches you that your life will never be the same again and that you will loose 95% of your free time.

    I didn't know if I wanted to be a parent for many years. But one day, long before I met your mother, I talked to a friend of mine Shari Garmise, who said, "whatever decision you make is a selfish one." When she said that, I knew immediately I wanted to be a father.

    There was only one thing your mother and I worried about --would you be healthy?

    It took three years to convince me I'd like another one. Up until that time you were so much work, I asked people why they had more than one. "I'm a glutton for punishment" answered one. But you became so wonderful at three, and I'd forgotten the hardship, I decided for another. Your mom took a little more convincing, but once she held Amber in her arms, she came home and said. I want another one. those little feet! those little hands!


    There are also lots of reasons not to have children.

    The Childless Couple
    20 Reasons for Children and 10 Reasons Against


    Difficult Children and Marriage

    Parents asked to work with difficult children were four times as likely to exchange negative criticism and questions, or to ignore each other and trade nonverbal barbs, than the parents in the other group. "Often the parents have different tolerances for tantrums. One wants to stand firm, but the other is willing to give in. Now the parents are set up to fight, [saying,] 'You let him do that?' or 'You are too strict with him!' "

    Follow three rules: [1] pare down expectations and focus on only one or two problem behaviors in their ADHD child. [2] reward positive behavior and discourag negative behavior, often by ignoring it. [3] consistently stick with the technique long enough to see it work.

    Other experts said it is also important to teach parents to take time to pamper themselves and put themselves back together psychologically....
    "One of our mantras is, 'If you don't take care of yourself, you can't do your best as a parent.' "

    Happy Childhood Book

    "I have a friend who loves to fish. When he goes fishing, he is utterly at ease. He is both relaxed and full of excitement at the same time. Relaxed excitement. That's a good state to be in." p.166

    You can see the five steps he's outlined, when his 12 year-old daughter plans for a 3-day birthday party, First, she is "connecting" with her friends. Planning means "playing" with ideas. Setting it up requires her to "practice" and apply discipline: juggling schedules, food to buy; As the complicated plans progress she is "mastering" a difficult task. When the party ends her ability will be "recognized." p. 168

    Suggestions of how to create a more connected family life:

    Letter to Annabelle - June 22, 2004


    Dear Annabelle,

    I haven't written you in a long time, but there's a reason for that -- you constantly keep me busy! When I'm taking care of you, I have no time for anything else. Ah-mah and Ah-gong call you "Annabelle the Destroyer." I call you "Annabelle the Anarchist." (I've also called you "Annabelle the Acrobat," because you love to climb and swing; and "Annabelle the Cannibal" just because it rhymes - You only bit a child once at nursery school :-)

    You're a lot of fun though and finally learning to play by yourself. But when you're in a group of three or more adults, you start to perform. With me, your current joke is "dream boys." Although I threaten to spank you, tickle you and shake you, that's the last thing I hear at night and the first thing I hear in the mornings.


    I wrote that when you were nearing two. Everyday me or mommy (usually mommy) would drive you to your grandparents for babysitting while we went to work. When you were two we took you to several daycare centers. We were worried because you hadn't had much interactions with children, except at the park, but you took to daycare like a duck to water. And Anna at ECDC, said you were ready because you just loved to play and explore the new settings. Oh but the first day was hard. I had to take you because Helena knew what would happen.

    It broke my heart. Tisha was holding you and you reached out to me and called out "Daddy, Daddy." Tears were running down your cheeks, and I felt terrible.

    Why am I telling you all this? Because I want you to realize that having children is a life changing event. They are a lot of work. But after you turned three, the joys and the magic of watching you grow made us want another one. (Actually, for Helena it was seeing the little hands and feet of Amber that convinced her).

    When I wrote that letter back in 2004, Helena and I were planning to stop with you. One was enough to keep us busy. And with your eczema, you took a lot of extra work, and driving back and forth everyday to your grandparents (Two 40 minute round-trips really eats into the day. For a while, Helena and you spent several nights a week at your grandparents).

    But that all changed when you turned three. Watching you grow, learning to talk, to eat, to explore, and develop a personality was like magical. And the sound of a child's laughter is the most wonderful sound in the world. After I went to jail, and couldn't see you for a whole month, I realized just how much you meant to me. The third reason was the murder of my mom. I felt so alone, I only had my friends. That made me realize what other people had told me, having another child would be good for you.

    Jail Time and After - September 2005

    Here's my e-mail to my friends from September 2005 (Shari, Ian, Fang, Yani, Koji, Kevin, Dr. Sandler, Mike):


    I just spent 4 1/2 days in jail and am now living in a house without running water, gas, phone, A/C, heat or furniture, but I prefer it to my jail cell. In a way, it's sort of fun because I feel like I'm camping again, and I do have a microwave so the meals are better :-)

    Conditions of release: no contact whatsoever with Helena or Annabelle until the trial, and the only way to exchange messages is though an attorney. The trial is scheduled one month from today, October 14th, for second degree assault. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

    The short version of what happened: I asked Helena for a divorce and she said, "the only way you're going to get a divorce is if you hit me."

        "That sounds easy enough," I thought to myself, so I pushed her into the wall. I didn't do it hard and she wasn't injured at all, but she said, "I'm calling the police."

        "Go ahead," I replied. And I went outside, sat down and waited for them to arrive. [I was certain that after they heard my story they would understand. Neither of us thought I would be taken away to jail. After I told my story, the policeman said I was really stupid. Don't know if it was because of what I did, what I said, or both]

    At the release trial, after Helena had heard what was going to happen, she begged and pleaded with the judge to allow me, at least, to see my own child. Helena said she felt safe with me, it was her fault, and later said she should be in jail not me (not true, but it was nice to hear her say it).

    But in Montgomery County, MD; once the charges are filed in a domestic assault, even if the women refuses to cooperate with the prosecutor and wants the charges dropped, the DA continues the case without her help.

    Two female attorney's I've talked to (the ones Helena and I hired) say that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of protecting the women, and men are now going to jail for a year or more, even if the woman is not injured. [This creates financial difficulties and separates families that could have reconciled with marriage counseling].

    I feel like I'm in a Kafka novel.

    Please don't call me at work. Whenever I talk about this and the conversation turns to Annabelle, I break down and cry. I love her more than I have ever loved anyone, which was the reason I couldn't convince myself to get an [divorce] attorney.

    "You're a smart man. You must have known you could get a divorce without your wife's permission," one of the public defenders told me when they heard my story.

    I have to go now, I'm being monitored and have to be home by curfew.



    We're still arguing, but we're both right - Friday, June 25, 2010

    I didn't realize it before, but in an argument, two people can both be right. It has nothing to do with different points of view. We both agree the things we said in the argument were all true.

  • I am overly critical. She over reacts to criticism.
  • I should be more aware of all the things she does for the children.
  • When she becomes angry, she should not make threats.

  • Her father was critical of her.
  • I remind her of her father.
  • She couldn't yell at her father. Instead she ran away from home and got married (then divorced).
  • She doesn't think about the long term consequences of her actions.

  • We can both be jerks, but we can still be right.
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