Tag Archives: marriage

What makes a good marriage?

I recently heard the father of a bride talking about marriage. He said that there are two things he and his wife recommend for a happy marriage.

The first is, ‘Keep talking things through. And listen. Because the listening is powerful in itself. Secondly, be kind to one another.’

I was particularly struck by, ‘Be kind to one another.’ I’ve heard a lot of people advising ‘forgiveness’ or ‘understanding’ as important ingredients in a marriage. But  I think kindness works better.

I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the notion of forgiveness being important in marriage. It assumes that you have the right to forgive. It also has a sense of squaring things up, or wiping the slate clean. Its transactional and cold. Kindness is larger and softer and more inviting.

‘Understanding’ seems plain ridiculous. Human beings do un-understandable things all the time. Especially in relationship. But kindness doesn’t require understanding. It requires allowing the other person to be un-understandable. Its larger and softer and more inviting.

What do you think are the key ingredients of a good marriage?


Posted by on 03/09/2011 in Love, Marriage


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Getting married won’t fix it

I’ve had two conversations this week which have surprised and saddened me. The gist of both was the same – I was speaking with people who believed that getting married was the solution to relationship problems. It makes no sense – how does binding yourself legally to someone resolve pre-existing discontent? And why would you bind yourself legally to pre-exisisting discontent?

‘But at least then we’ll be committed.’

‘Well, if nothing else it’ll make his parents happy if he was married.’

‘And she’ll feel better once she’s settled down.’

Aaaarrghh! I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. Had I timewarped to the 1950s? How is it possible that in 2011, people are still willing to commit to misery?

On reflection, I realised that at the heart of this ill-logic was the deep seated belief that being married is the holy grail – not only of relationship, but of the wider fabric of a person’s life. It was almost existential – grasping at the confetti, not to provide happiness but to secure a committed discontent.

I think the braver and happier option is to dive into the dynamics of the relationship. There will be gifts of passion wrapped inside the discontent. The outer form of relationship will follow naturally.


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From Uncertainty to Fun: Navigating The Three Stages of Divorce

When working with clients who are separating or divorcing, I find it helpful to approach it as a three stage process.

1. Uncertainty and making the decision about whether to continue the marriage or to end it.

2. The transition period between feeling married and feeling single.

3. Beginning the new phase in your life.

Here is my key piece of advice for each of these stages.

Stage 1. Stay in the uncertainty for as long as you need. Only make the choice when it feels obvious. I’m often asked what to do when your heart says one thing, but your head says another. My advice is to wait until your heart and head are in agreement.

Stage 2. When it comes to friends and family, be self centred. You don’t need to explain your decision or keep other people happy. Its highly likely that friends and family will have emotionally charged responses. Keep conversations brief if you need to. If someone is asking more questions than you want to answer, don’t be afraid to say, ‘ I’m not going to discuss that.’  Don’t expect those close to you to respond in a way that suits you; they’ll be going through their own process just as much as you are. Have no expectations of them; but treat yourself well.

Find conversations with people who are in a position to be supportive. These may be people who you don’t know so well. It may sound counter-intuitive but because they are less emotionally invested in you, they’ll find it easier to support you.

Stage 3. Don’t delay having fun. Many people feel either bitterness (if they’ve been left) or guilt (if they’ve done the leaving). Both these emotions are corrosive. They shrivel a person, and are the building blocks of misery. The trouble is that divorcees often think they need to wait till they get over the divorce before they start to really live again. The heart does not work in that linear way. It doesn’t line up emotions and move through them in a tidy sequence. The heart is messy, convoluted and non-logical. Deal with it. Start having fun now. Its in the having fun that the grief will dissipate.

Finally – and this applies to the whole process – don’t worry about what other people think.


Posted by on 02/06/2011 in Breakups and Divorce


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In Praise of Marriage and Divorce


We tend to think of marriage and divorce as being each other’s opposites. At first glance it would appear that this is purely a logical and neutral observation. Logical perhaps, but not neutral. The opposition holds a raft of qualifiers that look something like this:

marriage good, divorce bad

marriage success, divorce failure

marriage love, divorce lack of love


The list could go on.


(It is like a score card so I suggest reading it to yourself in the intonation used by the guy who reads out the league table results on a sunday afternoon)


It seems to me that the relationships of the 21st century call for a different way of thinking of marriage and divorce. We’ve outgrown the fairy tale of ‘happily ever after’. The thing is that the fairy tale always relied on a cunning sleight of hand: notice how the ‘happily ever after’ was always pronounced at the moment of wedding (preferably after the hero has saved the damsel in distress). This ruse effectively freeze frames the rest of the couple’s lives in the moment of their wedding – a continuous present moment that forbids the story from moving on. The curtain comes down and as children we were neatly fooled. But fairy tales are not just children’s stories. They plant, replant and nurture collective seeds of expectation of reality. Somewhere, long after we’ve stopped reading the Brothers Grimm, ‘happily ever after’ calls to us. 


I definitely think we need new fairy tales (I’m working on it) but for now I’ll spin a different sort of yarn.


Part of the problem of operating as we do under a tyranny of coupledom is that a marriage or marriage-style partnership is held up as the ultimate success. If you are single, you must be waiting to get into a relationship. Once you start a relationship there is the idea that it progresses in a linear way – getting more serious over time. The ultimate goal is to enter a marriage or marriage style partnership – characterised by certain features such as living together, sharing life goals, etc. This type of partnership is the real life representation of the fairy tale’s ‘happily ever after’. If the marriage or partnership ends before one of the partners dies the relationship falls short of ‘happily ever after’ and stumbles ignominiously into the ‘bad/ failure/ lack of love’ category. I remember when I got my divorce someone saying sympathetically, ‘Well at least you’re young.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – the subtext was ‘you’ve got plenty of time to find another husband’. What?? I was flabbergasted. Does that mean that people over a certain age – whatever that might be – ought not to get divorced because they have less chance of finding another partner? The assumptions that underpinned that remark are shocking but are pretty firmly embedded in our collective psyche along with the fairy tale. They are assumptions about love, sex and romance being the terrain of youth. They are assumptions about the extent to which ‘older people’ have a full right to happy, fulfilling lives. They are assumptions about the claim that ‘young people’ have on freedom and rebellion – because divorce is still a rebellion. All of this in the frieze framed moment of ‘happily ever after.’ Fortunately is seems that current trends are defying the agism of these assumptions, with divorces among people of post retirement age on the increase. 


Ironically, the happily ever after approach does not mitigate against divorce and it sabotages marriage. It sabotages marriage in the sense that it only offers one option for success: till death do you part. And its an option that people increasingly opt out of – or want to opt out of, but fail to – for fear of failure. I consider my five year marriage to be a great success –  partly because I allowed myself to get a divorce. As adults, if we really have outgrown fairy tales, surely we can consciously choose other options for successful relating. And people are increasingly doing just that – many couples do not live together full time, for example.  


If we reframe divorce and marriage as different possible stages that a partnership might go through, something very different occurs in the field of possibility. Of course they retain a logical relationship with each other given that divorce is the dissolving of the marital state. However, taking the failure out of divorce means that romantic partnership is no longer a competitive match wherein there is one winning option and one losing one. It means that a love match is about the happiness and lives of people, and that each one will be unique – with its own needs and its own path. It also means that we can celebrate marriages irrespective of their longevity and the manner of their completion. And so, a toast to divorce and to marriage. Long may they be happy bedfellows!



Posted by on 05/10/2009 in Breakups and Divorce


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