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Marital Survival Guide: From I to L

September 10, 2020 | by Dr. Alan Singer

From in-laws to laughter, more practical advice on improving your marriage.


I – Me – We

“I” is always used as a subject, while “me” is used as an object. I is the ego, self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem. An “object” needs to receive: feed me, please me, and fulfill my needs. The real challenge of marriage is making the transition from Me-ness to We-ness. As Rabbi Herbert Bomzer z'l so eloquently stated, "It takes teamwork to make the dream work."

Inflammatory: This refers to arousing excitement or anger. That is why soft startup in important interactions is indispensable.

In-laws: This is one of the five most common perpetual issues in long-term healthy marriages. The other four are: finances, intimacy, household chores, and issues that pertain to children. The primary goal is not to attempt to resolve these issues (which are largely unresolvable) but to regulate them using compromise.

Innuendos: Dump these immediately by having real conversations with your spouse. Be interested - not interesting. Don't just “find” the time to talk, “make” the time to talk and ensure it is undisturbed, undistracted, and face-to-face.

Interruptions: These are so common with many couples, yet so detrimental to good quality communication.

Intimacy: View this word as INTO--ME--SEE (Esther Perel, therapist and author)

Iron: According to psychologist Dr. David Pelcovitz, marital conflict should be dealt with by “striking while the iron is cold.” He appeals to couples, to avoid arguments in the heat of the moment.

Indifference: The hardest couples to bring back from the brink are those who are not fighting at all. They sit quietly on the couch in my office and have very little interaction. They have already checked out. They just want to be able to say that they tried.


Jeer: Do not shout or taunt in a derisive mocking manor. That kind of contempt spells disaster and is far and above the most harmful to marriages.

Judaism: R. Yisroel Salanter teaches, "It is easier to learn all 2711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud than to change one character trait or attribute. Often, individual change needs to take place before marital change can be effective.

Judgment: Do not say "You are the most insensitive person that I know." Instead, start with "Let me teach you something about me that you may not be aware of."


Keel: This is the backbone of a ship; the main structural member of a vessel. The phrase, "On an even keel" means steadiness or equilibrium. To "keel over" is to turn bottom-up and capsize. Most couples who call me for therapy describe their communication issues within the first five minutes of our conversation. Their spoken English sounds fine to me, so I am left puzzled. Often their problem is poor listening skills or condescending comments and inevitably it is about losing connection with their spouse. That's why I like to think of connection, respect, and friendship as the keel of a relationship.

Efforts to communicate often end as failed bids to connect. Sometimes I use the following technique: I will stop the conversation and get the couple to physically reposition themselves to see, listen, and talk to each other rather than to me. Many individuals approach couples therapy as a way of convincing the therapist that their spouse is at fault for the majority of the conflict in their marriage. I tell my clients that my office is a “blame-free” and a “shame-free” zone.

Key: For many years, the key principle of relationships has been Do unto others as you would want them to do to you (aka the “Golden Rule”). Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher urges us in modern times to adhere to the “Platinum Rule”: Do unto others as they would like to have done to them.

Kidding (just): I recommend that all sarcasm must stop! It is a form of contempt, communicating that you are superior morally or in any way to your partner and is the most harmful marital behavior. If you count the number of times that a husband displays a condescending facial expression, it is a good predictor of how many infectious illnesses his wife will have in the next four years. How so? It is immuno-suppressive to be in a contemptuous marriage (Gottman). I wish I had a nickel for every sarcastic husband who tells me in self-defense, "but she knows I'm just kidding."

Kvetch: According to the data, copious bickering does not mean the death knell for a marriage, provided that the bickering ends with both spouses learning something new about each other.


Language: Don't turn your marital woes into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do not use phraseology like "if we're still together then" or "given the state of our marriage." Think optimism and hopefulness, and speak it too!

Laughter: Laughing is both energizing and stimulating for everyone. Especially in our world of Covid-19, make time to pursue entertainment that you both enjoy.

Lead: Be the one to tip the first domino. Women typically require an emotional connection before they partake in a physical connection; men are the opposite. Sometimes this standoff can have disastrous consequences for a marriage. She is waiting for him and he is waiting for her. Bite the bullet, tip the first domino, and take the lead. Be the spouse who makes the first move. The improvement will be so noticeable and so rapid that you will be left wondering why it took you so long to take action.

Leisure: “Extracurricular” activities are neither simple nor shallow; they are meaningful and impactful. Gottman recently surveyed forty thousand couples who are currently in couple’s therapy. A colossal 86% of these couples stated that their fights are about "not having fun anymore."

Lunar Calendar: Rabbi Nachman of Bresslov explained that the commandment to sanctify the new moon was the first mitzvah to be given to the Jews because it mirrors the realities of each person's life. Just as the moon waxes and wanes, every person experiences ups and downs throughout their lifetime. Just as the moon receives an illumination and a rectification each month, each mitzvah a person performs rectifies their soul a little bit more.

May all of your dreams be realized in the coming New Year and may God fulfill all of your requests for good! I want to wish you and your family a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Click here for the first installment and click here for the second.

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