Marital Survival Guide: From M to P

January 14, 2021

8 min read


A therapist's practical advice on improving your marriage.


Marriage is not a big thing; it is a million little things.

Research from various social scientists emphasizes the idea that when it comes to building emotional longevity in relationships, small intentional moments hold more weight than isolated extravagant gestures. Dr. John Gottman adopted the motto "small things often." This doesn't mean that you shouldn't take your spouse out for a wonderful dinner or an enjoyable weekend getaway; those are important too. This is a reminder to appreciate the little things.

Make Time:

“Happy healthy couples do not find time to be together, they make time to be together” (Dr. Debbie Cherry). The shortage of time together is known in the mental health field as a "time famine" and it affects most spouses but especially those in dual career families.

Modeling Behavior:

A couple once remarked to me that they never disagree in front of their children. I asked them to clarify: Do you mean that you never argue or fight in front of your children? They said no, they never ever disagree even about minor matters even the dinner menu. I suggested that they rethink their strategy and that they would be better role models if they would show their children how to properly communicate and compromise on issues where there is a difference of opinion.


This is one of the worst behaviors in marriage. Contempt and contemptuous behaviors can doom a marriage. They are to be avoided at all costs.

Money Matters:

This is one of the five common perpetual issues in healthy marriages. For instance, in a case where the husband was raised in a thrifty home and the wife family enjoyed spending money on the things they liked and were extravagant, does this foretell disaster? Absolutely not. What’s essential is communication and compromise.


Nest (Empty):

Couples who put their marriage on the back burner to focus on raising children come to discover decades later that they forgot how to focus on their marriage. The greatest danger of a child-centered family is that when the children leave home so can the marriage. The second danger is choosing vital parenthood but devitalized marriage.

The third danger is the most benign but still regrettable. Spouses manage to refine their marriage after the children leave and the light shines bright again. That is a positive but sad outcome for two reasons: the many years of unmet marital potential and the lack of good marital role models for their children (Dr. Bill Doherty).


Regardless of the preparation for that great day, the arrival of a child throws the household into bedlam and mayhem. It's especially frustrating to deal with these factors on almost no sleep. When a father watches and listens to his spouse and baby gazing and purring at each other, a man sees clearly that the baby needs his mother and the mother needs her baby. What he cannot see is: who needs him? In actuality, they both need him, not as a competitor with the woman who is mothering nor the baby who is being mothered; they need him in the uniquely male role of father (Dr. Penelope Leach).


You can live a perfectly normal life, if you accept the fact that your life will never be perfect or normal (R. BenTzion Twerski).


Obituary Virtues:

New York Times columnist David Brooks explains that there are two sets of virtues: the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral (kind, brave, honest, or faithful etc.) Were you capable of deep love? Eulogy virtues are more important than resume ones. But many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than how to build inner character. Brooks’ conclusion: Wonderful people are made not born.


Planned obsolescence is a term we've heard forever. With the advent of no-fault divorce, it became much simpler to leave a difficult marriage than to stay and try to fix it. In fact, marriage is a counter-cultural act in a throw-away society (Dr. Bill Doherty).


The cliché is true: No one on their deathbed ever said, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” What do people say? "I wish I had spent more time with my spouse and children because they are my heart and soul and I just wish that God will grant me more time to look at them and listen to them.”


It is your responsibility to know how your spouse wants to minimize or maximize the celebrations such as birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day, and Father's Day. I suggest taking notes so that you remember it accurately year after year. You can thank me later.


In order to walk the walk, you'll need to talk the talk. Don't start discussions with pessimistic phrases such as, "If we’re still married in 10 years…" It may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t say: “If we manage to get things back on track I hope we can have a second child.” Instead try to say: “I am ready to do my part to fix our relationship so we can welcome another child.” When Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski was asked if he was worried that he would be giving couples false hope he replied, "I'm more concerned about giving them false despair."



The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the lives of hundreds of millions of families. Some couples despise it and some don't mind it that much because they like spending time at home with their family. Couples with young children are having a particularly rough time with some of their children in actual school and some children in ZOOM school. I am most worried about abused children, where investigators have not been able to make home visits for months. Interesting how this virus has given birth to so many new words such as:

Covidivorce, quarantedium, and virus-snitching.


What makes for a good marriage is not necessarily what time makes for a good romantic relationship. Once you are married it is not about who you want to go on vacation with, it’s more about who you want to run a household with. Therapist Lori Gotlieb observes, "Marriage is not a passion fest; it is more like a partnership formed to run a very small mundane and often boring non-profit business." And she means this in a good way.


Drastic changes in behavior, like large swings of a pendulum, are not useful. Incremental and consistent change has been shown to be the most effective.


Permanent commitment is the starter motor for a marriage. It not only launches us when we marry but we crank it up every day. We call on it especially when things are not going well. Tentative commitment, on the other hand, means being committed as long as we make each other happy, as long as our individual life goals lineup, and as long as we don't fight too much. This is also known as “commitment-as-long-as.” In other words, “We are together not as long as we both shall live, but as long as things are working out for me.”

“Commitment-no-matter-what” is the long view of marriage in which you do not balance the ledger books every month to see if you are getting an adequate return on your investment. You are here to stay. (Dr. Bill Doherty).


The practice of ignoring one’s spouse in order to pay attention to one's phone or other mobile device. Knock it off, or else!!

Platinum Rule:

We're all familiar with the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Based on "Love your neighbor like yourself" Lev. 19:18). Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher suggests that in our generation we utilize the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would want to have done to them.”


John Gottman recently studied 40,700 couples who are in marital therapy to find out what these couples are fighting about? He found that 76% fight about financial matters. 86% fight about not having fun anymore. Seems like we should take fun much more seriously, right?

Psycho-Archeological digs:

This is a term that I coined for digging deeper and deeper into memories from the recent and distant past. Of course, we can't change the past and we don't know what the future holds therefore, we must stay focused on the present!

Pushing Buttons for Good:

Picture this: You're enjoying date night with your spouse and all is going well. Is there something that you could do which that flip the night on its head and make it end in a big argument? We all know the negative buttons that can quickly turn paradise into a firestorm. We all know how to push those buttons that lead to a meltdown. We should focus on devoting time and energy into pushing our spouse's positive buttons for connection and friendship! (Michele W. Davis).

Click here for installments 1, 2, and 3 of the Marital Survival Guide.

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