What It Takes To Stay Married

It’s not easy to stay married in today’s world. We’ve been married and practiced together a long time now, raised a family with the full range of common and not so common issues, and have had many of the same personal and relationship problems our clients have. We’re not immune to life’s difficulties and have made our own mistakes in trying to make a life together. Even therapists have their pains, but we’ve also had our celebrations. As Paul Simon sang: “Still crazy after all these years.”

So what have we personally learned in these 46 “crazy” years together?What allows a man and a woman to still like and love each other, to laugh together and be actual friends? These are the ingredients to a not so secret brew:

• Stay curious about one another.
• Practice kindness and consideration.
• Notice the little things about each other you like and remember to tell your partner.
• Give your partner the benefit of doubt.
• Learn to live with and respect your differences.
• Allow for separate spaces and experiences.
• When fearful or angry seek clarification of the reality.
• Learn not to be frightened or angry by intense feelings.
• Don’t lie your way out of a bind, a lie, or a betrayal. Practice honesty.
• Use some discretion in what you say about your feelings and perceptions about your spouse, but have your voice heard.
• Forget that marriage is a 50/50 proposition in the short run, but it should feel like a fair deal in the long run.
• Be fair and just with each other.
• Commitment means a willingness to be unhappy for a while, but only for a while.
• Be involved with friends and community separately and together.
• Find ways to laugh with one another and at some of your problems together.
• Don’t be ashamed to cry together.
• Be sensual. Taste each other’s sweetness, open your eyes and ears to each other
and remember to take time to touch one another.
• Have more adventures together.
Find the timeless moments

Pillow Talk

Many years ago one of my client’s talked of her realizing something had gone out of her marriage when she no longer experienced “pillow talk” with her husband. Conversations in bed, real talking with your spouse, seem to be a lost experience with so many couples.

People come to us because they have this and that problem, some very serious issues indeed, and some have to do with just losing that special feeling for one another. Coupling between men and women starts with some attraction that creates conversation. We all recall when we lost time in conversations with people we liked, even our spouses. Sometimes the problem we need to deal with is helping couple’s have conversations again, especially about the problems they face together. Counseling itself is simply a conversation about what matters, a conversation with someone who wants to listen to what you have to say.

What happened to conversations between husbands and wives? A conversation, which means something or is enjoyable or may untangle some problem because “two heads are better then one,” occurs between people who are friendly with each other. There is that likeability factor between friends, isn’t there? Between husbands and wives certain dislikes creep into a relationship because we are naturally different, or because we can’t meet each other’s expectations, or because…. so many because! With many couples, conversations just seep away with the years. Pillow talk, well forget that!

It is clear to me that our over-scheduled, over-wired, 24/7 life style is killing conversations. Who has the time? We all want to hear the point and move on. This is not a breeding ground for friendship or intimacy! It creates loneliness and very sad hearts. No wonder there are so many affairs. People who have affairs find and take the time to have conversations with one another. So where there’s a will there’s a way. Will the time to “be” with your spouse!

Here are some basic tools from the Isenberg tool chest.

• Once you both “will” that time, you need to individually try and actually listen to what your spouse is actually saying “as if” you were their best friend again. Open your heart.
• Try listening to a paragraph or two without rehearsing your answer or silently discounting their words. Open your ears.
• It also pays to look at your “partner” while listening because “seeing” the whole person helps in “hearing” them. Lovers do that. Real friends do that. Therapists do that. And you can do that. Open your eyes.

Willing it can lead to enjoying each other in renewed ways. You may even enjoy “pillow talk” again.

Shelly Isenberg, February 15, 2011


When is it that you’ll know when you have to do what you know you must do in spite of yourself?

We all want to change something about ourselves, our situation, and some of us do – some of the times. Most of us will put off that which can be put off and simply live with our difficulties as best as we can. Then something happens to us and we are impelled to act. True change is a very private internal matter and doesn’t happen until we feel “I can’t live this way anymore,” and we find a way to change.

Over the holidays I saw “True Grit” with a friend and with Raye I saw “The King’s Speech.” Both were morality tales about accomplishing what needed to be accomplished. They were also tales of the relationships we need to accomplish what’s essential to who we seek to be. In “True Grit’” Mattie Ross seeks to avenge the murder of her father. This requires the help of Rooster Cogburn, whose only apparent attachment before Mattie is with a bottle. He becomes attached and redeemed, becoming her Guardian Angel in a race with death. While “True Grit” is the classic Western, it’s in “The King’s Speech” where we can identity with the King or the Queen or, if a therapist like myself, also with the therapist who must work with himself to help his client.

The King, the Queen and Professor Logue all had “true grit”, a determination to get past whatever obstacles they had to face in themselves and each other so that the King could find his “voice” and lead a country in war. Clearly it wasn’t easy. It was an ordeal for the King to face his humiliation in stuttering and his fear of continuing a shameful family legacy. Professor Logue had to get past his own arrogance in his techniques and take responsibility for his mistakes before he could be helpful as a fellow human being. These two men could never have come together were it not for the Queen who never let her husband’s loss of faith diminish her own. That husband-wife love story was the powerful backdrop of the outward drama between two men.

Movies like “The King’s Speech” inspire because they ask us to face ourselves in the struggle to be more of who we desire to be. That takes true grit. In “True Grit” Rooster becomes a family man when buried by Mattie in the family burial grounds. In “The King’s Speech” the King moved beyond his personal history and became his own man. And what a woman the Queen was, wasn’t she? Between the three of them they made history.

This Little Light of Mine

This morning I awoke with a tune in my head which always has special meaning for me. I knew I was going to write my first blog for our new website for our new practice, Isenberg Counseling, LLC, which Raye and I began a few months ago. This is a season of new beginnings, of transition for the both of us. It is also the holiday season of new beginnings in a few of our religious traditions.

The tune I awoke humming was “This Little Light of Mine,” an African-American spiritual, which seems to relate to our having lit the candles the night before for our holiday of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. I also knew of the recent Hindu festival of lights, called Diwali, and as Christmas approaches we think of the Star of Bethlehem leading the way for powerful Wise Men to a simple child in a manger.

Light symbolizes the energy of renewal, of rebirth, of rededication, of redemption, of hope and peace after darkness, In so many faith traditions we create light to warm and renew us, to remind us, to bring into awareness the inner light naturally within us.

We have the power within us to connect to that light by recalling the people and personal experiences which have inspired us to act in ways of personal integrity encouraging our heart-felt need to experience renewal throughout the seasons of our lives. In this joyous season of renewal I now recall how my personal little light has sometimes, through fear, grown faint and how that light, through integrity, has manifested itself to shine brightly.

In this season of lights and hope Raye and I wish you the power to sing with gusto (google for entire song):

This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine

Ev’ry where I go
I’m going to let it shine

All in my house
I’m going to let it shine

I’m not going to make it shine
I’m just going to let it shine

Out in the dark
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.