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Marriage Success Training Newsletter Archive




Pre-Wedding Tips

Is Premarital Counseling or Education for You?

Deciding to get or stay engaged?

Premarital / Relationship Inventories

Bonding & Marriage Success

Guide to Guys


Cold Feet

Your Mother and You

Interfaith, Intercultural and Interracial Marriage

Balancing Togetherness & Individuality

Pre-Wedding Stress Management

Pre-Wedding Time Management

Pre-Marriage Couples Counseling

Marriage Facts

Radio program on marriage success research that couples should hear!

Seven Keys to Success

Stages of Marriage

Five-to-One Ratio

What are the most important factors in marriage success?

Differences, incompatibilities and marriage success

Who’s in control in your relationship?

Becoming Parents

Financial issues

Balancing Family and Work



Married sexuality

Marriage-Related Books We Like

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Holiday Tune-Up - Winter Holidays 2009

Cancel the Reservation at “Your Place” for Valentine’s Dinner - Valentine's Day 2008

Demanding Careers & Marriage - January 2007

What's In a Name - March 2006

Balancing Togetherness and Individuality - November 2005

Bonding & Marriage Success - May 2005

Who’s in control in your relationship? - January 2005

Balancing Family and Work - September 2004

Financial Issues - April 2004

Radio program on marriage success research - March 2004

Differences, incompatibilities and marriage success - September 2003

What are the most important factors in marriage success? - June 2003

Cohabitation update - June 2003


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Marriage Success Training Newsletter - Winter Holidays 2009


Holiday Tune-Up



Thanksgiving is coming soon with more winter holidays not far behind. The holiday season brings special pleasures, but also stresses associated with spending, family visits and travel, social and other time demands.


Now is a good time for a quick pre-holiday relationship check-in: Proactively reinforce your couple bond to increase your resilience for the coming holiday pressures.

Sit down together for a few minutes now before Thanksgiving and plan intentionally to:


Protect your special couple-time together – save at least 12 hours weekly on average for yourselves, including increased fun, positive conversation and date nights.


Keep it positive by renewing your team approach to managing any stresses or disagreements.


Explore how each of you would like to enjoy the holidays and reduce unnecessary stress by prioritizing competing holiday demands.


Talk about how you can turn the holidays into a special celebration of your relationship, instead of a distraction from it.


Wishing you and yours all the best for the holiday season and always,


Patty & Greg Kuhlman


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Copyright 2009, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.




Marriage Success Training Newsletter - Valentine's Day 2008


Cancel the Reservation at “Your Place” for Valentine’s Dinner



One of the challenges of marriage (and other long-term relationships) is to keep your bond strong. We’ve often noted how excitement and novelty decline while romantic brain chemistry shifts in the course of a longer relationship, as routine increases.

Recent research by Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at SUNY Stony Brook, indicates that couples can recharge their romantic chemistry by intentionally opting for novelty in some of their time spent together. In these studies, couples who engaged in fresh activities gave their relationship significantly better satisfaction ratings afterward.

So, to really give your relationship a romance fix, don’t go to ‘your place’ (the one you go to every year) for dinner tonight. Instead, choose somewhere that you’ll both enjoy, but haven’t tried before.

The same suggested formula applies to other joint activities: Avoid the ‘tried and true’ and agree on something new that appeals to both of you.

The theory here is that dopamine and norepinephrine highs are generated both by novel activities and romantic love. To some degree, your brain doesn’t care whether it gets its jolt from your partner or the things you do together. When you do something new, interesting or exciting together, some of the novelty chemistry rubs off on your relationship.

Ride a roller coaster, go to new vacation spot, take up a new hobby together, drive by a different route or to some new destination, move the furniture, and, yes, of course, try some new sexual position. It’s all likely to help rev up your relationship bond on Valentine’s Day or any other day


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Copyright 2008, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.




Marriage Success Training Newsletter - January 2007


Demanding Careers & Marriage



Many couples tell us that their careers and the related stress are a significant challenge for their relationship and they’re not really sure what to do about it. It’s hard to do something about this chronic issue without knowing what will improve the situation. So what are some of the insights that marriage success research reveals for the work-challenged relationship?


Using your career skills in your marriage


You can apply many of the same planning, time management, goal-setting and communication skills that make you successful in your career to your marriage. Scheduling and structure can help make communication more constructive and satisfying for both partners.


Keep your marriage 'brand identification' positive


As you consider how to do this, be guided by the need to maintain what the researchers call 'positive emotional override' in your relationship, so that little problems don't become big ones. Once you understand that a happy relationship requires a minimum of five positive exchanges for every (inevitable) negative interaction, you can focus on managing your exchanges with your partner to limit negativity and enhance positivity to keep your 5 to 1 ratio in the healthy, constructive range. Couples who dip below the 5 to 1 tipping point, begin to experience ‘negative emotional override’ where neutral interactions take on a negative feeling and start to snowball.


Avoid tactics that produce poor results


Applying appropriate communication skills and strategies will help you avoid the most destructive marriage dynamic, the pursue-withdraw pattern, where one partner (often, but not always, the woman) keeps approaching the other about an important need or problem, while the other becomes overloaded and withdraws or superficially complies. The pursuing partner becomes more and more frustrated leading her to increase the pressure, while the withdrawer becomes more and more overwhelmed by it, resorting to flight or fight to escape. Both partners feel caught in a terrible script that just keeps replaying.


Schedule and plan important 'meetings' for constructive outcomes


Scheduling sensitive discussions at a mutually agreeable time is one approach that helps with pursue-withdraw problems. Confine these conflict discussions to times when you are both rested, more resilient and not preoccupied. Being careful to raise issues in a soft way, rather than with a criticism or attack, can also help to produce a more constructive outcome. Experts call this the soft start-up. If one partner becomes overloaded, call a time-out. The overloaded partner must take responsibility for resuming discussion after a reasonable recovery period, so their partner doesn’t feel avoided.


Target resources to achieve your goals


Probably one of the most important related research insights is the fact that happy relationships require a minimum of 12 hours of non-sleep, non-TV face-time per week on average (so if you’re behind one week, you can make it up the next, but don’t get behind indefinitely). Meals together, working out together, talking, sex -- these all count. If you want to keep your marriage bond strong, you need to understand and plan for the required time commitment. Many couples are surprised to learn that this much time is required. You can make do with less, but your bond will be at risk.


Build up positivity and stay connected by setting aside a specific time each day for non-conflict communicating—even if it’s only a few minutes in the morning or evening or a mid-day phone call. Talk about things that are happening for either of you and things that you both find interesting. The idea is to keep in touch and deepen your familiarity with each other’s day to day lives. Don’t mix this bonding time with discussing problems or conflicts.


Travel: Stay connected & reconnect


Busy careers often involve periods of separation. Manage your separations--business travel for example, or just long days. Developing rituals for staying in touch during and renewing your bond after can be important to minimizing the impact of necessary separations. Don’t take your reunion for granted, even just at the end of the day. Take a few minutes (or more) to explicitly reconnect. How you handle separation can be just as important as how much you are separated.


Time pressure & sex


How can you make sure that time pressure doesn't disrupt your sex life (which is critical to keeping your marriage strong—it renews your bonding brain chemistry among other benefits)?


Again scheduling and time management are a key skill to apply if sex has become infrequent. Dating is a more romantic name for scheduling sex. One of the biggest errors that many couples make is to stop ‘dating’ when they start living together and/or get married. Dating can include other activities that you both enjoy—just like when you first got together. One great advantage of dating is that it lets you anticipate being with your partner. And anticipation is a terrific sexual stimulant. If necessary, consider making some of your 'dates' brief -- even very brief. Even a 20 minute encounter that both partners have been anticipating for a couple of days can work for many couples.


Manage conflict


Make your fights productive rather than destructive. Work-related and other stress can lead to more disagreements and fights. The most important part of fights is what the experts call 'repair' -- keeping in bounds (not getting too negative) during a fight and then getting back on track afterward without letting feelings fester too long after a fight.


Don’t beat your heads against the wall by repeating the same fight about an issue that’s giving you trouble. Set it aside for a while, if you can. Otherwise, you’re just building up negativity without resolving anything.


Know when to stop being in charge


As much as professionals can apply the time management, communication, scheduling and organizing skills that make them successful at work to their marriage, there are also some areas that don't translate well to marriage. Probably the number one thing that executives and other professionals have difficulty getting beyond is their control-orientation.


Realize that you are not the CEO (or CFO) of your marriage. Avoid being in charge in your marriage. Avoid evaluating, supervising or critiquing the 'performance' of your partner--even in (or maybe especially) in areas that you have both agreed will be your partner’s responsibility.


For more thoughts on the potential pitfalls of problem control issues (especially, control-control, control-compliance patterns) see our article on control issues.


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Copyright 2003-2007, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.





Marriage Success Training Newsletter - November 2005


Balancing Togetherness and Individuality




Mutuality is one of the most important aspects of marriage success. But how do you become part of a couple while maintaining a strong sense of yourself? How do you manage your need for time together and time apart? And what do you do if you and your partner have different ideas of how much time to spend together? How much time together is enough? Is there such a thing as too much togetherness? Is there a way to maintain closeness even when your work life is especially demanding of your time and attention, perhaps including prolonged separations?


Obviously, these are questions without simple answers, but research on successful marriage indicates that one key is to find the middle ground. According to David Olsen, couples who are neither too separate from one another, nor overly involved with one another are in the best position to succeed. Moderate levels of closeness are optimal. Very low or high levels of autonomy in marriage work less well. By the way, the same model applies to your relationships with your families of origin­-being neither too close, nor overly distant works best.


In fact, we learn our patterns of togetherness and individuality in our families of origin. Different families have different styles. Some families emphasize closeness, while others accentuate individual needs and activities. Your partner will have different expectations shaped by their family experience, so you may have to find a new balance.


It’s common for couples to struggle over finding the "right" balance of time spent together and apart, as well as what level of closeness to maintain with one’s original family. However, your aim should be to find a cooperative rather than adversarial way to engage in this essential process.


Couples may find it challenges them both personally to make changes in style as they both steer for the middle ground by moderating extreme togetherness or autonomy. This is true whether you are both from similar positions on the closeness ‘scale’ or from different ends of the scale. It’s definitely worth the effort to find a path that works for both of you as a couple and for each individually, though. This is part of establishing a new identity as a member of unique partnership that won’t be exactly like your family’s or your partner’s family or that of any previous relationship.


One important aspect of individuality involves relationships outside of your marriage. Women are more inclined to rely on friends or relatives, in addition to their partner, for emotional support. Men, on the other hand, tend to rely more on their partner for most of their support. So women sometimes run the risk that their partner may be upset by their degree of involvement with ‘outsiders.’ Men may not have sufficient outside support during periods when their partner is less emotionally available.


Social patterns that worked well for you previously may shift after marriage to take account of new needs. For example, one person was accustomed to going out on Friday nights out with co-workers to unwind, but their partner wanted to spend Friday evenings together. You may need more time for couples friends in your social schedule after marriage, but will still want to maintain relationships with single friends. Discuss social adjustments with your partner to work out a balance that’s comfortable for both of you.


For most couples these days the challenge is finding ways to stay close enough in the face of work and other demands. Researchers like John Gottman tell us that successful couples spend a minimum of 12 to 15 hours of non-sleep, non-TV time together each week. Daily non-stress communication (even just 10 minutes) to keep in touch with each other’s lives and other daily bonding rituals also promotes your sense of togetherness.


When you’re apart, whether just for a portion of the day or for extended business travel, how you keep in touch and how you get back together can be more important that how much time you are separated. Successful couples touch base with each other at least once or twice a day, even if for just a few minutes.


They also make sure that their reunion receives some attention. Make the time and effort to renew your bond at the end of the day and at the end of the week. Develop familiar rituals that you both enjoy for reconnecting. These can be as simple as trading neck massages or enjoying a cocktail together before the TV comes on.


Couples who use these reconnecting strategies can tolerate more separation while still remaining close to each other. Couples who don’t reconnect can feel isolated from each other, even with less separation. In other words, it’s not necessarily how much you are separated, but how you manage keeping in touch and renewing your bond.


Decision-making is another realm where the tension between individuality and togetherness can be confusing for couples. If mutuality and teamwork are major factors in marriage success and happiness, how much weight should you give to your own needs and preferences relative to those of your partner?

With couples marrying later, more people than ever spend a good many years living as singles after leaving their family of origin. They become accustomed to living according to their own preferences. The individualism of American life is reinforced by advertising messages, employer expectations, cultural values, etc.


The longer you’ve been living on your own, the more you mature and develop. Maturity is obviously a plus for marriage success. But it also tends to increase your differentiation from your partner. It becomes more of a challenge to combine the lives of two highly individual people in your late twenties, than your early twenties; even more so in your thirties; and so on. In any case, few people believe that it’s a healthy approach to give up your individuality totally in marriage.


So, how to reconcile this reality of two people with important individual needs and preferences with the imperative to operate as a team in marriage?


First, be clear with yourself and your partner about your own needs and wants (and understand the difference between these), as well as, what you are will to contribute to a solution.


Sometimes it’s just a question of getting used to talking with your partner about decisions that affect you both. For example, before marriage people are accustomed to making decisions about home décor independently. You may find, however, that your partner will have an unexpected reaction if a new painting or piece of furniture suddenly appears in your home without prior consultation.


Obviously, being a team doesn’t mean that you have to agree about everything. It is important to pick your battles though. You can’t get your way about every disagreement and pushing to do so can drive up your relationship negatives.


Experts recommend treating differences, disagreements and individuality as a team matter to be managed together. Agree to allow your partner to be different in the ways that are most important to them. And insist on your own need to be an individual, as well as a partner, when it’s really important to you.


Don’t be tempted into adversarial positions, just because you are different from each other. Appreciate and nurture the healthy individuality of each other.


Talk together to work out the zones of autonomy and zones of togetherness in your relationship: For example, he loves fishing, but she doesn't share this interest. So he has his fishing outings with friends. She takes advantage of this time to pursue her passion for art, which he doesn’t share, by visiting museums and galleries with some of her friends.


Plan to keep your bond strong by learning more about practical strategies to balance togetherness and individuality that fit your relationship style and are comfortable for both genders. Enhance your intimacy, communication and conflict management skills at a Marriage Success Training seminar.



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Copyright 2005, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.


Marriage Success Training Newsletter - May 2005


Bonding & Marriage Success



Bonding is central to marriage success. That's not very surprising. The vast majority of couples planning for or contemplating marriage start off very bonded.


What is surprising for many couples, though, is the unexpected vulnerability of their initial powerful attachment. The biggest mistake that couples make is to take their bond for granted by assuming that their connection will stay strong because they love each other or with 'hard work.' But they don't have an intentional strategy to maintain the strength of their union.


Without a specific plan, most couples' attachment may grow weaker over time, whether or not they want this to happen, placing their marriage at risk. The first years of marriage are the riskiest for divorce and affairs. Couples report that "the spark is gone," or that while they still love each other, they are no longer "in love" or have "grown apart."


Some couples think that starting a family together will reinforce their bond. For many, it is the opposite. They may stay together because of their kids, but their tie to each other is actually diluted as their attachment to their children displaces their connection to each other.


What disrupts their bond, so unexpectedly?


The fact is that nature never intended for the exhilarating feelings that you experience when falling in love to endure with the same intensity over time. The brain chemistry (based on elevated levels of dopamine and norepinephrine) that underlies romantic attraction can't remain in this state very long. Nature doesn't want us to burn out. That special chemistry that drives courtship is destined to fade.


This phase of intense bond formation used to last through the wedding. But now that couples postpone marriage and often live together, it is common for passion to subside--often well before the wedding or soon thereafter.


Nature intends our initial, temporary falling-in-love bonding period to be replaced by a longer-term attachment between partners--with a totally different underlying brain chemistry (based on oxytocin and vasopressin). [Fisher, et al, 2002]


But, some of us find it easier to form and maintain these long-term bonds. According to researchers, different attachment styles rooted in early experiences with parents play an important role in bonding: Most of us have what the experts call a secure attachment style based on a comfortable balance of closeness and independence in their intimate relationships. They tend to be relatively self-confident, accepting and supportive in relationships.


Many people with colder and/or rejecting early attachment experiences continue to have some degree of difficulty with romantic bonding during adult life. They may be less comfortable with closeness and trust, find it difficult to depend on others or be depended upon. On average their relationships last about half as long as those with the more secure style.


Those whose early attachments were particularly unreliable tend to be preoccupied and obsessive in relationships, needy and vulnerable, and experience difficulty getting as close to others as they would like. They bond easily, but their relationships are the least durable.


All of these attachment styles are considered normal. But both of these less secure styles are prone to experiences of jealousy and loneliness. They also tend toward defensiveness and blame and have difficulty getting their needs met.


In addition to any bonding challenges posed by these attachment patterns from childhood, there are many realities of modern life that disrupt our longer-term attachments (even though they interfere less with the earlier phases of our relationships):


Every couple has 5 - 7 unresolvable differences, so there's a lot to disagree about once you start thinking about getting married. If you don't have good approaches to managing your differences, your disagreements will take a toll over time. Conflict can raise your level of negativity and undermine mutuality.


Then there are just the day-to-day pressures that tend to pull couples apart--jobs and careers, finances, kids, not enough time in your day. Lot's of couples don't understand that if you try to put your relationship 'on hold' while you give more attention to a new job or to children, it will be much more difficult than you imagine restoring the closeness between you.


The different approaches of the genders to many aspects of relationships, including communication and bonding, are another factor that can stress couples' feeling of closeness over time. The pursue--withdraw pattern, where one partner keeps after the other to resolve an important issue or for more closeness, while the other feels overloaded and keeps withdrawing or picking a fight to get away, is especially dangerous. This pattern is what's primarily behind the stereotypes of the 'nagging' wife and the husband who 'doesn't talk.'


The changes in sex that challenge couples over the long term, as partner novelty declines and differences in approach to sexuality get in the way, can also contribute to diminished bonding.


All of these factors can chip away at the strength of your bond, in part by disrupting the brain chemistry that underlies it. Many couples count on the strength of their initial bond to get them through these challenges and can't imagine that it might fade.


So what can couples do to avoid the seemingly inevitable slide toward greater disengagement? Well, fortunately, there's plenty. But for most couples, it doesn't happen on its own. You have to plan and strategize to keep your bond strong. And it's best to start early, just when you can't believe that you'll ever need it.


Here are some approaches that marriage success research has shown will help to keep your bond vital: 


·       Build positivity in your relationship. No one can avoid some negativity, but limit it. Marriage research has revealed that happy couples have at least five positive interactions for every negative one. Couples who slip below five-to-one have a hard time restoring the balance. Repair after your fights. Don't allow prolonged periods of resentment to persist. 


·       Make time for your relationship--no matter what.


·       Daily, non-stressful communication--continuing to keep up with each other's lives--is another bonding activity. And it's one that tends to go by the way when lives become busy. Remember how curious you were to learn the details of each other's lives when you were getting to know one another?


·       Approach life as a team. Don't become adversaries, even when you disagree. Your disagreements are something that both of you must take an active role in managing. Planning and dreaming together are bonding for both genders.


·       Appreciate the male need to bond through shared activities. Make time for the intimate talking that women usually prefer for bonding--but make it easier for him by scheduling it at a good time, setting a time limit on these discussions, and limiting any negativity.


·       Keep your sex life active. Schedule a regular date night, especially if things are slowing down. You'll be surprised how the anticipation will whet your appetite--just like it did when you were dating. Introduce new forms of novelty to compensate for the inevitable diminishing partner novelty. Overcome any disagreements about initiating and active/passive roles by taking turns. The brain chemistry stimulated by sex is critical to renewing your bond.


·       Celebrate your relationship. Develop rituals to commemorate your anniversaries and other memorable relationship milestones. Build a relationship mythology by telling your stories, such as that of how you met.


Adopting these strategies builds a bonding immunization for couples. These approaches help couples to build up a reserve of attachment that will help maintain their relationship through the inevitable stresses and challenges of contemporary married life and prevent disruption of their connection. Couples who are already experiencing tension or disengagement can revitalize their link by embracing these approaches.


Plan to keep your bond strong by learning more about practical bonding strategies that fit your relationship style and are comfortable for both genders. Enhance your intimacy, communication and conflict management skills at a Marriage Success Training seminar.


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Copyright 2005, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.


Marriage Success Training Newsletter - January 2005


Who’s in control in your relationship?


·       Do you get frustrated because your partner avoids talking with you about things that you care about?
·       Or do you sometimes feel overloaded by your partner?
·       Do you get frustrated because you frequently disagree, even over seemingly small (or not so small) things?
·       Or does one of you tend to take charge, while the other is more prone to acquiesce?
·       Do you have too much difficulty getting your way about the things that are important to you?
·       Do you know couples who have drifted apart, so that they don’t have much in common anymore?


Each of these are common signs of underlying conflict and control issues. All can be managed -- IF you understand them. They won't go away on their own. Left unattended, they can endanger otherwise strong relationships over time.

Consider all the areas of life where there are sure to be some conflicts between even the most ‘compatible’ partners: neatness vs. messiness, caution and thrift vs. expansiveness and risk-taking, promptness vs. tardiness, more vs. less sociability, different career demands, to name just a few (without even getting into the big disageement areas--sex, in-laws, kids, etc.). It isn’t very surprising that conflict and control can be one of the most puzzling and difficult aspects of relationship facing many couples.

Since all couples--even those who have been happily married for years--have five to seven areas of unresolvable difference, how couples handle deciding whose approach will prevail is critical to marriage success. Managing control issues is one of the principal challenges of married life (and other committed relationships).

Skill-based programs (like MST) can help most couples to understand control issues and to develop new communication and conflict resolution strategies that can enable them to take a healthy, intentional and constructive approach to conflict.

Failure to take a positive, proactive approach to conflict and control can result in two general kinds of problems: Too much conflict will drive up relationship negativity, on the one hand. Or, on the other, conflict may be avoided though compliance or disengagement by one or both partners, depriving the relationship of essential mutuality. Each can put a relationship at risk over the long run.

This second problem contributes to the most common destructive pattern in male-female relationships: the pursue-withdraw syndrome, where one partner (usually the woman) keeps approaching the other about an important need or problem, while the other becomes overloaded and withdraws or superficially complies. The pursuing partner becomes more and more frustrated leading her to increase the pressure, while the withdrawer becomes more and more overwhelmed by it, resorting to flight or fight to escape. Both partners feel caught in a terrible script that just keeps replaying.

When these problems are chronic and entrenched­seem to always follow the same repeating script­they can cause serious trouble. Partners who enter marriage with a need to have their own way on most decisions and, especially those who need to have their partner’s (at least apparent) agreement on most things, can be headed for trouble. Partners who manage conflict by always avoid or giving-in are also putting their relationship at risk.

When control is a problem, it’s usually because one or both partners have difficulty finding the middle ground: relinquishing some control or asserting their own needs. Often these tendencies result from early upbringing and are more or less automatic--not something we necessarily understand very well about ourselves.

Compliant partners need to learn to stand up for their needs in a relationship. Most often this means learning to tolerate their own feelings about their partner’s reactions. A certain amount of self-support and self-validation is required.

Of course, it’s when you are disagreeing that you can’t expect validation to come from your partner. So if you don’t have an alternate source of support, you’re more likely to give in when you shouldn’t.

Control-oriented partner(s) need to accept more influence from their partner. Marriage research finds that accepting influence from your partner is highly correlated with marriage success for men. For women, moderating the ways that you seek to influence your partner (to make them more positive) is the other side of this finding.

A chronic need to be in control and have your way on most things is often related to underlying insecurities that sometimes have origins deep in our early childhood experiences. Likewise, always giving in can reflect a different response to similar issues.

Paradoxically, for the control-oriented person learning to give up some control can be the key to getting more of what we want and need in relationships. The paradox for the compliant is that becoming more assertive can lead to more enduring relationships. If you have difficulty modifying chronic compliant or controlling behavior, you may find individual counseling helpful in exploring and resolving underlying insecurities.

Sometimes, one or both partners need to learn to tolerate differences that cannot be resolved (at least for now). This means putting such differences aside for a time, once efforts to arrive at a compromise have been exhausted. Couples can’t always agree on every issue.

Many theorists (notably David Schnarch) describe marriage as a people-growing relationship because over time it forces all of us to ‘grow up’ and come to more realistic terms with our needs. Marriage works best for people who find ways to support themselves adequately when they and their spouse can’t agree. This means tolerating some of your differences without an absolute need to change your partner.

Relationship experts (Paul and Paul) have identified four common problem patterns that result from couples’ control issues:




The control-compliance pattern is present when one partner usually defers to the wishes of the dominant partner, even if that’s what they wish to do. In the long run, this strategy is unlikely to succeed for either partner. Their happiness will be undermined ultimately by the lack of fulfillment experienced by the compliant partner who will usually become depressed and/or resentful as a result of not having their needs met over the long term.

Even the ‘winning’ partner may sense that the vitality of the relationship has been drained by this pattern and become disenchanted.

This doesn’t mean that one partner should never give-in to the preferences of the other. Far from it. It’s important to compromise and accommodate the wishes of your partner on occasion. Each partner should do so from time to time. It’s only a problem when it’s always a particular partner who is doing the giving-in or compromising without reciprocity. Compromise, of course, means concessions from each partner. When compliance becomes a one-sided approach (one partner always giving in), though, it’s not a successful strategy.

It’s worth noting that people commonly undervalue the frequency and importance of their partner’s compromises. Naturally, they notice their own sacrifices more than those of their partner.


Power Struggle


In the control-control (or power struggle) problem pattern, neither partner is willing to give much ground. This is a particularly destructive approach because it drives up the negativity in the relationship as partners vie for control. This is a common pattern for couples with a hostile engaged relationship style.




In the control-indifference (and/or control-resistance) pattern, one partner has given up on having much influence in the relationship. This pattern can be related to the pursue-withdraw relationship pattern that can be such a problem for many couples.




The indifference-indifference pattern is usually not seen until later in unsuccessful relationships. It is associated with a hostile disengaged relationship style. Both partners have given up on the relationship. They may stay together, but are not fulfilled.

While these patterns show up in most relationships from time to time, chronic reliance on one or more of these control syndromes is a warning sign of a relationship on the wrong track. Corrective action is needed to preserve the long-term vitality and even viability of the relationship.

Consider skill-based marriage prep to help you steer clear of destructive conflict and control problems.


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Copyright 2005, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.




Marriage Success Training Newsletter - September 2004


Balancing Family and Work


Family-work balance is a complex issue that involves financial values, gender roles, career paths, time management and many other factors. Hidden values and models from our cultures, original families and other sources influence our choices in ways that we often don’t anticipate or understand and that have far-reaching consequences for our lives.


Like so many of the challenges and dilemmas of marriage, balancing family and work has no easy solution­-no one-size-fits-all approach. Every person and couple will have their own preferences and needs.


Many couples tell us that they have seen the drawbacks of their parents attempting to ‘do it all’ and ending up very much over-extended. Still others hope to avoid the restrictions of roles and experiences that are too narrow or mismatched for them. Couples are struggling with the relative priorities of their values­ family involvement, career and material goals, personal growth and fulfillment.


The most important thing we can tell you about balance: Preparation, intentionality and joint decision-making are the key to creating and maintaining the right family-work balance for you. Many couples experience extremely strong forces pulling them away from the priority that they would like their family to have. If you don’t aggressively plan your balance, these other forces will prevail. Without a clear plan and commitment to maintaining balance, time and energy for family erodes and evaporates.


Family-work balance is a process, not a static achievement. It’s important to make the ‘big decisions’ – selecting careers and jobs, timing children, allocating roles and responsibilities, etc.­ that will provide the opportunity for balance. The real task of balance takes place on a weekly and daily basis, even from hour to hour. This is where couples hold the line to protect family time or allow it to evaporate­where they opt to take advantage of a family opportunity or allow other priorities to interfere.


The process nature of balance means that you can and must adjust as required. No decision, plan or approach need be permanent. If it’s not working or satisfying, you can reconsider and make changes. In fact, constant tactical adjustment and flexibility to keep on target toward your goals and priorities (but not to accommodate outside demands where limit-setting is usually more in order) is a hallmark of couples who are satisfied with their balance.


But how can you tell when you have found the right family-work balance for you and when you need to adjust­make a different plan? According to Sandy Epstein on, good balance, while different for everyone, is characterized by:


·       Having enough time for both work and family without expending great effort, so that your life feels relatively comfortable;
·       Having enough back-up, so that you can cope with minor emergencies like sick baby sitters, car breakdowns, etc.; and
·       Being on the right personal and professional path for your future.


The first big balance decision faced by couples is when to become parents, if this is in their plans. Among the most important, but least appreciated, considerations is allowing an adequate post-marriage bonding period with your partner before children, even if you have been (or lived) together for an extended period before marriage. Experts recommend a minimum delay of one year before trying to become pregnant. Other issues include reconciling personal, career and financial developments with preferred timing of children and biological imperatives.


Another key balance decision is whether one or both partners will work outside the home and the characteristics of their jobs. These decisions will depend on your financial and career goals, the amount of gratification that you experience at work, your energy levels, your willingness to forego a high level of involvement in some aspects of your children’s lives, etc. Talk to both working and at home parents about the pros and cons they have experienced.


Commonly cited pro-work factors include potential income, career continuity and advancement, workplace intellectual and social stimulation, enriched childcare social environment for kids, etc. Adverse factors include reduced time spent with family, fatigue, weekends dominated by domestic chores, chronic crisis coping, etc.


If your motives for working are basically financial, look carefully at the actual net benefit after deducting childcare, taxes, transportation, work attire and other work-related costs, especially if you are earning a relatively low salary.


If you decide to work, one key to balance is finding family friendly employers­employers with explicit, realistic policies, programs and commitment to support the family priorities of employees, such as flexible working arrangements, on-site child care or emergency child care coverage, limits on demands for extended work hours, parent support networks, sabbaticals, etc.


Work options that can promote balance include part-time, flex time, telecommuting, compressed workweek (full-time in 3 or 4 days), extended family leave, freelance and consulting, job-sharing, seasonal work.


Some experts recommend asking about these issues up-front during job interviews in order to promote accurate expectations for the employer and you. They advise that if these discussions lead to your not being hired, it probably wasn’t the right job or organization for your balance priorities. It is critical to distinguish between lip service and real commitment. Committed large employers will have written policies and procedures to address these issues. The attitude of your direct supervisor will be critical.


Research Validated Models for Successful Family-Work Balance


       Both Full-Time Employed


According to a recent study (Zimmerman, et al, 2003) of dual-earning (both partners full-time employed) middle-class and professional couples with children that perceive themselves as successful in balancing family and work, these couples strive for marital partnership to support balance by:


·       Sharing housework (negotiating equal division of labor)
·       Mutual, active involvement in child care (wives resist monopolizing and controlling, make room for equal contribution by husband)
·       Joint decision-making (free expression of needs, negotiation and compromise­wife perceived to have slightly more influence)
·       Equal financial influence and access based on joint decision-making, planning
·       Valuing both partners’ work and life goals (husband’s careers somewhat more prioritized, support for separate, individual time and activities)
·       Sharing emotional work (primacy of marital relationship, time alone together


These couples (Haddock, et al, 2001) also employ adaptive strategies, including:


·       Valuing family as the highest priority over professional responsibilities and advancement
·       Deriving enjoyment and purpose from work
·       Actively setting limits on work by separating family and work and negotiating with employers
·       Focusing at work­they experience limits as making them more productive at work
·       Prioritizing family play and fun
·       Taking pride in dual earning
·       Living simply, giving up some material amenities in order to reduce financial pressures and work hours
·       Proactive decision-making: “If you just define success as what you do at work, then that is all you will do. Whereas, if you define success as having a happy family and a happy marriage and [being] happy at work, then you make all those things happen.”
·       Recognizing the value of and protecting time for family, being present oriented


While this is not the only set of strategies for balance, it has the virtue of being one that is derived from the experience of satisfied couples.


       Modified Traditional


A study (Marks, et al, 2001) of working-class, white couples produced a very different model of balance-­a ‘contemporary variant of traditional marriage’ where primary gender responsibilities are clear, with men earning while women are caretakers. For these couples, husbands’ role balance is related to higher income (better providing) and spending more leisure time with their families. Wives’ balance is enhanced by contributing through paid work of their own, involvement with relatives and friends, and when husbands spend time alone with children, are communicative about their own needs and are willing to change their own behavior to meet their wives’ needs. Financial strain detracts from balance for both partners.



Whatever your work arrangements, experts recommend a range of coping strategies to enhance balance:


·       Make a list of essential activities and involvements that you want to maintain.
·       Set and guard limits and boundaries to protect these; say no firmly to activities that would interfere with your essentials.
·       Make a list of ‘don’t want to do’ items that are aversive, waste your time, sap your energy.
·       Delegate these and other non-essential tasks and find or hire help.
·       Negotiate to achieve the most advantageous arrangement possible when it’s not feasible to reject or delegate an activity or task.
·       Clark (2002) found that individuals who communicate with work associates about family and with their family about work are more satisfied and higher functioning in both arenas.
·       Make long-term plans with your partner to meet your individual and mutual balance goals.
·       Engage your partner in regular short-term planning: Briefly review activities and arrangements for the coming week every Sunday evening. Briefly review activities for the next day every evening.
·       Organize division of labor with your partner so that you each cover those tasks that are easiest and most enjoyable for you.
·       Try to let go of the responsibilities your partner has accepted or you have delegated to others. Try not to control or criticize. Let go of guilt.
·       Strictly prioritize tasks. Include ‘slack’ time in your plans and schedule. You won’t be able to maintain a schedule plan that commits 110 percent of your available time, let alone accommodate ‘emergencies’. See our time management article:
·       Take care of yourself first whenever feasible. You can’t do very effectively for others if you are depleted. ·       See our stress management article:
·       Always be professional at work. Arrive at work early; leave work on a strict schedule. Block out work when at home or confine it to strictly scheduled times. Minimize weekend work. Be prepared for family emergencies that call you away from work. Train subordinates to cover responsibilities when you are away from work.


Recognize that it will be hard but necessary to accept compromising some of your goals in order to protect higher priority involvements and activities. Remind yourself frequently that these strategies are critical to maintaining a life based on your true values.




BBC work - family balance site


Beth Sawi, Coming Up for Air: How to Build a Balanced Life in a Workaholic World
(By a senior brokerage firm executive with advice, exercises and real-world examples. Available remaindered or used for a few dollars.)

Click here to buy this book: After clicking thu to B & N or Amazon via any of our our bookstore links, search for the title, then click the used copies link.


Arlie Russell Hochschild, Ph.D., The Second Shift
(A landmark book about the dynamics of dual career households based on research by a sociologist. She concludes that, despite great societal changes in the United States allowing women more choices in life, women are still responsible for the majority of household chores and child care and that this has profound implications for marital happiness for both men & women.)
Click here to learn more about or buy this book through our bookstore link.



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Copyright 2004, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.




Marriage Success Training Newsletter - April 2004


Financial Issues


Money is one of the most significant areas of potential conflict in marriage and is consistently among the top four reasons for divorce. Financial issues occur between couples across the economic spectrum from wealth to poverty. Having a lot of money is not a guarantee of happiness or ease of dealing with money.


Part of the real work of marriage involves making money and managing money. Couples who work together as a team and can reach agreement about financial matters are happier than couples who perpetually disagree about finances. Closely related to financial matters are two other important areas which couples must consider: career decisions and desired level of affluence/lifestyle. Career goals and attainment of material wealth can often be in conflict with relationship goals. What is most important to you and do the two of you agree about that? Do you think it's possible to "have it all"? A frank exploration of financial styles, expectations and goals is extremely important to marriage success.


Money means different things to different people. Financial attitudes often reflect one's most basic feelings about the world and are usually learned in one's culture and family of origin. Some people regard money as an important element in ensuring happiness, while others see it more as a way of ensuring security and a defense against fears. Some people are "savers"; others are "spenders". Some people feel discomfort just talking about money. Others are more open about money. Some people think being in debt is fine. Others are scared of debt. Status, security, freedom and control are just a few of the things people associate with money to different degrees.


Disagreements about money often reflect hidden issues between a couple. Money issues are seldom just about money. Financial matters can be a trigger for deeper issues in the following areas of a relationship:


Power and control
Dependence and independence


By exploring what money means to each of you and how its meaning influences your financial behavior, you can begin to sort out the role that money will play in your relationship. These issues are behind many more concrete differences concerning finances. Once you've come to terms with your feelings about money, it will be less difficult to make satisfactory financial plans and resolve financial problems. Advice about budgeting, credit problems, financial planning, etc., is relatively easy to find. It's your feelings and attitudes that are more primary.


While there are some common elements to successful marriages, there is definitely not a one-size-fits all approach when it comes to financial and most other issues. That's why it's so important to seek out a quality marriage education program like MST that will help you learn about and select marriage success strategies that fit your style and that of your partner.



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Copyright 2004, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.




Marriage Success Training Newsletter - Special Alert - March 26, 2004


Radio program on marriage success research




Radio Programming Update (August 31, 2005) - Another NPR program featuring Gottman and Markman's research is at:




The Public Radio program This American Life covers marriage research in the first half hour of a program focused on marriage initially broadcast the weekend of March 26 - 28, 2004. The segment features an interview with John Gottman, a major figure in marriage research who studies the specific factors that make marriages succeed and fail using detailed behavioral and physiological data.


You can listen to this program segment free over the web at any time through the program archive on the This American Life web site: You do not need to purchase the paid version Real Audio player to listen. You can use the free player as instructed on the web site.


We urge you to listen to this program. We think you'll find it both entertaining and enlightening.


We incorporate many of Dr. Gottman's research findings in our seminar curriculum. This program will give you an idea of some of part of our approach to marriage success.


During the broadcast, Diane Sollee, director of Smartmarriages, a national clearinghouse for marriage education, says that marriage education programs, like MST, that are based, in part, on this research can reduce divorce by up to fifty percent.



Copyright 2004, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.




Marriage Success Training Newsletter - September 2003


Differences, incompatibilities and marriage success


True or false? Partners with fewer areas of difference and incompatibility have more successful relationships. Most people would answer true, but this is at least a partial misconception. All couples have areas of difference and incompatibility, to greater and lesser degrees. It's been said that when couples with "irreconcilable differences" part ways, they are just trading in one set of five to seven differences for a different set of similar magnitude with their next partner.


Everyone knows that opposites attract. Differences can be very interesting and stimulating in your partner. We often seek partners who can complement our style with some of their strengths. The socially active partner brings something valuable to a relationship with the partner whose interests are more domestic, and vice versa. The bluegrass music fan who hooks up with the opera buff is headed for some disagreements over listening selections, but both may be stimulated by the opportunity to expand their music appreciation.


Differences aren't so conflictual in the early stages of relationships, so couples don't pay that much attention to them. Couples focus on similarities, as they are absorbed in getting to know each other. They may be very excited and enthralled by some of their differences, as well as their commonalities. As relationships progress, similarities become more familiar and less novel. When the couple moves into practical relationship tasks like advancing their careers, starting and raising a family, and managing finances, differences become more apparent and prominent. Sex, finances, and chores are the most common focal areas of conflict, although more important differences often lie elsewhere.


Couples with more differences have different styles of marriage than couples that are more similar in outlook. But they can be just as happy or even happier. Couples who have a successful 'volatile' relationship style can tolerate more areas of difference. Their conflicts just seem to offer more opportunity to kiss and make up. At the other end of the spectrum are successful 'avoidant' couples. (It's not as bad as it sounds.) They know what areas of steer clear of with their partner and accept this arrangement. But avoidance only works well when differences aren't too critical and there are large areas of common ground.


What's important is not so much the degree or type of difference. It's how couples manage their areas of difference and incompatibility, and whether their relationship style is appropriate for the degree and type of differences and similarities that they have. It's especially important that they take advantage of their areas of similarity to maintain a positive emotional tone. Couples must avoid becoming stuck in trying to convert their partner to adopt their viewpoint.


If couples allow differences to disrupt the sense of mutuality in a relationship or lead to disinvestments or lives that are too separate, that's big trouble. When couples split up, they often attribute it to overwhelming incompatibility. But they become overwhelmed by their differences, not just because they have them, but because they never learned to manage them constructively.


Many couples are blindsided by their differences as their relationship advances beyond the more exclusively romantic early stages, because they never systematically explored their expectations and differences and adopted strategies to accommodate them. Couples who understand, prepare and plan for their areas of incompatibility are less disconcerted and generally fare better. They have more realistic expectations and know what they are signing on for.


In the long run, the challenge of difference will be an impetus to growth in both partners. Learning to support and validate yourself independently will help you to manage more successfully to your relationship's areas of difference and incompatibility, especially when these lead to conflict. Of course, we all rely on our partner for emotional support. It's one of the best things about being in a relationship. But one of the times when we need support the most is when we are in conflict with our partner. And that's just when you can't get support from them.


This can magnify the distress: Not only are you in a stressful conflict, but you are also deprived of one of your principal sources of support. No wonder you can feel so disappointed and angry when these conflicts arise. This deprivation is typically more acute for men, since they often rely more exclusively on their partner for their emotional support system. Women's support systems tend to be more diverse. If couples know about this dynamic and expect it, they will be better equipped to turn it into an opportunity for growth.


Partners who are less well prepared to support themselves may turn the conflict into a fight or may give in to avoid one. It's very important to the success of a marriage relationship that partners learn to adequately support and validate themselves, so they can deal productively with conflict with their partner without putting aside their own vital needs and interests. We all need a sense of security and a mature perspective to understand ourselves well enough to know when to compromise with our partner and when we have to stand our ground. Personal strength and a strong, non-defensive sense of identity help us tolerate our anxiety while our partner goes through this same process.


The demands of a long-term, committed marriage relationship guide us toward developing these qualities. Few people bring this personal strength to their new marriage fully formed, and it doesn't happen overnight. This is one of the reasons why many marriages go through a rough patch early on while the partners are growing and developing their self-support and self-validation.


Marriage Success Training helps couples to understand their areas of similarity and difference, which are to be expected in every relationship. More important MST teaches strategy and skill options for managing these in accord with different relationship styles and helps couples to protect the mutuality and positive emotional tone of their relationship. MST guides couples in building a marriage that supports and thrives on their individual strengths and identities.


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Copyright 2003, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.




Marriage Success Training Newsletter - June 2003


What are the most important factors in marriage success?


According to marriage research conducted by John Gottman, the most important predictors of marriage success are:


·       The man's ability to accept influence from his partner; and

·       The woman's ability to moderate her approach to seeking influence.


In other words, marriages succeed when both partners give up some control.


For men, this usually means agreeing to try some of the approaches suggested by his partner instead of withdrawing, surrendering or jumping in with a premature resolution at the first sign of conflict. We're not talking about merely complying with your partner's wishes regardless of whether you agree. It's not that she always gets her way. Influence means respecting her viewpoint and being willing to discuss issues.


For example: He wants to buy a small car. She recommends a larger vehicle, since they plan to start a family soon. On reflection, he decides that it makes sense to buy something larger.


For women, a moderate approach usually means toning down her insistence on getting a reaction from her partner even when she feels desperate to have a response. She doesn't give up raising the issues that are important to her, but she's patient and sensitive in how she engages him.


Example: Rather than asking him to discuss what kind of car to buy on a weeknight when he's tired, she suggests that they talk about it on the weekend. Instead of starting the discussion on a critical note about his preference, she is careful to suggest that they consider their future needs before deciding.


It's a bit paradoxical. Both partners seem to get more of what they want when they give up some control. How can this be? As we've often noted, men and women have different styles when it comes to conflict, as in so many other things.


Men have a very low tolerance for unstructured conflict. They just can't seem to stand it when their partner brings up a sensitive issue, especially when they are feeling burdened or depleted by work or other demands. They often react by distancing themselves or withdrawing.


(These findings about gender-related characteristics are based on marriage research result averages for the genders, so while there may be individual differences and exceptions, the findings hold for most people to a greater or lesser degree.)


Women on the other hand, can't stand to feel ignored, especially when they're trying to bring up something that's important to them. And that's just how they feel when their partner gets overloaded and withdraws. Often they react by criticizing and/or escalating. And that's just what their partner can't tolerate.


So for guys: Try to be open to your partner's point of view. Don't avoid issues or try to railroad your point of view. If you start to feel overloaded, it's okay to withdraw until you feel more able to handle a rational discussion. But it's important to let your partner know that you aren't dodging the issue. Make a specific appointment to resume the discussion-"in twenty minutes" or "Saturday morning at breakfast"--so she'll know that you hear her.


And women: Start discussions calmly and positively. Avoid criticizing and escalating. If possible, schedule a mutually agreeable time to discuss your issue when your partner is feeling less depleted or burdened.


Believe it or not, these are the behaviors that research shows are among those most likely to contribute to a successful marriage.


Cohabitation Research Update


Until recently, premarriage cohabitation (living together) was considered by many marriage experts to be predictive of a higher divorce rate. Recently, it's become clearer that cohabitation is not necessarily a risk factor when it is a step toward marriage. The divorce rate for these partners is about the same as for couples who did not live together before marrying.


What is equally clear, though, is that, contrary to what you might expect, those partners who live together are not necessarily better prepared for marriage than those who do not. Most people don't understand that a psychological shift occurs after marriage, bringing up latent emotional issues even for couples who've already lived together for years. Couples who have spent a lot of time together and who know each other quite well, still find themselves unprepared for these feelings, both their own and those of their partner.


So, living together is not the guarantee of marital compatibility that many couples expect it to be. Couples can still find that there is a lot they don't know about each other, that a lot of their expectations are still unclear, and that their "living together" skills don't translate into a complete set of "being married" skills.


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Copyright 2003, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.



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