Yesterday, I was sitting on the deck of the house I’m renting for a week on Martha’s Vineyard and Edward, half of the couple that owns the main house and mine next door, came outside to the yard between us to move the sprinkler. I had just met his wife, Ellen, and liked her a lot. I said, “You picked a good wife.” He agreed and said that their (25 year) marriage had only gotten better with time. “But it takes work,” he said, and explained that at one point ten years ago they had seen a couples counselor on the island that really helped them.
Finding a couples counselor is very tricky. If you’re in individual therapy, the worst that can happen is you don’t grow. In couples’, things move faster and untrained therapists do more harm than good. It’s best to have someone with dedicated family training, who is a good fit, and who understands that the client is the couple. If the therapist likes one member better, they cannot help.
Edward added, “Anything is important takes work. You can’t think just because it’s there it will thrive and grow. You have to put the time in.” I said, “It’s easy to start a relationship. You fall in love, you talk, you do all the beginning things. But you have to put energy into it after that.”
I was agreeing with him, but mostly learning from what he said. I collect examples of people’s experiences as examples for how to live. My parents and my husband’s parents are divorced. We had eight of them at our wedding 17 years ago, and are now down to 3 because of divorce and death (and for each of our fathers, in that order).
So examples of happy, well-functioning marriages are dear to me, even as I don’t always know what I’m doing with my own. When Adam and I had pre-marriage counseling with the assistant rabbi, we took a set of tests before seeing her. The most striking result she reported was we both had unusually low expectations for marriage. Most engaged couples need to be told to be more realistic about getting married, she told us, but she didn’t know what to do with us. And of course, sometimes, neither do we.