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The Second Time

<i>Beneath the sunset and over the sea<i/>
Beneath the sunset and over the sea

The second time couples counseling saved my marriage was in the summer of 2008, exactly three years after the most romantic marriage proposal in the history of all marriage proposals, and less than three weeks after the fight that was the biggest fight in the history of all fights.

The recent six-part story I wrote about babies was supposed to be a post about how important counseling can be when a couple stops communicating, but it ended up being a post about babies because that’s just how I roll.  I could sit down to write a story about ketchup going on sale this week and before I know it I’ll be writing a story about babies.  My biological clock has taken over.

Since I never made the point I wanted to make in that post, I’m going to make it now: Couples counseling saved our relationship and then it saved our marriage.  Now I think counseling is a magical elixir for relationships.  (You can read about the first time it saved us here.)

Instead of re-telling you about how not talking about babies nearly ruined my marriage, I’ll just say that Mike and I have learned the hard way.  Twice.  Ignoring our feelings + avoiding communication = disaster. You could try to argue that couples counseling didn’t work the first time, your evidence being that we had to go back a second time, but you’d be incorrect.  The second time we only needed a refresher course.  We lost our way for a minute but we got back on track in a matter of weeks because we had the strong base we’d built in our first round of therapy.  That being said, I have to admit that Mike and I were lucky in that both times we started counseling, we started before we got to the point where we hated each other.  A lot of couples wait too long and by the time they’re in counseling their relationship has been badly damaged, sometimes heartbreakingly, irreversibly so.

A marriage is another person sharing your home.  There’s you, there’s your spouse and there’s your marriage.  Each marriage has its own needs, it’s own peculiarities and it’s own character.  Marriages need to be nurtured, nourished and cared for.  If a marriage is neglected it will not thrive.

I realize I’ve been proselytizing about couples counseling, but far more important than counseling is simply taking care of your couple, however works best for you and your partner.  Counseling was the magical elixir that taught Mike and I how to take care of our relationship.  What is it for you?  What has been the thing that has saved you and your partner, whenever you’ve needed saving?

We Deserve An Award

Today is the thirty-second day of my moon cycle. I am grumpy. I’m wearing an entire pants-size larger than I wear the rest of the month because my body is that bloated. I worked all day, the longest day I’ve worked in weeks, and when I came home the only thing I could focus on was a small wad of Valentine’s hair sitting on the floor next to the lumber pile. Now, neither of those things is unusual. Valentine sheds like a m*ther f*cker. I could probably make a million dollars selling Chihuahua-mutt pillows if I thought people would buy them, she sheds that much. And the lumber pile is a collection of wood that Mike’s salvaged from the street, which he keeps in a neat stack in a corner of our living room so that it’s easily accessible when he has time to build something. And let me tell you, some beautiful hand-crafted furniture has come from that lumber pile. However, it being the thirty-second day of my moon cycle, I didn’t care that the lumber pile was right where it belongs or that Valentine had simply shed her usual daily pound of fur. My eyes crossed and I began to froth at the mouth.

That’s when Michael walked into the room holding a mop and a broom. “I’ll do the floors if you’ll vacuum.”
“Seriously?”
“Dinner’s in the oven and I’ve all ready cleaned out the litter box.”
“Really?”
“And I just finished putting away all the laundry.”
“You did the laundry?”
“Yes.”
“I would definitely marry you if we weren’t all ready married.”

My dear, sweet, wonderful husband has made great use of a little tool I call the Moon Cycle Chart, and he is a safer man for it. He knows exactly when to expect mood swings and cravings and crazy. He knows exactly what day the stack of mail on the coffee table is going to make me cry. I created the chart to help me figure out when my hormones do what, but Mike’s paid attention and learned how to help me circumvent the worst symptoms of my moon time.

Not too long ago, the lumber pile and the dog hair would have ruined our night. It wouldn’t have mattered that dinner was ready or that the laundry was done because I’d pour every ounce of my energy into what was wrong instead of seeing what was right. It’s easy to do when you’re all ready tired and grumpy. But Mike’s learned how to anticipate my hormones and I’ve learned how to redirect my focus and we’re much happier for it. Instead of spending the night in cold, angry silence, we enjoyed a wonderful meal and then curled up with an episode of Law & Order while we rubbed each other’s feet.

A few months ago my dad sent me a list of Ten Habits of Happy Couples. He found it on the blog Usable Insight, written by Mark Goulston, M.D. Dr. Goulston is a clinical psychiatrist who honed his communication skills while working as an FBI/police hostage negotiation trainer. Now he teaches people how to get through to each other. He even has a book out. This is number five on that list:

Focus on what your partner does right rather than on what he or she does wrong. If you look for things your partner does wrong, you can always find something. If you look for what he or she does right, you can always find something. It all depends on what you want to look for. Happy couples accentuate the positive.

Wet Hot Saturday Night

In honor of the New Year, Mike and I spent last Saturday night going over our financial records, making a budget, and figuring out how to climb out of the debts of despair. While you may not think a financial meeting is a good way to spend a Saturday night, for us it was much hotter than a night on the town. All right, neither of us really enjoys nights on the town, we’d both rather stay in and watch a Law & Order marathon, I’ll admit it. If we’re feeling really crazy we’ll pick up two different pints of Ben & Jerry’s and swap flavors back and forth until both cartons are empty.

Whenever people tell me about how much their social lives changed when they had kids, I feel a sense of relief because it’s one less thing to worry about. We love not having social lives.

Where was I? Right. The New Year. Climbing out of debt. Thanks to Saturday’s meeting, we now have a Pay Our Debt plan and are fairly confident that by December 31, 2010 we will be credit card debt free. We also have a budget that includes weekly allowances, bi-monthly dates and ice cream.

Is that not the most exciting thing you’ve heard in weeks? Are you jealous? It’s ok if you are, I’m not weirded out. Because here’s the thing: When we moved to New York City three years ago, we had just spent the last year and half busting our asses to pay off all of our pre-marriage credit card debt. You read that right. When we moved to the City, we were credit card debt free. (I specify “credit card debt” because we were still carrying my student loans, loans that I am scheduled to pay until I am one hundred-three years old, and since they are an expense my great-grandchildren will inherit, they don’t count.) To be once again saddled with debt feels like a giant step backwards. We want to be taking steps forward, not backward. It’s about progress, people.

We love our financial meetings. They give us hope. We’ve been having financial meetings since our engagement in July of 2005 and they have always been a way for us to connect and remind one another that we have the same goals in mind. Having the same goals reminds us that we’re part of a team and being a part of team makes the wild ride of life a lot more fun.

If I had to explain why it is that a Saturday night of financial planning with my husband is something I find irresistibly sexy, I’d say it’s because it gives me a sense of safety. That my husband and I are taking equal measures to take care of one another, to plan for the other’s future, to plan for our future family, makes me feel taken care of. It makes me feel like I’m married to someone who wants to see me happy and fulfilled, a man who cares about my best interests in addition to his own. And that is incredibly sexy. Also, I have a thing for data entry.

An Entirely New Adventure

After several years of writing a website where I talked mostly about poop and the rest of the time complained about my first-world problems, I wanted to start a website with a broader purpose. I wanted to write a blog that a wider group of people could relate to. For months I tried to figure out how to do that. And then, as the new year approached, I found my topic.

I have spent most of my life as a cute-but-dumb Valley Girl. Last year I realized that I don’t have to hide behind that obnoxious facade anymore. Once I realized that it was OK for me to be smart, that it’s even more fun to be the smart girl than the airhead, I started to wonder if there was something else in my background that could make for an interesting blog besides the fact that I have dogs who like to eat one another’s feces.

So I groped around in the recesses of my pretty brain until I remembered what is most important to me: My marriage and my family. My wonderful, wild siblings taught me to believe in family, my parents taught me to believe in marriage and my husband taught me to believe in true love. In my opinion, those three things are indelibly intertwined: Marriage, family, true love. But not everyone is so lucky. I’ve known far too many people mired in bad relationships. I’ve watched too many loved ones suffer through vicious divorces and devastating heartbreak. I’ve known too many couples who’s families don’t support them or who don’t support their partner’s familial binds.

When I was fourteen I started working as a clerk in a family law firm. By the time I was twenty-one I had earned my paralegal certification and was specializing in family law. For over seven years I watched hundreds of families break into pieces; I saw couples fighting over children, over money, over assets and debts. I learned a lot about marriage and divorce. Most nights I drove home from work crying. Other nights I drove home numb. I know that in some cases divorce is necessary, some people shouldn’t be married to other people. Some divorces are a matter of life or death for an abused spouse. But some divorces are a result of couples who’ve simply given up. These are the divorces that break my heart. How can we give up on family?

If I’m good at anything, it’s being married. I love being a wife. I’m proud of my marriage and I’m excited about the life my husband and I are building. I believe that family is the most important asset any of us will ever have and I’m afraid that the value of family in this country has dropped to frightening lows. When I started dating Mike I also started collecting articles and exercises and books on how to keep relationships and families healthy because I’d be damned if I ended up with anything less. I have a wealth of information to share.

This year, 2010, I want to focus more on my marriage and my family. I want to focus on being a stronger, better woman. I want to work towards becoming the role-model I want for my children. This website will reflect that. Ideally, eventually, this website will also become a way to reach out to people who are thinking about getting married, who are newly married, who are in troubled relationships, who are in great relationships, who are thinking about divorce or trying to avoid divorce. I hope this blog will be a place for readers to find information about prenups, co-parenting, life-after-divorce, life-after-marriage, case law, family counseling and whatever else I can come up with. I will share my own stories, family stories and maybe, if you’ll let me, your stories. Of course I will also write about my daily life, my copraphagious dogs and whatever small adventures I happen upon. Maybe you think my goals sound lofty, but I say, It’s a New Year! Let’s dream big.

Welcome to A Serious Girl.