A Beautiful Paradox

How long did it take you to realize that your marriage or committed relationship was not going to entirely be a bed of roses? A few months? Or did the honeymoon phase last for a full year?

The so-called honeymoon phase is a wonderful time for a couple and helps us create some cherished shared memories and strong bonds to help us weather future trials. But it is not meant to last. While romance and hormones can and should continue to play their parts in our maturing relationship, they should primarily be a bridge leading us to the warm, intimate, and fulfilling companionship that marks the happiest lasting marriages. The relationship fires still burn, but their warmth is constant and glowing in contrast to the relatively brief and meteoric heat of early romance.

This is as it should be. Those who mourn the perceived decline in romantic fires have not yet grasped what lies next in a healthy and well-managed relationship. They can look forward to growing trust, a deeper emotional connection, and a clarity of relationship vision and goals. They can also look forward to the attainment of relationship Wisdom. This wisdom helps us keep our marriage pointing “True North” even in the midst of the occasional fogs and storms that might temporarily obscure the sun and guiding landmarks.  Marriage Paradox

A crucial part of that wisdom is the understanding that our partner will never be “perfect.” There will always be some percentage of their behaviors or ways of being that we might find irritating or exasperating, and that we might change if we could tap them with a magic wand. Thank heaven we don’t have such a magic wand, as that would destroy one of the major purposes of marriage. Our deepest and most committed relationship is where we will experience the greatest refining of our hearts and souls. Marriage is the great classroom of the Universe that best tutors us in the highest laws of kindness, patience, accountability, and charity.

So next time you find yourself irritated over something your partner has said or done, rather than fuming about how to solve this “problem,” it might be more healthy to simply accept it as a fact of life. From there you can better learn how to focus on their best traits and enjoy the many strengths and gifts they bring into the relationship.

Some habits and behaviors MUST be dealt with and changed in healthy ways. Some lines such as civility and fidelity must not be crossed. But it is our experience at LIFE Couples Retreats in working with couples that many of the complaints partners have about one another can be charitably overlooked and the person accepted as they are.

Here is the payoff: Research shows that as we love and accept our partner for who and what they are we free them and invite them to change in more positive ways than we ever can through complaints and demands. This is the beautiful paradox of marriage–the more we love and accept one another the way we are, the more positive change we experience in ourselves and our partner.

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

I have shared with many of our couples a bit of what I call “fortune cookie wisdom”.undefined  When I was first engaged to my wife I went through a period of doubt.  I repeatedly asked myself whether I would be happy with her or if she was right for me.  On one particular evening I was experiencing these feelings of uncertainty while on a double date at a Chinese Restaurant.  At the conclusion of the meal, I broke open my fortune cookie and read my fortune.  It read, “Stop looking for happiness.  It is right beside you.”  

I was immediately impressed by this so-called fortune because my soon to be wife was literally sitting right beside me.  Did the cookie know my future?  Of course not.  The point is that happiness is a choice that we make and is not dependent on the alignment of the stars or any other method of divination.  

I imagine you are visiting this blog because you are looking for opportunities to improve your marriage or committed relationship.  Somehow, your relationship has degraded from a state of safety and commitment to a state of pain and waivering devotion.  Have the stars conspired against you?  Are you destined to be miserable?  My answer for you is a resounding NO.  

After reading my fortune and looking at my wife for a brief moment I decided then and there that I was going to be happy with her as my wife.  And you know what?  I certainly have been.  

At LIFE Marriage retreats we teach many principles.  A few of them encompass our freedom to choose.  Whatever state your relationship is in, we can help, but more importantly, you can help by choosing to bring happiness into your life.

Instant Positive Change in Your Relationship-Forgiveness (part 1)

Do you want to see an immediate positive change in the dynamics of your relationship? Read on…

Have you ever wondered how the early and joyful days of marriage, times filled with hope and anticipation for the future, often turn into a death march toward some sad finish line filled with misery and regret?

Numberless books and articles have been written about destructive marriage patterns and advice on how to break out of them. In our next two newsletters I will boil many of those harmful patterns down to two related things that, if turned around, can help change the entire dynamic of your relationship TODAY. 

First we must accept as a given that in any relationship between two fallible humans both partners are going to make mistakes and will hurt one another. Obviously we want to keep those mistakes to a minimum, but we will never fully eliminate them. In fact, in our experience, great relationships are not defined by the absence of mistakes, but by the willingness and ability to work through them, and especially the willingness and ability to seek and offer forgiveness.

If a family cannot consistently deal with the inevitable mistakes and failures we all experience, the debris and toxic air will eventually grow to a point that the family is crushed and poisoned. Thus the absolute requirement that we all learn to repent and forgive.

Seeking Forgiveness

How quickly we can heal wounds and calm troubled waters by recognizing our mistakes, feeling regret for them, and offering a heartfelt apology to those whom we have offended. While a quick “I’m sorry” might suffice if you carelessly bump into your partner coming out of the bathroom, a failure to keep a promise or deliver on one of your roles and responsibilities might take more than a couple of words. We might need to take verbal accountability as we say something like, “I know I promised that I would come home early and help clean the garage today. It wasn’t right that I didn’t do it and I apologize.”

Please note the absence of excuses and justification in that apology. While there sometimes might need to be some explanation in an apology, never allow that explanation to be an excuse. When we have made a promise to a loved one, only the most dire of circumstances should impede us from delivering on it.

There may be need in some particularly hurtful circumstances to apologize more than once. In the above example we might later on at bedtime say to our partner, “I still feel badly I did not follow through on my promise. I know it probably caused problems with your schedule and what you hoped to get done today.”

There might be times when you are just a part of the problem or mistake, with your partner sharing in the error. Once again, you can introduce peace and healing as you choose to be the first to take accountability. You might say something like, “Wow, I apologize for my part in putting us so far behind schedule. I really lost track of time.” Your partner might or might not elect to take their share of accountability and it will be counterproductive if you demand that they do.

Most often as you take accountability it will help your partner to feel safe enough to take their own, but basing your willingness to seek forgiveness on your partner’s reciprocating will often lead the relationship into even shakier ground. It has been pointed out that ultimately we can only clean up our own side of the street, not our partner’s. But keeping our side clean will inspire our partner to maintain their’s as well.

The Key is Humility

What is the key to an apology and seeking of forgiveness? Humility.  Humility has many components, but in a relationship it means possessing an openness and willingness to recognize and admit when we are wrong or have made a mistake. It is the knowledge that we don’t have all the answers and are open to learning. And certainly this means that we will unilaterally seek forgiveness and do our best to correct our mistakes.

When our couples become embroiled in attempts to justify their negative actions or shift their share of the accountability, we sometimes ask them, “Would you rather be right or happy?” They ruefully answer that happiness is their goal and once again find humility and soon discover the win/win that is always awaiting couples who conquer the mountain of pride.

Sometimes when a couple is struggling and has built up significant resentment it can feel difficult to be the one to take the initiative and admit your own accountability and apologize. But I promise that the fruits of that effort will be among the sweetest you have ever tasted.

Next time we will talk about how to forgive.

How ‘Open and Honest’ Should We Really Be?

A very common bit of advice all of us hear is to be ‘open and honest’ in our marriage relationships, and that if we have any issues or negative feelings we should not delay in expressing them and talking them out.

For many people that bit of advice fits well with their natural inclinations and so they hold it up as an example to their partner of how their relationship should be. For other people the phrase ‘open and honest’ conjures up images of confrontation, complaining, criticizing, and frequent verbal ambushes, and so they feel it more healthy to avoid what they perceive as negative discussions.

So who is right? Marriage Tightrope

For most couples the answer is probably somewhere in between. Recent research seems to indicate that we unilaterally can work out many of the day-to-day issues and irritations in our lives, without having to make a big production out of it. Sometimes when we think about setting some irritation aside for a while we translate that to mean we are stuffing it and it will just fester. That does not have to the be the case.

More often than not we can resolve our own irritation just by looking at the issue from different sides and realizing there are other valid points of view, without having to engage in a deep and emotional discussion to dot every i and cross every t of those points of view. Sometimes we can just put an issue out of our mind for a while and when we come back to it will find the negative energy has dissipated, or an easy solution has become clear.

In fact, many couples find that the supposed healthy “venting” they have been advised to do very often causes the problem to grow and to take on even greater negative energy. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness says, “Emotions, left to themselves, will dissipate…Expressed and dwelt upon, though, emotions multiply and imprison you in a vicious cycle of dealing fruitlessly with past wrongs.”

As we focus on the issue and irritation we will find it growing and becoming more malignant, and if we take that negative judgment and energy into a conversation, it will just make things worse.

We NEVER want to remove the phrase ‘honest and open’ from our relationship vocabulary. We never want to stuff feelings or avoid healthy relationship communication because we are afraid of conflict. So how much venting of emotions and perceived problems and issues is needed in a healthy relationship? Here are a few guidelines:

1. Personal Accountability. Before bringing a perceived problem or complaint to your partner, take some time to consider your personal accountability and how you are perceiving the issue. You might see some things that you can change about you and your point of view and discover that solutions are within your individual reach.

2. Don’t confront your partner on any issue in the ‘heat of the moment.’  Set it aside for a while and see what it looks like after a night’s sleep or after some reflection. With a little time the issues that deserve to be handled by both partners will rise to the surface and can be approached in a healthy and productive way. Others will simply fade away or be handled unilaterally.

3. If it feels like you are stuffing an issue and allowing it to fester, then that is a sign that it is something that needs to be discussed. Approach your partner in kindness and patience and with a sense of your own accountability and you will be on the road to finding a mutually satisfying solution.

4. If it feels as if you are hiding something from your partner or that honesty is being violated in your relationship, chances are you (or your partner) are avoiding accountability and perceived painful confrontation, and something needs to be discussed.

5. Some relationship issues should always be addressed and dealt with together. On the right hand column of this page under Categories you will see one section entitled “3 Non-Negotiable Baselines.” These postings will give you some ideas of issues that always must be dealt with and resolved as a couple.

There is a great saying that goes, “What you choose to Suppress, your partner will eventually Express.” If there are unresolved issues or emotions in the relationship that are introducing tension, dishonesty, or mistrust into the marriage then absolutely deal with those in a healthy, honest way through appropriate communication.

But on the other hand, if there are issues and irritations that can be resolved through exercising some unilateral patience and kindness, or by setting them aside for a time, or dealing with them from your own space of accountability and change, it will save some wear and tear on your relationship.

Like so much in our relationships, it is just a question of balance.

What Do You Desire?

Dallin Oaks has said, “Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. Desires we act upon determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming.”

Many years ago I found myself at what felt like a dead-end in my life and relationships. My marriage was disconnected and mistrusting; my career felt stagnant and misdirected. There seemed to be no sweetness to be found in life.

Those trying times had a purpose; painful experiences can be a key motivator to nudging us back on a healthier life course, drawing us away from the wastelands where we sometimes wander.

I am grateful that for me personally, rather than making me give up on my marriage and life, this difficult period led me to consider and readjust my desires, what I really wanted. In doing this I experienced and learned things about the power of desires and dreams in our lives. Allow me to share a few of those insights:  Marriage Change Ahead

1. We always have desires, but those desires are not always directed at what will best serve us and our ultimate happiness. The wonderful truth is that as we form appropriate goals and visions in our lives, our desire to achieve those goals can override other less healthy desires that might have us bound or misdirected. One very simple example of overriding one desire for another is that of eating; we have a physical desire to eat, including to eat certain things, but we have all experienced times when we replaced that desire with another, perhaps the desire to have a healthier diet by refraining from eating at times when we might want to. The same choices are available to us as we set aside our desire for isolation or our need to be right, and replace that with a desire for emotional connection and healthy communication in our relationships.

2. What we truly desire is that which we most diligently seek. If our good desires are sufficiently intense, they will motivate us to break free from habits, beliefs, and behaviors that stand in the way of achieving the greater good. If our time and energy are being spent in other pursuits at the expense of that greater good, we can be fairly certain that our desire for that positive dream might not be as strong as we imagine.

3. Good and healthy desires cannot be superficial, impulsive, or temporary. They must come from our heart and be unwavering. This choice to develop such a desire is an intensely personal decision, dependent on nobody else.

4. We will eventually become (or receive) that which we most insistently desire. The universe will not deny us; so we had best select and cultivate those desires carefully.

Just as I had to do those many years ago, you might need to ask yourself the probing question, “What do I truly desire?” Like me, you might answer that one thing you really want is a close, trusting, safe, joyful relationship. That is a good answer, but if you are falling short of that type of marriage, you now get to ask the next question of, “Since I am not currently experiencing the type of marriage I say I want, what do I desire more that might be standing in my way?”

You might discover that what you actually desire more than that ideal relationship is to focus on your career or hobbies; or to spend time in front of the television or computer rather than with your loved one; or you want to be proven right in the latest argument rather than truly seek a win/win.

Many of those desires grow from inconsistencies in us and our life experiences, including what we might have learned in our families of origin. We all know we really do have a strong desire for a great relationship. Keep that desire in the front of your mind, make it a conscious effort to envision what it might look like. Keep that dream shining before you and it will become easier, over time, to change the order of your priorities, to choose your relationship over personal selfishness or fear.

Write this down and put it on your mirror to read everyday:

“Desires dictate our priorities; priorities shape our choices; and our choices determine our actions. Desires we act upon determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming.”

Pleasure, Happiness, and Joy

Martin Seligman, author of “Authentic Happiness,” describes Hedonics as the study of how we feel from moment to moment. Those called hedonists go to extremes actively seeking to experience as many “good” or pleasurable moments as possible while keeping “bad” or painful moments to a minimum. By definition the quality of a hedonistic life can be determined by the simple equation of the quantity of good moments minus the quantity of bad moments.


Dr. Seligman reminds us that one need not be a self-proclaimed hedonist to seek after this goal; most of us are sometimes apt to keep some sort of running total in our heads that informs us of the relative “goodness” or “badness” of our lives at any given moment.


As we grow toward wisdom we finally discover that hedonism and its supposed connection to happiness is a fallacy. Not only does it direct our attention downward to transitory experience, away from the horizon of possibility and joy, in many it creates an insatiable hunger for one isolated pleasurable incident after another, as well as a deep abhorrence for the requisite, and often uncomfortable, stretching and refining process of meaningful growth and learning, especially that associated with marriage.


Please do not misunderstand. My primary goal in life as I began my second journey and quest for relationship growth years ago was the achievement of happiness and joy, and so it remains. I have no desire to pursue the path of the monk or a life defined by some supposed ennobling misery.


As I worked to bring true principles to my center something became abundantly clear to me. True joy and happiness can be felt even in the midst of disappointment and grief. When I live my life according to true   Rainbow of Relationship Joyprinciples it’s as if there is a beautiful rainbow that arches overhead; if I keep my eyes on that rainbow of hope and truth, my joy and fulfillment remain firm even as I deal with the inevitable setbacks and disappointments that life brings.


This is a far greater path than hedonism and its rollercoaster of pleasure and pain. This is a gift beyond any calculation. Think of it! To always feel a sense of security; to always know that life and joy-giving light is available to us. To understand that while we will certainly shed tears on this path of life, nothing need ever deny of us of the legacy of true joy that is rightfully ours.


Since true happiness and joy require a level of sacrifice and refining of our hearts and souls, the hedonist will often become lost in seeking pleasure which can be engineered on the physical level by simply stimulating the brain’s pleasure center.Inevitably their self-centered search will lead them to substances and behaviors that will create distance in their relationships and often bring them into direct conflict with their spouse. What they fail to realize is the eternal truth that Happiness is greater than Pleasure and Joy is greater than Happiness.


I’ll take joy every time.

Marriage Myths-Part 4: The Fallacy of Falling Out of Love

Recently a friend of mine was asked to perform an arrangement written for a clarinet, viola, and the piano, at a public function hundreds of people would be attending.  A part of him was thrilled, flattered by the offer.  Another part of him, as he put it, sent him “screaming into an inner closet!”

You see, though my friend had in his teenage years mastered the clarinet having played in the orchestra, the marching band, the concert band, and the jazz band, he had since neglected the gift of talent he had once rejoiced in and, except for an occasional moment or two of nostalgia, had not played in more than 40 years.

After accepting the gracious invitation he found that his attempts to play were slow and painful, interrupted by the most horrendous and nonmusical of sounds. While sympathetic with his situation I must admit to enjoying a little laughter at his expense. But reflecting on his plight, I started thinking of people who had lost a gift they once possessed in their lives. Even more telling, I have heard people speak of having lost the love of a spouse or for a spouse, saying they have “fallen out of love.”

So had my friend “fallen” out of talent for playing the clarinet?  I think through neglect and thoughtlessness he had not kept it tuned, and had lost his edge, but I submit not his talent. He had not practiced and nourished his musical gift. Just as it was the musical squawks and squeaks that brought to him the sounds of rusty abilities, is it not to be expected that a neglected relationship will produce its share of painful off-key notes evidenced by fighting, criticizing, and complaining?


At LIFE it is our firm belief that love and relationships take practice, fuel, and care. Perhaps you have sometime resumed a long neglected hobby, sport, or task and have felt the screaming of long-neglected muscles.

Do you remember during your courtship the hours you spent on the phone, the obsession, the meticulous care you showed to your appearance and behavior as you created a loving caring, and exciting relationship? The dedication must have paid off for you at one time, or you would not be looking for that same feeling again!

Though the hormones may have been in full bloom at the time, they did not account for the success. The creativity and effort you put into building a warm and trusting relationship was rewarded. You might now be relating to the pain my friend felt for neglecting his music, or the pain you felt as you realized the time that had lapsed since your last encounter with your muscles; and realize these truths also apply to the disappointment and loneliness you are perhaps now be feeling in your marriage.

At LIFE we believe in miracles. We believe that with new skills, sound principles, and some fun and dedicated time together you can once again hear and experience the sweet harmonies that once defined your earlier years of marriage. You can find new wisdom and gain the power that will allow you to forevermore nurture your relationship and keep it strong and healthy.

At our Trainings and Retreats we create an environment within which couples heal, reestablish trust, and communicate from their hearts. Our couples experience the joys of reconnection and discover a new and vibrant melody in their lives.

Oh, by the way it is our experience that the hormones are still there, perhaps rearranged and somewhat dormant, but none the less there.  With new trust and a reawakening of forgotten or deeply buried feelings, the deep attraction to one another and feelings of closeness will return.  A depth of love you have only dreamed of will emerge and you will enjoy the fruits of your “practice” and commitment.

Marriage Myths-Part 3

       I am going to combine three of the myths into one for this posting:

      1.   If we have true love then we shouldn’t have to “work” at our marriage; it will simply be a natural process.

2.      If our marriage does not have the same hormonal fireworks as our courtship and newlywed days, we are failing.

3.      We just sort of fell out of love.  


Many years ago as I was struggling to define myself and figure out why my marriage relationship seemed to be stuck and stagnant I happened to hear the Bruce Springsteen song, “One Step Up and Two Steps Back.” Springsteen comes to an important realization as he sings, “I look in the mirror and I don’t see the man I wanted to be—somewhere along the line I slipped off track; one step up and two steps back.”

As I looked in my mirror I came to the same conclusion that I had slipped off track; and then with a new sense of purpose I took accountability for my own failings and neglect of my relationship and set out on a new relationship journey, committed to a new way of growth and rebuilding. It was the best commitment I ever made.

A vibrant, living marriage relationship provides us with the greatest test to our commitment and resiliency that most of us will ever know. It is a complex organism that will both delight and humble us. It is the great schoolroom and laboratory of life that will expose all of our weaknesses and failings, even as it refines us and, if we let it, ultimately leads us to become the people we are meant to be.

Perhaps the saddest thing we see is people who waste the potentially ennobling experiences of marriage and instead complain that they “have just lost the feelings,” or criticize their partner for not meeting their picture of the “ideal.”

Marriage is meant to be a challenging, rewarding, confusing, fulfilling, frustrating, joyful crucible of experiences that constantly tests us even as it rewards us with the sweetest fruits we will ever know.

The supercharged romantic experience of early marriage is meant to decline in favor of a strong, fulfilling, and lasting companionship. This does not mean the fire and passion dies, but instead gives off a constant warmth of comfort and safety rather than sparks and explosions that exhaust and eventually jade us.

As we deal with the challenges and opportunities of marriage in healthy and learning ways we will experience more and more joy and pleasure and less and less pain and frustration. We have a choice: learn the enduring lessons marriage has to offer and discover peace and harmony; or live in the insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

One of the principles that marriage most wants to teach us is Humility. As we maintain a sense of openness and teachability everything becomes possible. From such a position we will recognize the need to develop and grow in our relationships through learning and experience. We will understand that marriage contentment and success lies much more in our willingness to change ourselves than in demanding change of our partner. We will come to learn that the key to building a better marriage is to first build a better self, then bring that better self into the relationship day by day.

If you find yourself exhausted and bedraggled in your relationship one of the best ways to get back on track is to attend a LIFE Marriage Retreat. At the Retreat you will deal with the issues and challenges that have bogged you down even as you learn the principles and skills that define every successful marriage and feel those gain traction in your heart and relationship.

Marriage Myths-Part 2: Finances are the Number 1 Cause of Divorce

Dave Ramsey, the respected financial adviser, often uses this “finances cause most divorces” statistic in his speeches and radio shows. We like Dave Ramsey and sometimes refer couples struggling with finances to his program, but the fact is that he is wrong on this pronouncement.

Certainly a case could be made that squabbles about money are prevalent in many marriages that end in divorce. But it is not what ended the marriage, just as disagreements over children, careers, or in-laws do not end marriages. Even infidelity does not necessarily end the marriage.    Broken Piggybank and Broken Marriage

What ends most marriages is the couple’s inability to deal with their conflicts in healthy ways. There is nothing wrong with conflict in marriage, it is inevitable and simply represents a different way of looking at things. But if we do not learn to deal with conflict according to true principles using learned skills and tools, unresolved conflict will continue to mount and turn into blame and contention.

The real killer of marriages is not disagreement but pride. When a couple is unable to approach an issue and one another with a sense of openness and humility, and instead remain determined to prove themselves right, to defend their turf by tooth and claw, then differing opinions about finances and other hot topics become seemingly unsolvable and eventually the couple starts believing the utterly ludicrous concept of “irreconcilable differences.” Yes, they are irreconcilable if two people filled with pride and a need to be right can’t be open to another’s perspective or are unwilling to take shared accountability in finding the best solution to their marital issues.

Finances never have ended a marriage. The refusal to deal with them and one another in healthy and accountable ways has ended many.

Marriage Myths-Part 1

If you know of the great story, “The Odyssey,” in which Ulysses struggles to find his way home following the Trojan War, you will remember how Ulysses and his crew were lured off course by promises of emotional or sensual delights that turned out to be myths and traps designed to prevent them from reaching their yearned-for home.

The Sirens almost succeeded in luring the king and crew to their death through their enchanted song; on the Island of the Lotus the men were drugged by lassitude and a false sense of peace; and in their encounter with the Harpies they were first trapped by seemingly never ending sensual delights that appealed to their human appetites.

There are many myths surrounding marriage that also send out false signals or make bogus offers that only serve to take us farther away from the true rewards of a healthy relationship. So much that the world tells us is counterfeit, it is sometimes hard to stay on track toward real joy and fulfillment.

In this LIFE Blog and in future newsletters in the coming weeks we will point to some of those myths that couples pursue at their peril, and give you some truth with which to replace them.

In this issue we will just list some of the dangerous myths, then in later issues and postings will describe them in some detail. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Myth #1

If we have true love then we shouldn’t have to “work” at our marriage; it will simply be a natural and easy process.

Myth #2

Finances are the number one cause of divorce (you can replace the word ‘finances’ with any number of conflicts mentioned by divorce experts).

Myth #3

If our marriage does not have the same hormonal fireworks of our courtship and newlywed days, we are failing.

Myth #4

I just made a mistake when I thought I had found my Soul Mate, and I need to quit wasting time with this lump and get looking for the real thing.

Myth #5

We just sort of fell out of love

Myth #6

Pornography (individual or shared) will bring a bit of healthy spice to a marriage and is no threat to the partners or the relationship.

Myth #7

If we could just learn a few communication tools we could fix this thing.

Myth #8

If I keep trying I just know I can change my partner!

If you found yourself nodding at any of these absurdities then you deserve a healthy dose of truth and reality. We will provide that in coming postings and issues, but in the meantime consider getting the whole beautiful truth at a LIFE Marriage Retreat.