Tag Archives: Better Divorce

Finding Your Marital North Star

premarital counseling charleston scOften times when I work with premarital couples I ask them what characteristics they would like to see in their marriage. I encourage these couples to take time to think about what is important to them in a relationship, write it down and look back on in frequently.  I then talked to couples about using this list as their North Star that will guide their behavior in their marriage.


During the good times we don’t need this list as a guide. We can easily see the good in our partner and are open and loving. But when things become difficult we quickly lose sight of what is important to us and we get pulled off course.


In difficult times many people will begin to use their partner’s behavior as a guide for their own behavior (i.e. you hurt me so I will hurt you back, you are disrespectful to me so I will be disrespectful back, you withhold from me so I will withhold from you). One can see how this would become a vicious cycle for disaster.


We get pulled away from what we really want in our relationship if we base our behavior on someone else’s behavior.  This is because behavior is not a constant in any relationship. Additionally, our perception of behavior is not constant so all it would take is our perception being off for us to be pulled off course.



I was having brunch with an unmarried pregnant friend recently. During the course of brunch she was telling me that she was in a difficult position about what last name to give her baby who was soon to be born. She was no longer with the baby’s father in the romantic sense and she was not happy with all of his life choices.


On the one hand she was not particularly attached to her last name and she did not feel compelled to give the baby her name for any personal reason.  But, on the other hand she was not sure if she wanted to give her baby the father’s last name because she felt as if she was rewarding him with that honor.


We talked about it a little and I asked her if she wanted a friend answer or a therapist answer. She said she would like to hear both. As her friend I told her, “F- him” we laughed and than I told her about what I talked about above.


I asked her to think about what kind of relationship she would ideally like to have. What characteristics would it have? I encouraged her to use these as a guide during these difficult times so she did not get pulled away from what she really wanted in her relationship.


There is one mistake that people commonly make with this exercise. They make their list and then expect their partner to do it. Or, they give these things only if they feel their partner is doing the same thing.


What ever you want in your relationship give it to your partner, but give it freely with no expectation of getting it back or needing it back. When we need to get the behavior back in order to give it we fall into the trap of using our partner’s behavior as our guide. This will lead us off course.



There is one phrase that helps me when making difficult decisions in my life and I use this as my guide in all my relationships, whether personal or professional. My go-to phrase that helps me is “Is it loving?”


This phrase helps me when I get off course and even though I am not behaviorally perfect and forget this phrase, it is always there to help when I am ready and open to accept its strength and wisdom.


The phrase, “Is it loving?” does not mean I become a doormat in every situation. It might be more loving to leave a situation then it would be to stay. If I am married to someone who hits me and my children the most loving thing might be to leave. This person hitting me cannot see that there is a better way to live. As long as I stay I may be holding them back from seeing another way to manage their anger.


It might be more loving to stop giving financial support to my child so they can learn how strong they really are. It might be more loving to let my child struggle with the consequences of poor decisions. Being expelled from school and grounded for drinking at school helps the child learn appropriate behavior. It may also keep them from progressing their behavior of drinking that later develops into driving under the influence and killing someone else.



“Is it loving” can also be applied to the thoughts I think about other people. Thinking unloving thoughts about any one has a direct effect on me. I don’t like the way I feel when I think of someone else being the “bad guy”. When we can see the innocence in another it has a different effect. When I can see the person as doing the best they can in that circumstance the emotional pressure is released.



Examples of Characteristics People Report Using as Their North Star in Their Marriage:



  • Respect
  • Listen to understand not to dispute
  • Kindness
  • Forgiveness
  • Understanding
  • Not nitpicking faults
  • Open to suggestions
  • Giving partner space to be exactly the way they are
  • Taking responsibility for behavior
  • Willing to admit when they make a mistake

How to be Happy: The role true forgiveness plays in regards to our happiness.

True Forgiveness:

At one time or another we all find ourselves uttering the phrase, “I’m not ready to forgive, yet”.  When I talk about forgiveness in my office, resistance is not an uncommon response.


marriage counselor Charleston SC

We resist because we lack the understanding that true forgiveness has more to do with our own peace of mind than it has to

do with giving someone some offering.  When I work with people I try to get them to take an honest look at what a grudge is doing for them.


Holding on to old resentment takes a great amount of energy, it hardens our hearts, and blocks us from experiencing happiness. We get a very short burst of delight when we complain but this glee is short-lived and if we pay close attention we will see that a feeling of disturbance follows it.


If you’re holding onto bitterness ask yourself- How do I feel when I think about this grudge? Angry, sad, frustrated, self-righteous, disgusted? Do you like feeling this way? Where would you be without this on your mind and in your heart?


When we truly forgive someone it releases us. We can tell the difference between giving someone lip service forgiveness and when we offer true forgiveness.

When we offer genuine amnesty we can actually feel that it has a physical effect on us. We experience the body relaxing, our chest feels more open and we are freed to a lighter sensation. True forgiveness is amazing for ourselves.


Sometimes forgiveness feels difficult. You believe if you forgive that people will begin taking advantage of you. Forgiveness does not mean you become a doormat or can’t ever say “no”. Forgiveness does not mean you have to put up with other’s unconscious behavior that is causing you harm.


There are times when we must to move away from unconscious behavior but we can do it without holding a grudge.


If you are not ready to forgive, don’t. You will not be able to forgive until you are ready. You will be ready to forgive when you see that it is not getting you what you really want.

The Run Away Horse Story: You never know what will come out of any situation

There once was a farmer whose horse ran away. When the farmer’s neighbor found out about the runaway mare he told the farmer it was too bad that his horse ran away. The farmer replied to his neighbor, “You never know”.


The next day the farmer’s horse returned followed by a beautiful stallion. The neighbor again came to the farmer and told him how lucky he was to now have another horse. To this the farmer replied, “You never know”.


One day when the farmer’s son was out riding the stallion when he fell off and broke his leg. The neighbor told the farmer how sorry he was for the farmer and his son. The farmer replied, “You never know”.


The week following the boys broken leg the army came by recruiting men to fight and because of the son’s broken leg he was not recruited. Hearing the news the neighbor came by to congratulation the farmer to which the farmer replied, “You never know”.


This is a funny little story but it can offer some insight into how we can learn to accept good and bad situations in our lives without judgement. Too often we assume we know what is best for us but in truth we never know what lies ahead.


Too often things that we perceive as negative occurrences are prerequisites for things to come. What one perceives as “bad” might actually be working to clear the path for better things not yet seen.


The most beautiful things can come out of hurt, pain and despair. Whatever you are experiencing, whether it’s joyous and exciting or hurtful and scary, don’t get too attached to it because every experience is only just passing through.

Simple Marriage Advice



simple marriage advice

There are  a few pieces of advice I find very helpful when working with couples in my office. People are often not as bad off as they think. The key is to get them to really listen to what is under the complaining.  Getting them to calm down so they can hear is key.

When they are calm and able to listen there are a few pieces of advice that I think have been helpful.

  • If your wrong admit it; if your right shut up.
  • Whatever you water will grow. What you choice to water in your relationship is up to you.
  • Hurt people hurt.
  • If you can’t say something nice, find another way to say it.
  • Foreplay begins the moment after sex ends.
  • Be a detective. Try to find your partner’s positive qualities and tell them about what you see. No one (including you) wants to be around someone who is continuously looking at their flaws.
  • Treat your partner as if they were your best client.
  • Marriage is a place where everyone loses when only one person is right.

The Buddhist have a saying, “The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon.”  I think of this statement often when couples are upset with one another and can’t seem to find common ground. The way in which one describes their relationship is not the relationship but just how they see it from their angle.

Don’t try to change how your partner views your relationship. This only narrows what you are willing to see. Instead really listen to what they are saying. Try to see it from their view as well as yours. This allows you to see your relationship in many different ways.