Is A Marital Tune-Up Worth It?

Best wedding cake dolls ever.
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Tara Parker-Pope in The New York Times:

“It seems like we’re even more resistant to thinking about getting help for our relationship than we are for depression or anxiety,” said Brian D. Doss, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Miami. “There’s a strong disincentive to think about your relationship as being in trouble — that’s almost admitting failure by admitting that something isn’t right.”

Marriage counseling does not always work, of course — perhaps because it is so often delayed past the point of no return. One recent study of two types of therapy found that only about half the couples reported long-lasting improvements in their marriages.

So researchers have begun looking for ways (some of them online) to reach couples before a marriage goes off the rails.

One federally financed study is tracking 217 couples taking part in an annual “marriage checkup” that essentially offers preventive care, like an annual physical or a dental exam.

“You don’t wait to see the dentist until something hurts — you go for checkups on a regular basis,” said James V. Córdova, an associate professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who wrote “The Marriage Checkup” (Jason Aronson, 2009). “That’s the model we’re testing. If people were to bring their marriages in for a checkup on an annual basis, would that provide the same sort of benefit that a physical health checkup would provide?”

I’m mixed on this one. Having watched my first brief marriage implode, I know it takes two committed people to make those vows worth anything, not merely the desperate attempts of one half.

But the sweetie and I did try counseling a few times, and it taught us some useful lessons. Our therapist, Marc, was just what we needed: funny, warm — and tough. Whatever problem is poisoning  a marriage, he sternly told us, each of us owns 50 percent of it, not the comforting fiction of, say, 15 percent or five percent. It’s so easy to finger-point and blame. “If only he”, “She always…”

Much harder to acknowledge and name the individual demons we each bring to the most intimate relationship in life.

We haven’t seen Marc in years but his lessons have stayed with us. In the old days, our fights were crazy — we’re stubborn, stuck in our ways, used to getting what we want. It’s been a decade now, so we know each other’s trigger points and when we’ve hit them, or are about to. We’re a lot better at apologizing, and quickly.

It’s not easy to soften and change. You have to want it.

Have you tried couples counseling? How did it turn out for you?

The Government Wants You To Get Married

A contemporary white wedding cake decorated wi...
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I saw the huge color poster recently at Grand Central Station, the Manhattan hub for millions of daily train commuters from suburban Connecticut and New York, pushing the federal government’s assertion — radical! — that getting and staying married is a great idea. Given how many of those commuters already have a spouse/kids/mortgage/college payments, this seemed an odd location to send that message. Even with a tanking real estate market, it’s still tough to find a decent house anywhere within commuting distance of GCT for less than $400,000, with an additional $12,000 a year in taxes.

So, my guess is that few readers of this advertisement for connubial bliss are actually single in suburbia, certainly those still pining for their first wedding ring. Most can’t afford the northern ‘burbs, or it’s just too lonely and boring out there in picket-fenceville. Those suburbanites already divorced-with-kids aren’t likely in a big rush back to the altar.  And those whose marriages are already in trouble will just have to make nice for a while, because, in this market, that shared marital asset isn’t going to sell any time soon.

Even odder, turns out, is who sent and paid for that message. The website for, complete with cool turquoise graphics and a faux-1960s look, is that of the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, with an Oklahoma City address. What’s really behind it is the federal government, the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, who want more Americans, ages 18 to 30 especially, to get and stay married. Marriage, it’s assumed,  keeps them off the welfare rolls. Continue reading “The Government Wants You To Get Married”