5 Communication lessons learned in marriage counseling

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In case you are new to the drama that is my marriage, here is the post about our first day of counseling, which now has 235 comments. And here is the post where I blame my whole marriage on the institution of shared-care parenting, and also where I find out that the population of available babysitters in Madison, Wisconsin is reading my blog, and maybe that’s why we now offer the highest paying babysitting job in town.

At this point we’ve been seeing the marriage counselor for a few months, and believe it or not, I’ve learned a thing or two about communicating. We all want to think that our communication problems at home are different from the communication problems we have at work. In fact, though, corporate training companies like VitalSmarts have shown that communication skills are the same at home and at work, just the stakes are higher at home, where getting fired is not just a new job hunt.

So in the spirit of acknowledging that work and home require the same communication skills, here is what I’ve learned so far:

1. Make sure the person you’re talking to is ready to hear what you’re saying.
One reason there are so many comments about my posts about my marriage is that men (it’s mostly men) fear the emasculation of my husband via blogging. There is, of course, little sense of irony among these men that my husband’s masculinity would be very precarious if a few blog posts could derail it.

Regardless, this post is about our marriage. So if these posts bother you, you should ask yourself why you are reading past this paragraph.

2. Instead of complaining, ask for what you want in concrete, measurable terms.
In counseling, my husband and I had the earth-shattering revelation that we are treating each other like crap. So, we each got to ask the person to do some things that would change that dynamic and help us feel better about our relationship.

My husband asked me to stop throwing things, which really pissed me off because I have thrown things twice, in fifteen years, both times at a wall, but he brings it up constantly like I have a track record for throwing daggers at his head.

Please, don’t send me emails about how even one thing thrown is traumatizing, okay? I had about ten million things thrown at me as a kid, and the police were at our house all the time, so throwing only twice, and relatively innocuously, is actually a triumph, and the result of ten years of therapy so I don’t repeat what my parents did. No kidding: Ten years.

Here’s what I asked from my husband: That he say or do one nice thing to me every day. He definitely got ripped off in this bargain. Do not write to me about how this is a metaphor for our marriage. It isn’t. In all marriages that reach a low point, both people are getting ripped off equally, or else someone would threaten to leave. And neither of us is leaving.

3. Give feedback if expectations aren’t met, even if the effort is good.
The first day comes, and he writes me a note to thank me for taking care of the kids. Here’s what it said: Thanks for taking care of the kids. Here’s where he put the note: On my Facebook wall.

I didn’t even know he had an account on Facebook. And before you go to mine, let me confess that my assistant does a lot of my Facebook stuff – which is not uncommon because many professionals are on Facebook only because of peer pressure.

My assistant sends an email to me to let me know my husband says, Thank you for taking care of the kids.

I don’t want to tell my husband that he is crazy for posting stuff like this on my wall where thousands of people see it. But after three days of Facebook-based gratitudes, I remind him that my assistant manages my Facebook page.

He says, “Oh yeah. I forgot.” Then he keeps sending stuff there. He does chocolates. Then flowers. Then plants. By now, my Facebook page looks like a greenhouse.

I count the days until we will be back in a counseling session where I can ask for something different.

4. Take responsibility to make your boundary needs clear.
Then I got an email from Ryan P: “I see on Facebook that you and Nino got married. Congratulations.”

That’s when the Facebook thing became too much. I realized it was my husband’s way of doing our marriage publicly. Mine is blogging, his is Facebooking. So I wanted to tell my assistant to unmarry us because I don’t want to be linked to him online because I’m so sick of him. But Ryan P pointed out that if I do that, everyone would think that we got unmarried, “which would be worse than announcing that you’re married.” So I had my assistant fix it to say I’m married, but not say to whom.

5. You must keep talking. That’s the only way to make progress.
The other assignment we had from the marriage counselor was to have a conversation. Yes, that’s where we stand–we must be directed to talk with each other.

It takes us a while. I have been travelling a lot which throws off everyone’s schedule.

So on Friday night we put the kids to bed and we sit down to have our conversation. We sit on the kitchen floor because it’s already freezing in Madison and our house is hard to heat, but the kitchen is always warm. We sit across from each other on our impractical-for-a-kitchen but squishy-soft pink rugs. There is a soft hum from our refrigerator. There is an orange glow from the Halloween lights my son taped across the wall.

Our conversation topic is pre-selected for emotional safety: A book my husband’s reading. James Kunstler’s The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.

My husband refers to this book as peak-oil literature. I am shocked to hear he’s reading anything at all because he spends so much time taking care of our kids.

He knows all the scenarios about what will happen if we cannot use technology to replace oil, and he feels strongly that it’s too late to make a difference with recycling. Here are things we talk about:

  • If we cannot transport food then we all have to farm. There will probably be a feudal system because only some people own farmable land.
  • Cuba is a test case for this. When they could not get oil from the Soviet Union, everyone had to farm. It has been deemed a success by agronomists.
  • There is some point when oil gets so expensive that it’s no longer useful for maintaining infrastructure and then infrastructure collapses and oil is worth nothing.

I ask a lot of questions. I find all this fascinating, and so does he. We talk about the author’s blog, Clusterfuck Nation, and I have a moment of blog-title envy. We talk about teaching our two kids to farm. From a book. Because how else would we know? And there really aren’t books like that because historically neighbors have taught each other. Besides, we would need oil to get the books to people.

I tell my husband that I like the idea of not having any oil. It’s a much more simple life, and it’s appealing to me. “We would need to live close to people we love. We’d spend a lot of time sitting on our pink rugs talking.”

149 replies
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  1. Joe Fusco
    Joe Fusco says:

    Just an amazing illustration that the intersection between work and life is much, much more real than most people think.

    Your personal posts are the best, Penelope, because they’re genuine.

  2. Amy
    Amy says:

    actually, there are books from which to learn how to farm. Gardening When It Counts is a great one, but it does assume you have a fair amount of space. The Encyclopedia of Country Living is good. Also Square Foot Gardening, and How to Grow more vegetables… yes, I am too lazy to link to these right now.

    Don’t look forward to peak oil. The problem is not ‘how to live without oil’ but ‘how will civilization transition to living without oil?’ And the answer is a lot of resource wars, chaos, authoritarian regimes taking advantage of confusion, fear, and loss. It will not be a pleasant happy heyday of back-to-the-land-ness.

    Your husband should read “The End of Oil” by Richard Heinberg if he’s interested in peak oil, as it is a very clear discussion of the evidence for it and what the potential consequences are. And somewhat less sensationalist than Kunstler.

    My husband read the Kunstler book a couple of years ago and we went through a long period of peak oil terror. Now we try mostly not to think about it too much, as we feel there’s not much we can do about it. The biggest thing is working on local food security, which is a major reason to support local farms. And it doesn’t hurt to learn to garden yourself. Working on self-sufficiency skills is a good thing to do when you’re at home with the kids. Your jet-setting book-promoting speaking career will not survive the long emergency; if your husband invests in solid earthy skills you will be very happy to have him around when you’re hungry and cold and the electricity and gas line are off again.

    * * * * * *
    Hey, Amy. Thanks for the extra oil stuff — it’s fun for me to find other people interested in talking about this on the blog. I love the phrase “peak oil terror”. So apt.


  3. Jenflex
    Jenflex says:

    I’m glad for an update. Sounds like you are moving forward.

    Also, the link back to the “first day” post is broken.

    * * * * * *

    Thanks, Jen. I fixed it.


  4. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I’m not 100% comfortable with the level of personal detail that you give sometimes but it’s your decision where you draw that line.

    But there is a world of difference between this post and the other one. This one is quite mild and even funny – your husband may have been clumsy with the Facebook thing but he was also quite sweet. The other one you actually gave us verbatim details of a quite raw conversation had DURING a therapy session. To me, that was crossing a line.

    My advice would be, blog about your personal life by all means, but keep what’s said to the therapist confidential, just like you would expect the therapist to do.

  5. BrandonA
    BrandonA says:

    Great advice in this post. I am about to get married. My fiancé and I live together now and I can see the importance of communication and our lack of it at times. Although, if I bring up the idea that communications in business and life are comparable she may kill me. I am often yelled at for relating business to closely to our relationship. My wife-to-be sees business as a practical, emotion free, atmosphere and doesn’t appreciate me to liken it to our relationship that to her is emotional and not necessarily practical. Nonetheless, great post, I defiantly relate to your situation even though we are not officially married yet.

  6. Max
    Max says:

    Amy’s husband here. Actually, “The End of Oil” is Paul Roberts, and it’s good, but I did like Richard Heinberg’s “The Party’s Over” best of all. (Though I’m not sure that “like” is the best term for it.)

    Incidentally, Amy and I do shared parenting, and as far as the psychological aspects of parenting go, it’s great for us. The career bit is somewhat trickier, but with time, we are working it out.

    * * * * * *

    Thanks for weighing in on both oil and shared care. It’s nice to hear from people who can make shared care work. I feel like it *should* work. It should be a viable option for a lot of people. Maybe for us later on….


  7. David W
    David W says:

    I find it interesting that you have no reservation in publicly detailing the communication and marital problems you have, but that when your husband addresses your issues online it becomes a source of contention for you.

    eg, it is ok for you to use online mediums to vent your issues, yet he ought not. (which makes me wonder if he’s communicating with you online/via Facebook thinking that that avenue of communication is something that you more inherently hear, so maybe you will hear him better in that style … who knows).

    Regardless the contradictions, I find a lot of insight into these universal challenges you bring up … hence I learn from it, and do appreciate your willingness to exercise such candor and openness on a topic that sends most people running for cover.

  8. james
    james says:

    Having been where you and your husband are five years ago, we found out that we need our own kid free personal time. Here is our break down

    1st Weekend of the Month – time together, entire family.

    2nd Weekend – Her time. movies, facials, anything on her own. No me, no kids. Just her alone or her friends.

    3rd weekend – bills, chores, errands, etc. Leftover time with the family together.

    4th Weekend – my time alone, fish, drink, hunt whatever. healthy stuff of course. Me and/or my friends.

    Every weekend we finish all the kids work, homework, music etc as soon as possible and go do something fun together.

    No exceptions.

    Works great for us. we get our own time. We get

  9. Priyanka
    Priyanka says:

    I think your last point is the most important. At work it is easy to let things come to an impasse, but in our personal relationships doing so would be a travesty. It is important to avoid burning bridges and to keep a dialog open.

  10. Dave
    Dave says:

    “I count the days until we will be back in a counseling session where I can ask for something different.”

    I’m not certain why you need to wait until the next counseling session before talking about this, but maybe it relates to emotional safety? Great that you are communicating though.

  11. Joyce Maroney
    Joyce Maroney says:

    I’d like to suggest a 6th communication lesson that works equally well at home or work – lead with respect. Communication at work and at home is easily derailed when either party discounts, interrupts, or anticipates the worst from the other. Even when you’re delivering the toughest messages, there’s always a way to do so with the preservation of the other person’s dignity in mind.

    Survey after survey shows that feeling disrespected at work is a significant reason people cite for leaving their jobs. I think that’s pretty true of marriages as well.

    I’ve been very happily married for 22 years. The most significant gift I’ve received in this marriage (beyond my children) is that my husband has always treated me with kindness and respect, and can always be counted upon to be my safe haven.

    • Andrea
      Andrea says:

      “I’ve been very happily married for 22 years. The most significant gift I’ve received in this marriage (beyond my children) is that my husband has always treated me with kindness and respect, and can always be counted upon to be my safe haven.”

      This is very sweet & essentially summarizes all that I believe I am missing from my marriage. We are in counseling now. He is super touchy and If I don’t LOVE everything exactly as it is he gets very defensive, nasty and hurtful. He has no problem getting angry and not speaking to me for days, even when I have other family or work things going on I need a shoulder for.

      A safe haven…that would be amazing! I am so happy for you two.

  12. Amy Vachon
    Amy Vachon says:

    Hi – it’s been awhile since I’ve left a comment, but I’ve been reading all along and cheering you both on in your communication. I’m with Max above in having made equally shared parenting work (at least so far – 5+ years), so I hope that readers don’t throw out the idea because it has not yet worked for you.

    My guess is that equal sharing itself is not the essence of your marital problems. Or if it is, that it was not a good fit with both of your desires from the start. Equal sharing doesn’t work unless both partners really want it to; but when they do, it can give you both a life of intimacy, freedom and satisfaction. It is far more a mindset than it is a set of rules for dividing chores or childcare.

    I’ll keep cheering for you!

  13. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    Sometimes a marraige needs to come all the way back to the basics. Forcing you to talk about a book allows you to focus on what created the relationship in the first place. I’m sure on your first date you weren’t talking about shared parenting. Not that I am a marraige counselor but putting the kids with a sitter and going on a date does wonders. Hell, Go to a badger game…eat hot dogs and drink a beer. Anything to get you back to what made you click in the first place. Once you find that the rest will fall in place. That’s my opinion anyway. Good luck to the two of you and kudos for working through this. It speaks volumes about your perseverance!

  14. stanislav f
    stanislav f says:

    As much as I like your blog and read it every week. I must admit that you have some issues in the way you perceive relationships. Stop trying to boss your husband around, he’s a guy! And also, quit judging him on facebook. He’s a man, and he’s taking care of your kids. Show a bit of respect for that. Whatever problems you have, he doesn’t want you to post them (even though he may say he doesn’t care), and stop blogging about it. We don’t care! Stick to what you are good at.

    • Joey
      Joey says:

      You post that you read her blog every week, but then at the end of your comment you write “stop blogging about it. We don’t care!” why would you put that if you follow her blog weekly, it doesn’t make sense. I think that the public IS interested in peoples lives as long as it is inline with their views. If it is not the norm, then they are not happy with what was posted.

  15. Elizabeth Partin
    Elizabeth Partin says:

    Penelope, I read the comments on the first post when it was up to about 141. 171, phew.

    I’m trying to imagine a pink, fluffy, squishy? rug in the kitchen. That design decision seems like a lot of extra maintenance 

    This is an amazing view into a relationship and is probably making great teaching material for counselors in training.

    Elizabeth Partin

  16. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    I always enjoy your “personal posts” (about marriage, family, parenting, etc.) best. Perhaps because I can “hear” the passion in your voice – people, after all, are what matter most in the long run…more than business ventures and leadership techniques.

  17. Joan Woodbrey
    Joan Woodbrey says:

    I have to admit I love this blog!! The paragraph about throwing things had me laughing out loud, as I remember my mother doing the same thing a couple of times and my father continually bringing it up.

    Even though I am not married. I have been in a serious relationship for about 4 years. There was a couple of months there (Really a year!)when all we did was fight. A friend of ours recommended a book to us. It’s called “The 5 love languages,”-by Gary Chapman. At first I was like this looks mooshy and we don’t need to read a book to work on our relationship, but it really has helped us.

    Basically there are 5 love languages which means that one persons way of showing love isn’t the same as someone elses. Therefore, we need to learn theirs so we can show them, instead of treating them how we want to be treated. It’s like the platinum rule rather than the golden rule for love.

    The 5 languages are:
    Words of affirmation (Thank yous, I’m proud of you, your great, etc. etc.)
    Quality Time (pretty straight forward, but what really quantifies quality?)
    Receiving Gifts(I like this one)
    Acts of Service (This can be something as simple as taking out the trash…)
    And Last but not least Physical Touch.

    We ended up reading the book together which was cool, because one of my love languages is quality time, so we spent time reading it together. You’ll find that you may be a mixture of a couple or relate to all of them, but there are definitely ones that will stick out the most to you.

    Just thought it might help…
    It seems like it would help in better understanding how you work, like the personality tests you wrote about the other day.

    Thanks for the post.

  18. Scott
    Scott says:

    I wish you much success as you and your husband work to make your marriage better. One suggestion for both of you would be to keep the drama offline. I know sometimes it’s helpful to get things off your chest, but I’m not sure either of you are helping the other by airing so much personal baggage in public. Just my 2 cents.

    I’ve been in a lousy marriage and a happy (current) one; the biggest difference is communication and respect.

    I think Joyce’s comments above are right on in terms of always being respectful and I love the part about your partner being your safe haven at all times. Sound advice.

    Good luck!

  19. Joselle Palacios
    Joselle Palacios says:

    This is why I love this blog. Your candor, sense of humor, and willingness to be so open about your own struggles is what makes me really value the other posts about job hunts and cover letters and visit daily.

    I don’t have a years-long marriage and children to contend with. I have a very young relationship that is the happiest part of my life but also the one that complicates everything the most. Our biggest fights have actually been about our work so that whole intersection thing is becoming very, very clear to me.

  20. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Dear Penelope,

    I don’t know if I could be as brave as you and your husband are being to face your problems and try to resolve them and admit all the stumbling blocks on the way in such a public forum.

    Really I wish you both all the luck in the world and hope that you find true happiness together again.

    All the best,

  21. Dale
    Dale says:


    I love how you take your lemons and serve us delicious lemonade:) Only, stop being so defensive – see some examples below! If someone wants to take shots at you, they will. You be you and stop looking over your shoulder – figuratively speaking.

    E.g. “Regardless, this post is about our marriage. So if these posts bother you, you should ask yourself why you are reading past this paragraph.”

    And, “Please, don't send me emails about how even one thing thrown is traumatizing, okay?”

    And, “Do not write to me about how this is a metaphor for our marriage.”

  22. Tom Volkar
    Tom Volkar says:

    Good stuff, frankly I was amazed to see you’re getting so much out of marriage counseling. Many couples I’ve talked to have been far less enthused. I’m curious; does your counselor encourage making and keeping agreements? Relationships are built on agreements kept. I’ve found that relationship coaching with agreements can be a much more fulfilling experience.

    I vote for you’re continuing candor. Keep at it.

  23. Jill Foster
    Jill Foster says:

    Thanks for demonstrating your MAJOR hutzpah in sharing your family situation. After reading your experience and those communication bullet points, I took a wow-reflection-moment. And I really think I could be more respectful and disclosing to my husband of 7 years. Ah, I’m slipping into all-bout-me when indeed this is about your progress. So bottom line, congrats for hanging in there and communicating. Let’s market those effective pink fluffy rugs …

  24. David Miner
    David Miner says:

    I am of an age where I can look back and remember how alone and isolated I was before the Internet, e-mails, blogs – . It is nourishing, revitalizing, empowering to see these postings, the back and forth that is going on. The conflict that goes on in a marriage or at work hasn't changed, but now you don't have to go through it alone. I can appreciate the balancing act between revealing too much and believing you have to deal with it on you own. It's hard to find good therapists, and even then it's still hard. I lean towards putting it out, so thank you, Penelope, for doing that.

  25. A. Carter
    A. Carter says:

    I found your site today and I really like your voice. Just wanted to let you know, though, that a number of links are not working, including the two links to earlier posts in this one.
    I’m going to show my husband your blog tonight.

  26. Sheila at Family Travel
    Sheila at Family Travel says:

    You don’t need to hear this from anyone but I’ll say it anyway; you just keep right on writing about stuff like this. It’s powerful, and it helps even people like me who are not in counseling but who want to keep marriages happily chugging along.

    Hubby and I should talk about books more often.

    I admire you. Enjoy your time on fuzzy pink rugs. :)

  27. Amy
    Amy says:

    I think it’s funny that you didn’t like your husband’s facebook post, because I had the opposite problem with my boyfriend. He’s 5 years older than me, so I think he and I just straddle the age where people started heavily using the internet to communicate. I didn’t have facebook when we started dating, and when I joined I found out that he hadn’t listed his relationship status until the day I joined. We had only been going out a few months but it hurt my feelings – I mean, if you’re happy with someone, why on earth *wouldn’t* you tell the world that you’re dating? But he was just confused because he looked at facebook as a silly chore that he’d been bullied into rather than the “official truth” as people my age and younger tend to see it. AND, my boyfriend’s myspace still says single! (Granted he hasn’t logged into it since June.) Long story short, I’m jealous that your husband is so facebook-happy.

    • Miranda
      Miranda says:

      I have the same problem Amy. My boyfriend of 5 years could care less about Facebook or what the people reading it think. He hasnt even logged on in months. Hasnt logged into Myspace for years probably. N yes it still says single too. He says everyone knows we are together so whats the point in posting it? He doesnt worry about updating his favorite books, music, etc. So of course the whole relationship status thing never occurred to him. But it makes me jealous when I see other peoples boyfriends/husbands posting sweet things on their walls and things like that. Why cant he do that for me? It would just be nice if he cared enough to be worried about social things like me and declared his love for me publicly. Lol

  28. Rick
    Rick says:

    Great post, as usual…not becuase I always agree, but because you always just put it right out there in your own unique way.

    Also, you reminded me that even after many years of a very good marraige, my wife and I still can’t overlook scheduling time for a one-on-one conversation.

  29. Delia
    Delia says:

    i think your posts about your marriage are your best posts because your personality really comes through, in a nice way. Keep it up!

  30. Chris
    Chris says:

    Good to hear that you’re both not willing to leave, and that you’re both prepared to work through this.

    An interesting fact sheet – even though it’s missing the references – is Debunking Divorce Myths. Well worth keeping in mind for those days when it all seems too much.

    I’m mindful of the fact that I’m only hearing one side of the story, so any comment or opinion I make is inherently biased. So I’ll simply refrain from doing so.

    The kitchen scene sounds wonderful (in a bizarre kind of way). I hope you both cherish these moments and are able to rekindle your relationship from these moments when hopefully you both learn something new and mysterious about one another.

    I recently heard about couples with newborns no longer learning something new about one another, as that energy was being redirected to the new arrival. This invariably led to distance between the couple, as the sense of enigma that attracts us to people was no longer being kindled. Something I’m mindful of with a 14 month old daughter with another one on the way.

    If you or your husband are interested in peak oil issues, then Tim Flannery’s “The Weather Makers” is an eye opener.

    Wishing you and your family all the best for the future.

  31. Ross
    Ross says:

    This particular blog post really gets my goat. If I were your husband, then I’d divorce you in a heartbeat. How can your husband feel any sort of respect from you when you post your marriage issues like dirty laundry to the world? Some things are sacred, like marriage. You need to openly communicate with your husband to correct your marriage issues, don’t communicate the issues to the entire world. Airing your relationship problems with literally everyone just brings another unneeded dimension into an already strained relationship. Furthermore, you’re being trashed on your Yahoo Finance columns, and many comments are directed at you and your marriage. Credibility begins with respect for other people. That includes your husbands right to privacy when it comes to your marriage issues. Communicate with your husband, not us.

  32. Lorraine
    Lorraine says:

    This blog is your best — the only one that motivated me to send you a comment.

    You’re awesome — amazingly open, and I pray that you all will find happiness.

  33. Lane
    Lane says:

    Oh My Goodness. [insert fuming here]

    I can’t stand it when my husband brings up something I’ve done a FEW times and makes it out to be something that I do everyday after breakfast. It drives me nuts.

    I totally commisserate with you on that one. I would have asked for a different request because that one is bunk (and frankly, seems to show that he doesn’t know WHAT he wants from you if he had to dredge up something like that). Throwing things twice is not a trend. And it obviously makes you look like a hysterical person who is abusive. I hope you jumped on that in counseling.

    Bringing up the past to beat over someone’s head is not something that contributes to a successful marriage. While you have been pretty obvious in how you treat him like crap (as you say), I think we are finally seeing some of his as well.

    I also think it is very telling that he seems to not be able to do something nice for you in real life – but instead the virtual world.

  34. Milena
    Milena says:

    Penelope – €“

    I noticed my own blog has started to take up a lot of my time, and while it’s partly therapuetic in that it gives me a lot of solace in the wake of my father’s untimely death – I’m spending a lot of time ignoring my husband after work. I’ve noticed it and am conscientious about nipping it in the bud before I become one of those creepy internet addicted spouses. (I’m not saying you are like that – clearly this is your job.)

    I’m sorry if this is presumptuous of me (I really like your work and wouldn’t want bad fan karma) – €“ but I search your marriage-related posts and am hard pressed to find things about your husband that you like, for example, why you married him in the first place. You mention you aren’t talking much lately, but that excludes however many more years of good times you must have had. It also can’t be about not revealing too much personal information because most of your posts are just short of your personal diary. We get a lot about your life, accomplishments, views and not much about him. Do you even like him? Why doesn’t he get a “voice”? Maybe he requested that you not to say anything and maybe he’s not supportive. I wouldn’t know. But I'd like to.

  35. Simone
    Simone says:

    Hi Penelope,
    Great blog – gives a wonderful reflection of what goes on in so many relationships. The thing that stood out to me the most in your blogs was the statement in counselling about ‘expectations’ from and about our partners. Expectations spell the death knell of so many relationships…. we EXPECT our partner to do what makes us happy, we EXPECT our partner to behave in ways that always please us…. we EXPECT our partners to know what we are thinking….. we EXPECT our partner to do all sorts of things for us…. and very rarely do they or WE ever meet one anothers expectations. When they don’t meet our expectations we get angry. We take it out on our partners and the relationship suffers. I got divorced 2 years ago -and when I did – I decided to do an ‘energetic autopsy’ on my marriage and every relationship I had ever had up to that point (even wrote a book about what I discovered) The expectation of Happily Ever After, and finding our soul mate and expecting that everything will be blissful for the rest of our lives sets us up to be MASSIVELY disappointed! If we stop having EXPECTATIONS about our partners, if we stop trying to change them so they understand us, or please us, or satisfy our need for control or order – then we ‘let them off the hook’ to be who they are – when that pressure is removed and we find our own way to maneuver through the relationship, then we give our partner the freedom and the space to figure things out the way THEY can best figure them out. Most couples do not want to end their relationships, most would like to stay married, but the pressure of always trying to FIX things, makes both parties feel mothered, smothered and angry. No wonder counselling doesn’t work for most couples.
    My suggestion is… try for awhile to just let one another be and do and handle things the way that is easiest for you both to be and do and handle. Give eachother the freedom to find your way through the partnership the way it works for you as individuals. Let your partner be the square peg – you can be the round peg – once you accept that neither of you will operate the same way in ANY situation and you DROP the EXPECTATIONS that you ever will, then you will find fewer and fewer reasons to be disappointed and less and less reasons to be angry at your partner.
    As a caveat – dropping expectations is not always easy – but it lifts a MASSIVE burden off of both of you!!
    Have a great day.

  36. John
    John says:

    My wife loves to talk; talk to me, talk to the dog, the cat, herself. There is no way I can possibly listen to everything she says and she doesn’t expect me to, but when she does, she clearly says something to the effect that what she is about to say she expects me to listen to. Most of the time I comply (afterall I still a man!). I extend her the same courtesy realizing that everything I say isn’t of earth shaking importance either!

    As for point 2, asking for what you want clearly, nothing is more frustrating than asking an open ended question when in fact you’re looking for a specific answer to a question that is about to come, what I call the entrapment question. For instance, asking “What are you doing tomorrow night?” when what your really asking is “I’d like to go out to dinner and a movie tomorrow night”.

    Lastly, I’d like to recommend a book that is both amusing and enlightening “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps” by Allan Pease. If you’re familiar with it let me know what you think.

  37. Wolfie
    Wolfie says:

    Dear. Ms. Trunk, I am 25. I saw how people responded to your latest Yahoo article. Those people are what we call HATERS. Dont listen to those Widget Inc. employees whose idea of power and authority is actually the opposite, SUBMISSION. You keep being an example for young women and push forward past these clowns. Remember, the smirking business men of today are the ones that have led this country into debt, obesity, stupidity, war and profits for the elite. As a human being, you are already accomplished, you are writing to inspire people, not to put them down. As usual, when you tell people the truth they hate you, then they make fun of you and lastly, they agree with you.

    I wonder what curmudgeons and corporate trolls are the ones posting these ridiculous comments. Probably the same losers that worked 40 hours a week all their lives and now they have a depreciating home, spoiled kids and a wasted conscious and life and little hope for social security. These are the results of a brainwashed populace who is so bitter that instead of helping and congratulating good people like you, they try and knock you down cuz they cant get published on Yahoo!

    Rock on and pass the message.

    Much love from Alli and Wolfie in the Bronx.

  38. kathryn
    kathryn says:

    ugh, I hate it when you post these personal things because I just can’t permit myself enough time to read all the other comments.

    other than that, I have a few things to say:

    1 — How timely. I hit a nasty breaking point in *my* long distance relationship last night and we spent 2 hours talking about things we’ve already talked about. In some sense, I think I was in the same place as Nino was when he took you to a mediator instead of a therapist. It is so very heartening to see that you guys are doing better because I don’t want my relationship to end. But I also can’t handle all the stress that is coming out of it.

    2 — I love how people assume that they understand your entire relationship based on a few cathartic posts on the web. I know that I use WAY more censorship in my real life than I do on my blog; that’s just how the internet works. What’s the fun in announcing things to anonymous strangers if you can’t just say whatever the hell you feel like saying?

    3 — I really thought it was funny to see your #4, because when I saw on my mini-feed that you and Nino were no longer married, I did in fact freak out a little and immediately came here to see your divorce announcement. (I am suddenly suspicious that the previous sentence was a run-on.)

    4 — I just saw the title: Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps. I can read a map better than most men, thanks very much. I know plenty of men that listen quite well when they feel like it. This is why stereotypes are infuriating

    5 — In case you haven’t been reading carefully, although this list contains 5 enumerated items, there is no actual correspondence to Penelope’s list. Listing is just one of the best ways to communicate a series of semi-related thoughts. (No transition sentences!)

  39. kathryn
    kathryn says:

    haha, I also want to say that if faced with a request to stop doing something that I have done only twice in fifteen years… I would just say “OK!” and offer to comply with a second request. (I have also thrown things twice in 15 years, but on both occasions it was folded laundry at my mother. And she totally deserved it both times.)

  40. Danny
    Danny says:

    Hi Penelope,
    I must say I was a little surprised to see this topic on your Blog. But what the heck, demonstrates to me that we can talk about anything. I’m embarrassed to admit that before this week, I was not aware of your existence. I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at the Denver Executive Forum on Tuesday and I have to admit, I immediately fell in “love” with you. Don’t worry, married man myself here, please don’t over analyze my use and over-use of the word. You come across as very strong person with opinions that are not very maneuverable. So, you are one of those types of people that you either Love or you tend to avoid. So, for those of us that “love” you, why or how are you making this happen?

    I’ve been married myself for 10 years have have been through 3 stints or marriage counseling myself. It’s funny, but the thing we love most about a person often contributes to the problem. Now without even knowing your husband, I’m making a lot of assumptions that could be way off base, but I’ll do my best with the little bit I have learned about you in the last two days. You are very intelligent and have very strong opinions, I mean to the level that I would be intimidated to argue with you if you said a stop light was blue. My guess is, he loves this quality about you and it is probably one of the many reasons he fell in love with you. Now, years have passed, and this quality might just be a contributing factor. In other words, you know exactly what you want and how it should happen. I think you can have this if you are willing to give him what he wants. The hardest part about this is finding out exactly what that is. Most of us men don’t even know that for ourselves, I mean look at what he came up with for you to give him. Stop throwing things??? Come on, there is something much more important to him that he wants. Since most of you women (the intelligent ones like yourself anyway) know us better then we know ourselves, you need to just figure that out and do it. Not fair I know, but you can do it, and you know this. The good news is this, siting on the pink rugs in the kitchen as often as possible is where you will figure this out. And if all else fails, more sex is a good interim solution until you do figure it out.

    Good Luck, Danny

  41. kristi
    kristi says:

    Penelope, I relate so well to your situation. Please continue posting to your heart’s desire!

    One comment I’d make about your structure in this post is to move the defensive comments that Dale pointed out to the end as sort of a disclaimer. I found it jarring to read those in the middle of each point.

    But I truly enjoyed reading it because it helped me see how I can move forward in my own relationship.
    Thank you for your honesty!

  42. jomster2003
    jomster2003 says:

    I have read the peak-oil book that you mention and it does not take into account what economists refer to as the substition effect. If we do reach a point where we consume more oil than can be produced, which we will, the price will become so high that other products will be substituted for oil. We are already seeing this happening now with ethanol, biofuels, hybbrid cars, etc…So dont worry about having to be a farmer because there will be many new technologies that will replace oil for our transportation and utility needs. Forget about learning to farm and invest your money in some of these technologies. It is really a onetime opportunity that you shouldn’t miss. So don’t worry, be happy. We are living in a golden age of opprtunity! It will help your marriage too!

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