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. Jamie
    Jamie says:

    I pray you will discover Retrouvaille and lift yourselves out of the “misery” stage of your marriage and truly into “reawakening”.

  2. Mitch
    Mitch says:

    If you’re really interesting in having your kids learn to farm, Madison is a good place for that. Troy Gardens, on the North Side, is a pioneer in urban agriculture; they sell food at the farmers market (and via CSA) and they get the community (especially kids) involved in growing the food. Claire Strader, who leads the operation, was recently named White House Farmer in an on-line election.

    Their website is at: http://www.troygardens.org/index.html

  3. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    My husband and I are very recently struggling in our marriage and I am very scared. I wish I had the courage to write about it or even knew what to say. At this moment he says he doesn’t know what he wants. I’ve left the ball in his court for a week and then I must know something. This has been the worst time of my entire life. I’m not going to make it.

  4. Lyndas9254
    Lyndas9254 says:

    I love your simple quick 5 points here. You have hit it right on as I see since I have an understanding as well here. Thanks for sharing.

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    Sophie Kinsella says:

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  6. jay arnold
    jay arnold says:

    My wife says we don’t communicate and a lot of times she says she told me something but I just don’t remember her telling me at all

  7. JP
    JP says:

    The problem isn’t “peak oil”. It’s really “peak cheap energy” or “peak everything.”

    Jeremy Grantham, one of my favorite investement newsletter writers (and investors) is talking about this over at his website at http://www.gmo.com.

    It’s a possible future.

    Kunstler is just angry that McDonalds architecture is really ugly.

  8. Bengali matrimony
    Bengali matrimony says:

    Very good article I like it.
    Marriage is one of the things which are the most talked about thing in every household once you move out of college and start earning .

  9. Ken Jackson
    Ken Jackson says:

    Communication in marraige is an ongoing commitment. This is something that both you and your spouse must practice on a daily basis. This also means that you need to make time to talk with one another. The challenge (in my case) is that both my wife and I so busy that we really make the time to have a quality conversation. A few things that help with communication is to be willing to listen…don’t interrupt your partner, just listen. Ask questions for calrity and show that you are really listening. Another technique to focus on is the tone of your voice. If you can keep your tone normal and not raise it then your communication will imporve by 100 times, because no you are not shouting at your partner, but raterh communicating.

  10. samson sebastine
    samson sebastine says:

    I have been scammed by three casters that promised me and get my money trying all my means to stop my marriage from hitting the rock..i was so desperate to keep my family as my husband wants a divorce..i seek everywhere to stop my marriage from collapsing..i seek spiritual helps to get things right but all i talked with never did anything for me..when i ask them for my money since they cant give the results they promised, they threaten to curse me if i ever talk to them again or let people know about this..i can help you with the few liars i have worked with if you talk to me here williamsanita547@gmail.com ..I have just seen the result of the spell i did with greatokija@yahoo.com… he is real and genius and i got real results.. never let this mad people online here pretending to be what they are not get your money anymore.. he gets paid for his services after he has giving to you what he wanted.. anyone asking for payments before results is a fake.. its a life time opportunity i have gotten.. never let it go too..

  11. samson sebastine
    samson sebastine says:

    my name is samson sebastine from united kingdom i had a problem with my wife
    sometimes ago but never knew what the problem was,i tried to asked her but
    she refused to tell,me what it was as time goes on i discovered she was
    having an affair with a friend of mine that happens to be my best friend,i
    was so sad that i never knew what to do next,during my search for a way out
    i met a friend of mine who had similar problem and introduced me to a man
    who helped him with his situation,on getting to the man i discovered he was
    a spell caster i was shocked because i have not had anything to do with a
    spell caster in my entire life so i tried to give this man a chance cos i
    never believed in spell casting as i thought it will not work for me but to
    my surprise i got positive results and i was able to get my wife back from
    him even after the spell caster did all i discovered my wife fell much more
    in love with me on like before so i was so happy that i never know what to
    do for him so i am using this opportunity to tell anyone on this blog having
    similar problem visit greatokija@yahoo.com..i am sure he will help you.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    It’s been a while since your wrote this excellent post. The marital therapy has really advanced over the past handful of years. 

    I would add to this list the willingness to give and accept targeted emotional soothing and  repair. So few couples, for example, reconcile after an emotional or sexual affair. This is primarily because they don’t realize that there are proven emotional repair and relationship building strategies that works. 

    Distressed couples should explore EFT for couples. Even when there’s a serious substance abuse problem and a history of partner violence, behavioral couples therapy has proven effective in so many otherwise virtually hopeless cases.  

    Couples need to be informed consumers of marital counseling services. Learning about “evidence-based” couples counseling is an important first step. It will save many couples tons of heartache and big bucks.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing this, I couldn’t. In my blog I do discuss topics that cause difficulties in my relationship. But I only talk about what I’m doing to make our bond deeper. Going any more personal wouldn’t feel good. At least not yet. For example in one post I wrote how my social skills are poor and I need to learn how to notice other people’s emotions better. If you’re interested, here’s the link: http://myhappierlife.com/2011/08/02/reading-people/

  14. susan
    susan says:

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  15. Joy
    Joy says:

    Thank you so much for your article on communication and the honesty with which you write. It is so refreshing to read! I too went through years of help and then years with some help for my marriage. With all I learned about communication I started a website: letsthinkhealthy.com It has tips and helps for marriages. My goal is to make them better. It was great reading another person’s tips. Thanks.

  16. Candylei
    Candylei says:

    My daughter sent me the link to your blog about meeting a farmer. I’ve jumped all around your blog with eye-popping curiosity. What is funny too is the comments. Especially this post. Marriage counseling is hairy and telling it like it is can be hairier. It can turn into hairballing similar to snowballing. We take a walk in your heart here and thank you for opening that door.

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  18. chloe jessica
    chloe jessica says:

    I am gay, and happened to be proud of it.my lover s of 5 years just left me one day. i was devastated, and my heart was torn to microscopic pieces.I later found out that she was stolen from me, by my so called best friend tonya. she told lucy so many lies about me…
    I could not eat nor function for months, until one of my coworkers gave me greatokija@yahoo.com address. I contacted him, told him my story and i was still skeptical. to make this story short, He recommended the power combo ritual for my situation. He cast the spell for me, i recieved my Talisman and ten days later, lucy and tonya broke up. Lucy came to my job, apologized to me and begged me to give her another chance. i FIRST THOGHT that i was dreaming, but it was no dream. the woman that i would do anything for is suddenly begging me to give her another chance. I was floored. oh my god! GREATOKIJA’S SPELL DO REALLY WORK.till this day i do not know how to thank greatokija. but the least i can do, is rewarding him with my true story.
    my baby and i are planing to get married. even gay people need help with love. so if you are gay and are having problems like mine, you’ll know what to do now.
    Peace, love and happyness for all

  19. mary orton
    mary orton says:

    Have been in a frustrating marriage for10years.i found out that my husband was cheating on me and so i confronted him and we both got into a fight.After that he stopped tourchin me,we even stopped slipping on the same bed,through those years i never cheated on him and i wanted him back despirately,i searched for several solutions but non worked for me,i had given up on him because he had filled for a divorce saying he dad found a woman that made him feel harpier than i ever did.
    3 months before the divorce date i was surfing through this sight when i saw many miracles done by a charm caster named IGBUDUTHEGREAT,I messaged him at IGBUDUTHEGREAT@YAHOO.COM telling him of my problems,he instructed me on what to do and i did it i can remember he told me he was to do some prayers and consultations on my behalf which he did and got back to me after 3days telling me that my husband was MINE AGAIN,i was suprised and doubtful cause i and my husband had not talked ever since we had that argument so i wondered how we would get back together.
    With faith i went home that nite,to my gratest suprise my husband was at home,welcomed me with a kiss and fell to his knees asking for forgivness….i could never forget that nite cause it was the best nite of my life.That was how we got back together till now.
    The next day I EMAILED igbuduthegreat thanking him and asking him what more i could do to thank him,he just told me to tell the whole world my testimony.I urge u all with problems or difficulties to visit him at IGBUDUTHEGREAT@YAHOO.COM and u would be so happy as i am rite now.

    mary orton,idaho USA

  20. Andy
    Andy says:

    I’m a husband
    Reading my first blog…
    EVER
    my thoughts
    Your husband is a dream. At least he is trying. At least he cares enough to try.
    Also consider his request in your counseling. His…physical. Yours….emotional.
    His…external
    Yours…internal.
    See any parallels.
    Men Are Men
    Wen Are Women
    We are not the same nor designed to be such. Appreciate him for what he is or become a lesbian.

  21. paul
    paul says:

    Thanks, my marriage has gone through a rought ime recently, but you have given me some ideas to help to work through our problems together.

  22. John Q. Public
    John Q. Public says:

    After reading your five lessons I realize my marriage is in comparatively fantastic shape. Thanks for letting me put my situation into perspective. From what you wrote all I can say is WOW. Impressed you’re still married. Lots of ego apparent between the lines. Way too much me.

  23. Babette 
    Babette  says:

    A family is the building block of a society, and happy families make a healthier society. Marriage counseling helps the married couple build a stable bondage. It assists in the reconciliation of the differences.

  24. Jane Ilene Cohen
    Jane Ilene Cohen says:

    It does seem that you are learning some good communication skills, but what about the underlying issues each of you have that are causing the emotional conflicts between you? It seems you are spending most of your efforts in avoiding emotionally triggering each other, rather than working through the issues.

  25. Dave
    Dave says:

    I would LOVE my wife to throw something at a wall once. Show some passion! I really don’t think twice in 10 years is the crime of the century

  26. faith
    faith says:

    My name is faith, from Florida I have to give this miraculous testimony, which is so unbelievable until now. I had a problem with my Ex husband 2years ago, which lead to our break up. when he broke up with me, I was not my self again, i felt so empty inside me, my love and financial situation became worst, until a close friend of mine Lucy told me about a spell caster who helped her in the same problem too his name is Dr laco. I email Dr laco the spell caster and i told him my problem and i did what he asked of me, to cut the long story short. Before i knew what was happening my husband gave me a call and told me that he was coming back to me in just 2days and was so happy to have him back to me. We have two kids together and we are happy with ourselves. Thanks to Dr Shiva for saving my relationship and for also saving others own too. continue your good work, If you are interested to contact him and testify this blessings like me, the great spell caster email address is:lacopowerfulspellcaster@yahoo.com you are the best among all the spell caster online I hope you see my testimonies and also pray for my family too

  27. jason
    jason says:

    Wow. If you want advice from total strangers on your marriage, just start a blog. :) Great read, and very helpful. THANK YOU!!!

  28. Joel Thompson
    Joel Thompson says:

    I like suggetion # 5. It is so important to keep the channels of communication open. This way each person is kept up to date on what is happening to each other, and as such in a better position to help.

  29. CarterStar
    CarterStar says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your detailed article. In return i made an attempt to communicate with my spouse of five years with no luck. I’m pretty open minded so im not sure where im going wrong can someone help please

  30. Heath
    Heath says:

    I confess that I have only read a couple of your articles – one mentioned loving sex more than your work (who doesn’t?!) which led me to this communication lessons learned article.

    Personally, I think your mistake is in ‘not throwing the daggers at his head’. I have had the daggers at the head thing and there’s nothing like a dagger (chef’s knife!) bouncing off the fridge behind you after skimming your ear lobe on the way past – to put things into perspective!

    Firstly, it would give him something to whinge about. Secondly, it would make him realise that anything less than a dagger is a blessing!

    He might even leave you a note to thank you for not using the dagger!

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