Come inside the mind of two marriage counselors. We took some time out of our days to chat about our new blog, all things marriage and the inside scoop on being marriage counselors. What is the secret to a great marriage? With 30 years of combined marriage between us, do we have the perfect marriage? Are all marriages worth saving? Should you stay together for the kids? We tackle these and other questions in our very first blog post! Enjoy!
What is “Modern Marriage?”
“This isn’t our parent’s marriage. Marriage is different now. Some of the fundamentals are the same, sure. But our parents didn’t text each other from the other room. They didn’t get mad at each other because their iphone was blowing-up with work emails during their date night. They didn’t see the $500 professional, photoshopped images on Facebook depicting perfect families frolicking in the falls leaves and then feel inadequate. They didn’t have 5,000 shows on Netflix to binge-watch on their tablet from their bedroom and never even set foot in the same room as their spouse at night. Modern marriage is different….and we want to help people make sense of that. We want to use the knowledge we have based on years of research and experience and use that to help marriages thrive with our current culture.”
Why a blog?
Shanna: “I think the biggest reason is because we get it. We get the modern marriage and what makes it work– we also get how busy people are with kids, jobs, life and sometimes, unfortunately, people just don’t have a lot of time, energy, or money for therapy.”
Lori: “I think people want to know about what to do about their marriages and relationships. We think people are looking for this type of information. I look to blogs for everything…how to parent my kids, how to decorate my house, how to make chocolate-covered pretzels, how to host an over-the-top birthday party for my one-year old that she will never remember. I love how accessible stuff is these days. There is also the reality that it is hard for some people to go to therapy or they can’t get their partner to go. We want as many people to be privy to this information as possible; whether you can make it into a therapy office or not.”
Are you worried you will blog yourself out of business?
Shanna: ”Not at all. First, I have enough people coming through my door and so do you. In sessions, we need to spend our time processing and actively changing a couple’s unhealthy dynamics. There are so many other things to teach and that’s what a blog can be so great for.”
What are your hopes for the blog?
Lori: “As I talk to couples, I realize how much valuable information we have, based on our training and experience. It almost seems unfair that we know all of this. Everyone should be privy to the information, whether they spent their lives with hundreds of couples like we do or not.”
Shanna: “I think about how one spouse could read this and can make things different in their marriage. And secretly, I hope that my recognition as a major blogger lands me a role in Law & Order. I want to be one of the actors walking along, naively, strolling home after a day of work and discovers a dead body.”
Lori: “Well, my hope is get to do a TED talk, even though I’m terrified of public speaking. I guess I would have to get that figured out.”
Have you always been knowledgeable about social media?
(With lots of laughter)
Shanna: “I was laughing just writing this question.”
Lori:“I’m not even on Facebook. Do you remember when we asked, “How do you tweet?” and “What does the hashtag mean?”
Shanna: “We may not be knowledgeable but we know the power of social media can make a huge impact.”
What is your favorite thing about working with couples?
Shanna: “I love helping them figure out their relational dance/dysfunction.”
Lori: “Yes! I love when they realize the crap that they are doing is because they care about each other.”
What’s your least favorite thing about working with couples?
Lori: “Separation and divorce. I recently heard a speaker say you can find your passion by paying attention to what breaks your heart. For me, anytime a couple comes in ready to separate and divorce, it just breaks my heart. My client is the marriage and when the marriage ends, there is this end…this death that happens.”
Shanna: “I have a very different take on that than you. Maybe it’s because of our different backgrounds. My parents got divorced when I was a child and yours are still married. I look back and I’m happy my parents got a divorce. They both remarried people that they found more happiness with than with each other. I realize that there are times it makes more sense to leave than to stay married. But either way, my whole philosophy is that you have to look at your part. If you are so busy pointing the finger at your partner, the dysfunction will never change, in this relationship or the next.”
What’s your philosophy or approach with working with couples?
Shanna: “I work to get people to own their own ‘yuck’ and figure out what they can do about it. I help them figure out if it is something they can change and how.”
Lori: “You and I have had the privilege of doing co-therapy together with many couples. I can attest that you are a very direct therapist.”
Shanna: “Yes, I don’t like to waste a lot of time.”
Lori: “You are really good at helping people stay focus on themselves and not blaming their partner. You don’t let people squirm out, you hold their feet to the fire and you hold them accountable.”
Shanna: “Thank you! It’s been awhile since we worked together.”
Lori: “I don’t know if you would agree that I’m a bit more “cushy” and touchy-feely with couples. I want to get them into their emotions and bonding on this deep emotional level. That’s why we make a good team, with those two dynamics. You help people stay in their lane and I get laser-focused on getting them to emotionally connect.”
Shanna: “We have two different ways of getting to the end result. Which is why doing a blog together makes sense for us. We have two different ways of working with couples but we work to get the same solution. It’s really the best of both worlds in our approaches.”
What have you learned the most about relationships in doing couple therapy?
Lori: “This is a whole blog post right there.”
Shanna: “Relationships are hard. These are my 3 favorite words to say to couples and to myself in my own marriage when struggles are going on. They do a lot less damage than “I want out”.
Lori: “I had this client a few days ago. They have been married for 20 years, he said ‘It just seems like it shouldn’t be this hard.’ I was like ‘I don’t know where you learned that!”
Shanna: “But there are things you have to fight so hard for and hard work pays off. Like with running, when you cross the finish line at the marathon, all the hard work is worth it. Once you’ve done the hard work to really learn and understand your dynamics, and how you play into that and how your past is also a factor. And then, you don’t feel as defensive and don’t see your partner as the enemy. I love watching people become more understanding of each other once they have done the work.”
Lori: “After you have see couples, day after day, week after week, year after year, you realize that the actual culprit is not him or her. But rather this cycle that is going on for years and years. When couples take the time to learn this and figure out new ways to interact, then there is no enemy.”
You’ve been a therapist for a number of years you must have a perfect marriage?
(Lots of laughter)
Shanna: “If I ask my husband that question, he may not stop laughing for a very long time. I don’t know what a perfect marriage would even look like. My husband and I talk…we get it out there. We hash it out and we both try to do our best. We both mess up often. I’m not the therapist in our relationship, I used to try to be and it didn’t work. I need to be a person in my marriage and people make mistakes. I have my own ‘yuck’ and he has his. I try to take my own advice and look in the mirror.”
Lori: “You let other people call you out on your stuff too…like me. You are open to influence.”
Lori: “The perfect marriage…I’ve changed my view on this tremendously as a marriage counselor. My husband and I are so imperfect. We don’t use great communication skills. If someone popped into my home, they would think ‘You are a marriage counselor?’ But even with all of that, our marriage is intact. I don’t work in sessions on perfect communication. I’m convinced that you can really screw it up. No, I do not have a perfect marriage, but that gives me a lot of hope for my clients. Like, guess what? You don’t have to have a perfect marriage but you can still have a thriving marriage.”
What do you believe is the secret to a great relationship?
Lori: “Are you asking like…the one secret? THE secret?!…..Well, I’ve really changed my thoughts on this. I used to give clients a lot of communication “tools” and relationship “skills.” Now, I’m way more in tune to helping my clients find comfort in each other. When they are disconnected or feel stressed, hurt, anxious, sad, or pissed, I think if a couple can learn how to find comfort in their spouse, the other issues fall into place. All the woes about parenting, sex, money, in-laws, all the typical things couples bring into therapy, become able to navigate, because they can turn to each other, no matter the topic and find comfort, connection, reassurance, understanding and relief.”
Shanna: “The secret is safety. A couple has to build a foundation of safety to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the secret and creating safety makes vulnerability possible.”
Lori: “Wow, I think we have solved it. We can end the blog right here!”
Why do you think so many marriages end in divorce?
Lori: “We know that sometimes, divorce is necessary. But do you think so many more people divorce than should?”
Shanna: “Absolutely, I think a lot of people give up too fast without really trying to figure out their contributions to their disconnection in the marriage. They are waiting for their spouse to change instead of asking themselves “what do I do when I feel like my spouse is not changing? What do I do in response to my spouse when I see they aren’t changing? What’s my piece? When people are so busy blaming and being defensive, they can’t break down the barriers. I tell people all the time that often they are stuck in patterns and if they don’t break them down, even if they leave, they will take their own stuff, their unhealthy dynamics with them. A lot of people divorce without figuring out all the dynamics that causes the dysfunction in the relationship. And if people would figure more of that out, hang in there and see if they can create change in their marriage, I think the divorce rate would decrease.”
Lori: “I agree. Divorce makes me sad…we’ve established that. What I think is more tragic is when people leave a relationship without doing what you just said. I just want to bang my head against a wall because I want to say “you know you are taking this into the next one, you are taking what you do that you don’t want to look at into the next. I think that even if the relationship is inevitably ending, it is important for people to take a look at their part, whether it is for this marriage or the next relationship, it still makes sense to dig in.”
“I think too, it’s a misconception that it should be all butterflies and sunshine and that love should feel powerful all the time. People come into relationships with this misconception, So when it gets hard, and the love starts to die and they start to resent each other, it can be a quick leap to “I’m with the wrong person.”
Do you think every relationship is worth saving?
Lori– “There are the obvious reasons to end a relationship, such as abuse. Otherwise, what kinds of situations would you say may not be worth saving?”
Shanna– “When someone refuses to invest in ways to make things better and just remain miserable roommates. Relationships ebb and flow but if people are just done trying, those are the people that need to go beyond a blog and make a call to a therapist. In my opinion, I think people deserve to be happy, so figuring out how they can be and if that can happen together before giving up.”
Lori– “Yes, I think those are good words…when they are done trying. There are so many options, resources and information out there on how to restore relationships. If they do not want to invest their time into any of these resources and are done trying, there is sometimes only so much that can be done.”
Shanna– “In my office, the hardest emotions to deal with are indifference or apathy. Couples need to call before they have let the distress go on so long they feeling these ways. However, I have seen people come in with apathy and indifference and still turn it around in their marriage. But sometimes, that’s a step to separation.”
What do you think about people staying in a relationship for the sake of the children?
Shanna – “I think a lot of people do it. If initially, that’s what gets them into therapy and what gets them working on their marriage, I think it’s fine. It’s totally valid to not want to break up the family. It can be unrealistic to think that divorce is going to be “so much better.” If you asked a divorced person who is being honest, divorce is hard too. Single parenting, or splitting your children half-time is really hard. Divorce is not the quick fix. So if the kids is what motivates a couple to fight to save the relationship, that is fine with me. On the other hand, My parents divorced when I was 8 years old and actually, I’m glad they didn’t stay together for my sister and I. I’m glad they chose not to stay together and be so unhappy.”
Lori– “It’s a really hard call. I think about how it’s just sad all the way around. Splitting up the family and the impact is devastating but also staying in a marriage when you are so unhappy has its impact too. Some people do stay in it for the kids and figure out to be civil with each other and not expose their kids to unhealthy things. Of course, I want so much more than that for people. But, I’m with you, it’s fine for a couple to come in here and tell me they are only doing this for the kids. I say “That’s fine! That’s a great reason to try and work on having a great marriage.”
Let’s share our own family histories of marriage…
Lori– “Our histories are really different. My parents have been married for 40 years. It’s not that I think they have a perfect marriage, but they have a stable marriage. They gave me a lot of stability and I know that’s part of what I fight for with couples, because I know I appreciate that stability. I work hard to try and help couples give their families that type of stability. For me, if there is any chance in hell I can help a couple stay together, then I will fight for them as hard as they are willing to fight for themselves.”
Shanna- “My parents divorced after 14 years of marriage and both remarried several years later. They were both married to their second spouses for at least 20 years before each of them passed away. As I have said I am glad they divorced (and I shared that with both of them) because I did get to see what a healthy marriage looked like. My husband also has parents that have been married for 43 years and I really look up to their marriage as well.”
What about your our own marriages?
Shanna– “I’ve been married 19 years, longer than my parents were married.”
Lori– “This is my 9th year of marriage.”
Let’s talk about our blog!
Shanna– “We are going to cover lots of topics, using our own experiences and our experiences with our clients. We will always protect confidentiality. It’s so interesting how the same themes will show up in our office 7 times in a week, which will inspire a topic for us to talk about and write about. We will also use our own struggles, trials, tribulations and victories. There is always something teachable and writing worthy going on around my house!!”
Lori– “We want our blog information to go farther than some of the traditional resources out there. You can get on a ton of blogs and websites to find information like, go on date nights, show appreciation, listen more, etc. We want to go a step farther, and give people a bit more of a window into what it would be like in a therapy session. We want people to be more much informed based on research, our experiences as marriage counselors and our techniques in working with couples for so many years, we want to take people a step further.”
Our history together?
Lori– “We worked together for 8 years at Psychological Counseling Services in Scottsdale, Arizona, a pretty renowned practice. We felt really lucky to work there. We really honed in on working with couples of all types of issues.”
Shanna– “We loved working with families too!”
Lori– “Yes! It was a pretty unique place and we got to do co-therapy together. So we got to work together with a lot of couples and families. I remember being there as an intern and sitting in on your sessions and learning from you.”
Shanna– “I think you are pointing out how much older I am than you.”
Lori– “No, I’m pointing out that you are much more seasoned and wise than me. But now, you have your own practice in Scottsdale, Arizona and I work at a practice in Charlotte, North Carolina. Our selfish reason for doing the blog is to stay “co-workers.”
Shanna- “This is going to be a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see what all we come up with!”