Huffington Post blogger Brittany Wong recently quoted Dr. Becky in an article focusing on the discussions couples need to have before getting married:

It may not be the sexiest way to spend a Saturday night, but discussing big-ticket relationship issues like family planning, money and monogamy could be the best way for couples to stave off a future split.

In fact, the ability to broach big, difficult conversations early on is one of the most important qualities in a new relationship, said Alicia H. Clark, a psychologist in Washington, D.C.,

“You can’t know how you work through disagreements until you have them,” she told HuffPost. “Disagreeing, arguing and fighting about these things will reveal what’s really important to you both. And knowing how your partner will handle conflict is almost just as important.”

What thorny conversations are crucial? Below, marriage therapists and psychologists share their top 10 picks.

The talk about what you want to change about each other. (Be honest, you know you want to.)

“A lot of partners enter marriage with a secret hope that something will change about their partner: He’ll spend less time with his friends when we’re building a family, she’ll spend less money shopping when we’re in this together, I’ll get him to cut back on his drinking. Holding on to these silent hopes can be very destructive to the long-term health and happiness of your marriage. Disclosing them before marriage can actually foster the change you want in a more effective way.”― Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counseling men

The money talk.

“You need to have a long, potentially difficult discussion about money. Go over a few things: Will one or both of you work? What will your general approach to money management be? Will you save every penny, adopt a spend-it-while-we-have-it attitude or have a more middling approach? Many people operate with a ‘we’ll figure it out together as we go’ approach and while that may work if the couple has similar thoughts on finances, if they don’t, it can lead to a relationship war. One party may feel like like their style is forever being cramped, while the other may feel that their partner is leading the family towards financial ruin.” ― Laurel Steinberg, a New York-based relationship therapist and professor of psychology at Columbia University

The sex talk.

“If you suspect your partner’s need for sexual intimacy doesn’t match yours, don’t overlook it. You might want to believe it’s an insignificant issue or once you get married it will work itself out, but sex should be easiest in the first couple years of any relationship. If you’re unsure of your sexual compatibility now, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have problems in the bedroom later on when kids and life enter the picture. Sex is the one thing that cannot be outsourced in marriage. Problem with division of labor? Hire out for help. Different needs for social relationships? One partner joins a club and the other stays home. Sexual frustration is unique because it can only be solved within the marriage. Resentment grows and the higher libido partner will eventually feel betrayed by their partner’s lack of interest. The end result? Festering resentment and, often, the belief that infidelity is justified.” ― Caroline Madden, a marriage and family therapist in Burbank, California

The personal space talk.

“Discuss your need for time alone, or apart from one another. People often overlook this topic initially but after the intense bonding of the early stages, one or both of them may want a bit of time to themselves, or time apart as they go out with friends. If this isn’t discussed beforehand, one partner may feel ditched or jealous, or one of them could begin to feel suffocated and start building resentments. A conversation early on about the normal desire to have some time alone could help distinguish individual needs for solitude from rejection, and allow partners to ask for alone time when they need it and enjoy the time they spend together even more.” ― Ryan Howes, a psychologist in Pasadena, California

The talk about kids.

“It’s so important for a couple to have a straightforward, candid conversation, not only about whether they in fact want to have children, but their beliefs and values about navigating the parenting journey. Do either or both have rigid ideas about waiting to start the process or plunging right in? Do either have strong beliefs about infertility treatments or adoption, should there be difficulty conceiving? Has there been a discussion about religious beliefs and expectations about the religious upbringing of the child? Go over it all.” ― Linda Lipshutz, a psychotherapist in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

The talk about how you’ll raise those kids.

“I see couples’ getting into power struggles a lot about raising kids ‘their way’ because they believe it’s the ‘right way’ with complete disregard for their partner’s preference and perspective. Having parents on the same team (knowing that it often takes work to get there) is imperative to the mental health and well being of children. Ask: Do you share the same core values? Do you agree on what qualities and behaviors from your own families you want to borrow and which you don’t?” ― Megan Fleming, a New York City-based psychologist and sex therapist

The monogamy talk.

“Most couples do want a monogamous marriage; however, monogamy can mean different things to different people, and without an honest conversation it is easy to imagine that your fiancé shares your views. Dig deeper, though: Are you comfortable with your soon-to-be spouse grabbing dinner with an ex who is in town on business? Are you comfortable with private or public friendships with an ex on social media? What about colleagues of the opposite sex? Will you be comfortable if you both have work that involves travel with attractive colleagues? And how might you want to navigate such situations if they arise? What if one of you develops a crush? It can be helpful to explore hypothetical challenges to monogamy through honest conversations before marriage.” ― Elisabeth J. LaMotte, a psychotherapist and founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center

The talk about family traditions and rituals.

“Rituals are not only traditions around major holidays, but how you spend your weekends or how you should (or shouldn’t) eat together during dinnertime: Have you always sat at the table as a family or is it fine to eat separately or in front of the TV? By having these discussions before they happen, you can also stand as a united front if you get any push back from your parents about changes to family traditions. Having these discussions can help you recognize your similarities, make room for your differences and create your own culture as a married couple.” ― Danielle Kepler, a therapist in Chicago, Illinois

The talk about how you’ll handle future problems.

“You both need to know that your partner will do whatever is necessary to deal with future obstacles in the relationship, be it physical, emotional, mental or financial. For instance, if your partner gets depression or develops an anxiety disorder, many spouses would choose to not have it treated, or to ignore it or to mask it with medications or alcohol. Each person needs to know that the other will work to clear any obstacles that come along to the best of their ability. If the marriage falters, will you go to counseling with me and stick with it to work it out? We all need to know that our partner is action-oriented as opposed to being a person who sweeps things under the rug or just says, ‘This is me, deal with it.’” ― Becky Whetstone, a marriage family therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas

The “what’s your ideal marriage?” talk.

“Every premarital couple needs to clearly outline their expectations for themselves, their partner and the marriage they desire early on in the relationship and continue that conversation well into the marriage. Resentment creeps into relationships when you feel you are owed something, have been treated unfairly and is a mixture of disappointment, anger and fear. To that end, be vigilant: Set the bar high for your marriage and for yourself and stay in constant conversation about how you are staying the course. ― Laura Heck, a marriage and family therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah

Original article posted on July 19, 2017 by Brittany Wong at Huffington Post.

If divorce is unavoidable, here’s how to do it right.




I hate divorce. It’s extremely painful for everyone and leaves many lifelong ugly footprints in so many lives that I’ll do whatever I can to get people to stay together in a healthy way. Still, there are times when there just any fuel left to work on remaining together, and couples decided to divorce. Usually, both people in this situation are emotionally worn out, fearful and anxiety-filled – change is full of unknowns, it can be earthshakingly scary.

Even though divorcing couples don’t feel their best, most start off saying they don’t want things to be nasty, and certainly most reasonable people want to end their marriage in as peaceful way as possible, and that’s how they begin the process. Then the lawyers get involved and the being reasonable mojo is lost. Here’s an example of what is likely to happen:

A. Jim files for divorce. Sue gets a letter and copy of the filing from Jim’s lawyer. She reads it sees that they will be asking for full custody of their children, he wants all of his business he has built, and she will receive no financial support.
B. Sue freaks out and yells at Jim with Mama Bear ferocity.
C. Sue’s lawyer writes Jim’s lawyer and says Sue wants half of the business, 100 percent of her retirement, and wants alimony of more than half his salary and full custody of the children. The lawyer also says that if Jim is not forthcoming with the requests that all of the texts he has been sending to their child’s school teacher will be released to the school, their family, and their friends.
D. Jim freaks out and calls Sue and calls her names she’s never heard him say before.
E. The divorce nightmare begins.

Because I have experienced this personally and have seen it unfold hundreds of times in my work, it has become obvious that something needs to be done to prevent it. Toward that end, here are some ways a divorcing couple can save themselves from all the unnecessary misery:

1. Promise yourself you won’t take the low road. You can’t control your spouse but you can control yourself. Stay as rational, reasonable and respectful as you possibly can no matter what. If you need anti-depressants to help you through, get them.
2. Hire a counselor to lean on. You’re going to need someone to vent to, lean on, coach and help you process things that will be happening and have it be 100 percent safe.
3. Hire a collaborative lawyer and/or mediator. Most lawyers are trained to be adversarial attack dogs with no concern for how their dirty tactics will affect the family who will be living with the aftermath. They want to win at all cost. Collaborative lawyers and mediators are compromise and settlement-minded. They agree from the start to negotiate and work it out, and to not take any of it to the court house.
4. Control and oversee your lawyer. Have a clear understanding with your lawyer or whoever you’re working with that nastiness and aggression will not be tolerated and that you are to approve every message and document that is sent to your spouse or their representative before is sent.
5. Continue to see and communicate with each other in divorce counseling. Hire a family counselor who can provide a safe place for you to communicate and tie up loose ends concerning your lives, children, property and settlement issues. If you have children you will be working together on some level for life, and you owe it to them to get along and be cooperative.

Divorce brings out the worst in people. It strikes us at a core level of primal fears involving safety and survival. It takes a lot of awareness, mindfulness and self-discipline to get through it without creating self and collateral damage, but I am here to tell you that it absolutely can be done. If you ask me, it’s worth it.

Oh the complicated job we therapists have!! Today I’d like to take a break from all of the complicated challenges I have with my job, so I’ll put you in my chair … watch out, it may turn your hair curly … here’s your case for the day …

A couple comes in for premarital counseling and the initial meeting is 90 minutes long.  You listen to their story, address their concerns, and pretty soon into it you’ve found enough red flags and land mines to know that there is no way the couple should be planning on sealing a lifelong deal, at least anytime soon. Yet, you inwardly turn green when told that the nuptials are imminent … so, what would you do?

A.    Ignore the troubles. Offer them your blessing and predict a bright future of love and happiness.
B.    Tell them you are worried about them making such a permanent commitment in the light of so many issues and ask about the possibility of marriage postponement, including counseling to work through things.
C.    Tell them their relationship is a train wreck and unless something drastic changes their marriage is certain to be miserable and will most likely end in divorce. P.S. Please don’t have kids.
D.    Run screaming out of the room.

So, what did you decide??

Obviously a therapist wants to be somewhat subtle in passing along the idea that the relationship needs reworking and tuning before signing up for such an important commitment as marriage. But when a ceremony is weeks as opposed to months away, I will be more direct, as in, “In my opinion, your relationship is already showing signs of imbalance and you are likely to have serious marital problems if you marry now, so I would advise you to work out your major issues prior to making a marriage commitment.”

Then the conversation typically goes like this …

“What? Are you talking about postponing the wedding?” Her eyes are wide, her mouth is open.

“It’s probably something you ought to consider.” I reach for my tea.

“Oh my God! My parents have already made their plane reservations. We’ve spent thousands on deposits …”

“I know but …”

“Do you know what you’re saying?” She looks at me from the side, her eyes narrow.


“He may not want to marry me in six months if we postpone it now …”

“Isn’t it good to not get married if that is the case?”

“What will be people say? It will be so embarrassing!!”

“I was suggesting postponing the wedding, not canceling it.”

“Why can’t we just marry and do the counseling and repairing later?”

“You can. It’s just that will you do it? Will you see it through? Will you have the motivation? And what if the counseling causes you to recognize your incompatibilities, but now you’re married?”

“That won’t happen. We love each other. We are meant for each other. We will make it work.”

“OK, that’s fine, but I work with a lot of couples who have been in a similar place to where you are now, and who ultimately couldn’t work it out and divorced. Divorce is exceedingly painful, but in the end, it’s your decision.”

“Wow. We didn’t expect to hear this today.”

“Would you want me to not tell you what I see?  I thought that’s why you came here today.”

“It is, but … “

After a conversation like this, couples typically take it hard, and never come back. I totally understand this, but at least I can sleep at night knowing that I didn’t mislead them about the possibility of their relationship being a happily-ever-after one. My hope, of course, is that they get help and work through their issues, past and present, and it doesn’t bother me one bit that the work won’t be done with me. I imagine that if they don’t, months or years later, when the relationship falls apart, one or the other will say, “You know, years ago that therapist Doctor-whoever-it-was tried to tell us we needed to work through our issues, but we wouldn’t listen.”

So, armchair therapists, what do YOU think??