silk purses and sow ears

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An article I’d written for now-defunct Jane Magazine on Couples Therapy

“Couples therapy before you’re married?”
“Hell, no. You don’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
“If it’s not easy at twenty-six, it won’t be easier at thirty-six because life only gets harder. If you have to see a therapist before marriage, you shouldn’t be getting married.”
“Yeah, but some religions make you–”
“That doesn’t count. Then, you’d only be going because it’s part of the pre-marital process. It’s not that you need it. The people who have to work their shit out with an objective, trained ear, however insightful, are doomed.”
It seemed a bit narrow-minded for my taste. I sat quietly thinking it over. Were early problems in need of professional help really a sign? Or is it just good business to exhume all your issues and sensitivities up front, so you both know exactly what you’re signing into? I suppose you could do that anyway without that strong need for therapy in place. And I guess that’s what it comes down to. If you’re in a situation where one of you can’t budge, where you’re at odds–where you want to be engaged and he’s not ready, or where he thinks a Vegas bachelor party weekend of hotel room lap dances and "champagne room services" is a given and all you want to do is withhold–then maybe it’s just a sign that everything else moving forward will be just as difficult. Just as stubborn. And you’ll deal with power struggles ’til death do you part.



  1. Our rabbi told us that we need to respect the marriage when we are apart in the same manner that we do when we are together. Which means no naked women squatting between my husbands thighs. In Phil's saying "I should be able to do what I want," he is missing what marriage is all about – indulging your spouses concerns even if they feel irrational.

  2. Im glad you wrote about this. Ive been struggling with this lately, just the idea of being with someone else. How it will change my life, my rules, my boundaries and I dont know if I want that. I think it's harder to adjust to new people in your life the older you get, that's for sure.

    My folks have been together 40+ years and they have made some serious shitty mistakes along the way, but one thing I have learned from watching them, especially as they age together (my mom would kick my ass for that comment) and take care of one another – love can endure, as cliche as it sounds. It really is true. If two people want to be together, they will be together, period. People associate weakness with love but that bitch will hang on for the ride, that is if it's truly in for the long haul. Even now my folks are flirty with each other, and I gotta give them credit. 40 years is a long time.

  3. Whoa. I flew right past the bit about Vegas not thinking you were referring to Phil.

    "champagne room services"

    I have a friend who is a stripper (she actually quit her day job as a software developer for this crap) and she told me the things that go on in the champagne room services. They basically have sex with them. The management turns the other way, hence the reason they're back in a discreet room.
    Tell him the champagne room services is a no no. They do some nasty stuff in those rooms.

  4. so is a marriage doomed (or a relationship, whatever) if one or both of you are in individual therapy? because in individual therapy, ideally, you are trying to learn more about yourself, who you are, why things in your life are going a certian way or why you feel a way and what you can do to change or accept those things. in fact, one of the leading problems people come to therapy for are interpersonal relationship problems — because of course our own issues don't just impact us (if they did, a lot more of us would ignore them or suck them up) they impact our whole lives, and especially our intimate relationships.

    in short, whether one is in or not in therapy, in couples or individual therapy, does not indicate how severe the problems are. and each kind of therapy is different — couples can be great for relationships where two people have really different communication styles or different ways of arguning or handling conflict. one of the main reasons my fellow and i do so well is that we deal with conflict and communication in the same way, which is talking it out and talking in general, before anything becomes a problem. we also don't take things personally, just by temperment. if that wasn't the case, if he were passive aggressive or i was a yeller or one of use was more sensitive than the other, our relationship would just take a lot more work, and why not have help with that work? i mean, if you have a cuisinart, do you make pesto by hand? i think not.

  5. i actually think that it is about phil — doesn't she also use a psuedonym for him in SUAD?

    also, the second page of the article doesn't come up on my computer, but i already agree — i trust my FI with my life, and does he, but NO WAY a suite, and no lap dances. i wouldn't want him alone in a hotel room with a woman (let alone a sex worker) for any other occasion, or having a barely clad or naked woman grind on his lap any other time, why now, in an event that marks our marriage?

  6. I wanted to be married in a Catholic church and one of their conditions was couples counseling or a couples retreat before the marriage. I dreaded both but chose counseling because I just could not deal with the idea of a weekend retreat. Turns out that the counseling was so insightful and helpful and not at all about religion. If everyone had to do it, it would open a lot of eyes and prevent a lot of doomed marriages. We took a questionnaire separately that quizzed us about our attitudes and expectations toward family, kids, finances, sharing of responsibilities, resolving differences, and other areas. It showed us which areas we were alike in and which areas we had very different opinions in. Sure some people may have these conversations on their own, but with the addition of a mediator to guide some discussions it was quite positive.

  7. 5 months in does sound pretty early for couple's counseling. it sounds from the article as though "Stephen" mostly wanted to go to therapy to have a neutral third party tell you (Stephanie)that you were wrong. And that you were maybe hoping the same towards Phil. There's a difference between hiring someone to teach you to communicate better and hiring a referee. He seems to have totally nailed it as a control/disrespect issue. Yet that only makes me more amazed that in terms of "choosing your battles" he would pick the Vegas with the boys trip? That sounds like if he doesn't get whatever he wants he's going to play the "you're so controlling" card.
    I really believe that you could trust him and that nothing would happen in Vegas, it's what it costs you emotionally for him to go that's the problem.

  8. I wish I had had the smarts to get to know my husband before we were married. We met on a cruise and 2 months later I moved lock stock & barrel to be with him, 2500 miles away. By the time I figured out just how much he'd omitted to tell me or just flat out lied about, I was in no financial position to leave. I decided that since I'd waited 43 years to get married in the first place, come hell or high water I was going to make it work–or stick it out long enough to come away with half.

    4 years in, I'm still here. Things are better but I know this is not how marriage is supposed to be. And I know I'm a coward for staying. I KNOW that. But here I am. My problem, I deal with it.

    Counseling before marriage is a good idea; take it from the other side of the fence.

  9. I highly recommend the books The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and Why Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman.
    Regardless of if you are having issues in your relationship right now, you will at some point and having a better understanding of yourself, your partner and your relationship will help.
    At some point one must figure out how to get beyond the power struggle to the deeper issue of what it is you are really fighting about.

  10. Stephanie, I agree with you 100% that a weekend in Vegas with the guys and strippers is not OK. A weekend with some stipulations might be OK, but "I should be able to do whatever I want" is not. That is not a committed relationship.

  11. Five years ago, my husband and I entered marriage counseling and went until Hurricane Katrina hit (we lived in Baton Rouge) and we felt like other people needed our time slots more than we did. We'd been married five years at that point and realized we needed to learn how to communicate better and air some stuff with a neutral third-party person rather than friends/family, etc.

    I see marriage counseling as a commitment to the marriage, as an acknowledgment that people change and need to learn how to work better together, and as a realization that you can't just "power through" everything. We still use the techniques we learned from counseling.

  12. I highly recommend the books The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and Why Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman.
    Posted by: Annebelle


    I second Annebelle's book recommendations. Really worthwhile and useful information.

  13. I just don't get it..couples therapy. and I'm not trying to be a bitch and fight this out – so listen first where I'm coming from and tell me that I'm biased.

    Hubby and I are going on six years of dating, 1 + year of marriage. we never lived together before marriage and over the five years, we because best of friends, lovers, etc. basically, our careers, our relationship, travelling, and our hobbies are our life. We don't socialize much with friends because we do that with couple friends. Family included. Some of you will think I'm crazy and I've read it myself: it's very hard to find a person that is your soulmate, your lover, your best friend, and your partner. The hardest thing for me has been reconciling the living life part with him – (i.e., bills and annoying crap). Everything else, I've been Ok with.

    That being said, sometimes I want to pull his hair out. Completely and utterly. Sometimes I want to beat the crap out of him. But when it comes to compromising and goals, we DO compromise. Without help. He likes houses, I like apartments. We are moving abroad, but AFTER i finish my MFA. He pays the rent, I pay utilities. We travel a week to where he wants, a week to where I want. He is religious, I am not. I still accompany him to church. He understands I need space, he lets me have it. We have to save, and we make it work. He's an asshole, eventually he apologizes. I'm a bitch, eventually I do too. In a way, we are both selfish when it comes to things that we need to do and love and so selfless when it has to do with what each other loves. Why get a third person involved? I'm I just lucky (pun intended because sometimes I do not feel it), or do people who go to therapy just meet at different moments, have different circumstances that don't allow them to unite in marriage as fully as I was able to do.

    I'm not saying my marriage is awesome 100% of the time. Financially, we are still far from where we want to be (we are 25). But when it comes to getting involved in therapy, what problem is big enough that two people that love each other CANNOT solve? I'm excluding cheating, abuse, and the likes from this equation. Because those are fundamental problems that most of the time will not be solved.

  14. "Then suddenly I'd be seeing a therapist to work on me. Oh vomit. I'd rather be alone"

    I think this hits pretty close to the mark. Therapy means facing things you don't want to face or cannot face on your own. The truth is, most people, including couples, can't handle it. It's too scary to face the truth about themselves. That's why many people don't go to premarital counseling…they know the shit is there, but they don't want to deal with it. They don't want to hear "I told you so" whether from other people, or even from their own inner voice.

    From what I've learned (have many friends who are therapists), most couples don't make it into therapy until it's too late, and even then, they'll go to 2 or 3 sessions and say "it didn't work".

    It's like anything else you set out to do and learn. It's a tool and it's a skill. You have to make time for it, put in sincere effort, and be open to having setbacks or making mistakes. But the truth is you'll never get to where you want to be without first admitting being vulnerable and needing help.

  15. We hit marriage counseling a few months into our marriage. A lot of issues surfaced just a few months prior to getting married that definitely needed addressed with a professional. As it turned out, that particular psychiatrist wasn't worth the money we put out. Although it did start us going in the right direction with our communication and the issues we were dealing with.

    Having been married to a man (the kids' Dad) who didn't believe in couseling of any kind, it was reassuring for me that my husband now, was and is willing to seek help dealing with issues through a counselor. We definitely agreed that after four failed marriages between us, that professional help or guidance at the very least, couldn't hurt.

    Having watched my parents seek counseling several times over their 45 year marriage; I'm of the mind set that everyone could benefit from therapy when needed.

    Sometimes it's as simple as getting the lines of communication open and headed in a productive direction.

    Just thought I'd throw my two cents in there.


  16. wow, lots of phil-bashing going on in these posts lately – sounds like you guys need to re-enter couples therapy….

  17. I will never understand why going to therapy, whether individual or couples, would be conceived of as a weakness. It has nothing to do with a "referee", though some couples wish to utilize that part of their therapist. It's all about learning about yourself, and your relationships with others, and how to improve those things we can and accept and deal with those we can't. It's not a chore if you have a good therapist.

    But the commenter above who noted that many couples wait until it's too late is absolutely true. It takes real commitment, willingness to be open and face fears and weaknesses, and time to discover things about yourself and your relationship. So if it will enhance your marriage, why not do it?

    Now, if you aren't planning to get married any time soon, maybe couples counseling isn't worth it. But I think the vast majority of couples could benefit from premarital counseling.

    And I'm not just sayin' that cuz I'm a therapist ;)

  18. i totally agree with jess. if you need the therapist as a referee, then you are already in a game of losing and winning. for me, a therapist is ideally someone who can help you (both of you, usually) learn how to communicate better, how to handle conflict better, see yourselves and others clearer.

    a lot of people talk about therapy also a as place where you have to face hard and scary things. it can be, and that can be beneficial, but it can also be a place where an expert in the ways people think about themselves and others and how they express that, can teach thier clients skills and techniques for improving thier relationships. i say this because a lot of folks think therapy is a place where you have to talk about all the awful and traumatic things that ever happened to you. if your past is impacting your current life in a bad way, sure, therapy is a great place to explore that, but it's also for people who just want to be able to enjoy our relationships right now.

  19. Callie: i stand corrected.

    We attend counseling every other week or so. She is great. Imago, v. the old fash. kind (although she gives us a "free" night every once in a while to "let loose"). It really has helped. Afterwards we go out and have a "date" and talk about what occured… We are now in the process of figuring out how to wean ourselves off…sort of scary. Seriously though, we are light years away from who we were before we started…If for no other reason but the ability to communicate all the shit that are dealing with. And in communication there is a some form of understanding (i'm not saying agreement necessarily…) and with understanding comes a peace that washes over the whole r'ship and makes things just that much better. Life is too short…i want to enjoy what i have left.

    As for the anonymous poster: I'm sorry you have to deal with what you are going through. Any chance for a fresh start? How does he feel? Do you know?

  20. I've been to couples counseling and individual therapy. Both have helped immensely. Sometimes earlier is better than later in terms of couples therapy. Truly understanding how someone else operates/what affects their communication with you can be tough. We trigger one another, and then the emotion is so raw that it's hard to face what's behind it – more so the further the hurt/anger/frustration. Often, that emotion's not even really about the other person…and we likely 'chose' that person because they represent/remind us of an earlier pattern we're trying to work out as adults. Sometimes it's easier to see/do that with a professional third party to help you navigate through it. Understanding and fully appreciating what's causing someone to act a certain way and ourself a certain way goes a long way toward diffusing the emotions we trigger. And there are tools for working through everything. Again, it makes a big difference when a third party suggests a tool. I've tried learning from books and sharing with my partner. That's usually met with way more resistance.

  21. I love the article (the part I could read). And I agree… cheating is anything you aren't comfortable doing in front of your spouse. On top of that though is taking into consideration of what they consider cheating. There may be two different definitions or comfort levels (if given the same definition like the one stated). Who knows maybe he'd feel fine getting a lap dance in front of you… but what's important is that you aren't comfortable with it and he needs to realize that. It's not about you controlling him. He needs to take into consideration what you consider cheating.

    I hate to say this, but you having these feelings actually makes me feel better. You see, I think you are so much prettier, more successful, and more put together than I am. Yet, we have the same issues with strippers. I've had so many people say … just get over it, he's a guy it's what guys do, you need to trust him. I've always wondered if it is just my self-confidence. I don't think it is… I just flat out don't like that situation. And I HATE the excuse 'he's a guy it's what they do'. Yeah, well human nature is to lie, be jealous, cheat, steal… that doesn't make it right? Does it?

    sigh… I hope I got my point across like I meant it!

    I'd love to read the rest of the article if you could link it somehow.

  22. so now do you think that you were so caught up in finding someone and having a family, that you ignore the red flags?
    I don't know I always get that a vibe that your husband has changed and that maybe you won't leave him because yuor afraid of failure.

  23. I'm surprised at your negative attitude towards therapy. I can honestly say that, without therapy, I would not be the successful, professional, happily married woman that I am today. And yes, my husband and I have gone to marital therapy and I think that it helped us tremendously.

    Going to therapy isn't a weakness. It's the ability to say, "There is a problem here, but I want to fix it." Sometimes it's more trouble than it's worth, but that is a different evaluation altogether.

    Sounds like things are rough lately. I hope you feel better soon.

    FROM SK: I'm not at all against therapy, and thanks for the well-wishes.

  24. My boyfriend and I have recently gotten back together after 9 months apart (before that we lived together for 3 years, 3,5 years couple). After a rosy couple of dates filled with perfect bliss, yesterday we had an awfull night again, which warped me right back to arguments we had before we broke up last year. I'm very much afraid we're a "can't live without each other, can't live with each other" kind of couple.
    He has had some individual therapy when he was in college, which was a very bad experience for him and he refuses to see any other therapist ever again. I understand his reluctance, but our situation is very frustrating for me. The problem we have is communication (ha, what's new) I feel misunderstood a lot, maybe he feels the same. The way I express myself and the way he interprets it (and vice versa) differs completely and causes most problems. Therapy might be able to improve the situation. Now I feel like we keep hitting the same wall over and over. I hope by at least working on my part, things will improve. Reading other women's experiences here has always been a help btw. It's remarkable that women all over the world go through similar things.

    As for the 'before your married' statement, I think nowadays that's totally bull. Marriage remains a milestone, but not as significant as it used to be. Some people get married after half a year, some after 4 years, some remain unmarried forever. That doesn't mean they're less committed to the relationship, or that therapy wouldn't be beneficial. But I do think that when you need therapy during the first months, it can be a red flag. The first months of being in love are for fun and bonding, and if the pink cloud still reveals issues so deep to need counseling, where's the fun in the relationship?

  25. I finished SUAD and eagerly checked out your blog to read about the happy ending that someone told me you found. How disappointing to read that you are in another tough relationship. The only nice thing I found about Phil was your post about being so happy that you dont need to hang at clubs to find male attention. Why did you marry this guy after everything you went through?

  26. I just wanted to let you know that I bought your Moose book last night at the Borders in Santa Fe, NM. It was in the weight loss section and only had one copy.

  27. I was so busy spouting off about therapy that I forgot this salient point:

    My boyfriend is going to Vegas for a guys' weekend in two weeks. I'm still gritting my teeth. So despite everything I've ever learned, implementing it in my own life is MUCH harder.

    So I feel your pain, Stephanie. But hey, if I want to have my girls' weekends (granted, strippers not involved, but still), I guess I can't be as angry when he goes. It just still makes my brain want to go arrrrghaghararhh, ya know? ;)

  28. As someone who tries to be a respectful critic (well, most of the time…we all have our moments) I just wanted to say that I've read your recent posts with an interest I haven't had in a long time.

    I am really impressed with the fortitude you are showing in this latest wave of 'Phil Bashing' (others, not yours). I've been going back and reading (often re-reading) posts from years ago and from an outsiders perspective it really appears to me that you've met your match (in a good way). I applaud the way Phil challenges you, I think you'd get bored otherwise. But nothing you've written makes me think he doesn't also love and respect you.

    It's funny (in an ironic, slightly sick way) how back when you posted the first photos of you and Phil together or when Phil gave you that scrapbook for your 30th birthday, or when you found out you we expecting twins or when Phil wrote about the twin's birth, people were falling all over themselves to fawn all over him (fans who have become protective of someone they have never met or maybe have met once or twice felt you'd finally found someone worthy of you), yet some of the same, perhaps overzealous (my opinion) fans forget that and tear him a new one at the hint of completely normal, probably temporary strain.

    It's no secret that I'm weary of overt fawning of a person none of us really knows (respect and idol worship are two completely different things and I see both here), but I can see why people can have such an attachment. Okay, post over, I promise. Anyhoo, what this boils down to is…I like it. I like what you've been writing recently.

  29. Do people not realize that ALL relationships have their up's and down's? I never thought that you made a wrong decision by marrying Phil. Life isn't always how it's depicted in the movies — rocky points in relationships can be times where you grow together exponetially. Regardless, it's her life; her marriage. She didn't ask for advice or opinion.

  30. Hey. It's hard to tell if this (and other sort of negative posts recently) are about your current relationship or if you're just thinking about things from your past, but either way, I hope things are ok. The part about "power struggles" seems to be a current issue, and that must be really hard, especially since this is such a great time for you professionally. The problem in this article may be about you "controlling" what is and isn't appropriate, but whoever you were writing about the other day was trying to control your feelings, which sort of seems worse. Anyway, best of luck with everything.

  31. I had this exact same argument with an ex and have come to realize that I never would've trusted him enough to feel okay with him going (a reason why I am thankful that the relationship is over).
    But because of it, I have (until reading this article) decided that I don't want to marry a man that wants a bachelor party. I hate what it symbolizes and I want no part of it.
    But now I feel like maybe I am being a bit extreme.
    After being a part of a relationship with broken trust, it is more difficult than I can put into words…thinking about all of the what ifs that my future man could put me through. This is no way to live, and maybe why I have yet to find love. Instead of looking for someone who will always play by my rules, I now know that I need a man that can teach me that some men are faithful and willing to help me overcome my insecurities.
    I've printed this article as a reminder of the partner that I hope to find and the growing that we will need to do together, from the beginning. I hope for a good man, like Phil!

  32. I think a lot of people are missing the piece of information in this story that makes Phil a stand-up guy and not at all like the "wasband": he cared enough to argue about it. No, he didn't roll over and play dead and tell her he wouldn't go to Vegas, but Stephanie always said she wanted a man with the stones to stand up to her. The important thing is that he didn't just yes her to death and then go get a lap dance like a lot of men would have done.

    My husband is not big on strip clubs, but I said if he wanted to go to one for his bachelor party that I didn't mind – as long as it was out in the open in a club, not in a private room or a stripper coming to his house or a hotel. That's where I drew the line, personally, and he understood that. At the end of the day, I never even asked him what he did for his bachelor party because I never felt that threatened by it – I know he's a good man.

  33. Shouldn't you trust the person you marry enough to know that he wouldn't cheat on you in vegas?

    What would you do if phil freaked out everytime you went on a book tour or wanted to spend the weekend in the hamptons just with the girls?

  34. I dunno – I did couples therapy with my (now) husband, back before we were even engaged. We'd been together off and on for almost 5 years, had just started living together, and couldn't stop fighting. Like all the time. So his mother, actually, offered to pay for it.

    We've been married six years, together, gods, more than ten now, and are doing great: two kids, rare fights, regular satisfying sex, generally happy to be with one another. So I think I'm coming down on the 'fan' side of couples therapy.

    Cute happy-ending story aside, the therapist we saw was quite pragmatic. She saw it as her role not to mediate, but to provide tools. So, for instance, she taught us how to disagree more productively (instead of getting into wheel-spinning fights), how to hear what the other person is actually saying, how to take time for ourselves, etc.

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