when bears and beers fight

The other day, with Abigail and Luke snuggled up against me in bed, I read aloud to them from The Berenstain Bears Get in a Fight. I’ve saved a lot of books from when I was a child (yes, the entire Sweet Valley High collection—who didn’t want to be Jessica Wakefield with her straight, long blond hair?), and aside from Curious George Goes to the Hospital (where that silly monkey eats a puzzle piece and needs an operation), The Berenstain Bears were my favorite. I’d study each illustration so intently that my mother couldn’t turn the page until I’d taken in every last detail. In particular, I loved to inspect the Bears’ tree house, especially when it was lit up from the inside like a pumpkin.


I read to them from my own childhood book, it’s pages creased, marked thinner with time. Mama Bear explained the concept of fighting to her cubs. “We get angry, even call each other names and say things we don’t mean—and after a while it’s over.”

Like I do with most books I read to them, I asked the beans what they’d learned and if they had any questions. “Sometimes,” Lucas said, “we get mad at each other, and we feel frustrated and angry, and—”
“Yes,” Abigail interrupted, “but it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other, right Lucas?”
“Right, Abby.”
“But you both know that it’s okay to feel angry, right? We all get angry and feel frustrated sometimes, but that’s never a reason to push or scream or hit.”
“Right, ’cause that’s bad manners,” Lucas said.
“Yes, but Mama? Sometimes we yell at Kini ’cause he doesn’t listen, even when I yell real loud and say, ‘Kiniiiii, come heeeere! Time to get your meatball!”

After explaining the difference between yelling to beckon someone and yelling in anger, it was time to eat. Phil had just returned with dinner. The taters climbed into their chairs, and as always, we took turns around the table, each sharing our favorite part of the day. When it was Luke’s turn, he said his favorite part of the day was, “Snuggling in bed with Mama as she read stories.”

Phil asked Lucas and Abigail to tell him about one. Once they ran through their explanations about fights and anger and love, Phil took a moment, then turned to each of us in an uncharacteristically solemn way.

“I want to tell you that I’m sorry if I yell at you, or if I yell at Mama. I shouldn’t do that. It’s wrong. And I’m going to try super hard to stop yelling because none of you deserve that. And I’m really sorry.” It was unprompted and just about the biggest thing I’ve ever seen him do.

“That’s okay, Papa. I accept your apology, and no more yelling because it’s not nice.”
“That’s right, it’s not. And if I do yell, please tell me. Because I don’t want to yell. Especially not to you or Mama.” He looked at me with tears in his eyes as I wiped away my own.

That is the man I married, a man I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s not as if I’ve heard it all before. In fact, I can’t remember a single time when he’s admitted any real wrongdoing. This was, without a doubt, new territory. Still, I couldn’t help but think, actions speak louder than words, and it’s not just about yelling. Though these particular words were certainly a start.

“I’m going to try very very hard at this, Stephanie.” Huge. Totally huge for him. And as much as he’d deny it, I think it’s in no small part due to what he’s read from readers of this blog. So, thank you, each and every one of you, skeptics and optimists alike.

When things feel less immediate and raw and start to feel lighter, when all of this isn’t top of mind, that’s when it will matter most. I have my fingers crossed hoping this promise doesn’t wear thin with time. I also know the only way to truly keep at it is to commit to it fully. Promises sometimes aren’t enough. Intention isn’t enough. Because it’s never that easy.

An odd analogy perhaps, but It’s why, no matter the week I’ve had, come Friday (or Saturday), I get on the damn scale. Not my home scale but in front of an actual winged-hair person. Accountability. That’s why I’ve been able to shed 24.6 pounds in no time at all. Because I’m forced to face it even when I think I’ve got it all under control. That’s exactly how I feel about couples’ therapy. Eventually, you become a “Lifetime Member,” where you no longer need to attend weekly sessions. You show up for a refresher now and again, just to be sure you’re staying on track. We need the “I just ate a box of truffles in my car” kick-start version: Weight Watchers for our fat relationship challenges.

I know, too damn well, how impossible change can feel. It’s really hard to un-do what you’ve been doing for thirty years. Awareness might be baby steps, but at least the steps are moving in the right direction, and Phil is not alone. I too have, oh, a neat dozen or so things I can improve about my own behavior. In the meanwhile, we’re on the hunt, not just for a home, but for an exceptional (and my requirement: strong) therapist… in Boca.



  1. Go Phil! I’m rooting for you crazy kids to have the happy marriage you both imagined you were marrying into.

  2. Like I said before…I continue to admire your commitment, perseverance, and courage. It takes all three of these to get your through these times, and there will be more, and the fact that Phil acknowledged that he had a part in what happened, and is willing to see a new therapist, is a big step forward! I truly believe we are with people for reason whether it’s for just a season or a lifetime and they all come into our lives to teach us a lesson. So we can choose to work it out with that particular person or wait for the next person, but eventually we will learn. I’m happy to see that you all are both committed to being happier together. From a distance and the very little I know I see why you all belong together and have a Texas sized shot of having a life-long happy life together.

  3. Wonderful. What a wonderful moment. Big kudos to Phil for taking responsibility and asking for accountability; it’s a difficult thing to do.

  4. I love this post. First of all, I love the Berenstain Bears – I just made a reference to their spooky tree book the other day when we were driving through some heavy fog after a hike.
    But I also love the second part, because I really and truly do believe if you work on your sh*t, you can make changes. Not immediately, but eventually.
    My significant other is pretty similar to yours. And it’s work. But I’m glad you post honestly because it’s nice to hear about someone else working through these issues.
    But the main reason I chose my SO is because he’s ridiculously brilliant, interesting, challenges me to be my best, and he’s completely honest & trustworthy. And unlike anger, these are qualities that can’t be “worked on” over the years.

  5. Think of it as a form of AA. “Hello, my name is Stephanie, and I have problems maintaining a relationship.” “Hi, Stephanie!”

    It never solves itself. It will get better and worse. You will have days when your relationship is on top of the world, and days where it all sucks and you wonder why the hell you ever agreed to spend your life with him. But as long as the two of you keep trying, you’ll be fine.

    (Phil: damnit, don’t do things like that. You make it harder for the rest of us husbands because our wives expect the same kind of behavior out of us. grin)

    Keep the faith. And when you set the support group up, let me know. I’ll be there as a fellow participant.

  6. Tears are in my eyes. This is a releif to read after your previous post. I hope you two succeed in your quest to communicate and grow and continue to love each other. You are right the words are a good start and yes actions speak louder than words. I tell my own children that every day. Kudos to Phil for making the first step and good luck to both of you.


  7. Crying. In a good way.

    PS I love all the books you mentioned! That Curious George with the puzzle piece has always been my fave. Did you read Sweet Valley Confidential??

  8. This made me cry. So sweet. Hope your house always has that warm pumpkin glow of love.

  9. I think you are right to be skeptical. “I am sorry and I will not do it again” is also what wife beaters say. Only time will tell, but for the sake of your kids, I hope things work out as they should. Whether that means you stay together or not remains to be seen. Good luck though – moving and a new job are very stressful events.

  10. That’s half the battle… Recognizing what we can do to improve both ourselves and our lives…

    Great first step!

  11. Oh Stephanie, I hope this is the leaf turning over for your family. It is so sad that this is the biggest thing you’ve seen him do. I can’t imagine living like that. I have my fingers crossed for you. (And your beans sound incredibly sweet, smart, and adorable. I have my fingers crossed twice as hard for them.)

  12. Yay!! So happy for you. I’ve always read your blog, but I was absolutely riveted by your last post. Good Luck!

  13. Stephanie, I really hope things work out.. and I hope that Phil means what he says.. but keep in mind, however cliche.. “a leopard can’t change his spots.”

    1. I used to beleive this was a fast and true rule, but I have learned from my own mental and emotional evolution that some people can and do change. Lets not count Phil out!

  14. This post says it all: People change. At the cusp of middle age, the old Phil is in retreat; the new, menschier Phil is beginning to emerge. Part of this is the Phil you fell in love with during the Suitor years. Another part is a new, mellower Phil coming to light as he mellows, ages, and becomes happier with you, the world and himself.

    That’s not to say that there won’t be rocky moments and stumbling blocks–for both of you. You’ll slip occasionally. Old habits will emerge. You need to be patient with these slips, and accepting, and aware that they are an inevitable part of growth. The Boca therapist will help you on this path; the evolution will be a party of three.

  15. That first step is very difficult, but keep at it. And good luck on the journey, both figurative and literal.

  16. Oh…I’m crying. It’s good to know that you’re both working on it. Gives me strength.

  17. Always knew he was a good egg even if some people did point out his temper was difficult… it’s about seeing the forest for the trees (is that the right phrasing) aww.

  18. This is a great update. Good for you, Phil. I was one of the posters who said that you seemed like a good guy, but needed to re-think your position. I’m not arrogant enough to think you did so due in any way to my post, but it’s still good to see you re-examining things.

    I also think that you’re dealing with mortality and all kinds of other rough shit – if couples’ therapy isn’t happening right now, your own therapist is a good idea.

    I went to see someone when DH was very seriously ill a few years back and I was “in crises.” I had never been to therapy before – it helped enormously. I eventually stopped going, but in that time of crises, it was just incredibly helpful.

    You guys can turn this around. You totally, totally can.

  19. “In fact, I can’t remember a single time when he’s admitted any real wrongdoing.”

    I want to believe that you guys can/will work out, but really? He’s never admitted any real wrong doing until now? I hope, for everyone’s sake, that his ability to do so changes…

  20. There was a Wedding today, and it made me think about the hope and promise and joy these occasions foster – the excitement of starting out and the celebration of love for each other – obviously the both of you would have felt this on your wedding day too – try to remember that when you’re going through these trials.
    Phil, I was going to write this the other day….I recognise so much of myself in you – I’m the person who always has to be right, and find it really difficult to recognise fault in myself, as my super rational self always manages to justify my (at times, completely obnoxious) behaviour….and it comes from a place of insecurity, not cruelty (you really don’t strike me as a bad guy, it’s just your need to be right is making you a little bit dumb – ironically). Being the cleverest one in the room is “the thing that makes me special” – I suspect it is yours too, and letting go of that is more difficult than people might know, especially when you have a wife as talented and duly rewarded as yours – you need your time to shine too, right? …but I lost the love of my life because of my egotistical behaviour, and I would hate to see that happen to you two – especially because you have kids (I, fortunately, did not). It was really heartening to read this post, and obviously you are smart enought to have figured this out for yourself, but please keep it up – people CAN change (I have) and the two of you have enough love to see you through – so here’s to nuptials, new starts, remembering why you loved each other in the first place, and continuing to honour that with your partnership – good luck to you both x

  21. I didn’t comment on the other post because it made me feel so awful for you.

    I’m proud of both you and Phil, especially Phil, right now. I don’t even know you. But I know plenty of stubborn people and you are clearly both that, in spades, and I understand how difficult it must have been for Phil to admit he was wrong.

    And don’t pay too much attention to the commenters who demand that you divorce every time you complain about Phil. There are no perfect people. I commend you for committing to the hard work of making it stick.

  22. I’m stepping out of my normal Pollyanna persona because this post haunts me even more than the last one. I’ve been sitting on my hands trying not to respond, and trying to heed my mom’s advice “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But I’ve got to say this.

    In the cycle of abuse – as we know – after being caught (outed, arrested, brought back to reality) – the abuser shows true, blue remorse. In this case – Phil has been publicly flogged…and, sensibly, apologized. He means it. He loves you. He wants to be with you and the darlings. He does not want to be the bad guy.

    The hard part to write is the next one. I acknowledge that this is coming from my own personal baggage, so take it for what it’s worth. I don’t hold tightly to the pain of my past – but I hold the lessons so they’ll not be repeated.

    In my experience, soon, little things will start to slip. He’ll yell. He’ll apologize. He’ll start to crack. He’ll plead. Fights will escalate. Jewelry will appear. Screaming ensues, followed by begging for forgiveness. You know what I’m saying.

    My warning, I guess, is that each time the cycle repeats, it intensifies. If you have one single hint that it’s getting out of control – please, please tuck those babies under your wings and fly away.

    1. I’m so glad that you had the courage to say that. I couldn’t agree more.

  23. It’s very hard to make a marriage work when both parties are so different and have high and different expectations. Compromise is very difficult. Owning your own stuff is really really hard. If anything comes through loud and clear, Phil, it’s that you now see what you are doing to your kids. I was also a product of parents who agreed on nothing & fought like you and Stephanie do. Even though I completely know better as a grown up adult, it’s what I knew, it’s the only thing I saw and it’s hard to break those patterns even when I know damn well they don’t work. It’s knee jerk. If you can stop this now, your kids will be the better for it.

  24. Marriage, especially with kids, is hard and intense. It brings out the best and the worst in us, and sometimes many of us can be irredeemably assholish. Myself and my husband included. So in all your posts I have kept in mind that it’s hard to see the full picture from written text on a blog, that I can only imagine how much you love each other and want to make this work, that I’m sure that in real life, Phil is an amazing guy.
    The funny thing is that what made me change my mind about Phil are his own comments. He sounds like a pompous, obnoxious, bullying jerk. He sounds like an entitled abuser, believing that he is teaching you the lesson you so truly deserve.

    I hope he changes, for you and your childrens’ sake. The way he is now, he is not only messing up your life, he is messing up the childrens’ lives, and their childrens’ lives – believe me, because I’m the child’s child…

    People can change, but it doesn’t happen often. If he doesn’t start changing soon, I believe you should seriously consider if this marriage is where you want to be.

  25. To the kids: “tell me if i’m yelling”? First, he should not need a 4year old to tell him when he’s yelling. Second, he should not lay that responsibility on them. And anyway, by the time they will have told him that he’s yelling the damage is already done considering the manner in which he yells).

    To you: “I’m going to try very very hard at this”. He’s not saying he won’t do it again. He’s leaving himself an out because he knows most likely that he will.

    I’m with 3 teen’s mom. Best of luck to you all.

  26. Thanks for the tears and burning eyes as I wiped them after eating a spicy pepper while reading this!! Thanks for sharing!!

  27. Hi Stephanie

    I am seeking your permission to quote you in my memoir called ‘Blintz’ A Jewish mother’s tale about a table, a big fat toochis and the pursuit of wholeness. I am a Melbournian Australian writer, unpublished at the moment, and the quote I would love to include is this;

    I’d heard it all the time, ‘Live in the moment.’ But if I did that, I’d weigh more than a dump truck. Losing weight wasn’t about the moment at all; it was about having faith in the future. It was about knowing there would be another meal in a few hours. ~ Stephanie Klein, Moose, 2008

    This was one way of contacting you about this.

    Hope to hear from you,


  28. In one of the saddest times of my (love) life, I’m glad to see that a man, at least one, is able to fight for the right thing. Lots of love to all four of you.

  29. the phrase, “that is the man I married” stuck out to me in this post. While people do change, and I wish you guys the best, I want to make one comment. In my past relationships, I have been guilty of using the phrase, “the man I fell in love with.” And I totally get what you mean. That glimpse of a person you thought was gone forever. A girlfriend of mine made a great point one day when I used this phrase. She said, “that vision of ‘the man you fell in love with’ wasn’t a vision of the real man. It was the vision YOU had of him when you first met. The idea that YOU had of who he was, till you got to know him better and he proved you wrong.” At fist it pissed me off, but looking back, she was one hundred percent correct.

  30. Longtime reader but I have never commented before.

    I completely and totally identify where Stephanie is coming from in this post. I too married a man I love deeply, but who is also flawed and has serious anger issues we are working through. There are lots of things we are working through together, but there are those naked moments of tenderness where that person shows you those vulnerable glimpses of what made you want to be with them for the rest of your life. It is not a “vision” of that person, but who they are down in there core, when they aren’t obfuscating their feelings and projecting only anger.

    I am not saying it works for everyone, but I am saying I completely get where she is coming from. I have the luxury of not having children with my husband, and I won’t, until these issues are resolved. However, I have seen tremendous growth–and when that person you love surprises you with an unprompted and unexpected show of personal and emotional growth, it is overwhelming and moving.

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