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How To Save A Marriage

If only every couple knew how to fight fair. The right words can make the "for worse" part better.

WebMD Commentary from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Amy Finley

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My husband was born and spent his childhood in France, and you could say that from the moment we met, living in Paris, and fell in love, he wooed me with words. He'd speak French — really, he could have been describing the laundry — and my knees would positively buckle. Amour...chérie...fromage...
And then, as so often happens, life intervened.

Back home in the States, the stresses just accumulated like cascading dominoes over five years of marriage: two small children + mounting bills + skyrocketing house prices + financial insecurity + a home in a tiny rented bungalow. (Au revoir, Paris...) And the kicker: We were impossibly deadlocked over my desire to go back to cooking professionally, and his (more traditional) hope that our children would have a stay-at-home parent — a.k.a. me, by virtue of a cook's low wages — until they were old enough to start school.

Then, in 2007, I accepted a coveted spot in a national competition, The Next Food Network Star, something I hoped would be a career catapult and a way out of the impasse in which our marriage had gotten mired. Who could argue against such success? However, Greg made it clear I would participate in the show "over [his] dead body."

I plowed ahead, but what viewers at home didn't see — thankfully — was how I'd lie on the floor in between takes, rocking in a fetal position, clutching a phone, listening in tears as Greg threatened to leave me. He had no desire to be married to the next Rachael Ray, nor any intention of committing himself and our family to all that such a life implied. I can hardly think of four words more direct or lethal to any marriage than "I want a divorce." (Except for, possibly, "The hooker isn't lying.")

That I'm writing this, still married — and much more happily so now — confirms a statement John Gottman, Ph.D., and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D., made in their book 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage: "As any weatherman can tell you, the ability to predict trouble is not the same as the ability to prevent it. It's one thing to detect a storm brewing on radar; it's quite another to make the storm clouds disappear."

Lying there on the cold studio floor, I focused on the clouds' silver lining, and it was this: In my heart, I knew Greg didn't mean what he had said. He wasn't a monster or a chauvinist. I had faith in the depths of our devotion to each other, regardless of our words, and truly believed that what was happening was that we'd finally exhausted our caustic vocabulary.

I was certain that what Greg meant was that with me absent for the first time ever, he was scared, furious, worried, confused, overwhelmed, probably tired (and hungry), and likely even a little lonely for the same woman he was now threatening to abandon. But still, we were in desperate straits (see: storm clouds gathering) if the shorthand for all those complicated feelings had become "I want a divorce." If we didn't relearn the language of love, respect, and caring, then regardless of what we really wanted — which was to be together, and mutually fulfilled and happy — we were going to end up divorced anyway. So how to vanquish the storm?

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