How To Save A Marriage
If only every couple knew how to fight fair. The right words can make the "for worse" part better.
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?
In our case, the answer was a drama in three parts. Act One: Walk away from my budding television career. This wasn't as hard as I expected. Despite positive outward appearances — me actually winning The Next Food Network Star, taking a victory lap on The View, appearing in Bon Appétit, winning a beautiful new car, filming my own show on my very own gorgeous Food Network set — the months immediately following the reality show were...sad. The victory was hollow, and emotionally draining. More than anything else, I wanted to stay married.
And so, Act Two. Thanks to that shiny new car (worth a pretty penny on the open market) and some unique and fortuitous telecommuting flexibility on Greg's part, we moved to France for seven months with the express goal of working on our marriage. We holed up on a friend of a friend's isolated Burgundy farm, vowing to become newly skilled at kindness, compromise, cooperation, and romance — or else.
But what if we couldn't have gone to France (because, let's face it, most couples can't)? Andrew Christensen, Ph.D., a couples therapist and professor of psychology at UCLA and author of the book Reconcilable Differences, offers some perspective there. "Couples have differences large and small — some trivial, some fundamental, many complicated and interesting. Flip side: Couples also have shared values and experiences, large and small — some trivial, some fundamental, many complicated and interesting," he says. France was something that Greg and I shared — not just our memories of it, but our appreciation of it. It was a kind of glue for us, and that gave us a foundation for changing our behavior. For another couple, the glue could be faith, nature, a love of great books.
One of the glories of marriage is the collective out-loud dreaming: staying up all night talking about your hopes and plans for the future. Though the term "intimacy" has become conflated with that other awesome form of staying up all night together — sex — this is true intimacy: trusting, sharing. When you're falling apart as a couple, look for the glue.
Regardless of where we were, Act Three was, of course, the hardest part: getting out of the bad behavioral rut that had us sniping at each other all the time. Our extended stay in France was our own marriage lab. Besides how to make a killer lapin á la moutarde, here is what we learned: