Men and the Art of Mindful Marriage Maintenance

This month I was honored to have been asked by Allison Maxim, owner of Maxim Law, in St. Paul, Minnesota to write about men, mindfulness and relationships. Below is Part I of my two-part series on these topics. Allison is an attorney who helps couples mindfully make decisions for their marriage, their relationships and their family. Whether couples decide to stay married or to divorce, Allison is there to guide and support them as they decide what is best for everyone involved.

Breaking the Cycle of Fear and Shame for Men in Committed Relationships
-Brian Zirngible, LMFT

SafetyMindfulnessIndependence. These are just a few of the main hot topics that are explored in my office with men and couples. It might not seem realistic to maintain all of these needs at the same time, but with some guidance and practice, we can certainly work together towards a more hopeful future.

Have you seen the "bed scene" in the movie "The Story Of Us" with Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer? It's hilarious yet exquisitely valid at the same time. Their characters attend a couple's therapy session where the therapist describes marriage as not only the two people that get married, but marriage also includes their parents as well. This dynamic often shows up in my work as we explore family of origin issues, genetics, and how varied parenting experiences can inform our intimate relationship dynamics.

In this post, we will focus on the importance of safety in a relationship.  The next post will include a discussion of mindfulness and independence and the important each play in your relationship.  Both blog posts provide links to important resources and examples which build upon the topic by providing tools and templates for you to take action.

Safety: The Foundation of Happiness and Security

Who doesn't want to feel safe? We feel loved and cared for when we feel safe. Imagine that safety is like cuddling into a warm, cozy blanket on a cold winter night while drinking a cup of hot cocoa as your Sade album gently crackles on the record player… that's safety!

The feeling of safety and security in relationships is vital to growing together as a couple. I help the men I work with to think about safety as building trust within relationships. If our partner doesn't trust us, they won't feel safe. And if they don't feel safe, there will be problems of connecting on intimate, physical and sexual levels.

One of the most helpful tips I offer men and couples is to help them learn about their partner's Love Language. If we are able to "speak" our partner's Love Language more often, that will help increase the trust and safety within the relationship. Our Love Language can change, mix and switch back and forth over time and this is quite normal.

I also encourage men and couples to practice patience, self-love and to forgive themselves, as nothing changes overnight. We tend to beat ourselves up and talk negatively to ourselves when things don't automatically change. Change, personal growth and healing take time. Calm downtake a breath… have a relationship plan.

Another helpful resource for the men and couples I work with is the book called "I Don't Want To Talk About It" by Terry Real. He describes the abusive and traumatic relationship between he and his father. He describes our society as one where boys are taught not to have or express feelings or emotions. I see this dynamic nearly every day in my office and I am proud of all the men who are brave enough to call "bullshit" on the "boys will be boys" myth and stereotype.

Stay tuned for Part II which will touch on subjects of Mindfulness and Independence within committed relationships. Until then, be good to each other and to yourselves!

The Uncertain Relationship

I am a huge fan of reciprocity. Scratching someone else's back when they've scratched yours. Give and take. Sharing and giving. Being involved in many therapy communities around the globe has given me the good fortune of virtually meeting some pretty amazing therapists. Cindy Norton from Asheville, North Carolina was kind enough to ask me to write a guest blog for her website at AVL Couples Therapy. I returned the favor by asking her to write a post about modern relationships and how couples can not only survive, but thrive in today's landscape filled with technology, distractions and temptations.

Cindy provided a thoughtful piece including references to couples therapy expert, John Gottman, former indie band stalwarts The Civil Wars and an excellent book recommendation for How To Survive The Loss of a Love. Enjoy Cindy's guest post and consider reaching out to her if you are in need of counseling services in the Asheville, North Carolina area!

Guest post written by Cindy Norton, MS, NCC, LAMFT

Veering From The Norm
This post is a little different from the norm. I usually write about fun weekend activities for couples, give inspiration for healthy relationships, and provide research-based information to aid couples in improving their partnership.

Today I’m going to talk about that experience in relationships that makes you sick to your stomach, doubt your choice in mate, and feel otherwise torn and confused. You know. THAT feeling.

Do You Know The Civil Wars?
First of all, let me introduce you to The Civil Wars, a musical duo who performed together from 2008-2014. They have a hauntingly beautiful sound and, by looking at their lyrics, they know quite a bit about the emotional back and forth that can sometimes plague relationships. Fittingly, they go back and forth with their lines in the lyrics.

Here are two songs, Poison And Wine and Birds Of A Feather, along with their videos. Take time to read and listen to the lyrics. For example, in the song Poison And Wine, John Paul sings the line, “You only know what I want you to”; while Joy follows with, “I know everything you don’t want me to.” They sing together, “I don’t love you, but I always will.” Pretty powerful stuff!

Poison And Wine
You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don't want me to
Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
You think your dreams are the same as mine

Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
I don't love you, but I always will
I always will

I wish you'd hold me when I turn my back
The less I give, the more I get back
Oh, your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don't have a choice but I still choose you

Oh, I don't love you, but I always will
I always will


In the song Birds Of A Feather the back and forth is still present, with the indication of distress in the relationship; however, there appears to be a determination to stay together.

Birds Of A Feather
Where she walks, no flowers bloom
He's the one I see right through
She's the absinthe on my lips
The splinter in my fingertips
But who could do without you?
And who could do without you?
She the sea I'm sinkin' in
He's the ink under my skin
Sometimes I can't tell where I am
Where I leave off and he begins
But who could do without you?
And who could do without you?
Oh, aren't we a pretty, pretty pair?
Yes, we are
All, all the king's horses
And all of his men, couldn't tear us apart
Dancing with a ball and chain
Through it all we still remain
Like butterflies around a flame
Till ashes, ashes, we fade away


So, what did you think? Could you feel the emotion in these songs? What do you think will come of the characters in these two songs? Will they stay together or will they ‘journey’ their separate ways (pun intended)?

As a marriage therapist, I would even have difficulty predicting the outcome of the relationships in these two songs. The answer to the question of the success of any relationship is “it depends”.

It depends on whether the couple has a strong foundation of friendship and intimacy, are able to manage conflict constructively, and have the ability to create a sense of shared meaning in their lives. Or, if these characteristics are not currently present in the relationship, the couple must have a desire to work toward them.

What Do I Do Now?
If you are feeling that experience of being torn that I alluded to earlier, and feel a connection to these songs, you may wonder “what am I to do?” or “where do I go from here?”

You may not know where your relationship is headed. But you probably know one thing… you don’t want it to continue the way it has been.

If the emotions elicited in these two songs are represented in your relationship, you may want to consider making a change. This change can go one of two ways: working to make the relationship better, or ending the relationship with your partner. Well… maybe there is a third option… do nothing, and nothing changes.

For a select few relationships, maybe separation is the answer. But, as a couples therapist, I believe that relationships can be saved. If you are having problems in your current relationship I urge you to invest in your relationship and put forth the effort to make a positive change.

And for those of you thinking about ending your relationship, just know that ending the relationship may not solve your problems.

As with all major life choices, you may feel overwhelmed and wonder where to begin. Here are some options…

Couples Therapy

  • If you are in the camp of making your relationship better and are committed to putting forth the effort to make lasting change, then couples therapy is your best bet.
  • Earlier when I mentioned the foundation of friendship, constructive conflict, and shared meaning – these are all components of the Sound Relationship House, built by Dr. John Gottman and based on over 40 years of research on intimate relationships.
  • A couples therapist can help you to strengthen your friendship, increase intimacy, learn how to disagree, and be a better partner.

Couples Therapy. Yes, I said it again.

  • If separation is inevitable, a couples therapist can also help you navigate this decision. A therapist that understands relationships will be able to support you and your partner during this difficult and confusing time. Consider it a form of conscious uncoupling. Here’s one person’s experience.

Individual Therapy

  • You may seek out individual therapy when you want to work on your relationship, but your partner isn’t on board with couples therapy. Hey, it happens. It’s not ideal, but it happens.
  • It’s best when both partners are present but, having been trained in systemic and relational models of therapy, I know that a positive change in one person can affect the whole relationship in a positive way. So be sure to seek out a therapist that understands the importance of this system, even when working with just the individual.  
  • Individual therapy will also be important when seeking support over the ending of a relationship. Let’s just put it out there – it sucks! Relationships bring us great joy and great heartache.

It is very common to have a range of emotions within the first few minutes, hours, weeks, and months following a break up or divorce. You may be in shock, feel numb, be angry, feel aloof, experience deep depression or anxiety, or you may even be fine for a day before you cycle back to some of these emotions. You will even be grieving the relationship much like you would a death.

Having a therapist to support you through this process can be invaluable. You will understand that what you are going through is normal and that you are not, in fact, going crazy.

Surviving A Lost Love
If you are going through a loss, know that this emotional turmoil you are experiencing will not last forever.

I recommend the book How To Survive The Loss Of A Love if you are going through a break-up, separation, or divorce. It is a lovely little gem at $7.95 per copy. It has been a blessing in book form for myself and countless others who have felt the utter devastation upon the ending of a relationship.


Buy a few copies and give them out as needed. I’ve shipped this book from North Carolina to Tennessee and Texas to give comfort and support to friends during this painful juncture in their lives.

This book has 94 pearls of wisdom. Just to give you a taste, here’s part of number 44 that speaks to rebounds:

“Falling ‘madly in love’ soon after a traumatic breakup seems great at first: your wildest hopes and fantasies come true! But then the bottom falls out. You discover the new love is not that totally sensuous, intelligent, considerate, understanding, sophisticated god/goddess you initially perceived. Only a human, just like everyone else. Sigh.” “If you want to fall in love with someone, how about trying yourself?”



About the Author:

Cindy Norton is the Owner and Writer at AVL Couples Therapy. She holds a Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is a National Certified Counselor, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate, and is receiving training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Cindy will begin seeing clients in her AVL Couples Therapy practice located in Asheville, North Carolina in early 2017. In the meantime, check out her relationship blog for meaningful inspiration. She also gives away hip relationship swag through her newsletter – sign up here.