Marital Tips List
From Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW and Elayne Daniels, PhD

Marriage as a package deal:
Marriage is a coming to together of not only two persons, but also their respective personalities, histories, families, at times children, good traits and bad traits. Like a coin, each person will bring two sides in all these elements. You cannot have just one side of a coin and pretend the other side doesn’t exist. If you are unhappy or unsatisfied with some elements, they are best addressed before marriage or as soon as possible after marriage. You will live with your in-laws and partner’s faults for the duration of life together. You will not be able to change your partner.​Cultural matters:
In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in cross-cultural marriages. Some cultures are more similar than others and some are remarkably dissimilar. Couples must determine how they intend to fuse their respective cultures. When this is left to chance, there is a greater likelihood of conflict. Even well-intentioned couples realize after the marriage how important their respective beliefs and customs are to them. These issues are especially important to sort out before children come along.

Marital couples need to define themselves as a couple to extended family and friends. To do so, the couple must determine what their rules are for themselves with regard to defining their relationship to others. In other words, will friends take priority over the couple? Will the in-laws determine a couple’s choices and decisions or will the couple do so? Have you determined how to spend holidays and religious events with regard to extended family? Conversations about boundaries need to start before the wedding.

Conflict Resolution:
There is an old adage, “Never go to bed angry at your spouse.” This may  not mean the conflict has been resolved. Not all conflict can be resolved before the lights are turned off. What must be appreciated though is that even in view of unresolved conflict, the couple does not seek to hold grudges. If the couple can’t resolve the problem, seek help so that the problem doesn’t fester. Because it will fester.

Labor Division:
Spouses must be able to rely on each other to address tasks and responsibilities. Many couples early on enter the marriage with the belief that the other will automatically know what is expected. Trouble is, both may hold different opinions as to the expectations of the other. So whether it is who cleans the bathrooms, how finances are handled or how the refrigerator gets filled with groceries, discuss these matters before and as they arise.

Use (respectful) words, not behavior, to address conflict:
When upset, some people do not talk about being upset, but rather act in a way so as to retaliate for the upsetting behavior. This  behavior creates more upsetting behavior, causing increasing distress in the marriage. Tit-for-tat is marital cancer. Instead of using behavior to speak for you, talk with your partner about the upset with reasonable words (no name-calling or belittling).

In trouble, seek help!
Men are notorious for not asking for directions and believing they can fix anything. As such, far more women than men run off to individual counseling to address their marital issues. It important for couples to know that attending individual counseling for a marital issue actually increases the likelihood of a marital separation. If your marriage is in trouble and one partner is refusing to attend counseling, you just found out the problem may be bigger than you imagined and the help you need may just be from a divorce attorney. Share this information with your spouse to open his/her mind.

Screaming, spitting, biting, name-calling, belittling, throwing things, pushing, shoving, hitting, abusing alcohol and/or drugs, having an affair (emotional or physical), holding a spouse financially hostage, are never acceptable. These are very serious problems, any of which can be a deal breaker.

A good marriage is marked by compassion and understanding. While partners may be tolerant of differences, that would not include tolerating abuse of self or others.

Instead of thinking of marriage in terms of “compromise” think in terms of “priority”. If your marriage and partner are the priority, there is little to compromise. For example, choosing one’s spouse over a night with friends is not a compromise. It is an investment in a good marriage.

Choose where and how you want to invest.

Just like the piano teacher tells his students about playing piano, practice is the only way to get better at piano playing.
The coach reminds her players to practice, practice, practice.

Then there is that joke about Carnegie Hall. You know the one that goes something like this: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Answer: practice.

Whatever you practice, you get better at.

If your habit is to compare, judge, and criticize yourself, then you’ll get better and better at comparing, judging, and criticizing yourself.

If your habit is to find a way to use humor and self compassion, then you will strengthen your ability to use humor and self compassion.

Who chooses what you practice? YOU do.

What are you practicing? What are the messages you repeat to yourself over and over again? Are they helping you to be your best self?

​When you choose to practice acceptance, compassion, and kindness toward yourself and others, you’ll cultivate peace, courage, and joy. That’s a habit worth becoming better at!

Both men and women suffer from body dissatisfaction, especially in Western culture. Here are some tips to improve body image:

  • Notice what is RIGHT

​The NEGATIVITY BIAS many of us have means that when we look at ourselves in the mirror, we see flaws. Instead of focusing on perceived flaws, notice features that you like. For example, notice those beautiful eyes! Your sexy feet! Or your hair, that calls out for your date’s hand to run through!

  • Experience the body as an INSTRUMENT rather than an ORNAMENT

We all have a body. We all have a choice about the kind of relationship we have with our body. If we experience our body as an instrument of pleasure, the focus is on all the body can do for us and provide us. It is through our body that we experience sensory pleasures, like the warmth of the sun on our skin. If we experience our body as an ornament, we are inclined to focus on what we think our body looks like (which is often a distorted perception), and how to make it look ‘better’. Wanting to improve our looks is natural and benign, unless it is a preoccupation, which at times is the case with negative body image. Instead of harping on the cellulite on your legs, for example, thank your legs for their strength and ability to walk.

  • Emphasize INSIDE- OUT instead of OUTSIDE- IN

When we focus on what we look like, we are focused on our outer self, our appearance, and how closely we approximate some sort of ideal standard of attractiveness. This means we let our self esteem be determined by someone else. When we have an inside- out approach, our first and foremost emphasis is on how we feel. In this way we are validating our worth based on just being who we are, rather than having it contingent on others’ standards. Who would you rather allow determine your self esteem? You or whomever happens to be looking at you?
Feeling comfortable and ‘at home’ in your body is your birthright. It is worth the effort! Try it and discover for yourself the benefits of better body image.

People who obsess about food and have otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from “orthorexia nervosa,” a term that literally translates to “fixation on righteous eating.”  Orthorexia may begin as a well intentioned attempt to eat more healthfully, but the intention morphs into a  preoccupation with food quality and purity.  People with this condition become consumed with what and how much to eat, and how to deal with “slip-ups.”  An iron-clad will is needed to maintain this rigid eating style.  Every day is a chance to eat right, be “good,” rise above others in dietary prowess, and self-punish if temptation wins (usually through stricter eating, fasts and exercise).  Self-esteem becomes wrapped up in the purity eating behavior, which then becomes part of feeling superior or virtuous compared to other people who eat a wider range and larger amount of food. Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.  Eventually, the obsession with healthy eating can crowd out other activities and interests, impair relationships, and become physically dangerous.

Is Orthorexia An Eating Disorder? Orthorexia is a term named by Steven Bratman, MD to describe his own experience with food and eating.  It is not an officially recognized disorder, but is similar to other eating disorders – those with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa obsess about calories and weight while orthorexics obsess about healthy eating (not about being “thin” and losing weight).

Why Does Someone Get Orthorexia? Orthorexia appears to be motivated by health, but there are underlying motivations, which can include compulsion for complete control, escape from fears, wanting to be thin, improving self-esteem, searching for spirituality through food, and using food to have an identity.

Do I Have Orthorexia? Consider the following questions.  The more questions you respond “yes” to, the more likely you are dealing with orthorexia.

  • Do you wish that occasionally you could just eat and not worry about food quality?
  • Do you ever wish you could spend less time on food and more time living and loving?
  • Does it seem beyond your ability to eat a meal prepared with love by someone else – one single meal – and not try to control what is served?
  • Are you constantly looking for ways foods are unhealthy for you?
  • Do love, joy, play and creativity take a back seat to following the perfect diet?
  • Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
  • Do you feel in control when you stick to the “correct” diet?
  • Have you put yourself on a nutritional pedestal and wonder how others can possibly eat the foods they eat?

So What’s The Big Deal?The eating behavior of people with Orthorexia can actually be unhealthy, with nutritional deficits specific to the diet they have imposed upon themselves.  These nutritional issues may not always be apparent. Social problems are more obvious.  People with this disorder may be socially isolated, often because they plan their life around food.  They may have little room in life for anything other than thinking about and planning food intake.  Individuals with orthorexia  lose the ability to eat intuitively – to know when they are hungry, how much they need, and when they are full.   Instead of eating naturally they are destined to keep “falling off the wagon,” resulting in a feeling of failure familiar to followers of any diet.

When Orthorexia Becomes All ConsumingDr. Bratman, who recovered from orthorexia, states “I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong.  The poetry of my life was disappearing.  My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food.  The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach.  I was lonely and obsessed. … I found it terribly difficult to free myself.  I had been seduced by righteous eating.  The problem of my life’s meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.”

Are You Telling Me it is Unhealthy to Follow a Healthy Diet?Following a healthy diet does not mean you are orthorexic, and nothing is wrong with eating healthfully.  Unless, however, 1) it is taking up an inordinate amount of time and attention in your life; 2) deviating from that diet is met with guilt and self-loathing; and/or 3) it is used to avoid life issues and leaves you separate and alone.

What Is The Treatment for Orthorexia?Society pushes healthy eating and thinness, so it is easy for many to not realize how problematic this behavior can become.  Even more difficult is that the person doing the healthy eating can hide behind the thought that they are simply eating well (and that others are not).  Further complicating treatment is the fact that motivation behind orthorexia is multi-faceted.  First, the person with orthorexia must admit there is a problem, and then identify what has led to the obsession.  She or he must also become more flexible and less dogmatic about eating.   Working through underlying emotional issues makes the transition to normal eating easier.

While orthorexia is not a condition your doctor will likely diagnose, recovery can require professional help.  A practitioner skilled at treating eating disorders is the best choice.  In my practice, I have successfully treated many men and women of all ages with symptoms of orthorexia.

RecoveryPeople in recovery from this disorder will still eat healthfully, but there will be a different understanding of what healthy eating is.  They realize that food will not make them a better person and that basing  self-esteem on the quality of their diet is irrational.  Their identity shifts from “the person who eats health food” to a broader definition of who they are – a person who loves, who works, who is fun.  The recognize that while food is important, it is one small aspect of life, and that often other things  are more important!

More information is available at

Trauma and Eating Disorders (Source: National Eating Disorder Association)