Special Episode: Marriage Minded Dating
The following is the transcript for this podcast episode.:
Jodi: Hi! I’m glad you’ve tuned into this special episode. If you’re dating with the goal of meeting a loving partner and getting married, then you’ll want to hear what my guest has to say. Marcia Naomi Berger has a Master’s in Social Work and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a private psychotherapy practice.
She has taught continuing education classes for therapists at the university of California Berkeley extension Alliant international university and for various professional associations, while employed by the city and county of San Francisco, she held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism, treatment and psychiatry.
She has also served as a lecturer on the clinical faculty at the University of California school of medicine and as executive director of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the east bay Marcia lives in Marin County, California, with her husband of 33 years,
She gives their weekly marriage meetings, major credit for their lasting happiness together, which inspired her to write her first book, the best-selling Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love.
She has led dynamic marriage and communication workshops and is a popular speaker at conferences last month. Marcia published her second book, which is titled marriage. An A to Z Dating Guide for Lasting Love. Her new book affirms the universal need for loving relationships and makes wanting to be married a valid choice, any worthwhile goal for smart, strong, and independent women of all ages as well as for the men who respect and appreciate. Marcia is also a featured contributor to the First Date Stories blog, which I’m so happy about. When you go to the blog, you’ll find her article, “Can I Be Vulnerable with Him?” And the article we just published this week titled “Is He Ready for Marriage? Put Him to the Test.”
Hi Marcia. Thank you so much for joining me this episode.
Marcia: Oh, hi Jodi. It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Jodi: Absolutely. Now, as I mentioned, you’re well known for creating the concept of marriage meetings, writing a book about it and working with numerous couples to help them implement this technique. And you also hold Marriage with Confidence workshops. So you’ve talked to a lot of couples and a lot of singles. So many people are looking for the perfect spouse. Is there such a thing?
Marcia: Here’s the problem with that idea, Jodi. If you’re looking for the perfect spouse, what does that say about what you have to be?
Marcia: Are you ready for that? So there’s no such thing as a perfect spouse. And I think it would be very dangerous for us if there were, because that would be a lot for us to live up to, to be the right match for that person. We all have our imperfections and it’s a matter of learning how to accept the ones that you can live with. And to know what’s a deal breaker.
Jodi: So in that case, what should people be looking for?
Marcia: They should be looking for similar values or enough similar values. And spiritual or religious compatibility, intellectual compatibility, and then various character traits that are one of the most neglected traits of that people just forget to think about is kindness. I think kindness just goes such a long way for keeping a relationship good. Both people knowing how important it is to be kind and to give the benefit of the doubt when it’s a good idea to do that. And, you know, instead of judging, being a more understanding, so kindness and many other character traits, honesty. Everybody could make their list of what they especially want to have in a lifelong partner.
Jodi: Very true. And I couldn’t agree with you more, that kindness is critical in a relationship. But it’s really so important in our everyday interactions as we go about our business in life, don’t you think?
Marcia: I think so, for sure. And the same traits that make for a good lifelong marriage partnership, they tend to extend into other relationships also with coworkers, friends, and family members.
Jodi: Yes. Very true. Very true. Okay. You do a lot of meetings. You do marriage meetings and you can’t have a meeting without communicating. Right? That’s what a meeting’s about, it’s to be able to effectively communicate with the other people at your meeting, whether it’s at a business meeting or the marriage meetings that you have crafted and brought to so many people.
Fill us in on some communication clues that you’d advise women who are dating to look for in a prospective partner.
Marcia: I’m thinking about where to start with that because there are in my first book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love. I have chapters that explain in detail how to use seven different communication techniques. And they’re also important. An easy one to start with is “I” statements, instead of the opposite which is a “You” statement.
And so if you might initially find yourself, say slightly annoyed by something that somebody does let’s say you want him to say, “please,” when he doesn’t say “please,” and he’s asking you to do something and instead of you could kind of destroy the relationship by, by getting all over him because he didn’t say please and saying, “you’re so rude.” You don’t say please, da da da….But if you want to communicate kindly you say, “I would love it if you would say “please” when you ask me to do your thing.” So that’s an “I” statement.
A “You” statement is generally telling somebody that they’re wrong somehow or bad or blaming them. An “I” statement is saying I’m taking responsibility for what I want, how I feel.
I’m expressing my true self in a way that’s respectful both to you and to myself. So that’s one communication skill.
Jodi: And a valuable one.
Marcia: Yeah, there they all are. And there is, there is a congruent communication, which is again, being consistent, your words and your body language, everything goes together. So if you’re saying something kind, you look kind. Otherwise it’ll be a mixed message. If you look angry, when you’re saying something where the words are polite. And knowing the importance of nonverbal communication is very important because that’s what we tune in most to.
We make think the words are the most important thing. But there’s research that shows in interpersonal communication, 55% of the communication that people receive as the body language, how we’re moving. Our arms legs, our shoulders, our facial expression. This is the thing that people take in most. And then there’s voice tone, which also goes a long way. That’s 38%. The actual words people receive only 7%.
Jodi: Really? That’s really interesting because we spend a lot of time choosing our words. And yet we spend so much less time thinking about how we’re positioning our body and, conveying things in that manner. So this is really eye opening.
Marcia: Yeah, it’s something to be aware of and it does start coming naturally. Like most of the skills, they may feel awkward when we start, but then practice improves it and it makes it start feeling natural.
Jodi: Which is so important and in communications. Ultimately you need to be with somebody who can communicate with in a very safe, comfortable, open, honest manner.
Jodi: Well, unfortunately, there are the times when people cannot master communications and communications fall apart, and the relationships can’t continue on. You yourself are an adult child of divorce, and you write a lot about the impact that your parents’ divorce had on your mother.
What advice do you have for divorced women who may be hesitant to remarry, especially if they’ve come out of a painful or difficult ending to their marriage?
Marcia: Jodi, I think that’s an excellent question because it does affect so many people now, what with you don’t have half a first marriage is ending in divorce and higher percentages for second and even third marriages, respectively. It’s the people who get divorced and their children. It has such a wide impact on everybody involved.
And it’s very, very important to let yourself grieve before even trying to get into another relationship. To feel whatever you have to feel. Get therapy. That helps a lot of people. If you need a place just to just sound out without necessarily having your friends tell you what you should do or how bad your ex was. But to go through what it was like for you and whatever feelings you have, but to focus on what you’re going and eventually what you’ve learned from it.
If you get to the point where you do want to partner with somebody again, to become very clear on what you want. You mentioned that communication is important and having good communication is, I would say, it’s essential for a good relationship. The other big key is choosing wisely.
A lot of people, maybe because of how they grew up, they might have something going on dysfunctional between their parents and unconsciously they may repeat the same thing and then be disappointed in their marriage. And some people will marry somebody with the same issue more than once whether the really serious ones like, they’ve been abused by their spouse and then they marry another abuser. God forbid! Or somebody with a severe addiction or somebody who’s verbally abusive. You want to get your head clear on what kind of relationship you truly deserve rather than automatically going into something that may be more destructive for you than constructive.
Jodi: That is very important advice. You mentioned that people sometimes have a tendency to go back to the same type of person that they were with before, even though that relationship was an unhealthy one for them. Can you dig into that a little deeper please and kind of explain why that happens?
Marcia: Yeah. There’s a psycho dynamic term that many therapists know about called the “repetition compulsion” and that refers to something that happens to a lot of us that comes very naturally. And that is to communicate with a partner in a way that replicates how we saw our parents communicating and how it went in our family.
So if there was a lot of blaming and even verbal abuse, a woman might stay with a partner who’s basically disrespectful to her because of what’s called the repetition compulsion. And the strange thing is that there is an odd kind of comfort in the familiar. And if you think about the word “familiar”, it relates to the word “family.”
And that’s why it’s familiar, because our formative years are spent in a place where we pick up everything and it doesn’t go away. We are likely to repeat it if we don’t say, “Hey, I’m going to gain some self-awareness about why I’m not moving forward in my life or in my relationship, the way I want to.” And we can change where if we have a combination of the will and whatever kind of help we need to secure that help.
Jodi: Okay. Thank you for delving into that. And I did not know that familiar was derived from the word family, but in the context in which you shared that, it makes a lot of sense! It really does.
Now, I spoke about divorce. We also have listeners who are widows and widows can feel that by dating again, they’re betraying their deceased spouse, but they do want to find a next partner.
So how can those who’ve lost a spouse enter the dating scene again in a very healthy and self-forgiving and self-affirming way?
Marcia: Well, similarly, in some ways to somebody who has been hurt by divorce, both losses and it is important to grieve a loss, and to grieve it for as long and as thoroughly as you need to before you’re going to be ready to move on and be able to shift your energy into a new relationship. So the keyword for me is to “grieve.”
Jodi: To take the time to grieve.
Marcia: Take as long as you need and don’t listen to anybody who says you should be done in one year or five years or six months. Everybody has their own timetable.
Jodi: While somebody is grieving the end of a relationship, are there things that you advise them to do to help them move through that experience at whatever pace is right for them?
Marcia: I’m saying the word again and again, to be able to grieve, to feel the pain, to feel the loss, and also to find whatever kind of learning you can gain from that experience. If you want to have something different in your next relationship.
For example, if you didn’t assert yourself and you just let the other person basically dominate you where you ended up feeling like a victim and also not really a very exciting partner if you’re not expressing yourself.
So maybe you’ll think through that. How did I let that happen? And what do I want to do differently next time? And again, either I do this alone, with friends, with a mentor or with a therapist, wherever you’re going to get the best kind of help you need. It’s hard to do it alone.
Jodi: I’m sure it is. It’s hard to do much of anything in life alone. It’s often easier to have a friend or some sort of support system to help one through both the good times and the challenging times. Right?
Marcia: Right! Yeah. We’re not meant to be alone. Many of us need time for ourselves. We need our own space too. But to know that there are other people in our life who care about us and whose company we enjoy and they enjoy our company. It’s part of life.
Jodi: It is. We’ve talked about people coming out of relationships. Now let’s look at people going into relationships through dating, which takes us to your book, your new book, Marriage Minded: An A to Z Dating Guide for Lasting Love. Why did you write this book and what are you hoping to achieve with it?
Marcia: Well, I wrote the book because I have discovered that my mission, or at least a major purpose of my being on earth, is to help people create fulfilling marriages, whether they’re already married or whether they want to be married.
I wrote the book with women in mind, because I understand women probably better than men, being a woman myself, although I think the book can be helpful to men and women, whether they’re married or single.
And another reason, I was thinking about why I wrote the book is, I wrote it the way I wrote it, because I love words. I love word games. And this idea came into me that there’s so much information about how to date constructively and to create a great marriage and how do you put it all together?
So I combined my love of words with my desire to do something very thorough. I am a thorough perfectionist type person, for better or worse. So I made the book in order of the alphabet where it’s like “A” is for “attitude,” “A” is for “anxiety, “A” is for “awesome,” to remember you are, and going through the alphabet and having maybe an average of a page or two, sometimes less, sometimes more, on each entry that’s under each letter.
There’s Chapter A has four or five entries underneath it. I mentioned a couple of them. So I don’t know if I’ve explained that too well, but that’s the basic structure of the book. It’s going through the alphabet and talking about what it’s going to make for a good constructive dating experience that leads to a fulfilling marriage that’s fulfilling emotionally and spiritually, as well as financially and physically.
Jodi: I do think that the structure of the book is quite clever. You organized it into four sections and, like you just said, each section is structured like a dictionary with terms that relate to the topic of each section and the book has quotes in it, illustrations throughout, some introspective exercises for readers to do in these four sections.
I’m curious why you called out each of those specifically, especially the first and the third ones, as part of what one needs to be focused on as you move towards a lasting loving marriage. Could you explain that a bit, please?
Marcia: Oh, yeah. Thank you for asking that, Jodi, because I think this is important for people to know about. The first section is called “Overcoming Obstacles.” Many women are afraid to date or afraid to even go out and meet people because they have these attitudes that are getting in their way. For example, under “A” is for “attitude,” I list a number of attitudes that we can call them obstacles, or we can call them obstacle illusions, and they are illusions like oh, “I’m not going to go to meet man, because all the good men are married” or “I’m not going to go to this event or try online dating because they all want a younger woman or a thinner woman or a smarter woman or a richer woman.”
We put all these ideas that we could put in our head that are holding us back. So, I addressed them in that section and also other ones like if people are anxious, just anxious that they’re not going to say the right thing on a date or, or they’ll say too much, or they won’t be liked for one reason or another. All these are obstacles to confront and to move past so that you can move on and start having a successful dating relationship.
The second section is about constructive dating and I think the third section that you wanted to hear more about is committing. Is that right?
Jodi: Yes. “Committing,” because it’s comes before marriage in your sequence.
Marcia: So the “Committing” section, that’s a crucial point. You date for a while and then, how long do you want a date? When do you know that you’re ready to move up to the next level? And it’s different for different people.
I know I say everybody should have their own timetable, but I do encourage people to take ideally at least six months before deciding that I want this to lead to marriage because infatuation might have you going for three months and then maybe three months or longer to just see how you get along. Once you’ve passed the initial “woo woo” time and finding out whether you have enough of the important factors that will contribute to a good marriage and whether you respected by each other, et cetera, et cetera, enough common values and interests and having conversations about what you are looking for in marriage. If you’re young enough to know whether you want to have children or not, or what?
I actually encourage people to find that out really early, because you don’t want to spend a long time dating somebody who has different goals from you. But they’ll still be the logical questions. Like how are we going to handle money? And how do we decide where we’re going on vacations?
Just things that you can find out, whether you’re going to basically be able to agree on enough that you’ll feel satisfied with the person for the long haul.
Jodi: Exactly. Tell us a little bit about your dating journey, please.
Marcia: Oh, I dated a lot of really nice man. They were not necessarily appropriate for me in terms of background and values, always, but I had basically pretty nice dating experiences. However, my pattern was to push away anybody who hinted at wanting to be serious with me and to go after the non-committal types, to the point where my friend’s husband — when I was starting to tell my friend the latest story about some guy who I liked but didn’t seem like he wanted to get serious — her husband finished the sentence.
So then I realized I had a pattern and I didn’t do anything about it right away. But eventually I did get some good therapy and also some good mentoring and at a certain point.
I realized that and I guess the backstory is, as you mentioned, my parents were divorced and I witnessed the pain that we all felt around the divorce. So unconsciously, I probably was afraid that I would not succeed at marriage or that I would be abandoned or whatever was going on there kept me from getting committed to anybody.
Jodi: And then it became your life’s passion and mission eventually to, to help people to get past their challenges, if they have them.
Marcia: Yeah. Although I was doing couples therapy, way, way before I got married. I was the expert at the agency where I was working at the time, because I just love doing it. And I had received some very good training.
I thought it was amazing that I had the pattern. Then I found out how common it was. So, there, I was having this, what do I call it “Going nowhere relationships with men.” And yet I was helping people to create better marriages and other relationships. So, that was just kind of ironic for me.
Jodi: It is, but hey, that’s where you were at that stage of your life. You were able to help them and you need a counseling yourself.
Marcia: You’re right. We can’t be objective about our own lives. So it’s not really that strange. But it’s just, a lot of people think, “A therapist, she must have it all together.” But we’re all human beings. It’s more that we know how to conceptualize our issues maybe, but it’s not that we don’t have them.
Jodi: Understood. Yes, we all have issues. Every person walking this planet has some issues.
Jodi: In your book, you write that “Every good marriage is a miracle.” Why do you regard good marriages as miracles?
Marcia: So I think we might be able to call this a miracle that we have two people who have some similarities and some differences, and it’s very easy to think this person is not right for me because he likes to watch a different TV show from me or root for a different baseball team or whatever.
You know, these are really trivial things, but maybe some things that are bigger, but don’t have to be deal breakers. But you can get to the people and let’s face it. We all basically have to have some selfishness in order to survive to do what’s good for us. But then to get into union where you’re with somebody and you can have differences and yet thrive on the differences and grow together to where you’re feeling like you have a true partner in the world and you’re there for each other through thick and thin.
It’s not always deliriously happy. Life has it ups and downs. Relationships have ups and downs, but you have the kind of commitment that you value, what you have enough that you’re going to do, whatever it takes to keep it thriving.
Jodi: And when that all comes together, it’s a miracle. That makes sense.
I read that you advise women who want to be in a relationship, and I presume this pertains to women who want to get married and don’t want to get married. They just want a long-term partner. You advise them to create three lists. Can you walk us through what those lists are?
Marcia: I’d love to. The first list is “What are you looking for in a partner?” What traits do you value and want in a partner? Write anything you want. It could be physical. It could be spiritual, emotional, values, interests, whatever is really important to you. I’m going to go back to this list. I’ll tell you each list first, and then we’ll go back to explain it more.
I think I said 10 for the first list. You know, you can make a number, any number you want, but I think 10 is a nice, simple number.
And then the second list is 10 traits or characteristics or things that you can contribute to the relationship that’s likely to be valued by your potential or future partner.
And then the third list is five characteristics about yourself that might call for a little improvement in the mind of your partner or yourself. Areas where you can grow.
Now, the first list we go back to and separate “what’s a want” and “what’s a need?” Does he really have to be over six feet tall for you to be happy? Is it more important? We mentioned kindness already. Should kindness be on there? Is it more important that he have some creative passion or is it more important that he’d be emotionally stable. Pick out what you really need so that, you know, what’s the main things are okay.
Then the second one is what you have to offer. And that’s really, really important. Some women don’t have the self-esteem to realize what valuable treasures they are for the right person.
And then the third list is to recognize you’re talking about the perfect partner, so it’s a good idea to have some humility. That you have room to grow, and maybe this will help you recognize that we all have room to grow, including a partner.
And some things will change. Some things will not change, but again, everybody needs to know what are the deal breakers and what are the things that you can learn to live with and accept?
Jodi: That is a really tremendous exercise because it puts the person in the place of really thinking long and hard about what she thinks she wants and what she really needs in this person who she has yet to meet.
And then she turns the mirror on herself and looks at what she brings to a partnership, both from the perspective of a lot of wonderful characteristics and assets and all the beauty that she has within and outside of herself. And then where are the areas that she can maybe improve overtime to be even a better partner down the line?
Marcia: It’s all about growth.
Jodi: Yes, it seems like it’s all about growth and it’s all about knowing yourself as much as anything else.
Marcia: And, accepting yourself: the good, the ugly, you know, everything. But altogether it should feel like I have self-esteem. I deserve to have a good marriage and I don’t expect myself to be perfect. We all have imperfections. And I have many wonderful traits too.
Jodi: So if you’ve put together the first list and you’ve got those 10 needs listed out, how do you know how many boxes need to be checked for that person that you meet to really be that right partner for you?
Marcia: It’s pretty amazing how often, once we make the list, we find somebody who fits it pretty well. A realistic list. You know, it doesn’t have to be Brad Pitt on the list, but a real, a realistic list. I think when we know what we really want, we kind of screen out what we don’t want.
Jodi: And we moved towards that.
Marcia: I think that there really is something to that, that we went when we know what we want. Very clearly it comes to us.
Jodi: I thought I knew what I wanted and I put that list together and I put it away. And that person did not show up. (Laughter)
Marcia: Oh, that’s interesting. Was it a good list?
Jodi: It was too long. It was way too long
Marcia: How many?
Jodi: Oh my gosh. It was like a page and a half. This was when I was in my mid-thirties and I just. Super long list. And it did not lead me to my person at that time.
I’m not saying it wasn’t a worthwhile exercise. I think part of it was that it was way too long.
Marcia: Oh yeah. It could also be a readiness factor, you know, when you’re not ready yet.
I know someone else who said, though, she had a list and she’s been married, like, I don’t know, 40, 50 years. And she didn’t want anyone to smoke. There turned out her husband smoked, but she still married him. So, you know, people know what is a deal breaker.
Marcia: And everything on your list. Doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.
Jodi: Very true. So I, I think it’s a terrific tool. How often do you suggest people revisit their lists? Because we are changing beings, Right?
We’ve all changed over this past year with the pandemic. Right? We’re all different than we were at the start of 2020.
Jodi: We are all gauging our process of finding a partner in a different manner.
Marcia: That’s a lot of it is knowing yourself and what’s going to be valuable for you to do. And as you go through the process of knowing who you are and what you truly need to be happy.
Jodi: Marcia, you have a therapy practice. You run marriage meetings. You’ve got “Married with Confidence “workshops. You’re now out with your second book. You are a busy woman with a lot to offer! Where can listeners go to learn more about you, to buy your book and to get in touch?
Marcia: Okay, so you can go to my website, MarriageMeetings.com to find out a lot about what I do and about my books and therapy. And you can subscribe to my free newsletter about marriage and relationships and communications. That’s on the home page of my website. And both of my books are available on Amazon and also probably it might be in your bookstore depending where you are. You can ask for it from your bookstore. And you can call me or email me if you want. And that’s all on my website also.
Jodi: Lots of ways to get in touch with you and lots of great information and guidance and wisdom for you to share with people. Thank you, Marcia for talking with me this episode about all things, marriage-minded. I’ve really enjoyed having you on the podcast.
Marcia: Oh, thank you so much, Jodi. I’ve enjoyed being here and appreciate your invitation.