Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Terri Orbuch
Summer is prime time for weddings, which means that Terri Orbuch, known as "The Love Doctor," gets lots of requests for advice. The author of five books on relationships and a research scientist at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, she still finds time to lead marriage workshops. She is a family and marriage therapist as well as a professor of sociology at Oakland University. Ms. Orbuch was in Pittsburgh as the guest of Henne Jewelers earlier this year to talk about her new book, "5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great."
What got you into the study of relationships?
I am much more interested in what keeps people together and happy. I got into it because I was a psychologist, and I noticed that relationships are so important to one's health and well-being psychologically and physically. I also turned to my life and saw how important my relationships were to how I felt on a daily, weekly and almost yearly basis. I really think my interest stems from how important I saw they were to people.
Summer is wedding season, so how do brides and grooms keep their fairy-tale expectations in check? Or should they?
Absolutely, I think they should keep the fairy-tale expectations in check. What I found from following 373 married couples for over 25 years is that when you have those unrealistic expectations, you are much more likely to get frustrated because your partner or spouse can't meet those expectations. That frustration eats away at the happiness in the relationship. Then that relationship becomes unhealthy and you are much more likely to get divorced. Especially before you get married or really shortly after you get married, you should ask yourself: What are your expectations about this relationship? About your partner? Write them down and have your spouse do the same thing. Switch pieces of paper and then talk about your expectations and whether or not they are realistic.
Does a show like "Mad Men" fuel nostalgia among men for the husband to rule relationships?
That's a really good question, Patricia, but I don't think so. When I look at the couples in my own research study, most of them really want to be a part of a team.
But if they are coming to you, aren't they already in the right mind-set?
Well, actually the couples in my long-term study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, are a very random representative sample. What I did was look at marriage licenses in 1986 in a four-month period. So it wasn't people who were happier or less happy in their relationships. Believe it or not, both husbands and wives say, "I really want to feel or consider that I am part of a team and we are in this together." So when I ask what that means, it typically means that we share. Not equally perhaps, but we share in doing things together in the household and with the kids and money. Again it's not equal 50/50, but it is a "we are in this together" kind of feeling.
How do you keep competition between spouses from becoming terminal to the relationship?
What you really need to do is make sure both of you appreciate the other's strengths and the unique gifts that you bring to the relationship. You make sure regularly that you tell each other how much you care about each other and how special each of you are. Then when there is competition, whether it be who brings in more money or who beats the other at a board game or a sport, you still can see that the other recognizes you and doesn't take you for granted. As long as you have that sense, then competition is OK. Losing or winning is OK.
So basically it is about respect.
Respect is so very important. I also think that people don't want to feel like they are being taken for granted or they are not noticed. What happens a lot over time in relationships is we tend to do that because everything else gets really busy.
How important is physical attraction to finding love when the bloom of youth is gone?
Being physically attracted or being attracted to a partner is extremely important. It is very essential because touch and passion and sexuality are essential to happiness and stability in a relationship, no matter what the age. But [laughing] it's not the only factor that is important, and I don't even necessarily think it is the No. 1 important factor.
Books like "The Talent Code," "Outliers" or "How We Decide" all talk about deep learning and the importance of making mistakes. So have we gotten away from that in trying to make everyone feel like a winner, especially children?
I don't necessarily think we have gotten away from that. I think competition is important. Winning and losing are important for kids, but it is how we talk about the wins and the losses with our children, explaining what you can learn from a loss or not getting a good grade or not getting what you want. I think loss is fine as long as we talk about it. It is important for us to keep checks and balances on ourselves and make sure we are not too involved.
Are "Tiger Moms" actually hurting their children's sense of accomplishment by pushing so much?
We have to motivate our kids. I think when a child has passion for an activity and is motivated to do well, that is really wonderful. But what we want our kids to do well in might not always be the same things our kids want. Rules and structure are great for kids, but too much is a lot of pressure and stress. We want it for something we didn't do in our lives typically, rather than it is going to help or make our kids happy.
Doesn't free play stimulate creativity and imagination?
Absolutely, unstructured time for kids is great. That is when all that creativity comes out. They can go out in the backyard and just play, not have a group they have to go to or a class or sports practice. I think we overschedule our kids. I see this as a university professor, that many parents stress that kids have to know what they are going to do or be or major in by the time they get to college, and they are doing that in ninth and 10th grade. I see it as too bad because it is not allowing kids to take all kinds of classes and figure out what interests they may have. Let them explore and take different kinds of classes.
Last question: What about the advice to a newly married couple to never to go to bed angry?
It's wrong advice, I even talk about this in my book. That is a myth, and there are many myths about relationships that get perpetuated in our culture. What we know is couples should go to bed mad if they are upset or angry. You would sleep on it, and, yes, you should still talk about what happened the next morning. You should still talk about the issue at hand, but you are much more likely to say it is not as major as I thought it was the night before, and you are able now to be rational and pragmatic and problem-solve. I always tell people either go to sleep or take a break and cool down. For seconds or minutes, take a break and then come back and say, "OK, let's talk about this again." Or make a date to talk about it the next day.
First Published July 23, 2012 12:00 am