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Kathy Marshack News

Does Contempt Signal the End of a Marriage or Committed Relationship?

Monday, June 05, 2017


Does Contempt Signal the End of a Marriage or Committed Relationship Do you agree with John Gottman, Ph.D. and author of "Seven Principles that Make Marriage Work"? He tells us that once a couple has descended to the level of contempt for each other, the marriage is irretrievable. I don’t totally agree with his assessment, especially since I’ve been working with so many couples who are dealing with Asperger’s in their marriage or committed relationships.

Contempt is a very strong emotion – the feeling that a person is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. Generally, one doesn’t get to that emotion over night. It usually takes a gradually erosion of respect. (Unless there has been one particularly horrific act that destroys all respect and love. Certainly when the love is gone it probably makes no sense to try anymore.) Yet, there are ways to reverse the erosion and rebuild your relationship.

As awful as is contempt, it actually comes fairly quickly in ASD/NT relationships. Why is that? My theory is that the Aspie doesn’t have empathy, so they may resort to saying pretty awful things to their partner, but contempt is not on their mind. NTs on the other hand take these unkind comments as contemptuous. Sometimes we build up resentment, too, and then our Aspies are puzzled by our anger. Such a crazy, painful, mixed up situation.

If you’re feeling contempt, or you believe your Aspie does, we need to talk. This is no way to live. Contempt, like passive-aggressive behavior is a counter-productive solution. We need ways to be open about our feelings, respectful of our differences, forgiving of others, and expecting forgiveness from our loved ones.

This last one is important isn't it? I sure would like forgiveness if I get frustrated with my Aspie loved ones, or really lose my cool and yell or withdraw. We’re only human and contemptuous comments are hurtful.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, I invite you to please join us for our free teleconference: Cleaning Up Contempt on Thursday, June 15th at 3:00 PM PT. Let’s get these feelings out in the open and figure out how our words and actions can help us cope.

Also, if you haven’t read my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”, you can get your first chapter free by clicking here. This book has become an important resource for those who want to understand their Aspie partners better.

3 Tools to Help Psychotherapists Understand the Impact Asperger’s Has on the Whole Family

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


If you’ve tried psychotherapy for your ASD/NT relationship and it didn’t work, don’t despair, because with further education and the right approach it can.It was a relief to Mandy (not a real person, but her story illustrates the life many of you live) to have finally found the reason for her husband’s puzzling and hurtful behavior during their 23 years of marriage. She knew he loved her in his own way, and he didn’t intentionally want to distress her. He just didn’t seem to know how to show love like he ought to. His diagnosis of a high functioning form of ASD, called Asperger’s Syndrome, explained a lot.

But over the last year, she’s discovered that there is a big gap between understanding why he does something and finding ways to cope with it. She and Brian had tried couples counseling. And while she and the therapist quickly connected, Brian sat there staring out the window.

Mandy had found a very good therapist, (I wasn’t so lucky when I was searching for help with my daughter!) but the therapist hasn’t specialized in how ASD impacts a marriage, family dynamics or parenting children. Psychotherapy that works for neuro-typicals doesn’t work for those who have the mind blindness of Asperger’s. While there are many caring, intelligent, trustworthy psychologists and social workers who want to help, they need education. And often for families with ASD as part of the mix, it rests on you to educate your therapist.

Remember you’re forming a working partnership with your therapist. You’re on the same side, so don’t feel intimidated. When you keep your appointment with your therapist, provide him or her with the following tools:

First, be brave and don't let them talk you out of what you know to be true about your relationship.

Secondly, encourage them to read books on Asperger/Neuro-Typical Relationships. I have two books on this topic, plus there are others available. A good therapist is open to learning more. They want to expand their consciousness; so help them do that.

Third, suggest they get consultation from an expert. Invite them to join my new Meetup group, Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists.

Aspies can benefit from psychotherapy. However, they need coaching more than therapy because of their lack of empathy, theory of mind and insight. But there are ways to get our Aspies on board for therapy! We’ll be talking about the how to do it at our next Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD video conference. It’s entitled: “Why psychotherapy doesn't work and what to do about it”. It will be held on Thursday, March 9th at 9:00 AM. There are only limited spaces on this call, so register your spot soon.

If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and you need some 1-on-1 with me to discuss your situation privately, please feel free to contact my office and we’ll schedule an appointment to discuss ways to improve your situation.


The Silent Treatment – How to Cope when Those with Asperger’s Shut You Out

Monday, September 26, 2016


The Silent Treatment – How to Cope when Those with Asperger’s Shut You OutYou had a disagreement with your Asperger’s Syndrome spouse two weeks ago and rather than resolving it, he walked away and has been giving you “The Silent Treatment” ever since. (This could just as easily be describing an Aspie woman.) He’s nice to everyone who calls on the phone. But you don’t exist. He completely ignores you and shuts you out. He sleeps with his back to you. He leaves the house without saying goodbye to you, although he loves on the dog, making it a point that you see it. He mutters under his breath when he walks past you. And you feel like you’re going mad! Does this describe anything you’ve experienced? If so, you are not alone.

The silent treatment is really a cruel form of abuse and it includes more, like ignoring and shunning, and treating you as if your opinion doesn't count.

Yes, many of our Aspies have severe anxiety, and some cross wiring that makes it difficult for them to feel and talk at the same time. Many couples have learned how to cope with these situations by creating their own personal rules for engagement. However, when the Aspie chooses to shut down, cut off, shun and even get passive aggressive, this has the result of making us feel abused, oppressed, and worthless.

Psychologists will tell you that when a person cuts you out of their life or shuts you down in these passive aggressive ways, they suffer from a narcissistic wound. They feel obliterated by your strength, so in turn try to obliterate you. It is a severe type of pathology. Not everyone with ASD takes this narcissistic path, but when they do it is devastating.

I hope that a few of you are brave enough to stand up, speak out and talk back. That's what the next Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD video conference is about. If you’re a member of the group, please register for the call to discuss The Silent Treatment on Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 2:30 PM or Thursday, October 27 at 3:00 PM. We’ll discuss: How to recognize the abuse. How to confront your Aspie. How to take back your life, whether they get it or not. (If you’re a NT in an NT/AS relationship, please feel free to join this group.)

Also, be sure to read “Our of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”. This book discusses the science behind Aspie behavior and how you can initiate the rules of engagement that help your Aspie give you the emotional support that you need. Click on the image below to request a free chapter.

Entrepreneurs - The Power of Planning for a Successful Relationship

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Are you a natural planner? Does it take effort for you to plan something? Is planning for the future, or even dinner tomorrow night, the last thing you feel like doing? No matter what your feelings are toward planning, I’m sure you’ll agree that a well-thought-out plan is more likely to guarantee a successful outcome than winging it!

What kind of planning am I talking about? There are business plans, essential to the success of an entrepreneur. It is necessary to determine goals, methods, contingencies, etc. Most people wouldn’t dare to start a business without some sort of plan in place.

Then there is personal life planning. What do you want to accomplish in your personal life? What makes you feel alive? We plan to fulfill our personal ambitions, desires, and goals.

But what about planning your relationship? If you’re like most couples I work with, especially busy entrepreneurial couples, you haven’t given your relationship the kind of focused attention a plan requires!

Your relationship life plan is just as important as plans concerning other parts of your life. Many couples do not plan for success or for contingencies. Rather, they live in the moment, trusting that life will work out and what they need will come. Often, to their surprise, life delivers a needed lesson in the importance of planning.

Before you begin to plan a relationship and a life with another person, you have to know yourself well. This will guide you to choose a life partner who shares many of your goals and values. What if you are already married? Your relationship life plan still needs to be reviewed, or even created! It may be that changes are necessary in order to better fit the developments of you as a person, and the two of you as a unit. It can be scary to re-evaluate a marriage, but doing so can reveal issues interfering with your marital development, and provide you an opportunity to proactively make changes.

In my workbook, Do You Have What It Takes To Work With Your Spouse?, I outline an effective exercise to help with planning your relationship. Here are a few of the questions for consideration from the exercise:

  • Why did you choose your partner, and, conversely, why did they choose you? 

  • What do you need to change in yourself to make this relationship better?

  • What important lessons have you learned from your partner?

Once you have honestly answered these questions, you can begin to sift through the information to find patterns and themes. Begin to ask why and why not? These can be hard questions, but they are worth asking! If there are areas in the relationship that are no longer working, begin problem solving with your partner. Even for those experiencing serious marital stress, there are reasons to consider that this spouse is in your life for an important purpose. Look for the deeper meanings.

Ideally, you can work on this plan with your spouse or significant other. The goal is to build or re-write a life plan that encompasses your individual life plans as well as a relationship life plan that you create together. I encourage you to complete the entire exercise from the workbook, especially if you are already in an entrepreneurial relationship or are thinking of starting one. Entering an entrepreneurial venture is tough on a marriage. It presents challenges that no other experience can so it's a good idea to regularly reexamine your relationship, plan for weak spots, and face them head-on.

After completing the exercise, sorting through the information and figuring out exactly what needs to change can be tough. If you need help making positive changes in your relationship, and are in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area, please contact my office to set up an appointment. If you live out of the area check out Video Education sessions that are available to answer your questions on planning a successful life as an entrepreneurial couple.

How to Handle Micro-Aggressions from Your Aspie Mate

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Micro-Aggressions are ways that those with Aspergers Syndrome intentionally or unintentionally invalidate, degrade or insult to their Neuro Typical partnersBack in June 2014 our Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD group discussed what MicroAggressions are and what can be done about them. This is an important topic that is worth revisiting. Usually this term "Micro-Aggressions" is used in the context of bullying and discrimination in schools and the workplace. But I think we NTs (neuro-typicals who are in a relationship with someone with Asperger’s Syndrome) are an overlooked population that experiences these micro-aggressions on a daily basis.

What are some micro-aggressions you may be experiencing from a loved one?

  • You’re told only what you have done poorly, not what you have done well.
  • You’re accused of being critical when you only disagree.
  • You’re told you always get your way, when that is hardly true.
  • You arrange loving displays of affection for the holidays, but your birthday is ignored.
  • You receive that blank look when you try to converse.

As you well know these micro-aggressions, while perhaps unintentional, are still demoralizing. Even worse than the original hostile comment, is that there is little chance of repairing the relationship with an assertive confrontation. Merely asserting yourself can result in an escalation of hostilities, making you feel even worse.

But all is not lost.

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD, please join our free international teleconference on Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 2:30 PM. We’ll discuss ways to deal with these micro-aggressions and save your sanity.

And if you’ve been putting off getting a copy of Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) because you thought it was just for parents with young children, don’t wait another moment. The above information is just a sampling of the science behind Asperger that is explored in the book. If you want to understand your Aspie better, this is a must read.

Have You Had a “Money” Conversation with Your Mate Recently?

Thursday, September 08, 2016


Have You Had the “Money” Conversation with Your Mate Yet?Have you and your spouse ever argued over money? It’s a rare married couple who doesn’t. Money is a hot button topic for many couples. If you and your spouse don’t think about money in the same way, it can create a lot of tension.

People tend to attach so many emotions to money. So it’s important to have an open discussion with your partner about how each of you feels about making, saving, and spending money.

A recent New York Times article poses seven questions that are sure to help you start this conversation. It also shows why each question is valuable in uncovering feelings about money. I encourage you to make the time to read this article and use it as a springboard for a candid conversation with your family this coming week.

1. What lessons about money did you learn from your parents?

2. What does the word “money” conjure up for you?

3. How many children would you like to have when you retire?

4. How do you think your children feel about that?

5. What was your financial situation when you first met?

6. What are the most important things in your life?

7. What does the prospect of retirement look like to you?


Like everything else in a relationship, money needs to be discussed and planned for. Becoming aware of your own biases and skewed perceptions about money will help you break through unnecessary roadblocks to handling your finances responsibly. Developing a solid plan for the management of your money requires a thoughtful dialogue with your partner, or your dreams may be foiled.

If you need help uncovering your deep-seated beliefs about money and how these are concealing deeper, hidden issues between family members and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Also, check out my book, Entrepreneurial Couples - Making it Work at Work and at Home. It’s an invaluable resource for reeducating yourself about money, redefining your attitudes about wealth, and planning for the healthy management of your wealth. I suggest reading and discussing it together as a couple so you can openly discuss this touchy topic.

Does Your Aspie Spouse Make You Look Like the “Bad Guy?”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Subtle ways that those with Asperger’s (ASD) unintentionally disrespect their mates, causing you to think it’s all your fault, and your children do too!Recently I stumbled upon an article that captures the essence of the life NT’s face when living with a mate who has undiagnosed ASD or Asperger’s Syndrome. The article by Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC, is entitled, Married with Undiagnosed ASD: Why Women Who Leave Lose Twice, and it does an excellent job in making a painful situation so relatable as it captures the subtleties of the disrespect that is passed from ASD parent to child. I’ll provide a brief summary of the story for you here, but I encourage you to please take the time to read the entire article and the comments that follow it.

An undiagnosed ASD man marries a woman  whom he greatly admires for her success and social skills. (Note: This story could just as easily have been about an ASD woman who marries a NT man. Not all Aspies are male.) But as soon as the wedding is over, these very qualities make him uncomfortable. Therefore, he withdraws into his predictable patterns and he tries to pigeon hole her into them as well. But this makes her feel like she’s disappearing. She feels rejected and lonely. Maybe it’s all in her head. No one understands what she’s going through. They just see that this is a good guy and she’s not trying hard enough to make the marriage work.


Then, when they have children, the situation gets worse. She tries to cover for him and create a “normal” life for them, yet he subtly undermines her efforts. No, he’s not intending to do harm. It’s just that if he doesn’t think it’s important, it’s not going to be part of their lives. A poignant story is told about how he doesn’t view her birthday as important, so the children also learn that mommy’s birthday isn’t important.

As Sarah Swenson describes it from the child’s perspective, mommy becomes the “bad guy” the “boss” who treats daddy badly.

“She is the woman who did not deserve to have birthday parties, remember. She is the woman who appeared to have pushed their father aside, so he was unable to be part of their daily lives. She appeared to have been the one who rejected him, and who instead of involving him in their lives, inserted her own agenda and goals. She is the one who spent all the money, because she had to manage everything and make all the decisions without her husband’s input. She is the one, most importantly, who broke up the family. Her selfishness caused the divorce, and the children were left to sort it all out.”

Yes, in order to preserve her sanity, this woman leaves this unintended abuse and neglect. She loses her marriage, her husband, and the respect of her children because they blame her for everything.

This story struck a chord with me and many other women, as the comments reveal. In particular, the subtlety of the disrespect is important to note. Trying to free yourself from this disrespect is futile until you understood who you’re dealing with. And, in the end, you may need to leave “the burning building”, regardless of whether your Aspie intended the disrespect.

I understand what you’re going through and I want you to know that there is hope. Hope for being understood. Hope for finding yourself again. Hope for making a better life with your Aspie or, if necessary, without your Aspie mate. Please join our growing community of NTs and discover how to navigate this crazy making ASD/NT world.

Two Traits Researchers Say You Need for a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship

Monday, August 22, 2016


Why some marriages last while others don’t is the subject of scientific research and they found that kindness is the key factor to successful relationships.Every relationship has ups and downs. The normal stresses of a life tend to deplete our emotional and physical strength and it’s not surprising that we end up taking it out on the person closest to us. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Business Insider published an article about two basic traits that make a relationship last. If you’re in a relationship or plan to be in a relationship, I encourage you to read the entire article, because it has a lot of practical advice that works. Here are some of the highlights:

In the 1970’s, social scientists started studying marriages to determine what made relationships healthy and long-lasting. One of them, psychologist John Gottman, set up “The Love Lab” with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. They invited newlyweds into the lab and recorded their physical response (i.e., blood flow, heart rate, sweat production) to questions about their relationship. Six years later they checked back with them to see if they were still couples.

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters (still happily together) and the disasters (no longer together or were unhappy in their marriages). How were they different? They found that disasters looked calm on the outside, but inside they were in the fight-or-flight mode, meaning they were in an attack or aggressive mode. The masters, on the other hand, had created a climate where they were emotionally and physically comfortable.

How did the masters create happy marriages? Further research showed it was because they worked hard to respect each other. They paid close attention to each other by listening and responding with full attention each time the partner spoke, even if it seemed like a trivial matter like, “Look at that beautiful bird outside.”

So, in practical terms this means that if your partner says something to you and you’re tempted to ignore her or to say, “Don’t interrupt me, I’m reading.” Stop yourself, put your book down, and pay close attention to your partner. Here are some other bits of advice from the article:

  • Listen and make eye contact when your partner speaks.
  • Be generous and look for ways to practice acts of kindness.
  • Speak kindly, never attack.
  • Avoid indifference, contempt and a critical attitude.
  • Don’t assume the worst or jump to conclusions.
  • Look for the positive and overlook the negative.
  • Appreciate the intent, knowing he or she is trying to do the right thing.
  • Share the joy and be excited about your partner’s successes. (According to another psychologist researcher, Shelly Gable, this is the most important determining factor for a successful marriage.)
  • Avoid being a kill-joy.

It all boils down to two basic traits for a successful relationship – kindness and generosity.


Think of them as muscles that need to be made stronger through use. It may be uncomfortable at first, but with practice it will become easier and more rewarding as your partner feels loved, understood, and validated. You’ll find that what you give will come back to you in time.

Do you feel as if your marriage is on shaky ground and you need help in mending it? If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please feel free to contact my office and schedule an appointment. I want to help you to create a happy and successful relationship.

Read more on my website: Marriage Advice.

What You Can Do To Resolve a High Conflict Divorce

Thursday, August 18, 2016


If your soon-to-be ex is a narcissist, you’re heading for a high conflict divorce, so learn how best to handle your division of property and custody battlesOne of the most sought after topics on my website is learning more about dealing with high conflict divorces. Does that surprise you? It did me when I noticed this trend. We all know that many marriages end in divorce today. It’s tough when there’s additional strain put on the marriage bond, such as the entrepreneurial lifestyle or raising children with Autism. And it’s only to be expected that not all of these divorces will be amicable. Some divorces will be end up being difficult but business-like, while others become high conflict divorces.

I do believe it’s possible to prevent or at least better tolerate a high conflict divorce. Anyone going through a life changing experience like a divorce, high conflict or otherwise, should seek the support of a therapist, your church, and other groups supportive of your experience. You’re going to need a level head. And while friends and family love you, your therapist will be more objective. This objectivity will help you stay out of the power struggles that the controlling person can create in a high conflict divorce.

If at all possible, work with a mediator to craft a win-win solution to your divorce. Be willing to compromise and to walk away with a “half fair deal.” In the long run, walking away from your money and possessions is worth it to avoid the acrimony. Remember, too, that it’s only your perception that you’re getting an unfair deal. With the dollars you save on legal fees, you can free up your life to explore a new and healthier way of living.

On the other hand, if you’re up against a party who refuses to negotiate honorably, then you have to use another strategy. And the most important thing to consider is that your desire to be reasonable and fair may be exactly what does you in. When you seek a win-win solution but the other party seeks a win-lose solution, the other party is in the driver’s seat, at least in our current Divorce Court environment.

So here’s a simple answer if you don’t wish to stoop to the underhanded level. Do your best to secure a fair, mediated agreement. If you can’t quickly swing a mediated agreement with the controlling party, don’t hesitate and hope that he or she will somehow change their mind. You need to act swiftly before you’re inundated. Give them what they want and count your blessings that they allow you to get away.

Never, ever, go to Court with a controlling person who wants nothing more than to trash and burn you especially if they have means (i.e. money or power). And never, ever, go to Court with a controlling person if you have children to protect. The Court system is designed to determine a winner and a loser, not resolve conflict amicably and certainly not to protect the innocent.

Regardless of what you lose in the way of material goods or even psychological status in your community, trust that taking the high road means that you and your children will be able to sleep soundly at night. The gift to yourself and your family is to walk away from these Divorce Wars with your integrity and compassion in tact. And that counts for a lot!

I know what you’re going through. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and would like me to assist you, please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Learn more on my website: High Conflict Divorce.

Does Planning for the Possibility of Divorce Set You Up for Failure or Success?

Monday, August 15, 2016


You’ve finally found true love and the idea of planning for divorce is furthest from your mind, but if you want to be happy ever after it shouldn’t be. No one likes to think that a happy marriage can end, but evidence shows that it happens every day. And burying your head in the sand and ignoring that fact isn’t the wisest way to live.

Often entrepreneurial couples start out happy in their businesses and marriages. Then when one is forced to stop working in the business in order to care for family obligations, resentment can flare up and destroy the peace and happiness they once knew. I’ve seen it happen too many times.

You may be surprised to learn that the entrepreneurial couples that are happiest are the ones that plan for an amicable divorce or dissolution of the partnership. Why is that? Not only do these couples have a legal document to follow (such as a prenuptial or partnership agreement), but they also become very aware of what could go wrong, giving them time to make contingency plans so the worst won’t happen.

Here are five very important questions to ask yourself…

  • What if the business grows so big, we need to get bigger facilities?
  • What if something happens so that one or the other partner needs to quit work and focus more on home management?
  • What are the desires of each partner with regard to career and business?
  • What are the desires of each partner with regard to the children and family development?
  • What are the desires of each partner for our marriage?

Paradoxically, by planning for the possibility of divorce right from the start of a marriage and business venture, the entrepreneurial couple has to focus on those things that actually will help strengthen their marriage and business partnership. By digging deeply into who you are, and what you want, you have the opportunity to negotiate with each other to make your desires come true. Instead of resentments building, the trouble spots are planned for. You have a better chance of facing the problems head on, learning from them, or even avoiding them. Planning for the worst in this case isn't a prescription for divorce, but insurance against it.

Remember the question isn't "What do I do with my business or marriage/family if I die?" The question is "What do I do with my business or marriage/family when I die?" And the question isn't "What do I do with my business and marriage/family when we divorce?" The question is "What do I do with my business and marriage/family if we divorce?" Death is inevitable and those who don't face this one are avoiding their responsibilities to others and courting a miserable demise for themselves. Divorce on the other hand is not inevitable, but avoiding thinking and talking about the possibility is just as foolish as ignoring the inevitability of death.

If you want to get started planning for the worst but hoping for the best with regard to creating a healthy, long-term, successful marriage/business partnership with your spouse, try asking yourselves this question: If one or the other of us wants a divorce in the future, why would that be and what can we do now to prevent this? Often it helps to consult with a objective family therapist who can facilitate this conversation. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Learn more on my website: Marriage Counseling.




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