Stephanie Baffone


Valentine’s Day is only days away and the topic of lasting love once again is batted around.

How do you find it? How do you keep it? It can seem so elusive and yet, here is one study that discovered what couple’s SHOULDN’T do. I originally wrote this piece for one of my favorite marriage bloggers, Dustin, but it’s worth an encore.

Do you engage in any of these behaviors? If so, which ones?

So…what’s the secret to a happy marriage?

For my husband and high school sweetheart, this past Valentine’s Day marked twenty- five years since our first date and in August we will celebrate twenty years together passionately married. Sometimes when we tell people we’ve been together for so long-and happy-we get looks like we are creatures from another planet.  Once people process our success, the next question we get asked is, “So what’s the secret?”

Classified Information

My husband and I don’t possess some highly guarded classified information but if there is one thing I could point to that has contributed significantly to our harmonious existence, it would be that we learned early in our marriage how to resolve conflict effectively.

A few months back, Dustin wrote a post titled, Fight Fair! 6 Simple Conflict Resolution Skills for Your Marriage. It had surefire tips on how to fight fairly. Check it out if you haven’t already.  It’s an invaluable template.

But what if I told you that within 94% accuracy a group of psychologists has been able to scientifically predict, by simple observation, which couples will succeed and which ones are headed for trouble?

Hard to believe?

Well, it’s true.

Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Susan Blumberg, in their ground breaking book, “Fighting For Your Marriage” share the results of their longitudinal study on what factors have the most predictive value in determining if a couple is headed for wedded bliss or deep trouble.  The “secret” is how couples resolve conflict.

 Patterns to Avoid

By observing couples discussing an issue that is a bone of contention, Markman, et al, discovered that couples who engage in the following four patterns are destined for marital discord and divorce:


A perfect example of invalidation is the old stand by, You shouldn’t feel that way.” Or “That’s ridiculous.” When you tell someone how they feel is ridiculous it is the equivalent of issuing a stop work order on your relationship.  Sure, it might not make sense to you or might even seem silly TO YOU but to say that directly to someone else in a tone that invalidates their experience shuts them down. Better to offer something like, “I understand that’s how you feel, but it doesn’t quite make sense to me. Help me understand.”


This is an oldie but goodie too. Example: “Your just like your mother/father!” We all fall into these traps the trick is not to keep them as a regular part of conflict resolution rotations.

Withdrawal and Avoidance

Two examples of this are:

1.The proverbial cold shoulder, eye-rolling, heavy-sigh-walk away- in- utter- disgust move.

2.“Yes, Dear” the stay in the room but patronize and placate.

Both of these examples communicate the message, ”I am cutting you off.”  Sometimes a timeout is necessary, and even in order, but better to say so.  The cold shoulder, placating and patronizing approach systematically breaks down intimacy.

Negative Interpretations

Negative interpretations occur when one partner consistently believes that the motives of the other are ill-intentioned. 

In the heat of the moment, the aforementioned pitfalls are easy to fall into. Grasping at what makes US feel good in the short-term and engaging in self-righteous behaviors, might make us feel“right,” but remember, the goal is not necessarily to be right–but to live peacefully together.

When the temptation to fall into these traps intoxicates you, think of how warm and fuzzy it is when you and your partner are connected and feel supported.  Allow yourself to be seduced by the delight that will follow, when you use more effective tools to communicate. The payoff could very well be twenty or more years of wedded bliss.

Trust me, I know. (wink)


Happy Wednesday!

For the most part, unless it involves arranging fresh cut flowers and herbs in a vase or whipping up a batch of macaroni and a Caesar salad, I’m not a fan of housekeeping- but today I have a quick housekeeping request.

Have you subscribed to my blog?

“What’s that? Not sure how to subscribe?

Try this it’s quick and simple:

In the second box on the right hand side of this page, drop your email address in the space that says “FREE! Don’t miss a thing!” No rush, I’ll wait for ya. (I NEVER share your email address-EVER).

“Oh, you have? Great! Then how bout clicking today on the “Tweet This’ button?”

Thank you! Now the place looks spiffy.


This week The Bird and I are on vacation. It’s been wonderful to have the time to unwind and catch up with each other in ways we don’t always have the time for because of our busy work schedules.

We decided to hit the hay a little earlier than usual last night.

He crawled into bed and asked,”Hey, Steph, do you have any Advil?”

When he asks for any sort of medicinal remedy, coughs and sneezes, or even worse, comes home with a WaWa coffee cup with a tea bag tag dangling on the outside, it scares me. My amygdala lights up like a fireworks display on July fourth.

When I see the dreaded teabag or am asked for said requested remedy my first inclination is to think, “I’ll take worry, Alec for $1000.”

Thank God I’ve learned a little something about cognitive choice. There is a sliver of space (albeit it unconscious) between having a thought and attaching meaning to it. The meaning we attach to a thought dictates the emotional response it elicits.

Taking a moment to pause in that sliver of time, when no meaning has yet been attached, takes practice-something even therapists have to work at. ;-) The good news is the more we get in the habit of pausing at this critical cognitive crossroads, the more likely it is we will master the art of regulating our emotions rather than letting them regulate us. As a bonus, this practice often safeguards against frantic, unnecessary trips down anxiety alley.

Back to last night…

“Sure, honey, but do you want a Zyrtec?” I asked.

He  rolled over, yanked the covers over his face, shook his head and chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” I crawled in next to him.

“Babe, You’re the only person I know, who when asked for Advil, would say, ‘Do you want a Zyrtec?’ Seriously,  Steph, I just need some advil.”

“Ok, no problem but I thought maybe you had a sinus headache and that’s why I suggested the Zyrtec.”

“Steph,  before you bombard me with your litany of questions, I  mean, worries, let me tell you. It’s this bed. It’s too firm. My back has only started to bother me since we got here a few days ago. Ok? I just need some Advil.”

I smiled. This was good news- as in, “Alec, false alarm,  I’ll take no-need-to-worry for $100.”

I pulled back the covers, jumped out of bed, went into the closet and fished out two Advil from my usual stash.

Along with the bottle of water I grabbed from my nightstand, I handed him the Advil and nestled back into bed.

“Feel like rubbing my back?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

While I traced gentle chaotic trails on his back, I decided to ask him a question I categorically knew the answer to.

“Honey, may I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“We’ve been coming down here to this beach house for 25 years now. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, can you believe that?” (I always offer a prayer up when I invoke the name of Jesus, His Mother and Father -lest I break the third commandment).


“With the exception of  some facelifts that rival the homes featured in Coastal Living Magazine, it looks exactly the same it did 25 years ago,” I said.


“This is a really dumb question but when we started dating twenty-five years ago and especially when we got married, did you really believe you could love me forever?” (We’ll be married 20 years this August-I’m doing a little research for a blog post on marriage-this is part of the reason I asked).

“You’re right. That is a dumb question-of course I did.”

“But so many couples go into marriage today who admit they have their doubts. I hear this from family, friends, clients. It’s mind-boggling.”

“That’s dumb. That’s like going skydiving with the relative certainty your parachute release will fail. That’s stupid.”

I giggled. ”Honey, we should do a reality show. We could call it, ‘The Bird and His Writer/Therapist Wife-A portrait of a blissful married couple who believe marriage and happy still go together like peanut butter and jelly.’”

“Steph, no one would watch, we’re boring. We love each other. By today’s standard’s that not only boring but bad for ratings.”

“I guess you’re right, what’s the commercial appeal of a couple who gets along?”

“There isn’t one.”

Other than the rhythmic hum of summer traffic outside the bedroom, the house was still.

I stared at the sparkled, pop-corn ceiling and remarked, ”I know…but we’d make great role models.”

“That we would, Steph.”

As he nodded off he added, “PS, feel free to use any of the gems I just offered on your blog or Twitter.”

We cracked up and I squeezed him while he fell back to sleep.

Please drop me a comment. Is long-term true love suicide for ratings? What are your thoughts on today’s role models of marriage?

Suggested reading on this topic:

Zen Heart: Simple Advice for Living With Mindfulness and Compassion by Erza Bayda

Love Everyday by Contributing Editors: Stu Gray, Lori Lowe, Dustin Riechmann and Chelle Stein