Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Couple Didn't Let Early Ruts Throw Marriage Off Course by Dr. Alan Singer

The Home News printed part 2 of my 60th Anniversary interview with the Levys on 04/17/07. See how intuitive they were to spot problems in their marriage early on and how they went about solving them.

Courtesy of Martin and Leah Levy In 1943, the couple posed for this photo in New York City.Last month, I described the 60-year marriage of the Levys, who shared their pearls of marital wisdom with me. They described how they met, and Leah stressed that spouses should express hurt, not anger. Among Martin's themes were: Don't take your wife for granted, and solve problems that you have with each other before going to sleep.

Our conversation took an interesting turn when Leah explained that she and Martin got married at a young age and that caused problems. Leah: "We had our ups and downs when our two kids were teenagers, so we decided to go to a marriage counselor, and he helped us a great deal. Years ago, you didn't think about divorce, but that's the first thing people do now. I have no idea why; you try to work things out."

Martin said he and Leah have strong characters and neither one backs down easily. They wanted a third party to be involved, and so they saw a marriage counselor for a year to learn ways to get along better. Their two children were happy about the counseling, because it helped the whole family. Martin: "We told our kids that we're having problems understanding one another, but we do not want a divorce and they accepted it." Leah, who still believes that the problems were due to immaturity, commented: "I don't think I handled the stress of family life so well. I had in-law problems, often due to things that I was oversensitive about. Looking back, it was silly, because my husband and I were often arguing about something my in-laws said or did.

When I asked Martin for an example of what caused their in-law-related fights he explained, "My parents lived a block away from us. My mother would watch out the window and tell my daughter Devora to come in and visit on her way home from school. My mother did not have the sense to call my wife, even after two hours went by. Leah would panic justifiably, and scream, "Where is my daughter? Where is my little girl?' "

I asked Martin why he didn't take his mother to task and tell her it was wrong to keep Devora in her home while not informing Leah. Martin: "In my family, if I were to criticize my mother, she would close up and not talk to me for a year, and you could never challenge my father. If you did, he'd cut you off, and stop talking to you. I'd tell Leah to ignore them; this is who they are and you're not going to change them." Leah inserts, "But I tried to change them."

"The most important thing our marriage counselor taught us," explained Leah, "is stick to the subject of your argument, and don't throw in 20 years of old topics. The whole idea of marriage is a partnership. Our counselor told us that there are times when it will be 80/20, and then it will turn around and be 20/80; it's never 50/50. He was a bright and sweet guy."

One last bit of wisdom from the Levys' 60-year marriage that is fundamental to raising children. "Children should be disciplined," Leah emphasizes, "and I don't mean you have to whip them. They must have order in their lives." (Martin inserts that there should be rules and regulations.) "And I know it's hard, but it's very important to sit down and have dinner together, which we did every night. We had discussions at dinner about what was bothering us. Our children could even complain about us, too, as long as it was done respectfully."

The values and wisdom of the Levys continue to be transmitted to the next generation. When their oldest grandson complimented his mother Devora on how supportive she was in resolving a problem that he experienced, he turned to his grandmother Leah and declared, "Why wouldn't my Mom be very helpful, when her mother is such a great mother?"

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer blogs at http://www.familythinking.com/. He is a marriage therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com.


OnlineMaven said...

Great article. Very interesting. I really enjoyed the story about their daughter getting pulled into his mothers house. I think my wife and I have had similar discussions in our life.