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Just Another Point of View: Married people, like dogs, need training

by: SUBMITTED - MIKEL KELLYAfter being married for 45 years, eight months and four days (but who’s counting?), about the only thing I know for sure is that I cannot take credit for any more than half of that success — which amounts, in married people arithmetic, to roughly 33 percent.

The simple truth is, I’ve been well trained.

Training is something we all could use more of. This point was brought home to me last week when I received a press release from the media relations person for “matchmaker and relationship expert Hellen Chen.”

I’d never heard of Hellen Chen, of course, but I learned she has written 20 books and is a “best-selling relationship author.” She also operates a website called matchmakerofthecentury.com.

But most enlightening to me was the explanation of how Chen approaches people and their relationship problems — it struck me as being very similar to the techniques used by high-profile dog trainers.

Like Justin Silver, that good-looking young New York guy who counsels pet owners on the CBS reality show “Dogs in the City,” Chen lays the blame for failed relationships squarely on the shoulders of the people themselves. This is a familiar message shared even earlier by such TV dog trainers as “dog whisperer” Cesar Milan and Barbara Woodhouse, the feisty Brit who insisted it was animal owners, not their pets, who really needed training.

Here’s a sample of the case cited in Chen’s release.

“Janet T. is a mother of two,” the release begins. “She is pretty and has a stable career. However, having felt that there was no longer any romance in her marriage for a long period of time and feeling that her husband no longer cared for her, she asked for divorce. With reluctance, her husband agreed.

“Shortly after, Janet married again. It turned out to be another unpleasant experience of fights and arguments, and she asked for divorce with her second spouse. Her second marriage lasted three years and she is now single again.”

“’She did not know her own mistakes,’ said Chen . . . Her recent book, ‘the Matchmaker of the Century,’ became a number one bestseller in marriage and romance books at Barnes and Noble.

“Chen, who counseled Janet about her relationship disasters, commented. ‘She asked for the other half to change to satisfy her. But she did not realize what she is doing that is hurting the relationship. Colleagues who have worked with Janet cited her as an enthusiastic worker and a great team player but occasionally, when she was spotted with her spouse by her co-workers, they noticed her constant nagging at her spouse and picking on his mistakes.”

“This is the most frequent mistake that women make in their relationships,” Chen said in an interview. “Nagging at their partner’s mistakes, telling them what is wrong and why they are wrong. Men are not always right, of course. But there are ways to guide them instead of constantly criticizing them.”

Although Hellen Chen went on to share the top mistakes which men have committed in relationships and what men need to do to keep relationships alive, I’m not going to talk about that. Buy her book if you want a checklist.

What all this taught me is that training a husband (or a wife) is not drastically different than training a dog. To do it right — and I don’t claim to have any special insight to any of the three — is difficult. It takes persistence, sensitivity and courage.

The best trainer I know is the other person who lives at our house, who cannot be named (under threat of bodily harm to me). But I must credit her insight into some basic facts many years ago (such as, we both were working full-time so we needed to share the duties at home).

The toughest part of it all was when, during a camping vacation from which there was no easy escape, she laid upon me that most-hated of all married-people conversation starters: “We need to talk.”

Usually, this means “I need to talk, and you need to listen.” But this time, there was plenty of opportunity for me to talk, too, so it worked out fine.

But to this day, when I see couples arguing, avoiding each other or — worse yet — bad-mouthing each other when the other isn’t there, I’m reminded that here is someone (perhaps two people) who needs, more than anything, a good trainer.

Former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times, The Times as well as the Lake Oswego Review, Kelly is now chief of the central editing and design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.




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