50 Years Married (and we would do it all again)

As of this weekend, Carole and I have been married for 50 years. Some have asked, “what are your secrets?” with the question mostly addressed to Carole, as in, “how did you live with him for so long?” I have been hard to live with I know, but Carole says she would do it again. (We didn’t discuss whether marrying George Clooney with an endless supply of Nespresso was an option.) Anyway, here is my answer to the “what are your secrets question”.


Having an enduring marriage is a good thing but not particularly virtuous. It doesn’t really take faith, hope, or love to outlast others or the expectations of others. Some didn’t think we would make it and, at times I agreed, worrying that I could not be for Carole what she hoped for and needed. But Carole was different. She knew we were good together. She always believed in us and in me.

To have a good marriage, a marriage “to be proud of” is more than endurance and more than counting years. Good fortune is one of many of those intangibles that helped us. It was my good fortune to meet her in high school where she was the secretary of the “future teacher’s club” and I was the president. She never came to one of my basketball games as her church frowned on men sweating in short pants. But we met young and we married young. That was good.

Over our 50 years, we have shared and talked a lot, as well as reading, worrying, studying, and loving God and people. But those vaulted virtues do not minimize our hunger to touch and hold and kiss each other. I read somewhere that good kissing is one of the best predictors of marital success. We continue to be good at that. Researchers say that shared saliva has a biological bling to sustain marriage when life is difficult. Amen.

We have been partners in so many things from church work, people in our home, conferencing, counselling, and most importantly, child-loving. My we love our two kids. It hurts to love this deeply. Parenting is so fraught with hope and love and pain. It seems to me that marriage carves out the capacity to be head-over-heals in love with kids. And now we have grandchildren and we share all their excitement and fear about their lives. It is as deep a pain as love gets.

Carole and I have crafted a common story where prayer and worship and wonder are integral. In the last several years we have become less churchly and more curious. But we are no less desiring of God and responsive to “them”. Our faith journey is less either-or and more hospitable. We like strangers. Me especially.

We enjoy our shared affections. Red wine, “The Chair” on Netflix, travelling to places like Uganda, Uzbekistan, and China to give back what has so generously been given to us. 

Giving back is a shared value. We used to call it tithing but now we think of it as just giving back. Giving is the best gift one can receive. Rather than buying each other another gift for this anniversary we have decided to give to the Children’s Hospital for all they have given to our family over the years.

One more thing that is important to us and what has inspired our marriage: friends. You. And you. And you. Yes, you. You are our family, the people we love. And we are sustained by you. You continue to be faith, hope, and love to us.

Here is a great meditation on marriage. Mediate away!

Paddy and Carole

 

(If you would like to respond to this or anything else on our website, you are invited to write us at life@theducklows.ca.)

Keep On Keeping On

Carole and I are working out how to “keep on keeping on” in the midst of increasing demands for our counselling time. We are both concerned about our long waiting lists and the urgencies caused by the covid crises. And we are also aware that we can’t work as hard as we have up until this point.

We love the work of listening, wondering, consoling and challenging and we hope to continue our work with you for some time to come. So, to be able to do this and to do so effectively, we are making some changes. Here they are:

  • First — we are going to limit the number of new clients so that we can better serve the people we visit with now. This started on April 1, 2021.
  • Second — we are going to re-package our workdays so that we are not carrying as many hours each day. This will be in effect by September 2021.
  • Third — when covid restrictions have lifted, and this looks like it is coming shortly, we are going to limit in-office visits and keep much of our work online. We will probably open for in-office visits around October 1st. Watch the calendar and this blog for updates.
  • Fourth — we will actively refer people who inquire about working with us. We have an extensive network of counsellors and we think we can match clients and counsellors quite effectively.

In summary, this means that we want to continue to work with you because we have a commitment to you, and we value the work we have accomplished together. But we are going to restrict new commitments to others.

Let us know your thoughts. Write to us at life@theducklows.ca. We will be sure to get back to you. And thanks.

(Updated July 1, 2021 — Happy Canada Day!)

First Questions First

When people come for counselling, they need to ask and answer a few questions.

The first question is: “What do you want to change stated reasonably and measurably?” That’s a laborious question! It is about what you want and what you can practically do. It is about what is reasonable and measurable. Answering this question is the hub of change.

I think this is a respectful question. I do not ask them what their parents want them to change your what they think God wants them to do. I asked them what they want. It is an important differentiating question. “What do you actually want?”

Most people come to counselling hoping to make a change. Perhaps the person wants a better relationship with an adult child. Or someone else is hoping to reduce anxiety in social situations. And perhaps, in a more nebulous way, someone would like to connect to an inner spiritual self. All of this involves some sort of change — a change of behaviour, a change of perspective, change of tone.

A few days ago, I was meeting online with a couple who wrote in their Intake Form that they wanted to build their emotional intimacy. For the first 10 minutes or so they blamed each other for their shared inadequacies, which were many. I did not see a desire or intent to change personally but to coerce the other. I asked them, “What would they like to change reasonably and measurably?” Confused, they stopped blaming, looked at each other and began to think. Perhaps the pragmatism of the question dumbfounded them.

The second question follows logically: “What are you willing to do to make this change happen?” This question is as pragmatic as the first. Change happens in time increments. Everyone has 168 hours in the week and some of those hours should be directed towards intended change. For couples, we might recommend a “10/10” and you can read about that here. Developing intimacy (at least at the beginning) is going to take 20 minutes a day or 140 minutes for a week. That is probably more intimacy than any most couples experience in a year. (By the way, the couple described above has done the 10/10 for a couple of weeks now. They are initiating the change that they claimed to want.)

The third question is a bit of a surprise: “How might you sabotage yourself?” This is about the predictable ways in which we spoil our future. We all have “adaptations” to the hard work of change. A client friend wants to learn to improve his performance at work. He knows he has the capacity for leadership, and he dreams of success. The problem is, he can never get around to answer question 2, “What are you willing to do?” Avoidance, forgetfulness, carelessness, un-planfulness (not really a word but you get the point), busyness are some of his adaptations. You might call them “excuses” but I think of them as “sabotages.”

These are what I think of as first-order questions of therapy and change. Without wresting and responding to these issues, no therapy is done. So what do you want to change? Or, “What do you want to work on today?

If you want to read a bit more on these questions, here is an outline from our Tools section. It is called “Contract for Change.”

[Any comments or questions are welcome. Please contact us at life@theducklows.ca]

Q — What do you want to work on today?

What do you want to work on today?

This is a frustrating question for many of my client friends, though they hear it most every appointment with me. Some deflect the question and talk about the events they have experienced since they have seen me last. Some ask me outright, “don’t you know me well enough by now?” Others look at me with a placid glaze hoping that I will answer my own question, which I sometimes do, especially later in the day.

My clients are smart. They are intuitive. And manipulative.

Some want me to set the agenda — many people find it easier to follow than to lead, or maybe they are worried about making a mistake. Some of my client friends think that I am the omnicompetent professional and that I should be able to tell them what it is that they should work on. Some people must simply think that I can’t think of a better opening gambit.

Here is what the question means to me and why I have used it for 40 years.

  • The question is addressed to you, the one sitting in front of me. It is not about what someone else wants you to work on, or why someone else wants you to visit with me. The session is entirely about you.
  • It is about wants, not the oughts – shoulds – musts you carry around in your head. It is not so much about what you need to do or what someone else thinks you need to do. The responsibility is yours to figure out what you want.
  • It is not about sharing or chatting or being a sounding board. It is about mutual work towards a particular goal decided by you.
  • It is about today. It is not about tomorrow or yesterday or some time far, far away. It is not about your genogram history, though that is relevant. It is about right now and how that fits into the continuity of your life.
  • Also, it is an important question to me when I go for help. It assumes that I am responsible for myself. I like that. Maybe it’s a compliment.

So that is why I ask this quite predictable question. And while I am asking it, I am watching you and thinking. I want to see what efforts you will make to manage me. I want to see if you will avoid work by talking about the past or projecting to the future. I listen for your subjunctive tense [“well I would’ve done that if…”]. I wonder if you will start in blaming your partner, or your trauma, or your family of origin.

I listen to what you want to work on and what you want from me so that we can work together in the complicated narrative of your life.

See you next time.