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Berger Answers Cupid’s Pulse Reporter’s Questions about Marriage Meetings. This was a lively interview, packed full of information.  If it inspires you with more questions, click the comment button above and ask away!

Radio Shows with Berger discussing her thoughts about relationships, communication, and her new book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted. (New World Library, 2014).

Secret to a Heavenly Union: Weekly ‘Marriage Meetings’

by Nancy Kaplan-Biegel

Correspondent

When psychotherapist Marcia Naomi Berger got married almost 36 years ago, she realized that despite working with other families for years, she had a lot to learn. So she and her husband enrolled in a marriage workshop at the local Marin Jewish Community Center.

What followed were a series of sessions on healthy communication in marriage and a workbook full of suggestions. And there, amongst all this information, was a small nugget the workshop spent maybe five minutes on: Schedule a weekly meeting with your partner.

Berger and her husband didn’t integrate all the suggestions of the workshop into their daily lives, but they did continue the weekly marriage meetings.

“That was the one thing we kept doing after the class. And we’re still doing it more than 35 years now,” Berger says.

It’s exactly this technique that Berger now teaches to couples in her own workshop, “Made in Heaven: Communication Coaching for Couples” the next of which will be held at Parents Place in Marin on Dec. 5 and 12, and repeated next year.

The two-hour evening class — aimed at any committed couple, not just those who are married — meets on two consecutive weeks. Berger introduces couples to the four elements that make these 45-minute weekly marriage meetings work: appreciation, chores, plans for good times, and problems or challenges.

Couples start by expressing appreciation for something the other partner did (this can be something small or something fundamental). Then, couples tackle the business of running the household — in other words, chores. Because they’ve spent some time offering appreciation, they’ve set a mood that allows the couple to handle business more effectively, Berger believes.

“I tell them, ‘attack the problem, not each other,’” she says.

And because the couples meet weekly, they can follow up on how successful (or not) they’ve been in following through on their commitments to each other.

“I think a lot of us can benefit from having a structure, so that we know that things get handled,” says Berger, who lives in San Rafael with her husband, David Berger, and their 13-year-old son, Avi.

The meeting’s reward for handling the household business is to then take a moment and plan something fun — either as a couple, family or individually. This self- and couple-care is essential, says Berger.

The good feeling is useful when the couple addresses the fourth aspect of the marriage meeting: dealing head-on with challenges the couple may be facing.

Those challenges can include becoming parents.

“One of the things that we all know is you have children and then your marriage changes, your relationship changes,” says Bonnie Romanow, education coordinator for the Marin branch of Parents Place, an affiliate of Jewish Family and Children’s Services. “And people are not necessarily prepared for that.”

It’s for this reason that Romanow sees the class as a good fit for her agency, which offers resources for parents and families. It’s a tool, says Romanow, which helps remind parents to focus on their marriage, not just their children.

“They are not just parents, they’re a couple, too — a couple first. And that’s the foundation of their marriage and their family life.”

A child of divorce, Berger takes seriously the strengthening of this foundation, though she says the workshop is for all couples, not just those with children.

“I do feel like helping people have strong marriages is my mission,” she says.

This feeling has only been bolstered by her growing observance as a Jew. Berger, formerly known as Marcia Fisch, worked for years as the director of Jewish Family Service in the East Bay. Raised secularly, Berger was eventually told by her then-boss that as a spokesperson for a Jewish agency, she needed to be more knowledgeable about Judaism.

That began a journey toward observance for Berger, who studies with Chabad of Marin; this observance, in turn, has strengthened her desire to help other couples.

“In Judaism, the belief is that God destines who’s going to marry whom before we’re born,” she says. “We are beshert — we’re meant for each other. So how come we’re having all these problems, like who’s going to take out the garbage?”

She cites the traditional morning prayers as taking up this issue. “Bringing peace between husband and wife is one of [the mitzvahs]. It’s something that we say every day.”

Berger’s methods for bringing peace to couples has circulated within the observant community, through articles she has written for the Jewish press about marriage meetings, as well as through word of mouth.

Kensington resident Chani Rutter easily points to an Orthodox New York couple she introduced who was experiencing marital problems. After their rabbi recommended counseling, Rutter — their mashpia, or spiritual mentor — hooked them up with Berger via telephone. The wife scheduled weekly marriage meetings and turned her marriage around.

The meetings — which Rutter calls a “love sandwich” — work because they open the channels of communication. “They really do truly alleviate tremendous pressure,” she says.

Berger acknowledges that couples with serious problems may need therapy beyond what the class provides. But she asserts it doesn’t have to get that far if couples simply commit to communicating effectively and taking time for the marriage.

“People object to taking time to do anything because everyone is so busy. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she says.

“But if you look around and see how many deeply troubled marriages there are and how high the divorce rate is, an ounce of prevention doesn’t hurt.”

Copyright J, the Jewish news weekly of Northern California

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