The Make-Up Artist

Wedded bliss takes work, according to therapist Karen Ruskin.

therapist karen ruskin

Photograph by Jared Leeds

The secret to happily ever after? Balancing romance with the business-partnership aspect of your relationship, says Sharon-based therapist Karen Ruskin. With clients ranging from newlyweds to empty-nesters, she’s helped smooth out squabbles about pesky in-laws, blown budgets, and everything in between. The 43-year-old author of Dr. Karen’s Marriage Manual has some serious credentials: She and her husband have been married for 20 years. “Every step of the way we reflect on where we are and where we were,” she says. “We’re still able to grow together while maturing as individuals.” Here, the Fox 25 relationship correspondent shares her advice for a joyful union.

First of all, what should every couple do before tying the knot?

Talk with your spouse about what you dreamed married life would look like when you were kids, both in terms of the relationship with each other and your home life. Then discuss what your adult versions are. List your top-five visions for both, then decide together which ones are feasible and realistic. Make an agreement that you will each do your best throughout the marital journey to make these things priorities.

How can couples prepare for the changes marriage will bring?

Acknowledge what’s coming and plan accordingly. Whose family will you visit for the holidays? Who gets the 6 a.m. shower versus the 6:30 shower? Who cooks? Who does the dishes? How often do you want to have sex? These things can be worked out ahead of time. Another thing to do is set your top-three marital rules, like “no one sleeps on the couch” or always share your feelings.”

Right, from here on out it’s all about compromise. 

Yes. You are becoming a unit. That means the growth of the couple becomes equally as important as individual growth. What you bring to the relationship should be just as special as the energy and effort you put into yourself.

What are the building blocks of a strong union?

Well, the three legs of marriage are emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, and sexual intimacy. Coming in the door and giving your spouse a hug or a smack on the tush in the hallway, that’s physical intimacy—it’s different from sexual. Emotional means having compassion, empathy, the capacity to forgive. Be a dear friend to your partner—be his or her biggest fan. If you live by these three tenants, that’s a formula for an A-plus marriage.

Speaking of sex, is it true what they say about it, well, dwindling after “I do”?

It’s not like once the ring is on your finger, the sex stops. But you have to decide as a couple that you don’t want it to dwindle and keep it fun, not monotonous. Make sure you play your role in initiating. It’s all about choice: Choose to have it be something special in your life, not just a check-off box on your to-do list.

How can couples make planning a wedding a bonding experience rather than a source of constant stress?

The mind is a powerful thing. Whatever you tell yourself to think is what you will think. Tell yourself this: Challenges are to be had, but we will work together to confront and overcome them. We do not live in a cartoon world where there will be no stressors; it is how we deal with them that makes us who we are. And we will deal with them together.

What can you do when stress does, inevitably, crop up?

Acknowledge it rather than allowing yourself to feel overwhelmed by it. Then confront it, develop a plan for resolution, and act upon that plan. If you’re stressing big time and find yourself reacting in a displeasing way, put a rubber band on your wrist and every time you feel you’re about to react negatively, snap the wrist. It’s like a personal stop sign to remind you to slow down and think before you react. Or ask yourself: Will this bother me a day from now? How about a week from now? A month from now? A year from now? This will help you to realize that your problem won’t always be a stressor, so you can cope with it in the now rather than feeling like there is no end in sight.

What’s the best way to diffuse an argument? 

Here’s a script I use as a communication device. It only takes 30 seconds, and when you’re done you’ve reminded yourself that you love the other person, and you’re hopeful for resolution of the issue: When you _____, I feel _____. When I feel _____, I want to _____, but instead I’m going to tell you that I love you, that I’m _____ (worried, confused, hurt, etc.), and I’m hopeful we can work on a resolution together.

Any tips for nesting?

If your spouse is moving into your house, ask him or her what they’d like to add to make it feel like home. If you’re moving into a new place, make sure each of you has several items throughout that make it feel homey. Also, sleep in the same bed, even if you’re annoyed with each other. The bed is very symbolic of the growth of the relationship.

What’s one thing couples can do daily to nurture their relationship?

Make it a point to do something every day for your husband or wife and for the couple. Maybe your husband hates getting gas so you fill up his tank—that’s for him. And then you might have a romantic dinner with a candle on the table for the both of you to enjoy. Basically, water the plant of marriage every day.

We all change with age—how should we deal with an evolving partner?

The secret is respecting who the person was when you met, who the person is now, and who he or she is growing into. At every stage of marriage you’re in a relationship with a growing, changing person, and you’re growing and changing as well. If you can respect each other verbally and emotionally, then you will both feel valued and loved no matter what challenges come your way.

Dr. Karen Ruskin & Associates, 781-241-7837,


Daily wedding-planning to-dos from Karen Ruskin.

Show your appreciation.

Take a moment and tell your spouse-to-be one thing you love about them.

Take a break.

Do something upbeat and fun together—play Twister, a card game, or snuggle up and listen to your favorite music, even if
it’s only for 15 minutes.

Be thankful.

Verbally acknowledge the gift and blessing of your union, and remember that even the challenges of wedding planning are reasons to be grateful.

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