Love is a crazy thing. When you’re in love you can be blind to bad ideas and do stupid things. But love is also when you go out of your way to make your partner happy. It was a privilege of mine to be able to do an interview with Randi Gunther. She has over 40 years of experience in counseling couples and individuals, meeting over 100,000 faces and an author of two published books called “When Love Stumbles: How to Rediscover Love, Trust and Fulfillment in your Relationship” and “Relationship Saboteurs: Overcoming the Ten Behaviors that Undermine Love“. She also has a successful marriage of over 60 years, which she’s going to spend some time talking about today. Hopefully she’ll teach us how to have one too!
1. I want to start off by saying it’s amazing to be talking to someone who has been in a successful marriage for over 60 years. I can’t imagine all the obstacles you and your husband went through to get to this point. What is your biggest piece of advice for couples hoping to build a successful, long term relationship?
Everyone is so different and things have changed so much from when we married and how things are now. I also don’t want to create or communicate any cliches because they so take away from the sacredness of authentic commitment. We were fourteen when we met. We separated twice for a period of time, but those first loves have so much unconscious connection, both healthy and not. I worked to help him finish college by dropping out myself though I was a highly achieving student. We had three children by the time we were twenty-five. We are both first-generation Holocaust survivors and there were never any excuses for not having integrity, doing our best, and not complaining. I know that drove us to some extent.
The first ten years were hard. My husband was in school and then graduate school. I wanted my girls to have the voice I wasn’t given in my family of origin. They are middle-aged now, of course, but two are physicians and my oldest is a pastor and a major voice in social justice in the world. We were young and unguided but always took the other person’s view of reality seriously, even when we didn’t see things the same way. I decided to go back to school as a freshman when I was thirty-five. He became both mom and dad, with all the concomitant difficulties. I went to school for nine years, attaining four degrees and much experience wherever I could learn. We were in therapy for four of those years, and I was in therapy, myself, for three more. We got close to the edge many times, but never thought there was anyone else out the world that would be a better choice.
Over time, we let go of the things we knew we could not change and zeroed in on those we could. We knew that past trauma can define future limitations, and we were determined to not let that happen. When he was in his late fifties, even with experience, achievement, and graduate education, he was unable to find work. I stepped in to be the breadwinner and have been ever since. We went back into therapy to deal with the changing roles and our new expectations.
I have a wonderful group of people now branding me. They are called Amare.Inc. They have taken a book I wrote and condensed it. It is now an ebook called HeroicLove. It summarizes everything I’ve learned about how relationships truly work and maintain their aliveness and meaning. I took all of its contents from my own learnings throughout my life, my career and my relationship with twelve different men, who all happened to be the same one.
2. Between being a clinical psychologist and a marriage counselor, which career do you enjoy more and why?
What a wonderful question. My Ph.D. provided me with the critical skills to be a research scientist of human behavior. My MFT degree helped me understand the dynamics of relationships. They overlap wonderfully. There are two types of scientific errors. One is to believe that something terrible is always about to happen. The other is to not notice when something should be heeded. Science also teaches up to not make assumptions and to always make certain all data is relevant and accurate. The emotions in a room between two people or a family struggling to create or regain harmony, hope, new possibilities cannot be quantified. You are in constant commitment to add data, to rethink limitations, to provide new ways to look at old patterns, etc. The two degrees are a perfect match.
3. What made you choose the path of being a marriage counselor?
I actually went back to school originally to become a teacher because of my love of opening new pathways to children. I entered a junior college much older than most of my colleagues. They had just opened a counseling center, mostly for kids who were addicts. Because of my age, they assumed I had the wisdom to run it. The supervising therapist was the most intelligent, most remarkable man I had ever met. He eventually became the therapist I was with for those seven years. He told me that I had the talent to become a quality therapist if I was willing to really do the work. This was a man who was not prone to compliments or encouragement.
It meant that all of us would eventually be in college at the same time and we were not wealthy. We pulled together as a family. I became an MFT first, both to learn the basic art and responsibility for caring for people and to be able to earn a living while I continued school. I ended up teaching in that Master’s Program the second year. I opened my practice in 1975 as an intern. To date, I’ve accumulated over 108,000 hours.
4. I’ve always been really curious about this question, and I think most of our readers are as well. Is it possible for a couple to stay in the honeymoon stage despite the length of their relationship?
Not in the lust/passion can’t-get-enough-of-you stage, but a renewed kind of constant discovery and joy of contact, yes.
5. I’ve been to couple counseling before and it was a whole different level of learning and understanding. Unfortunately, the relationship still came to an end. Why do you think that, despite professional help, couples can still break up? Is it because an individual isn’t putting in enough effort? Or was the relationship never meant to be?
I’ve done a whole program for Amare called Relationship CPR – Breathing life into a dying relationship. Couples who have been in trouble for a long time are weary and motivation must be there or retrievable. No therapist should work harder than the couple to make things work. Also, both people have to be on the same page with the same goals and hopes.
6. Woman are emotional creatures, while men usually aren’t as expressive. As women we expect our partners to understand where we’re coming from, but in reality that doesn’t seem to happen. What advice can you give to women who are expecting so much from a partner? Is there a way for men to understand where we’re coming from?
Don’t expect a man to be a woman.
7. Why is it that even in a committed relationship insecurities and trust can still be a big issue?
In quality relationships, both people kneel before an altar place that manifests their common ethics, goals, ideals, and dreams. They don’t do things for each other, but they commit to the same behaviors in the parallel presence of the other. If we both believe in, for instance, fidelity, we are never single people married away from each other.
8. Heartbreak is a very painful feeling that everyone goes through. It hurts when you lose someone close to you, especially after years of adventures and trying to build a relationship. Why is it that even when a new relationship has started, the love and feelings for your previous lover don’t always go away?
Only if the relationship ended for the wrong reasons, only one person wanted it over, or there are unresolved issues. Some to do with the relationship and others not resolved from the past that emerged again.
9. Knowing that you have met couples of all ages, races, and sexualities, can you tell me one of the most inspiring cases of marriage counseling you’ve helped throughout all these years?
I wouldn’t know where to begin. That’s a whole separate interview. Probably when I have been able to get people back to their vulnerabilities after they have been armored for a long time and take that relationship to a place neither partner has ever been before. That can happen to anyone of any age or culture, but it is most beautiful to see when they have never believed it could happen.
10. What’s your favorite activity to do with your husband to bond and grow as a couple?
Sharing new ideas about life and challenging each other’s bull s***.
Thank you once again, Randi for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions. It was informative and delightful to be able to talk to someone who is so experienced in the field of relationships. What does love mean to you? We would love to hear what you think in the comments below!
Also, if you’ve enjoyed this article, share it on your social media. It encourages us to seek out and do more interviews with psychologists.