Welcome back to another episode of the Art of Manliness podcast!
In this edition we talk to Dr. Corey Allan, a marriage and family therapist and the founder of Simple Marriage  — a website about how to strengthen and improve marriages and families. Allan has written two ebooks on marriage and has created self-guided online courses (like Blow Up My Marriage ) to help couples improve their relationship.
Highlights from the episode include:
- What a man thinking about marriage can do NOW to get ready
- Why Nice Guys suck at marriage
- The most common problems in a marriage
- Signs you need to talk to a therapist
- And much more!
Listen to the Podcast!
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. Well today we’re talking marriage. Our guest today is Dr. Corey Allan. He is a family and marriage therapist, has a PhD in Family Therapy and he runs the website Simple Marriage. And today we are going to talk about if you married right now what you can do to improve your marriage and if you are thinking about getting married what you can do today to prepare yourself for the best possible relationship with your future wife.
Well, Corey welcome to the show.
Dr. Corey Allan: Thanks Brett. I’m glad to be here.
Brett McKay: So Simple Marriage, what’s behind the name? Like what’s the philosophy behind the Simple Marriage project?
Dr. Corey Allan: Well the main idea is just kind of a personal belief, is that when I keep things simple things are better. Because we make things way too complicated a lot of times with power stuff on and clutter and everything and so the more simple I can keep it, the more important it stays and marriage seems to kind of ebb and flow in the world as far as a focus and relationships. And it’s a huge deal as far as relationships go. But I want to try to help people see that their marriage is a priority throughout not just whenever there is a problem. So the Simple Marriage started as a way to try to reach people before there were problems and is kind of involved into a two-pronged approach of there’s great resources available for people who just want to improve marriages and there is also great resources available that will help address specific issues that come up in any committed relationship.
Brett McKay: All right. Good stuff. So, I mean here is a question I have. I know lot of our listeners and readers, they are in college or they just graduated college, they are not married yet, but they are thinking about it and they will be contemplating it. What sort of things should these guys be doing now to prepare for a successful marriage?
Dr. Corey Allan: Okay, well the easiest answer I can think of is to live full and passionate lives that don’t change too much upon being married. I mean relationships are always a component of life and of what you do, but there’s far too many couples I think that give up a whole lot of their life for the sake of the relationship and then, years into the relationship, when the passion and the spark has gone, then they are like, “Now what? This is boring. I am suffocating”, and it’s because they gave up so much to be in the relationship. So, it’s kind of that balancing act. Live a full and passionate life and let the relationship be a part of it, not a majority of it.
Brett McKay: And how do you tell these guys, how do you manage, that’s another thing, how do you manage and it’s kind of leads into our next question, how do you manage, you have a way of life, you are passionate about your life, you find someone that you think is the one, but you find out your passions down align, right? Or like she does not like what you do or you don’t like what she does. So I mean that’s a question like how do you know that, you know, if you are contemplating on asking a woman to marry you, how do you know she is the one. I know you got people to say like there’s no, this thing is the one, I don’t think that is the one. But how do you know if she is compatible or right for a relationship?
Dr. Corey Allan: Well I think it’s, it’s, I mean again everything we do in life is choice. So, everything we choose has consequences to come along with it. So, if I choose to live a really passionate life, it’s going to mean I am going to travel all the time. I am really likely choosing to have very little relationships with people unless they travel with me. So, but, at the same time, if I have somebody I really care about and I am willing to give up some of those things, it’s my choice. They are not forcing me. And so I think it’s kind of a personal responsibility approach I think, that you know I am living a full and passionate life and maybe my partner that I have fallen in love with and I am thinking I want to live my life with, she is not totally on board. Well, that’s up for discussion then. Because we evolve and change as we grow and mature. So it’s, so this comes back to marriages choice and relationships of choice, whether it’s day 1 or day 2051. So, compatibility kind of is a tough issue because you wouldn’t be together if you weren’t compatible. I mean you wouldn’t be, you wouldn’t last any length of time if you weren’t compatible. But it’s a constant changing and evolving of the people involved that takes place that that’s probably what trips most people up as they are all same thing, but we want to learn compatible, huh? Yeah, you are, you just may be at different places, you’ve got to still kind of work through some things.
Brett McKay: I mean are there other thing besides compatibility that you should look in a person when you are deciding whether to get married? You know, other attributes in the person that you should look for, they are like, yeah, she would be a good person, a good partner, a good life partner or maybe she is ready to, she, maybe she is not the marrying type. Are there things like that?
Dr. Corey Allan: Yeah, I guess you’ve got to look out for the people that invest way too much in a relationship as far as, forget about stereotypical, forget about audience, this is the Art of Manliness. If you find a woman that has given up everything for you and is just going to be at your beck and call at any time, you know, for a short term or you know I have been married almost 20 years now, for a week and that sounds great if my wife would just at my beck and call. But after that slavery get you really, really old and suffocating. And so you want somebody that can push back at you, challenge you, be a, you know, be a little bit of an effort to keep up with and is stimulating. And so if you find somebody that’s just real, real clingy and dependent, that’s kind of one of those, what kind of life do they have on their own because they are going to want to just leave, live their life through me. And then the other is, yeah, I think we are probably going to find people, I mean theory’s going to say from my schooling that we meet and fall in love with people that have a similar upbringing in the sense or similar family dynamic and that does not mean, you know, I am from a divorce family so I have to find somebody from a divorce family. No, it’s just, there’s subtleties in the way we are raised and the relationships we have that make sense. And that’s part of what makes it where we fall in love with those people because they make sense. If they are too far apart, they don’t last. It’s one of, that’s the short term relationships where just nothing really clicks.
Brett McKay: So here is another question. You are a marriage counselor, a professional marriage counselor, you have your PhD, I mean you have gone to schooling. What are the biggest problems you have seen that you have learned about your schooling and from your own practice that marriages have?
Dr. Corey Allan: Well the researchers are just going to say that’s the common issues people fight about and have the most issues over is still money and sex. That’s the two main fighting areas. What I see, this is my personal approach and this is kind of what Simple Marriage brings to the table, is my personal bias, is the reason most couples come to see me is because they are actually too close, and they are, they are each fighting for their own space and their own identity. And they don’t realize that they are too fused into what they view, you know, their spouse’s response to things or to walk on eggshell, that can’t do anything right. Well it’s all based on how you perceive their perceiving what’s going on rather than this is what I think. This is who I am and being solid enough to stand up and say so and then deal with life as it comes up and the push back from the spouses that comes up. Because we all have different ways of viewing things and just gender alone as all kinds of fire there on differences because a woman is going to view things drastically different than a man does.
Brett McKay: Yeah we’ll talk about that. So I guess, I guess it’s called differentiation, is that what it called in the…?
Dr. Corey Allan: That’s a psychobabble term that I believe in and it was started from a theorist named Murray Bowen years ago when he was looking at the family system and how we differentiate through the generations. And then it’s been adopted and applied slightly differently in a marriage context, but it’s the same foundation. I term it as growing up. I mean that is way I think of it as marriage is designed, I believe, to help us grow up. It’s not designed for our happiness, it’s not designed for joy and pleasure. We get that, but the main point of marriage is to help us to be a better people.
Brett McKay: Awesome, and you are mean to kind of, you mean, you refer to something you answer that people need to learn how to stand up themselves. So it sounds like assertiveness is an important skill to develop in order to have a successful marriage?
Dr. Corey Allan: Well I think that’s a life-long thing because any time my wants and desires impact people I care about I am at that crucible, if you will, of do I speak up and go for what I want even though it may hurt them? Or do I give in and don’t ever say it because I just don’t want to create new waves? And that’s the constant, you know, two choice to limit, if you will, I guess, that I want to go out with the guys on the weekend, but I know my wife is going to want to spend some times with me. Well, what do I choose? And I think that’s a simplistic thought, but it’s a whole lot deeper when it really plays out.
Brett McKay: Definitely. So you, okay let’s talk about that you refer to the differences between genders and how they approach marriage. What are some of those differences on how many women approach marriage?
Dr. Corey Allan: Well I mean that’s a deep tough question.
Brett McKay: I’m going to get you in trouble.
Dr. Corey Allan: I appreciate that. I really think that marriage, you know, we are born into this idea of relationships. That’s where we are, that’s where we come from, obviously, is a relationship between a man and woman, if you just go biological. Relationship between a sperm and an egg. And so we are designed for relationships and I think that where things are magnified, that’s where things were improved, that’s where, you know, if you get to experience something you experience with someone else. It’s so much more. There’s so much more depth and greater, and greatness associated with it. But so fundamentally, I think there is a similarity in men and women and that we both are seeking appreciation, and acceptance and a companionship and we don’t want to be alone in this journey of life together. Stereotypically, you know, men are looking for a sex partner I think that’s a huge component if you go just stereotypically. Women are looking for stability and security, if you go very stereotypically. And so, they want someone that will help provide and protect and, you know, if you just go back all the way through the generations, that’s kind of how our ancestors were when they have roamed and had to hunt and gather and nest and all the different things that started. That hasn’t changed too much today. Men still go out and have more of a tendency for that hunt and kill and provide. And women still have more of a tendency for that nest and nurture and create some comfort. And so not much has changed. We just have, how it’s done has changed.
Brett McKay: Are there things that men do or maybe not do, well we are talking about generalities here, but that…
Dr. Corey Allan: I think this whole conversation is going to have to be cased and…
Brett McKay: Yeah, yeah, totally…
Dr. Corey Allan: …the whole footnote of this is all generalities.
Brett McKay: Yeah, exactly. Everyone is different. Everyone is different.
Dr. Corey Allan: And there is always going to be exceptions to this.
Brett McKay: Yeah.
Dr. Corey Allan: But I think fundamentally there is going to be similarities for what we are talking about.
Brett McKay: Sure, but I mean with that caveat there are there things that men, you have seen in your practice that men generally do or don’t do that hurt or help the marriage?
Dr. Corey Allan: Yeah, the biggest thing I have seen, and this is from my own life too, is there are far too many nice guys out there that they have forgotten they are alpha, if you will. That, not that they are the lord of the house and, you know, head of that. I believe the head of the household that’s a spiritual concept that I hold dear. But it is still one of those that there is so much more to being kind of a full grown man as opposed to a guy that tiptoes around and tries to just make his wife happy. I mean that add a general, you know, I’ve known you for a while Brett so, I know you have had an interview with Dr. Robert Glover at one point with one of your podcasts and he kind of I don’t know, coined the phrase a very nice guy, but helped kind of uncover it quite a bit. And, you know, I think, that’s one of the big things that men struggle with. It’s this whole, they are kind of have lost their identity for the sake of their family and their wife and then she is sitting there looking to him to get some sort of a course or direction for life as a whole, excepting women want to be called up into a story that’s bigger than themselves. And so if he is not providing that then she is going to sit there and be, you know, unknowingly angry as to why and that’s kind of, that’s a fuel for a lot of frustration when sometimes if the king will just show up and take charge or the captain his ship, everything kind of falls right in the line.
Brett McKay: So, what do you tell those kind of guys and what do you tell these guys to start doing, if he is a nice guy as I mean, how do they get out of that or kind of kick the nice guy syndrome to the curve?
Dr. Corey Allan: Well I think it’s a long process. I mean it’s what I have been going through for a while. Because I was a classic nice guy for the first part of my marriage for sure. So, a lot of it is just this whole, okay, look in at what the attachments to outcomes they have, you know, what are they really trying to get and get more in line with how could I really get that in the more authentic, grown up way rather than manipulated. I mean, think of it in this way. The idea of, you know, a man, I can have a fight with my wife over something because may be I did something wrong and I didn’t get reservations for some trip that we had planned and I procrastinated, procrastinated, and then when I finally called up to try to get them the hotel or the resort was booked. And so I come up with this little subtle, “Oh, there was a convention”, and you know, that’s my way out. So I’m not the bad guy then. But then as we have little fight because she is disappointed, but I’ll then try to soothe her because I am thinking if she is not in a good mood, there is no chance for having sex tonight. So I have to figure out how, so all this manipulation and covert contract kind of stuff and so the best way to kick a nice guy to the curve in the sense of in your own life is just be really honest. You know, just start confronting things head on and just saying what you think and it’s not a personal attack, this is what you think. And then you just see what happens as she responds and then you respond and through it all I think we both grow.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I imagine it’s a process that goes both ways because I’m sure relationships were like the guys like and the nice guy walks on egg shells, he’s probably conditioned his wife in a lot of ways…
Dr. Corey Allan: Sure.
Brett McKay: …so like responded and so when the guy finally steps up and like you know says what he thinks that probably isn’t pushback, I would imagine.
Dr. Corey Allan: Yeah. And, I have heard this case in the whole concept of a captain and a first officer mantra and I think that fits pretty well. Because at the end of the day, you know, if something major goes wrong, you know, if someone broke into my home and all four of my family is here, I have two little kids and then my wife and I, it’s really on me to be the first responder to deal with that. This is not my wife’s responsibility. She is not bigger than me, she is not stronger than me, that’s kind of what is my role. But if I am not here it’s hers. She assumes that responsibility and I think lots of marriages and lots of women I have talked to really like this idea. They like being kind of a first officer. Well, they are not in charge of everything, but they have a say in everything.
Brett McKay: Sure, that’s an interesting concept. So what are some things that a guy can do now? If there is a man who is married, what kind, what are some little things that he can do now to improve or strengthen that marriage? And I think you have mentioned, we have mentioned one if you are a nice guy quit being the nice guy, assert yourself, you don’t have to be a jerk about it, lot of people think in order to be assertive you got to be jerk. No, you just got to stand up for yourselves and say what you think.
Dr. Corey Allan: Right, right, just speak up.
Brett McKay: Yeah, but besides that what are some other things that guys can do to improve their marriage?
Dr. Corey Allan: Well I think, I mean one we all are supposed to do is just up your own honesty and this starts with the honesty to yourself where you kind of own your own stuff and own your own mistakes. But then you also start to be honest about what you think is going on in your life and in your family and in your relationship. And the other is just you know a long line to speak enough for what you want, you know, rather than a classic nice guy is, Hey let’s go to dinner. Oh okay, sure, where you want to go and you know, you don’t have a plan at all. And, you know, my wife hates that. Because she lives, she works in a very high-stress corporate world and when she comes home she does not want to keep making decisions. That’s, she has been doing that all day. She wants me, if I asked her to dinner, I need to have a plan, you know, I’ve got to have it all set up. And if she does not like it, she will speak up and say so and I can adjust and if I want or then we just navigate if that, if it occurs. So have a plan. And then the other, I think of as just keep pursuing your wife, keep pursuing your woman, if you will, to let her know the role she is to you in your life, how important that she has in your life that, you know, she is not just your wife, she is not just your kid’s mom, she is your lover, she is a friend, she is a companion. You know, she is exotic and erotic and all these different components over. Well keep pursuing that because that’s a never ending kind of quest of learning more.
Brett McKay: For sure. Is there any like common advice like you know common marital advice that you know you see like on opera or you read in Cosmo or whatever that actually does more harm than good?
Dr. Corey Allan: Okay, yeah, I’m going to step in it here. Yeah, I think there is a lot of the stuffs that out there in the marriage world is Band-Aid solutions. It’s, you know, some of the bigger named ones are the ‘his needs, her needs’, ‘the love languages’ those things. On base value they are good, but if I start to try to do different things to accommodate to my wife’s needs at the detriment of my own needs, I am just creating fusion again. I’m not standing up for me. I am just catering to her and that’s the balancing act. So, I think a lot of the stuff that’s out there, well you just need to learn how to listen better. You just need, you know, there is a big one, Brett. On the, there is so many couples come in and say, “We have trouble communicating”. And that’s just a comment, I imagine you have been married a while, you probably get, have fallen a victim to that thought to. We just don’t understand each other. Well, my question to anybody that brings that up is, “Really?”. So, when they say something, do you get upset? Well, yeah. Well then you are communicating just fine because you are understanding it and that if they didn’t communicate well you won’t get pissed off. So, it’s more about I don’t like when another person that I really care about has something to say that I don’t like. Or I can’t handle, so I can handle the message. So those communication training things are great, but when your, you know, emotions get charged, you will easily just chuck that right out the window, all that learning, and we just react. So most of the stuff that I have seen is real, subtle, fusion building, which in the long run I think harms marriages more than anything.
Brett McKay: Oh that’s really?
Dr. Corey Allan: I stepped in.
Brett McKay: Yeah, you totally stepped in and you are going to get like lots of comments on your blogs saying you are giving bad advice.
Dr. Corey Allan: I might just do it, but that’s alright. Maybe it’s a way to present a different way to look at things. I don’t know.
Brett McKay: Yeah, there you go. Well, I think you are right. There is a lot of times we’re like yeah I’ll hear my wife and I just don’t like what she is saying. But I think a lot of people have a hard time to dealing with that, right? I think that you really got on something like yeah this person I…
Dr. Corey Allan: We all have hard time. Yeah we all have a hard time dealing with things, with people that don’t agree with this.
Brett McKay: Yeah I know it, but especially when you think that person should be on, that happens with my wife and I a lot, like a lot of times we assume like the other knows what the other’s thinking like…
Dr. Corey Allan: Oh yeah.
Brett McKay: …you know, you are like…
Dr. Corey Allan: I thought we were in this together.
Brett McKay: Yeah, yeah. Like you know we are so alike, of course, you are supposed to think that like that sort of happens to me a lot. Like I’ll, I won’t do something or say something because I thought my wife had already done or taken care of that. But I, the thing was I was thinking that myself. So I was like, Oh yeah, of course, I got it done. So, there is one of my foibles. So, let’s talk about this, you have mentioned it a little bit about growing up in marriage and you talk a lot of about that in your books and on your blog, what do you mean by that, ‘growing up in marriage’?
Dr. Corey Allan: Well, I think it’s you know it could be phrased you know, the psychobabble term we alluded to others is called differentiation, which is just a better way, well let me phrase it all this way. It’s a little convoluted maybe I can make it pretty simple. There’s two different processes I think that are going on in every relationship. One is an internal, which is our thinking and our feeling. Some people are more thinkers, some people are more feelers. Learning how to grow up is allowing you to be able to use both to your benefit rather than be dominated by one, you know. Because lots of times we really get upset about something or retreat in to our brain and just analyze it and analyze it or we just become this emotional eruption and we just react and then we just pick up the pieces later. At the same time on an external, in the systems world, there is this togetherness and separateness, where we want to be together with people and all that that provides but we also still want to be our own person. Growing up allows you to fluidly fluctuate back and forth between those and not be dominated by either, where you are constantly seeking togetherness or constantly seeking separateness. You are kind of recognizing that more in yourself. And so, to me, growing up is just better being able to handle life on life’s terms and not be dominated by any other, but choose what we want.
Brett McKay: That’s great advice. And, yeah, one thing I have learned about marriage, I have been married coming up on eight years. I feel like a lot of young people avoid marriage because they feel like they had to have it figured it out before they go into it. I get to know exactly like how to have a solid relationship. But like honestly I have, you kind of learn, it’s like on-the-job training, I feel like.
Dr. Corey Allan: That’s exactly what it is. Nothing prepares you for marriage, but marriage.
Brett McKay: Exactly.
Dr. Corey Allan: I mean you can do and I really do encourage people to do some premarital stuff, you know, go through the Prepare & Enrich which is a great inventory, find a counselor or a pastor in your area that is trained because that, what will that will do is point out the big areas that you are going to have problems with, but you are going to have problems with everybody. It does not matter who it is, you may become another soul mate. Yeah, you still have hurdles at some point and so you can may at least know going in, okay these are the issues we are going to be fighting about 10 years from now, okay. I’m cool with that. And then may be there are some tools like I can do it that lessen it a little bit, but you really don’t get prepared for marriage till you are into it.
Brett McKay: Yeah and also like the idea like growing up a marriage. I really feel like marriage has helped me grow up because, like you mentioned, it forces you to like quit thinking about yourself only. You have to start thinking about okay there is a world beyond myself, right? Like your, the psychobabble, right? But toddlers and children they have like this huge ego like the world revolve around them, but like marriage really does sort of like fashion outside the head, like no, there is something else besides you.
Dr. Corey Allan: Right and there is great things that comes from it. But you have to learn how to still be you and choose and go after that knowing that you can’t necessarily control it, but you can present something that’s more likely to get chosen and you know it’s ongoing. I am going to talk about this this for a long long time I think but it is, marriage is just designed to help us be better.
Brett McKay: Yeah, totally agree with that. Alright so Corey, I know there is probably some guys out there who might be married and are having some troubles with their marriage. At what point should a couple consider therapy? Is it like a moment that happens in the relationship like yeah, we really use a therapy or I mean how do you know that’s right for you?
Dr. Corey Allan: Well, I mean, obviously I’m very biased for therapy. I think everybody benefits from therapy because we’re all born in families and every family is dysfunctional. So, we all get benefit from learning how to deal with life a little better. Research shows that most couple still wait six years from when a problem has been become a problem before they go to therapy. And by then most of the couples that I see that have waited that long, I am doing on a whole lot more divorce kind of work than I am marriage work. And that’s really frustrating. Because one person has already checked out and there is really nothing I can do at that point. So, you know, any time there is a problem, I would recommend first and foremost open up to somebody of the same gender, you know. So guys open up to another guy. You don’t share misery with another woman, that’s just a slippery slope too, Oh she understands me so much better. No, she doesn’t. She doesn’t know you as well yet. So it, you know, open up because what you find I think, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but I know when I have had the courage to speak up to a friend about something that’s been going on in my marriage. Lo and behold, it’s going in theirs too, you know, or they have been there before or you know it sounds like that realize I’m not alone in this. There is, just other people would understand and so from that kind of counseling you can then, you make, you probably need to go see somebody. So, if you have any kind of an addiction thing that’s a big flag for professional help is good. Any kind of an affair, you know, emotional, physical or otherwise, that’s good to get help from somebody that can be objective in favor of the relationship. And then the other is just kind of you got to just trust your gut, you know, and then I would also say this to the guys and I know some women fall along and listen to this too, but if you want to go to therapy and your spouse or your significant other doesn’t then go. Go on your own. You can change the system by just changing you. You don’t have to both be there.
Brett McKay: Very good stuff. Well, Corey, this has been very, a fascinating discussion. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.
Dr. Corey Allan: Absolutely, it’s been fun.
Brett McKay: Our guest today was Dr. Corey Allan. Corey is a marriage and family therapist and he blogs at simplemarriage.net. That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com and until next time stay manly.