It takes chutzpah to call yourself The Love Doctor and to help others work on their relationships. Terri Orbuch has chutzpah, smarts and science on her side.
As a research professor and psychologist (U of M and Oakland U) in the early 2000s, Terri was involved in a long term research project funded by the NIH. She followed 373 couples who married in 1986. She was writing academic books on her findings. Listening to Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura, she became angry. “Their advice was not what my research showed. They were perpetuating myths.”
Example: Women have more romantic beliefs than men.
Terri says: “False. Men are more likely to believe in love at first sight and that love conquers all.”
Example: Opposites attract.
Terri says: “False. Similarity plays a key role in relationship satisfaction.”
Terri resolved to share her scientific findings. She hired a publicist, trademarked a name and took media training. She started doing radio gigs and writing articles for Detroit area papers. In 2008, she upped her efforts to a national level. She began hosting a weekly program on Voice of America about relationships—marital, romantic, same sex, children, etc. She was hired as an advisor for Ourtime.com, a site for older people seeking a partner. For more than a decade, she has produced a relationship segment for FOX 2.
In 2009, Terri published her first popular book, 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great. 3 years later, she followed with Finding Love Again, 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship, based on an NIH funded study of divorced people.
“I love relationships,” she says. “I’m fascinated by their impact on health and well-being.” She says people in happy relationships are physically healthier, sleep better, are more likely to exercise and eat better.
Relationships are Terri’s genetic inheritance. Her father is a psychiatrist; her mother, a marriage therapist. (They’re still together.) Her sister’s also a marriage and family therapist.
Born in Golden Valley, Minn., Terry played tennis in high school. She considers team sports valuable for young girls. “They don’t have as much time to get into trouble. They feel better about their bodies. An adult—coach—helps them with body image.”
To reignite the spark in a relationship, Terry recommends engaging in adrenaline or arousal producing activities together. Gym. Exercise class. A roller coaster. (Um, I don’t think so.)
Married 23 years (husband Stuart is in IT), mother of 2, Terri admits, “No one’s relationship is perfect.” To keep the home fires burning, she does something nice for her spouse everyday, “even if it’s just giving a compliment.” She and Stuart try to take 10 minutes each day “just to talk–about movies, sports, politics or what makes us happy.”
“We get wrapped up in our daily lives. Many couples fall into the trap of thinking they’re communicating when really all they’re doing is running a household. It’s easy to get caught up in kids, grandkids, bills, plumbing.”
Every relationship has ups and downs, Terri says. Conflict is inevitable. “Some days you may not even like your partner.” Differences in family backgrounds, neighborhoods, races, class all make for potential areas of tension. Blended families can further threaten a relationship. Similarity of key life values—the importance of religion and family—improves longevity. “Sticking it out through huge challenges can strengthen a couple’s bond.”
Early in her career, Terri asked her students: Who expects to marry their best friend and best lover? All hands shot up, she recalls. Today, students are more realistic. “Today we no longer expect our mate to fulfill all our needs.”
Today’s relaxed expectations, fewer couples marrying, and marrying at older ages has led to a lower divorce rate. In the mid ‘80s, 66% of married couples divorced, Terri says. Today: 45-46%.
What’s the best and the worst thing we can do for our relationships? The best: strengthen what’s going well. The worst: not making time for yourself. “Many couples say giving each other plenty of time for self is the most important reason their relationship survived.”
When Terri first went back to work, she had panic attacks worrying about her children. Her father advised, ”Nothing is certain in this world.”
Accepting uncertainty. A lesson I learned over and over during my cancer crisis. A lesson we all keep learning. Thanks, Terri, for making it a little easier.