James and Amy were new clients of marriage therapist Laura Taggart when they came to see her on a hot August day. They sat on opposite sides of the couch in her office.
"James oozed hostility -- legs extended, arms crossed against his chest," Taggart recalled. "Amy curled into the couch corner as if to protect tender wounds."
When Taggart asked how they met, both became animated relating the beginnings of their love story.
Her next question was: "Where did things start to go wrong?"
James said Amy had become more demanding when his workload increased.
Amy said he left her alone a lot, not just to work but to go out with his friends.
"When I'd complain, he'd tell me I was trying to control him," she shared.
Hurt, she became critical and pulled away emotionally and physically.
James felt he couldn't do anything right and stayed away from home more.
Taggart has been a marriage therapist for 30 years, but their story made her sad, she remembered, because she'd noticed a rise in troubled young marriages during the previous five years. Also, the current statistic is that one-third of couples divorce before their 10th anniversary.
Falling in love is easy, Taggart noted -- staying married for a long time is harder.
"But when a couple is willing to do their own personal work and take responsibility for the dance, it works," she said.
Taggart, a Pleasanton resident, is director of the marriage and family ministry at Community Presbyterian Church in Danville, and last summer she released a book, "Making Love Last: Divorce-Proofing Your Young Marriage."
"The book does have a spiritual aspect, but it is written in such a way that anyone could glean a lot even if they are not religious," she said. "I am hoping couples can use it to find hope and healing. There are issues that are causing them to stumble."
Taggart, a trauma specialist, said at this point three-quarters of her caseload is couples.
"Young couples today are used to quicker answers," she said. "I am hoping to encourage couples to see that even though they might be in a disillusionment period, hold on, another stage is coming."
Couples in love focus on what they have in common, she noted, but after entering the commitment of marriage, their differences surface.
"The people who cross my threshold all have wounds from childhood," she said. "Oftentimes we get to marriage, and marriage is so intimate that it triggers early childhood wounds. Our mate has access to the most vulnerable parts of ourselves."
In the case of James and Amy, he came from a family that tolerated clutter and he never knew which parent would drive him to school. But Amy was raised with clear expectations about chores, emphasizing order and cleanliness. She saw his casual attitude as laziness, and he rebelled at her efforts to change his behavior.
"Every couple has adjustments to make in marriage due to differences in family backgrounds," Taggart said. "They have idealized expectations, and disillusionment happens when expectations aren't met. They have a serious conflict and don't know what to make of it."
"I did survey of 264 young married couples," she added, "and what is most surprising, they all said, 'It is so much harder than I ever anticipated.' They also said they didn't realize they'd have such significant differences."
She noted that most couples have conflicting needs from day to day.
"Kids need to be fed. Baths to be done. Our needs come into conflict on an almost daily basis," she said.
Taggart hopes, with her counseling and her book, to make it less difficult.
Taggart was in high school when she became interested in the interplay of marriage, observing her parents' tempestuous relationship -- and even helping them to overcome their difficulties.
"I could see that two good people could really fail to communicate with each other," she remembered. "I thought it was important to learn to do this better."
One thread throughout the book is the fact that marriage is the most transformational opportunity of people's lives. Spouses should see their mates not as obstacles, but as instruments to their growth.
"In this relationship, all of our imperfections can be challenged and our immaturity can be challenged -- so we grow as a human being," Taggart said. "Our mate is an instrument in our own growth."
As couples work through their difficulties and conflict, they must learn the art of listening, she said, which she breaks down into specific steps.
The book has three parts:
* Reimagining Marriage -- Changing the Way You Think
* Revitalizing Marriage -- Changing the Way You Relate
* Re-visioning Marriage -- Changing the Way You Love
Each chapter includes questions to discuss and others to ponder individually, so couples can read it and find hope for their marriage, Taggart said.
"The couples' questions are for those willing to dive in and do the work in their own relationship," she explained.
Also she knows of groups that meet in each other's homes to discuss the book, chapter by chapter.
"Making Love Last: Divorce-Proofing Your Young Marriage" is available at Towne Center Books and Amazon.com.
"Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have to be intentional," Taggart said.