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Self-Transcending Love


Self-Transcending Love

A Conversation with Drs. Paul and Evelyn Moschetta
by Earl Meagan
for Brain World Magazine

It’s fair to say that one doesn’t have to be married to realize how much hard work marriage takes. With nearly half of all marriages ending in divorces, it makes one wonder if more people are in love with the idea of being married than they actually are with their partner. It’s hardly a surprise that marriage counseling has been such a thriving business, despite the ongoing economic hardship, and few have been in the business for as long as Drs. Evelyn and Paul Moschetta.

Their practice, based in Manhattan’s Midtown East, has flourished for over 40 years, and their names are among the most recognizable in the business, with accolades that include the Marriage Counselor of the Year award, presented to them by the Long Island Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. As a husband-and-wife team, together the Moschettas have saved countless marriages, collaborated on three books, and for many years contributed to an advice column in the Ladies’ Home Journal, titled “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” with stories and suggestions based on the problems of their former clients who are proud of the progress they’ve made. In addition to being featured in the press, they have also contributed articles with their advice to the Huffington Post.

Is it all really just too much of a struggle to maintain a marriage? Does it serve no other purpose aside from being a perpetual contest between two people with a marriage counselor or therapist acting as a referee? The Moschettas disagree, as their books assert. Their commitment to their job resides in the fact that a happy marriage can be a continuous source of joy and renewal, so long as couples are willing to work out their differences.

Their own marriage, 38 years strong, is testimony to this. When their book, “The Marriage Spirit,” was released in 1998, a reviewer from The New York Times was so impressed with their way of speaking that she likened it to a well-orchestrated musical duet. Each takes a thoughtful pause to listen to the other as they speak, perfectly complementing one another. Indeed, when I spoke with them over the phone, I can attest that this harmony certainly remains true. Few people have evidenced the same level of success in their personal lives and business endeavors as the Moschettas have over the years.

One could even go so far as to say that they were destined to do this in tandem. They both met while completing postgraduate studies in psychology as Yeshiva University. Together, they continued their studies at the American Academy of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and later on at the Alfred Adler Institute. Both had been through difficult marriages when they were younger (their current partnership being their second marriage), and it was while finishing their studies in psychotherapy that they became the go-to experts for all of their friends struggling with relationship problems.

Their practice is closely based on Maslow’s famous hierarchy of human needs, a crucial part of humanist psychology: Basic physical needs such as food and shelter ranking at the bottom of the list, while self-actualization, nestled right at the top, is needed for people to realize their full potential as human beings. Among those considered to be self-actualized — capable of pursuing their life’s dreams — instances of neuroses are rare. At the time the Moschettas were starting, there was little research in the existing literature about successful marriages, or the functionality of a successful marriage. Terms pertaining to these states were rarely defined, and so they had to set about creating a definition for happy and successful marriages, while doing an extensive survey of people across the country who were happy.

The more research the Moschettas conducted, the more they saw the possibility of someone achieving self-actualization through mastering a successful marriage — a goal entailing stepping outside of the comforts of the ego and finding the support needed in reaching one’s potential, all the while satisfying the need for loving and being loved. Both Evelyn and Paul found each other after unsuccessful first marriages — and the goal is far from an easy one.

In fact, recent research suggests that biologically, people were hardly meant to be monogamous. After all, we fall into the minority — only 9 percent of animal species are known to share breeding grounds for longer than one season. Like our primate ancestors, and even our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, humans are thought to have originated as a largely polyamorous species.

Looking at prehistoric cultures, you’ll likely find that tribal chieftains took several wives at a time, a practice that in some places continues to this day. Queens in ancient Egypt (and much of the Nile Valley) were also known to entertain several lovers at a time. In fact, only something like 17 percent of human cultures today place a strict emphasis on monogamy.

How monogamy came up in evolution (just a short 3.5 million years ago) seems unclear, but unlike chimps, humans form bonds with each other, even in instances of polyamory. A leading hypothesis is that while polygamy would provide the most opportunities for reproduction, in the case of animals like the golden lion tamarin, monogamous arrangements are able to boost the odds of their offspring surviving until maturity, provided that both parents stick around to help raise their young.

Throughout evolution, this type of companionship may have offered us something more advantageous. After all, humans are by nature social animals, and in their various pursuits depend on vast networks of people — this being one reason for which our brains are so much larger than even those of our closest relatives. In the generations before we arrived on the scene, the reason for monogamy probably became socially ingrained — a type of modeling behavior wherein hominids, like our ancestor the Australopithecus, realized that members of the tribe who mated for life lived longer and were happier.

Much has happened since then — even in the four short decades that the Moschettas have had their practice: “We’re acknowledging traditional marriage counseling, but we’re also adding another perspective to enrich what most people are doing,” says Paul, who notably has also looked to the goals of Eastern philosophy and its ideas about the self to supplement his practice.

The key is to find the mechanism of the attachment bond. As he likes to say, “The current of unselfish love flows through every strong, healthy marriage.” One of their recent success stories involves a man who after 20 years of marriage had an affair. However, after several months of counseling sessions with the Moschettas, the trust between the couple was rebuilt — something that was achieved only after the husband made himself completely open and available, letting his wife see his email, phone, and Internet history. Six months later, they paid the Moschettas a visit, sharing the good news that their marriage has never been stronger.

All too often, the problems that Evelyn and Paul see are what Evelyn refers to as “roommate marriage,” in which the careers and family responsibilities of the couple in question take center priority, and when all is said and done, spouses end up being merely people that live together. The first thing a couple should do when they get home is embrace and kiss — appreciating the time that they have together and having had made it through the day. If they don’t have this moment, however brief it may be, one immediately proceeds to daily tasks like opening the mail, and as such you’re likely to fight over things like the bills and so forth.

Their services and guidance are of course hardly limited to married couples. They’ve also regularly seen same-sex couples as well as a number of clients in long-term relationships, in increasing numbers, all to whom their advice often applies equally. Among other welcomed changes, they recall that when the practice started it was more often women who made the first call — in recent years, it’s typically been the men who call first, taking the initiative in healing their relationships.

Most importantly, the Moschettas sum up their therapy in this way: It’s easy to get lost in the moment — to become irritated with whatever it is your partner is doing. In that instance, your brain forms an image of your partner, different from the one you know — so the key is to lose the new mental image, to not let it skew the way you see your significant other. Instead, try to focus on what it is you like about them — the wonderful person that you’re continuously finding new things about. The best way to keep your relationship going strong, is to keep it alive.