They speak to each other with all the rapt attention of newlyweds, but Drs. Paul and Evelyn Moschetta have been married for 35 years. Their conversation flows seamlessly back and forth like a well-orchestrated musical duet. There are no interruptions as each listens intently, waiting for the other to finish speaking before adding comments.
This is the type of communication that the husband-and-wife marriage counseling team advocate in their practice and in their new book, "The Marriage Spirit," which lays out guidelines for a strong, successful marriage.
Dr. Paul Moschetta is from Brooklyn and Dr. Evelyn Moschetta was born in Vienna, Austria, but their common interest in helping others to save their marriages brought them together in a graduate program at Yeshiva University. They later continued to study together at the American Academy of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and at the Alfred Adler Institute.
They have written "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" the longest-running and highly popular column in "The Ladies' Home Journal." The Moschettas were named Marriage Counselors of the Year by the Long Island Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
Esther Poiedoff, the president of the Association, had high praises for their work. "The Moschettas' focus transcends the ordinary, everyday perceptions of marital interaction," she said, "and seeks a higher level of relating."
In their book, the Moschettas discuss their view of marriage as a vehicle for personal transformation. Mrs. Moschetta said, "We're acknowledging traditional marriage counseling, but we're also adding another perspective to enrich what most people are doing." While Western psychology traditionally encourages the analysis of the ego, Eastern philosophy encourages the detached observation of the ego. The Moschettas try to blend these disciplines in their work.
The title, "The Marriage Spirit," comes from their designation for a higher, spiritual self. Paul Moschetta defined this as "a current of unselfish love that flows through every strong, healthy marriage."
He added that he and his wife sought to correct what they perceive as a fundamental error in many relationships. "When many people get married," he said, "they want to be happy and expect to love one another unselfishly, but they try to do that using their everyday individual egos and it doesn't work."
He maintained that egos take care of people's own needs first and consequently are incapable of unselfish love. Inevitably, he said, the partners experience frustration and anger accumulates.
He and his wife, he added, strive to show couples how to shift out of their everyday egos. "We need an ego to do everything in the practical sphere of life," he said, "but in the four walls of our homes, we've got to park that ego at the curb and be our best selves with each other."
To this end, they contend, spouses must view marriage as "a sacred place" that is worthy of reverence and dedicated efforts to make it work. This view guides couples away from the mistrust and hostility that destroys marital bonds.
"With career pressures, raising children and financial problems," Mr. Moschetta said, "marriage often falls to a low priority on the 'to do' list. Everything else gets done, but husband and wife fall into complacency with each other."
They maintain that one of the greatest determining factors in whether a failing marriage can be saved is the amount of anger in the relationship. "Accumulated anger kills love," Mr. Moschetta said, " and very often, one partner hides their anger and builds up such resentment that they suddenly announce one day, 'It's over. I want a divorce,' and the other partner feels betrayed because they didn't know anything was wrong."
Mrs. Moschetta explained that couples are told to address their anger, but to discard the seething emotions behind it. Mr. Moschetta added, "There's a part of every one of us that can say, 'I'm really annoyed at what you said or did and we've got to talk about it,' whereas my ego is liable to call someone a name or insult them and belittle them." When he and his wife disagree, he said, they wait until their emotions subside. "The issue is still there," he said, "but now we can talk about it without anger."
They add that couples often form and hold on to images of each other that may or may not correspond with present realities. Mrs. Moschetta spoke of a couple she counsels where the husband has an image of his wife as a relentless critic, and the wife sees him as selfish and unable to consider their marriage and her feelings as top priorities in his life.
Mrs. Moschetta said that there was some truth in both their perceptions, since they have both acted in those ways in the past. "But now the husband always anticipates that his wife will complain, and she anticipates that he will be oblivious to her on the weekend as he watches sports programs on television," she said. "They already have each other so figured out, that they won't let each other be new."
To remedy this, the Moschettas encourage couples to focus on staying in the present moment. They call this process "witnessing." Mrs. Moschetta maintained that everyone has an inner observing self. "It allows us to see our own behavior in a detached way," she said. "We tell couples to sharpen that awareness."
Mr. Moschetta said that most people restrain themselves from raising their voices to superiors at work. "I don't tell my boss he's a jerk because I don't want to get fired," he said. "I can witness my angry self, but I'm interrupting my automatic response to want to tell him to jump out the window." Yet, he added, most married couples do not exercise this restraint with their partners. "We just let ourselves be hostile or passively aggressive," he said. "We encourage couples to extend this discipline to their spouses."
The counselors often work in tandem with clients. Mr. Moschetta feels that their own marriage enables them to serve as role models for troubled couples. He said, "We get a chance to model for them how to speak to one another, how to show respect for each other's opinions and they can see that that's operating between us, so it's a live demonstration in a sense."
Mrs. Moschetta added: "I can also be the woman's voice. Sometimes the husband, upon hearing from me, begins to understand his wife better. It's the same thing with Paul being the husband's voice."
Underlying the Moschettas' work is the belief that marriage can be a transforming experience for both spouses. "Marriage is a growth process," Mr. Moschetta said. "We don't come to each other all finished. The secret of a good marriage lies in being able to work and help each other grow so we can be more empathetic and understanding of each other. So if there's a couple where the wife cries and screams all the time and the husband is closed down, there's an opportunity there for him to open up and for her to learn to be more in control of her emotions."
If couples can distance themselves from their egos and see things from the point of view of their higher better selves, the Moschettas contend, they can both blossom as individuals. "They'll be able to hear their spouse's pain rather than their complaints," Mr. Moschetta said.