Has “Happily Ever After” Become “Once Upon A Time?”

Has “Happily Ever After” Become “Once Upon A Time?”

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happily ever after
Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W.

Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W.

As a child of divorced parents, Susan knows first-hand how disruptive an unhappy marriage and subsequent marital dissolution can be. When her mother and father split in 1981 (on their 28th wedding anniversary), marriage counseling was unheard of and emotional divorce support virtually nonexistent.

Her own experience, combined with years of working with couples in distress – both in striving to save their marriage or transition out of it – led Susan to become passionate about offering support to people at perhaps one of the most crucial junctures in their lives.

In 2000, Susan founded the Transition Institute of Marin and began providing information and counseling to this underserved population.


Eight years later, Susan wrote, Contemplating Divorce, A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go
(New Harbinger Publishing, Inc. © 2008), a book that provides objective guidance to those struggling in a rocky marriage as well as invaluable information on how to navigate the divorce process. Contemplating Divorce became a San Francisco Chronicle best-seller its first week in publication.

In 2010, Susan completed a meditation book for those challenged by difficult emotions during and after divorce entitled, Stronger Day by Day, Reflections for Healing and Rebuilding After Divorce.

Susan’s latest book, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, is a collaboration with journalist Vicki Larson. You can learn more about this project by clicking on The New I Do page.

Susan has helped hundreds of people gain clarity in their relationships. Her private therapy practice consists of couples, individuals (local and distance therapy clients) and the many relationship or divorce support groups she runs.

Susan in the Media

As an often-featured writer for the Huffington Post Divorce page, Susan also writes a regular column for PsychologyToday.com and Examiner.com.

Susan has been a guest on the CBS Early Show as well as numerous radio shows across the U.S. and Canada and has also been featured in: The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Psychology Today Magazine, Divorce Magazine, The View From the Bay and more.
Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W.

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After Happily Ever After seeks answers to the question

Kate Schermerhorn is an Emmy Award winning filmmaker who contacted me after reading the “Getting Marriage-Whys” article I posted a few weeks ago. She had many of the same thoughts I did about the role that marriage plays in our lives today.

Schermerhorn recently completed a documentary film, After Happily Ever After, about marriage in the 21st Century. Through interviews with an eclectic mix of long married couples and world renowned experts, After Happily Ever After asks why we marry, whether we should marry, and how some of us actually even make marriage work.

She states, “Marriage is a big mess these days. Doubts about this sacred institution have been bubbling under the surface for years, and, while many seek to fix individual unions, few have been willing to question marriage itself.

Nearly all Americans will marry, but half of their attempts will fail. Meanwhile, controversy storms across the country as gay couples seek the right to marry. Why all this obsession with marriage in the first place? Do we actually think that marriage is necessary forhappiness in the modern world?

Now is the time to re-examine our long held ideas.”

That answers the question of why Kate made this film. I liked this hour-long commentary on marriage so I talked to her further about her perspective. The following are what came of that interaction:

What did you learn from making this film?

I used to think of marriage as something that was set in stone, but in reality, it’s been evolving over thousands of years. As more people start to think about marriage and evaluate its merits and imperfections, fewer people may end up finding a reason to marry. On the other hand, if we really give marriage the careful consideration it deserves without assuming it’s just a given, then those who end up married are going to have stronger unions.

In terms of my own life, working on the film forced me to honestly evaluate and address my own flaws in relationships and it also made me completely rethink what I’m looking for in a relationship. I’ve come to realize that relationships (including marriage) don’t have to be one-size-fits-all. If people think creatively and carefully about what they want, they can make relationships that are tailor-made to fit their needs.

You started the film with your second husband and finished working on it as your marriage was falling apart. What was it like creating the film while going through a divorce?

Needless-to-say, it was a totally surreal experience to start a film about marriage with my husband and then watch our own marriage fall apart during that process. While I’m certain that the marriage would have collapsed anyway, I do think that working together on the film actually accelerated that process. We would be there listening to a couple talking about love and marital bliss and behind the camera discreetly bickering about who was going to shoot or who was going to record sound and other ridiculous things that came with working together.

I didn’t originally plan to include my own story in the film at all but my brother, also a filmmaker, said [I should] start documenting my own marriage. The irony was just so glaring!

Why do you think people keep getting married, despite the statistics?

It’s hard to fully understand what drives so many of us to marry but no doubt there are millions of reasons, both good and bad. It goes without saying that some people marry because of tradition, religion and purely the legal benefits and simplicity that it affords.

Marriage is something we are taught to expect just like in the board game ‘Life’ : school – job – marriage – mortgage – kids. Sometimes it feels like people are on auto-pilot, entering marriage without really thinking about why they are doing it, what they want from it, how well suited they are to their mate and what they will actually gain from the legal contract of marriage.

Of course many people want to live life with shared experience and commitment, they want to raise children with the person they love, have the financial and practical benefits that go with a partnership, and grow old with someone. I want many of those things myself. I just don’t know if the institution of marriage is necessary or helpful in achieving this. Or at least not marriage as we know it.

Why do many people react so negatively to the idea of questioning marriage?

I am really puzzled by people who get upset over the notion that anyone would ever question a sacred institution like marriage. This makes no sense to me. If marriage works for them, they should definitely stick with it, but the idea that society will somehow crumble if we start talking about and assessing the institution is totally ridiculous. The same applies to people who think that same-sex marriage will destroy marriage. We heterosexual couples have managed to damage our own unions all by ourselves. Same-sex marriage is an obvious next step in the institution’s overall evolution.

I don’t really know why people react so badly to the idea of questioning marriage. But clearly it seems to be a touchy subject.

Are you anti-marriage?

NO, I am not opposed to marriage! I AM anti-‘marriage-without-careful-thought’ but I am definitely NOT anti-marriage. I have even tried it twice myself and, while I am unlikely to chose to marry again, it is not out of the question.

Most viewers laugh, some cry, others yell, but all become part of a rapidly growing conversation about an institution we have long taken for granted.

Buy the DVD leave comments about marriage and “the secret” on Kate’s website: www.afterhappilyeverafter.net(link is external). When you sign up for her mailing list she will send ten secrets to marital bliss. And also can follow her on twitter @marriage_doc.

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