Through the Years

Couple Conquers Own Struggles to Help Healthy Relationships Bloom and Grow

Author: Wendy Hobday Haugh
Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2001
What does hostage negotiation have in common with marital happiness?

As diverse as these issues may seem, they actually are so similar that educators Jim and Jeanne Caverly, husband/wife team at "Quality Relationships" in Ballston Lake, are devoting their lives to helping others understand the common threads.

Through publication of a newsletter, Notes And Quotes To Love By, and through an extensive offering of life skills workshops, these dynamic trainers and professional speakers help others, first, to better understand the dynamics of human interaction and, second, to develop coping strategies for enhanced health and happiness at home, at work, and in the world at large.

"Hostage negotiation and marital happiness may seem worlds apart," says Jim, 58, a retired law enforcement officer, "but in truth, both issues boil down to a basic knowledge of how to communicate effectively with another human being. Most people in need of a hostage negotiator are people who, for one reason or another, are very upset. The negotiator must be able to develop a caring relationship in order to help that person, just as successfully resolving marital conflict involves caring, talking, and listening, one-on-one."

Uniquely qualified for their teaching mission, Jim and Jeanne both hold master's degrees in education from East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. During Jim's 33-year career in law enforcement (six as a probation officer, 27 as an FBI Special Agent), he worked extensively in the field of critical incident stress management. His duties included teaching hostage negotiation techniques and working with survivors traumatized by the violent loss of loved ones, as in the case of TWA's Flight 800 disaster or the Oklahoma City bombing. During the last 15 years of his career, Jim also managed an FBI Employee Assistance Program to promote workers' on-job satisfaction.

"The happier people are in the work place," Jim points out, "the more productive and loyal they will be. It becomes a win-win situation for everybody."

With her love of people and passionate interest in personal growth, Jeanne Caverly has made it her life's mission to explore "the art of loving and living in harmony" by teaching short-term seminars in the areas of marriage enrichment, workplace violence, stress management, and successful living. Since 1997, the 54-year-old has poured heart and soul into writing and editing her bi-monthly newsletter, Notes and Quotes To Love By.

"The quality of your relationships is what makes the biggest difference in your life," Jeanne asserts, "whether at home, at work, or anywhere else. Through our work with 'Quality Relationships,' Jim and I focus on helping people to create and maintain quality ties with their spouses, kids, bosses, coworkers, friends, and God."

Work Together

Although, generally, Jim doesn't suggest couples work together in a business, he officially joined Jeanne in "Quality Relationships" following his January 1999 retirement.

"I think it's a full-time job just keeping a marriage together," Jim says. "Adding a business on top of a personal relationship can cause a lot of additional strain."

The Caverlys achieve a healthy dose of distance in their working relationship by maintaining separate offices - at opposite ends of their rustic, lakeside home. Despite occasional difficulties, they continue to teach together because they do it convincingly and well.

"People enjoy watching the interaction between us when we teach," Jeanne muses. "Since law enforcement marriages often face intense pressures and struggles, participants in our law enforcement seminars really appreciate seeing a husband/wife team working well together.

"I always tell them, 'You cops are the luckiest guys around! You're going to have the best marriages in the department if you use these negotiation skills. These are people skills. Don't just use them at work; use them at home.'"

Marital Challenge

Wed in 1972, the Caverlys agree that marriage is anything but easy.

"Happily ever after doesn't just happen," Jeanne insists. "Relationships are tough, and people need to know that going in. Family life is a challenge for even the most loving couples."

The Caverlys' own 29-year marriage hit rock-bottom in the early 1990's when they were bombarded by the cumulative stress of having four generations living together in one home: Jim and Jeanne, their two sons, Brian and Patrick, their pregnant daughter, Linda, and one preschool grandchild, along with two elderly parents with Alzheimer's disease and the necessary hired caregivers. With both Jim and Jeanne working full-time, waking hours were consumed by daily demands, and marital communication hit a frightening low.

Miraculously, Jeanne and Jim's marriage survived and, today, thrives. But for the grace of God, Jim says, they were able to channel their feelings of helplessness and despair into a committed program of pro-active repair. Determined to recapture the exhilarating feelings of love and respect that had originally united them, Jim and Jeanne enrolled in a Catholic Retrouvaille (meaning "found again") program, an intense weekend experience that brought hope to the floundering couple. Excited by their newfound insights, they voraciously began reading self-help books. Over time, their ability to effectively talk and listen to one another steadily evolved.

Points to Ponder

Looking back, Jeanne and Jim feel that their entire family grew tremendously during those stressful times. New and unique bonds were forged.

"We learn and grow and benefit from everything, good and bad," says Jeanne. "Being positive in life is everything. Marriage thrives when people are genuinely grateful and supportive. Positive attitudes and habits allow couples to fully enjoy the good times and better cope with life's inevitable upsets."

Above all, when it comes to marriage, Jeanne advises couples to take their relationships seriously from day one.

"Couples will spend $20,000 on a wedding - yet when asked to read a book on marriage or attend a marriage prep course, nearly all say they're simply too busy," she explains. "It's important to remember that the wedding is just one day, whereas marriage is forever."

With 67% of all first marriages in the U.S. ending in divorce over a 40-year period, the Caverlys recommend that couples be pro-active. Make conscious decisions every single day to love and respect one another. Never take the other person for granted.

Their tips for making marriage sizzle?

"Have fun together," Jeanne replies, citing kayaking and recumbent bicycling as two of their favorite shared activities.

"And accept the fact that your marriage will need a tune-up every once in a while," adds Jim. "Be willing to go to the right people for help, when necessary. We're all striving for happiness, so be honest in sharing your needs and expectations with your spouse. Honesty, intimacy, and trust are all integral to a successful relationship."

Although the ideas the Caverlys offer have worked magic for many couples, it is important to note that they are not psychologists or marriage counselors.

"We make a very clear distinction in our work," Jim explains, "between those marriages which have the potential to be fairly successful, or highly so, and those marriages which - due to physical or verbal abuse - have crossed a certain line. Once you've crossed that line and there's a destructive element going on within a relationship, self-help books and advice from us will not solve your problems. You must seek professional guidance."

Looking Ahead

Just mention the "R" word - retirement! - and the Caverlys break into smiles. Aside from the initial adjustment to being together 24/7, Jim and Jeanne are thrilled by life's latest adventure.

"I truly believe that my retirement from the FBI was just one of the stepping stones of the rest of my life," says Jim, who plans to start a photography business and tour extensively via motorcycle. "My years with the FBI were like a graduate program in education. Today, I'm really excited about developing good training programs, sharing what I've learned with other people, and traveling with Jeanne."

"I love being 54," Jeanne chimes in with an exuberant laugh. "Blessed with good health, a wonderful husband, and great kids, I've never been happier. I wouldn't trade being 54 for anything. You couldn't pay me enough to go back to 24! I think people need to see this second half of life as full of potential."

Jim agrees completely. "It's important to look at retirement as a beginning rather than an end."

For more information about "Quality Relationships" call (518) 399-1727 or visit the Caverlys' website at http://www.qualityrelationships.com

Wendy Hobday Haugh is a freelance writer living in Burnt Hills. Her stories have appeared in dozens of national and regional publications.

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