“What we prioritize - where we invest our time and energy - is where we will succeed.” - Mort Fertel
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Mort Fertel is the creator of Marriage Fitness, a relationship renewal system that’s been used by millions of people in marital crisis. In addition to his success with couples, he pioneered the “Lone Ranger Track,” which offers people with an obstinate spouse a path to reconciliation.
People from all over the world schedule private tele-sessions with Mort Fertel and seek his counsel by joining the Marriage Fitness Tele-Boot Camp, the most comprehensive relationship home learning program in the world. Mort Fertel is the author of Marriage Fitness Audio Learning System and the host of the “Fix Your Marriage” podcast. Over 3 million people have subscribed to his free report “7 Secrets to Fixing Your Marriage.”
Mort Fertel is the subject of Back from the Brink, a documentary written and directed by Toroes Thomas, which chronicles people in marriage crisis.
Mort Fertel graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987, was the CEO of an international non-profit organization, and a former marathon runner. He lives with his wife and 5 children (including triplets!) in Baltimore, Maryland.
On this episode, Mort and Rock discuss the secrets of making a marriage work, simple hacks to make it happen, and existing as a work in progress. Listen in for more uplifting insight!
00:37 – Mort tells the story of how he came to work in the relationship renewal space.
03:20 – Introducing the 7 Secrets to Fixing Your Marriage.
06:59 – Simple hacks to make your spouse your priority.
11:42 – Cultivating discipline for the good of your relationship.
14:37 – Embracing change and adapting.
19:14 – A special offer for #IAmMovement listeners.
20:37 – Mort’s Inspirations and “I Am” statement.
Note: some of the resources below may be affiliate links, meaning I get paid a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.
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And much more!
“You want easy? I can’t help you. You want effective? This is what to do.” – Mort Fertel
“We shouldn’t see ourselves as fixed or final. We should see ourselves as in a constant state of flux, and I can be whoever I want to become.” – Mort Fertel
“If today I take a small step to just be somewhat affectionate to my wife, am I now still not an affectionate person? And what if I do it again tomorrow?” – Mort Fertel
“That’s how I direct myself as I decide how to spend my time and my energy. I ask myself, will this be useful?” – Mort Fertel
Hi, I’m Rock Thomas, the founder of M1, the tribe of healthy, wealthy, and passionate people, also known as fulfillionaires. You’re listening to the #IAmMovement podcast, where we believe that the words that follow “I am” follow you. Join me and the world’s greatest thought leaders as we discuss the power of transformation and making success a part of your identity.
Rock Thomas: 00:32
Well, I’ll tell you what you’re in for a treat today if you happen to be in a relationship, or even want to be in a relationship, because I think it’s a place where we all experience pain. Mort Fertel is the creator of the Marriage Fitness and relationship renewal system that’s been used by millions of people in marital crisis. In addition to his success with couples, he pioneered the Lone Ranger track which offers people with an obstinate spouse a path for reconciliation. This should be a lot of fun.
Rock Thomas: 01:04
Wow. I am very curious about this session today. We have somebody who is probably the bravest guy we’ve had on our show up to date because he’s going to give us wisdom around the area of your life that gives you the most fulfillment but also the most pain. So welcome to the call, Mort.
Mort Fertel: 01:25
Rock Thomas: 01:26
We’re excited to have you here simply because I think this is an area that a lot of people postpone as far as addressing. It’s easier to build your career, it’s easier to hang out with your friends, but you’ve chosen to have an expertise around relationships. How did that come about?
Mort Fertel: 01:40
Came about really from a personal experience that my wife and I had. I, too, was focused on career and friends and other things. Then my marriage started to crash and I didn’t want that to be the case.
Mort Fertel: 01:56
I didn’t want to lose my marriage. I didn’t want to lose my family, and so I started to really take a deep dive into how do we do this thing called marriage? How do we succeed with it? How do we make it work? So it really came from a very personal place and only after we succeeded in our own marriage, I was so inspired by what we learned and so appalled at the kind of help that was available elsewhere, that I really felt this sense of responsibility to lead others on the path that we had taken.
Rock Thomas: 02:29
Really the lack of help, right?
Mort Fertel: 02:32
The lack of help. It’s not that there wasn’t help available, it was the lack of quality help and competent help that was so pathetic.
Rock Thomas: 02:41
So give us a little bit of a background. How long have you been married? You have five kids, and what were you doing before you went into this?
Mort Fertel: 02:49
I’ve been married for 24 years, almost 25, and we do have five children, thank god. I’ve had a long, unusual, very eclectic career. I started an advertising company when I was 18 years old in college. I sold that my senior year in college and then went to work on Wall Street for a few years. I left my job on Wall Street to start a direct mail advertising company, which I then sold about five years later. Then I took five years off and I traveled around the world for about a year. It was more a journey of the heart than anything else. Kind of searching for the meaning of life. And I also spent a number of years really call it learning, learning about life, doing a tremendous amount of reading and exploring and asking questions and discovering mentors. And I spent 10 days in a Buddhist monastery and some time learning Kabbalah in Jerusalem, and it was a whole, that’s a very long story.
Mort Fertel: 03:51
Just giving you the bullet points. But I took about five years to really try to discover a healthier and meaningful path in life. And then shortly after that I was the CEO of a nonprofit organization. And then I had that experience that I referred to in my own marriage, which led me to writing the book, Marriage Fitness, which led me to do all the work that I’m doing now.
Rock Thomas: 04:13
Awesome. So, very eclectic, I would agree. Let’s talk a little bit about, you have I think seven secrets or seven steps to fixing a marriage?
Mort Fertel: 04:22
You could put it that way. Yes.
Rock Thomas: 04:26
So do you want to talk about a few of those, because I think there are probably some really solid points in there for people that are in a relationship, whether they’re married or not.
Mort Fertel: 04:35
Yeah, there’s a lot of different ways to sort of categorize and codify the secrets, but I’ll be happy to speak about as many of them as you like.
Mort Fertel: 04:43
We’ll start with one that’s top of mind because I just got out of a private session with a couple from California who really, their marriage is suffering because of this. I would say that the first key or secret is to make your marriage and your spouse the absolute highest priority in your life. Bar none. What we prioritize, where we invest our time and energy, is where we will succeed. And inevitably what happens a lot of times in people’s lives, especially after children and as they get into their careers, is they get very busy with everything except their spouse. If you think about it, they… When you were dating your date was your focus, right? You were 100% attentive to them and they loved that attention. They felt important and your relationship was thriving because you were focused on each other.
Mort Fertel: 05:35
And then along comes kids and work and all these other things and then you start to lead parallel lives. Traditionally speaking, he’s out bringing home the bread, she’s taking care of the kids and never the twain shall meet and they really have very little to do with each other. They’re succeeding in the business of running a family, but they’re not really succeeding to connect. And so whatever it is you want to succeed with requires focus, energy, and attention and it’s true of your marriage also. It’s important to spend quality, one on one time on a regular basis. And I have a whole series of sorts of practices that are an outgrowth of that principle, which we’ll get into if you want, but that’s the basic idea.
Rock Thomas: 06:24
It sounds so simplistic yet we get taken off track and people then are making other things a priority because I guess, do we think that it’s kind of on autopilot? I got that, I got the girl and now I’m married and all that sort of thing and I don’t have to invest all that energy in acquiring it. Maintenance takes less effort. So I’ll go over here and now I’ll build a business or build the kids or what have you. Is a bit of that psychology wise?
Mort Fertel: 06:50
I think so. And you’re right, it’s not rocket science, but as we know, what is common sense is often not common practice. One of the keys to life is making common sense common practice. Keeping the simple things top of mind and…
Rock Thomas: 07:10
So then we schedule the date night once a week, we do different things. We make sure that we have quality time, we have zones in the house that are for the kids to play and zones that are for the parents to be intimate and things like that. What are some of the other things that you can share with us that, because we, the people that are listening to this generally are people that understand knowledge is not enough, but that, give me something that I can, a best practice and they’re more apt than most listeners to take action. What are some other best practices? Kind of like the hacks on revitalizing relationships or maintaining it.
Mort Fertel: 07:50
Excellent. So let’s talk about some of the hacks that relate to that principle. You mentioned one of them, date night, it’s as old as the hills. You don’t need Mort Fertel to advise it, but implement, employ it, make it sacred time in your life. I do these full-day intensives. I do some traveling, I do this, I do that, but my staff knows Sunday night is out of the picture. It’s blocked off on my calendar. My wife knows, my kids know, everybody knows that is a sacred time for my wife and I. So do that.
Mort Fertel: 08:20
Okay, you mentioned that. Next, once a quarter, take at least three days and two nights and go away with your husband or wife, just the two of you. Private time. And try not to schedule this intense vacation where you come back and you did everything in Paris except for actually be together.
Mort Fertel: 08:45
I mean you were together physically but you were so active that it was all the things you were seeing that was taking your attention, rather than facing each other and really be connected. When my wife and I do this what we usually do, not always but usually, is we’ll get a cabin in the middle of nowhere and we’ll bring all our food. And we’ll literally just camp out there for three days. We’ll just be together, we’ll take walks at night, we’ll take baths during the day. It’s just really time to be immersed in the relationship with each other.
Rock Thomas: 09:19
We are human beings, right? And we’ve lost the art of just being.
Mort Fertel: 09:23
Yeah, especially with the way these devices, technology, interferes with that today. So that private time, for not just a night but for a few days. Also, just a quick parentheses is our intimacy. Our sex life is an important part of a successful marriage.
Mort Fertel: 09:44
If you try to relegate something this important to the final 10 minutes of the day after you’re exhausted and have done everything else, how successful do you think you’re going to be?
Rock Thomas: 09:53
That’s a good point.
Mort Fertel: 09:55
So when you go away for a few days and you have nothing else to do and you’re just with each other, it gives an opportunity for that part of your life to be revitalized. Anyway, that’s one quick hack.
Mort Fertel: 10:06
Another is to do what I call talk charges. A talk charge is a 60-second phone call to your spouse in the middle of the day about something non-logistical. So it’s typical for husbands and wives to talk about things that have to get done. Who’s going to pick up the kids? Who’s going to pay the bill? You got the plumber, whatever’s going on. That’s the business of running a family. But what about just the connection? What about calling just to share an interesting story? What about calling just to listen to what’s going on with your spouse? You should call your spouse at least once a day in the middle of the day. And I want them to think, when you hang up, why did he call? What was the purpose? In other words, I don’t want anything to get checked off the list. And that’s when you know the most important thing got accomplished. Which is just connection.
Rock Thomas: 11:00
Beautiful, beautiful. I’ve never heard that before in all of the speakers I’ve heard that’s a really… And that’s a simple one. It’s doable. It’s accomplishable, right? So I really like that.
Mort Fertel: 11:11
I focus on things that are simple. I’m a very practical person. I focus on things that are simple, doable, and that work. Another one is, at the end of the day people will deal with their mail. They’ll deal with the kids, they’ll go to the computer, they play silly games. Take 20 minutes, 30 minutes every day without fail before you’re exhausted and before you fall asleep, after the kids are to bed and just be with your spouse. Again, not to accomplish anything, not to talk about what has to be done. Just grab their hand. Go for a walk in the neighborhood, take them out on the patio, pour a glass of wine, lie on the bed, put your head on their lap.
Mort Fertel: 11:56
Just be with them. Turn the devices off, the telephone off, and just create the opportunity to touch, to talk, and to be together.
Rock Thomas: 12:10
So now a question for you. I agree with all of that, but let’s say that you’re in a state where you’ve already got some resentment happening, you’ve got some repression happening. People have even got to the point where they’re tired of asking for what they want because they feel like they can’t break through the other person, for them to initiate something like that. That might be difficult. Do you have any suggestions for people that might be at that stage?
Mort Fertel: 12:33
Get over it. You want easy, I can’t help you.
Rock Thomas: 12:39
Mort Fertel: 12:39
You want effective? This is what to do.
Rock Thomas: 12:42
Mort Fertel: 12:43
If I’m 50 pounds overweight and my cholesterol is off the charts and the doctor tells me I’ve got to get on the elliptical machine every night, that’s not going to be easy. I’m not going to want to do it and it’s not going to feel good, and you know what the doctor should say to me, so what? Do it anyway. That’s discipline, right? Discipline is doing what you don’t want to do when you know you need to do it. And we understand that when it comes to our careers and our tennis game and whatever else we’re trying to master, but somehow for some sick reason that makes no sense, when it comes to our relationships we all want to do only what we want to do.
Mort Fertel: 13:21
That’s not effective.
Rock Thomas: 13:23
I like it. I like it. It’s very, very to the point and just it is what it is. Get over it, do it, and watch the tide change. So one of the things we talk about is the words that follow “I am” follow you. The way we define ourselves. People define themselves as being shy or not. I’m not, the five love languages. I’m not into touch that much or I don’t do words of affirmation. And they give themselves a reason to not be a way that could be more loving to the other person. What are some, maybe some thoughts that you might’ve had around people you’ve worked with or yourself in transforming from something? A concept you thought maybe you weren’t to becoming more of the type of person that’s going to have success in a relationship.
Mort Fertel: 14:06
Look, we all have certain inclinations that are a result of our upbringing, genetics, environment, experiences, whatever, but we’re not a victim to those inclinations.
Mort Fertel: 14:20
We’re not an animal. An animal is a victim to those inclinations. They can’t make a choice that contradicts their nature. If we have a dog in front of us and the dog is hungry and there’s food, it will eat. The stimulus is hunger, the responses eat. There’s no judgment, there’s no decision, there’s no calculation. But you and I, it’s lunchtime when we’re recording this and I haven’t eaten yet and I’m a little hungry. But I’m not running to the refrigerator, I’m not going to grab my lunch. I can feel hungry but choose not to eat. Why would I do that? Because I made this commitment to you. I value my work. I want to be effective, I want to be useful, et cetera. So I don’t know what that means. I’m not into words of affirmation, that a very fixed mindset and that’s-
Rock Thomas: 15:18
Get over it, right?
Mort Fertel: 15:21
It’s more, yes, but it’s more than that. It’s, you’re talking about self-identity. We should not see ourselves as fixed or final. We should see ourselves as in a constant state of flux, and I can be whoever I want to become. I am who I choose to be. So it could be that my father was stubborn. It could be my grandfather was stubborn. It could be I had certain experiences in my life so that I have been stubborn for the last 20 years. But that doesn’t mean that I am, my fate is to be stubborn for the rest of my life. There is a factor that trumps all the influences bearing down on this inclination. And that factor is … My choice. I can choose right here and now today to engage you in a more open-minded way and to behave in a less stubborn way.
Mort Fertel: 16:15
So too with my wife, it could be it’s not so easy for me to show signs of physical affection. Well, that was yesterday. Today I can change. I can be different. I’m going to make a new choice. And if I see myself as an evolving, progressing, changing, not fixed human being, then it’s much easier to do that.
Mort Fertel: 16:39
I try to help people. People say all the time, that’s just not me. I’m not like that. I don’t do that. I don’t let them, I don’t hear that. That’s stinking thinking, don’t think that way. That’s not, you’re not an animal. You’re a human being in constant flux. See yourself that way and embrace that opportunity for change.
Rock Thomas: 17:03
Yeah. Well, I like the fact that you say that it is a choice and it is, see yourself in constant flux.
Rock Thomas: 17:08
We are… A lot of people, the past does equal the future for them because they look back and they go, can I tie my shoes? And they go, yes, I can. Am I good at hugging or giving affection? No, I don’t like that cause I didn’t get it as a child, whatever the story is. But we say you can upload a new story, you can romance a new story. You can say, well let me just hold her hand. Or let me just take this small step and graduate yourself through the flux that you talked about and then start to see yourself in a different way. I’m a believer that words create your world. And if you keep on saying to yourself, yeah, well I’m just not affectionate, it’s going to be really hard to be affectionate or even move toward affection if you keep on pronouncing that you’re not affectionate.
Rock Thomas: 17:53
So we encourage people, like you said, be flexible, be adaptable. He who’s most willing to adapt will survive, right? So then install some new language around what you could be and then move toward that. Is that a fair statement?
Mort Fertel: 18:07
100% and new actions, too. If today I take a small step to just be somewhat affectionate to my wife, so am I now still not an affectionate person? And what if I do it again tomorrow? What if I do it again on Friday? Eventually, I’m going to start to see myself as I’m actually more affectionate than I was. And then eventually I’m an affection husband. The way we see ourselves changes, not only with the words we use, which was your point 100% true but also with the actions and the steps that we take.
Rock Thomas: 18:46
Of course. Success begets success, so you see yourself getting more success. I often say to people that don’t exercise, do me a favor then. Tomorrow walk one minute, just go to the end of the driveway and back. On the next day, do it twice. And do it each day just one minute more, and before you know it, in 30 days you’re actually walking 30 minutes. Wow. Completely changed person. Completely changed identity. But the chains of habit are too weak to feel until they’re too strong to break. And it goes both ways. So I love what you say about the, be in flux, be flexible, take a small initiative and then work your way into it. Before you know it, you can be a completely different individual in that relationship. It’s really, really great. So tell us a-
Mort Fertel: 19:33
You know how to jump 10 feet high?
Rock Thomas: 19:35
One inch at a time?
Mort Fertel: 19:38
Rock Thomas: 19:39
So tell us a little bit about your world. You’ve got your book, of course. You do workshops. Tell us a little bit about if people want to get in touch with you, follow you, learn from you, get coaching from you or whatever, just reach out. What is the best way?
Mort Fertel: 19:53
Sure. The best place to start, I guess is mortfertel.com. I offer there a free report, Seven Secrets for Fixing Your Marriage, and there’s actually a special page on my website designed for your users, your listeners. Mortfertel.com/iammovement.
Rock Thomas: 20:11
Okay, thank you.
Mort Fertel: 20:15
And they can get the free report, Seven Secrets for Fixing Your Marriage, and also access to all of my social media channels. I’m on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all that stuff. My website is the best place to start. And in addition to the free report, Seven Secrets for Fixing Your Marriage, I also offer there the Marriage Fitness tele bootcamp, which is the main program for people that are in marital crisis.
Mort Fertel: 20:35
And there’s information there about private sessions with me and full-day intensive house calls.
Rock Thomas: 20:40
That’s amazing. That’s awesome. And you have such a pleasant personality that I think it begets trust, right? I think people would be comfortable in having discussion with you and knowing that, not that, you’re a little bit like a velvet hammer, it seems. It’s like you’re going to tell it to them straight, but it’s going to feel good.
Mort Fertel: 20:58
I like that description. Thank you.
Rock Thomas: 21:00
Yeah, that’s awesome. Are there, other than your book, are there some people that were your mentors or some other books that you felt helped you on your voyage to becoming more clear that you could recommend to some of the listeners?
Mort Fertel: 21:13
It’s getting old at this point, but it still is awesome and had a tremendous impact on my life. Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
Mort Fertel: 21:23
It’s well-read and many people have heard of it, but he was the real thing. His ideas are very deep and right on target.
Rock Thomas: 21:36
I’m convinced he channeled that book. It is so well written. It is so profound. I mean, you could probably just take that book and study it like people studied the Bible and pick it apart and reread it and reread it and find other ahas and gems. I agree with you. It’s one of the classics.
Mort Fertel: 21:54
It’s funny you say that because the only other book that I ever mention in the same breath is the Bible. Not that I put them in the same category.
Rock Thomas: 22:03
No, I get it though. I get it.
Mort Fertel: 22:05
In terms of the impact, it had on me. And also the frequency with which I go through them.
Rock Thomas: 22:13
Right. I have a beat-up one that’s fallen apart and it’s in thirds, but I stick it back together and I review it from time to time. I always say to people, it’s not the book you read, it’s the book you reread that helps you master the concepts. Because you know we’re like shiny objects like “Ah, new concept, great. Sharpen your saw, yay, sounds good.” And then before you know it, you forget it, you’re onto something else.
Mort Fertel: 22:37
100%. Another way to say that, I sometimes say this to my coaching clients and in the program, somebody will say to me, “Oh yeah Mort I went through your book or I went through that audio file or that program.” But I can see from their behavior okay, you went through it, but did it go through you?
Rock Thomas: 22:54
Mort Fertel: 22:57
You didn’t get it.
Rock Thomas: 22:59
Mort Fertel: 23:01
So it’s not enough just to be able to buy it, say you read it, and put it on your shelf. Did you absorb it? Did you become it? And it’s true of that book. It takes a lot. There’s a lot to absorb there.
Rock Thomas: 23:14
So put you on the spot. A few words to describe now where you are in your juncture of the day. Who are you? If you were to say “I am…” Just a couple of, I know put you on the spot. How would you describe yourself as a human?
Mort Fertel: 23:27
I would like to be able to say, I like to think that I am useful. I mean that is, in one word, that is my life’s mission statement. That is how I like to think of myself. That’s how I direct myself as I decide how to spend my time and my energy.
Mort Fertel: 23:51
I ask myself, will this be useful? Another way to put it is, is this of service? Will this be making a contribution? Sometimes that contribution and that usefulness is within the context of my own home. And sometimes it’s broader community and the world. But at the end of the day, I think we’re all here to serve, to be useful, that we have a purpose. I try not to, and I think I succeed, to waste very, very little time. We don’t even have a television in our home. I cannot relate to and don’t identify with all of this social media and games and all this stuff. I just… Doesn’t interest me. It’s just a waste of…
Rock Thomas: 24:43
You don’t like looking at people’s pancakes?
Mort Fertel: 24:49
I’m doing something it’s hopefully useful in some way, shape or form.
Rock Thomas: 24:54
Well I’ll tell you what, it’s been a real delight to interact like this with you and I, in the intake form you wrote I am of service or I am in service and I think it’s a very simple and it seems to be would go along with your personality, very profound “I am” statement. It gives the opportunity to work on yourself, to be the best version of yourself, to be spiritual and at the same practical. So I appreciate all of that. I appreciate what you’ve shared with the group and for those people that want any of the info, we’ll have it all in the show notes. So Mort thank you so much for dropping by. I really, really appreciate it and thanks for being a force for good for those people that, we’re all… We all have challenges I’d say in fairness at some point in time in that part of our life.
Mort Fertel: 25:43
You’re very welcome and thank you so much for having me on the show, it was wonderful to meet you.
Rock Thomas: 25:47
All right, everybody, that is this session of the #IAmMovement. Make sure that you describe yourself very carefully. The words that follow “I am” follow you, so choose them wisely because words create your world.
This is the #IAmMovement podcast. To find out more about how you can join the #IAmMovement and take your life to the next level, go to GoM1.com. GoM1.com.