End your marriage to save it?

When Andrew Dice Clay announced that he was divorcing his third wife, Valerie Silverstein, recently, I had to do a double-take on his reason:

“The word ‘marriage’ was putting a pressure on our relationship and since we filed, we’ve been more in love and have had more respect for each other than ever before.”

OK, maybe that’s the kind of thing that we should expect from “America’s most controversial and outrageous comic of all time,” which is how Clay describes himself. It certainly is confusing and perhaps controversial. Divorce to save marriage

But it also speaks to bigger issues that fall under the umbrella of the word “marriage” and that couples may not be fully aware of when they say, “I do.”

Let’s start with the idea of being a wife or a husband. How marriage is experienced depends a lot on whether you’re the wife or the husband. Even though there are more ways to be a married couple than ever before, including blended families and families in which the dad stays at home and mom’s the breadwinner, we still tend to fall into gendered expectations when we heard the word “wife” — she’s responsible for the home and kids, even if she works outside the home full time — and “husband” — isn’t he the provider?

Since women tend to do more of the emotional care-taking in a relationship — which rarely gets acknowledged let alone appreciated — women often feel overwhelmed.

And the men? According to Helen Smith, author of Men On Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream — And Why It Matters, husbands don’t fare much better — when men marry they lose respect, they lose out on sex, they lose freedom (well, women do, too), and they could lose it all if they end up divorced.

Speaking about sex, we assume when a couple gets together that they will be monogamous. As we write in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebel, there are few healthy models of non-monogamous relationships — you’re either cheating or you’re promiscuous, so few couples that tie the knot are openly, honestly and consciously choosing to be monogamous. Monogamy is a societal expectation, one we internalize., but it really should be seen for what it is — a choice. Some people just don’t do well with monogamy, try as they might. But try to tell a potential romantic partner that, and …

Then there is the whole taking each other for granted thing that often comes from living under the same roof. You don’t have to be married to experience that, either, as Susan Sarandon mentioned when she split from longtime partner Tim Robbins:

“I thought that if you didn’t get married you wouldn’t take each other for granted as easily. I don’t know if after twenty-something years that was still true.”

Yet when you are around someone, even someone you love deeply, little annoyances can build into bigger ones and before you know it, one or the other of you is angry and resentful.

Finally, there is the happily-ever-after fairy-tale version of marriage that’s sold to us, of finding The One — someone who will fulfill all our needs and desires, while also being an equal partner, etc., etc.

There’s no way to know if any of this applies to Clay and his wife (and since she’s wife No. 3, Clay at least should be well aware that marriage is not a fairy-tale!) They split, they say they love each other  and they plan to be together forever. Will removing the weight of being married really change that?

As therapist and author Jane Greer brings up:

“(M)arriage in and of itself can carry weighty assumptions about what each partner expects from the other person, and that can sometimes create resentment and disappointment if one or the other partner is not living up to them. What starts out as a choice with you wanting to please your partner can turn into a demand with you feeling like you have to, and it can feel like an obligation which can add extra stress. … While marriage remains the traditional path, it is not the only one. What matters most is how devoted and bonded you are to your partner and that you continue to choose to be with him or her.”

I agree with Greer — what matters, ultimately, is whether you feel “devoted and bonded” to your partner and that “you continue to choose to be with him or her.” You don’t have to be married to experience that. In that light, getting a divorce to remove the expectations that the institution and society place on it makes sense, despite how convoluted that sounds. But what we propose in The New I Do sounds better to me — if you are unhappy with the marital contract you have, change it. Each of us has the power to create the romantic relationships we want. Rather than divorce or “work” on your marriage — which is expecting something different to suddenly occur by having a date night or having more sex, etc.,  despite being stuck in the same marital model — why not reinvent it?

If your marriage isn’t working, do something different. Andrew Dice Clay did, although divorce alone won’t make a relationship better.

What do you think? Vote here.

Couple consciously, consciously uncouple

Since The New I Do is very much about coupling consciously, we took particular interest in the recent announcement that actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay front man Chris Martin are splitting, or as they put it “consciously uncoupling.” conscious uncoupling

In a joint statement, the couple that married in 2003 said:

“We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.”

So what’s conscious uncoupling? According to Paltrow’s lifestyle guru Dr. Habib Sadeghi:

“A conscious uncoupling is the ability to understand that every irritation and argument was a signal to look inside ourselves and identify a negative internal object that needed healing … From this perspective, there are no bad guys, just two people, each playing teacher and student respectively.”

Doesn’t that sound healthy? Instead of finger-pointing, it’s a way to be mindful about how you acted and what you felt in your relationship. Don’t we hunger for that self-awareness? Wouldn’t that make us be better people and partners in future relationships?

Despite everyone pegging — or blaming — it on Paltrow, it wasn’t her idea or her husband’s or even Sadeghi’s; it’s the brainchild of psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, who says we need to rethink the heartbreak we feel when a romance ends:

“The problem is that we’ve all been taught to end our relationships in ways that often guarantee just these kinds of painful results. … The end of your relationship doesn’t need to be a painful ‘breakup.’ It can simply be a completion, and it can also be a wonderful transition into the next stage of your life . . . and your next relationship.”

Few would say that divorce is “wonderful,” but it’s true that it can lead to a happier, healthier life. After all, many men marry again successfully and many women focus on nurturing themselves after years of care-taking kids and husbands and find new partners as well. There shouldn’t be any shame or sense of failure for turning an ending into a new beginning.

While it’s always hard to divorce when there are young kids, Paltrow’s and Martin’s emphasis on being good co-parents is also essential, and it’s much, much easier to do that if you can be kind and respectful to your former spouse. And it looks like that’s how they’re handling it.

One of the marital models we outline in The New I Do is a Parenting Marriage, which emphasizes similar concepts — being kind and respectful to a partner, even if you are not romantic partners, while you co-parent the kids. All you want to do is give your kids the stability, love and attention they need.

Of course, lots of people are already making fun of their conscious uncoupling — people often cannot wrap their head around new ways of coupling and uncoupling. That is their loss. We believe the old paradigms for coupling and uncoupling don’t work anymore. Let’s try something new.