Love, sex, kids and marriage

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We were fortunate to have been asked to be on The Better Show to talk about The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels with co-hosts JD Roberto and Kristina Behr

We spoke with them first, and then had a conversation with Lori Zaslow and Jennifer Zucher, co-owners of the matchmaking service Project Soulmate. We wish we had more time to address some of the old-fashioned thinking of Zaslow and Zucher — the same thinking that is making couples miserable in their marriages — but we feel pretty lucky to have had as much time as we had.

The conversation is broken down into four segments; watch and then tell us what you think.

Is marriage still about love?

What’s a test drive marriage?

What’s love got to do with it?

Do the kids know if your marriage is a fraud?

Before filing for divorce, try this

divorcecoupleOne of the benefits of cleaning out email inboxes is finding old but important emails. Susan came across an email from a year ago that she had forgotten about. It included a CNN article that she and two other divorce experts were interviewed for called, “In January, ‘ex’ marks the spot,”  written by Sarah LeTrent.  The psychiatrist, attorney and Susan shared with the interviewer that January is one of their busiest times of the year (along with September).

Family law attorneys have been calling January “Divorce Month” for years. In fact, the first Monday of January—when the bulk of the calls from would-be divorcees come in—is even dubbed “Divorce Day,” or D-Day for short.

It’s true. After the holiday season when family obligations have been met, when both spouses have had enough pain and hurt, or when the one who’s contemplated divorce for a while wants to start the new year in a more authentic way (one that doesn’t include their spouse), January seems like the perfect time to get the dissolution wheels in motion. Thus, unhappy couples transition from the holiday season into the divorce season.

We all know that we could reduce the numbers of divorces if couples would refrain from filing their petitions to end the marriage.  While that might make society feel better and more secure in the belief that the divorce numbers were declining, it wouldn’t improve the quality of these troubled marriages: It would only prolong the agony and postpone the inevitable.

But there’s a third alternative that, until now, has not been well-explored and that just might provide the relief husbands and wives are looking for: Stay married but change the rules of the marriage.

A Marriage of Independence

In our recently book, The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, propose getting away from purely love-based marriages and revisiting purpose-driven marriages.

What we found in our research is that the couples that went from a tepid or unhappy love-based marriage to a Living Apart Together (LAT) Marriage, a Parenting Marriage or even an Open Marriage fared quite well in many ways. Staying married prevented these couples from experiencing the financial devastation that often accompanies divorce, and it was also a win for children, other family members and friends.

Let’s explore some of the facets of these alternative marriages:

A Living Apart Together entails couples living in separate homes so there will be more expenses and more logistics of coordinating schedules, but it also means that each spouse has a space to get away to. It might even mean they have down time from parental duties, and that they can maintain a sense of independence.

In a Parenting Marriage, couples simply change their job description from romantic partner to co-parent. Disentangling emotions and expectations to a more platonic relationship can be tricky yet not having to fight over who keeps the house or how much time each parent gets with the kids, combined with keeping the household intact for something larger than yourself (your kids) can make the experience much more manageable than divorce.

Finally, the most radical and definitely the trickiest option is that of opening up your marriage to other people. Some of you reading this will recoil at this idea, but, in the research for The New I Do, Susan and Vicki spoke with several couples that swore it was by taking this radical step that their marriage was saved. In some cases, the pairs kept their unions open for the duration; in other cases, the couple got what they needed and closed their nuptials back up. Either way, an Open Marriage is not for the faint of heart (or the jealous!).

If you’re interested in creating a Living Apart Together, a Parenting Marriage, or an Open Marriage, here are just 5 of the more than 50 qualities they identified that you’d need to be in place in your relationship for it to work.

1. You like and trust each other.

2. You communicate well.

3. You feel the benefits of this choice outweigh the costs.

4. You make the choice together as a team.

5. You don’t need others to like or agree with your choice

As a society, we are seeing more marriages trending away from a “traditional” model that isn’t working for far too many toward creative solutions that don’t entail divorce. Susan and Vicki offer four additional alternatives in the book as well (Starter, Safety, Companionship and Covenant).

To read more on alternative marriage models, please pick up a copy of The New I Do here.

Another version of this article was previously published on psychologytoday.com

 

To Chris Rock and other celebrity parents about to divorce

Dear Giada De Laurentiis and Todd Thompson, Chris Rock and Malaak Compton-Rock, Sonni Pacheco and Jeremy Renner, and Slash and Perla:

The holidays are over and it seems as if 2015 will be a challenging year for you. All of you are headed for a divorce, which is hard enough, but you also have young children. That makes everything harder as the last thing anyone wants to do as a parent is hurt the kids. And as research has shown that it’s conflict, not divorce per se, that hurts the kidsParenting marriage

The problem with many divorces is that they quickly become acrimonious. Unlike the conscious uncoupling of Gwen and Chris, too many couples see a split as payback time for whatever disappointments, dashed dreams and resentments built up over the years.
And while many couples imagine that divorce will end things between them, that isn’t necessarily true — if they have kids. Former parents used to be able to move away and start new relationships unencumbered by their past marriages. But divorce is no longer the end of a relationship; it’s a “restructuring of a continuing relationship,” according to University of Sydney law professor Patrick Parkinson. “The experience of the last forty years has shown that whereas marriage may be freely dissoluble, parenthood is not.”

Which has made some of us as miserable divorced as we were in our marriage.

So, we’re here to say that all of you can do better. In fact, you don’t have to divorce at all; you can transform your marriage into a parenting marriage, a model we present in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. Why do that? Why stay together when you no longer want to be romantically involved with your spouse? Because it’s the best way to give your kids what they need to thrive — stability, access to both parents, and a relatively conflict-free home.

Here’s how it works: You accept that you are not romantic partners anymore, just co-parents. You are free to create the terms of your new marriage — who sleeps where, which financial responsibilities are shared and which aren’t, setting boundaries for other romantic interests — based on each person’s needs and the age of their children. And then you have an age-appropriate honest discussion with your kids about how you are restructuring your marriage. This is similar to the conversation you’d have to have anyway if you went through with a divorce, but the kids would know that their life wasn’t going to be hugely upset — they wouldn’t have to move, they could still see both parents whenever they wanted, etc.

We can hear some of you grumble — but what about love? How will the kids learn what a loving marriage looks like? It’s a great question. When you think about it, what is more loving than two parents who show respect and kindness to each other, and aren’t fighting all the time, while expressing love to the people who matter most — their kids? Kids don’t need their parents to love each other — they need their parents to love them.

And as some have noted, compared with conventional parenting, where parents have to constantly be in love in front of their children, co-parenting doesn’t include the strain of marriage. And clearly Giada, Todd, Chris Rock, Malaak, Sonni, Jeremy, Slash and Perla, your marriages have been strained.

We know it sounds weird. But we’ve all seen how bitter, fighting former spouses can mess up their kids; Lindsay Lohan is just one small example. You probably know many more. Is that the legacy you wish to pass on to your children? You can do better. There are unhappily married couples that are willing to re-create their partnership to give their children what they need.

What about you?