You don’t have to have a ‘gray divorce’

Nothing will make you think more about what marriage is about than a divorce. But there’s divorce and then there’s divorce. When Vicki divorced in her 20s and they had nothing — no property, no savings, no kids — it was emotionally challenging, true, but that’s about it. If someone presented her with a way to make the marriage work, she probably would have said, Why? We made a mistake; it’s over!

But when she divorced at midlife with stuff (a house, a car, a dog and, most important, young kids) it was much more complicated. While many people argue about the stuff and money, the bigger issue is the kids: How will we raise them until they can be self-sufficient? renegotiate marital contract

Now a friend is in the midst of a divorce and her kids, at 21 and 25, are no longer “kids;” they’re self-sufficient adults. What does divorce mean at this point?

Are there alternatives that might be available for midlife couples who are struggling?

Yes.

While divorce is on the decline among younger couples, the so-called gray divorce — among those 50 and older — is growing. While most divorces are initiated by women, it hurts women more than the men — 27 percent of gray divorced women live in poverty compared with 11 percent of gray divorced men, according to a recent Bowling Green State University study.

While boomer women were renegades and feminists, and many of us had full-time careers while raising kids, we are still paid less than men are and many of us still resorted to traditional male breadwinner-female housekeeping roles when we married, which inevitably hurt us in the event of a divorce (a model that, despite all our progress, still seems to be the default for Gen-Yers and millennials). Plus, we live longer than men.

Knowing that, is there something else we could be doing?

In some instances, yes. Even if you didn’t create a contract at the onset of your marriage, you can certainly create one after the fact.

Vicki’s second marriage fell apart after the discovery of a long-term affair as well as other issues. Her initial reaction was to save the marriage because her kids were young, 9 and 12, and she was scared. She’d only worked part time since they were born, and they weren’t a wealthy family to begin with.

They could have transformed their marriage into a parenting marriage, giving their kids the consistency and stability they needed while separating the sexual/romantic aspect of their relationship from their parenting relationship, which is one of the models in The New I Do. Would that have worked? In the aftermath of a long-term affair, Vicki didn’t know. Would she have considered it if it had been presented to her by a marriage counselor? Absolutely.

Sadly, you are not going to hear about parenting marriages from marriage counselors, except from people like Susan, because it’s not in their frame of reference. Same with renegotiating the marital contract. Which is why Susan and Vicki have been presenting before local therapists, helping them help their clients.

A blog post from more than a year ago on this website has hundreds of comments from people in a sexless marriage (by their definition) exploring the many ways they have tried to cope — suffer, divorce or cheat. The option of opening up their marriage will never come up in a therapy session because traditionally, therapists don’t think that way. What we need is therapists who are not only able to consider suggesting an open marriage, but also knowledgeable enough to offer support and information to help those who may see it as an option.

But, let’s say there hasn’t been an affair or any sort of major dysfunction. Let’s consider middle-aged empty-nesters, suddenly staring at each across the breakfast table without the distraction of children for the first time in decades. Many couples might discover they have little in common with their spouse anymore, and any conversation that doesn’t involve the kids or household issues feels strained. This is especially true when husbands retire and they’re around 24/7. Which is why many older couples are willing to call it quits and move on.

Given the economic hit they’ll take, they could find other ways to be connected to each other while also creating space that honors their individual needs and “me” time. They could consider living apart together, again, another model in The New I Do.

None of this is to say we’re for or against divorce or marital longevity; most of us fall in and out of love with several people before we find someone we actually might want to be in love with for the rest of our life — if we even want that — and many people are much happier after divorcing.

But we are for letting people know they have options. Your marriage is yours to create and re-create. Go for it!

Want to re-create your marriage? Learn how by ordering The New I Do on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

What if everything we believe about marriage and divorce is wrong?

Marriage is hard work but worth it. If you end up divorced, it means you didn’t try hard enough, you don’t know what commitment means and you’re putting you own happiness before your family’s — or all of the above — and that’s why you have a failed marriage.

What divorced person hasn’t heard that — or some variation — before? Sacred Cows

As a twice married and divorced woman, Vicki sure did. So did Astro and Danielle Teller. Despite their best intentions when they said their “I dos,” each of their marriages ended, and when they started dating and then married, blending families and many marital years behind them (14 for Astro, eight for Danielle), they began to question a lot of the messages they’d been told about marriage and divorce, as well as the one-size-fits-all answers “experts” and the self-help industry had for struggling couples.

As scientists — Astro is a computer scientist who oversees Google[x] and Danielle is a physician — they tried to remove the emotional responses we all have about divorce so they could focus on the logic. The result of their inquiry is a book that came out right about the time The New I Do was published, Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce and Marriage (Diversion Books).

Both books question the status quo when it comes to marriage and divorce, and offer outside-the-box thinking.  It’s the book Vicki wished she read when she was contemplating divorce, and sorting through the inevitable messy emotions she was feeling while also weighing the co-parenting, financial and everyday realities of divorcing with kids without crumbling under the shame and judgment that basically well-meaning people thrust upon her.

Their book presents the false cultural assumptions about divorce as Sacred Cows, illustrated as, well, cows, and if you have been divorced or are contemplating it, you have likely heard what the cows spew as “truth”:

  • Holy Cow: Marriage is always good and divorce is always bad.
  • Expert Cow: All marital problems can be fixed with help.
  • Selfish Cow: People who divorce are selfish, people who stay married are selfless.
  • Defective Cow: If you can’t make your marriage happy, or if you divorce, you must be defective.
  • Innocent Victim Cow: Children’s lives are ruined by divorce.
  • One True Cow: True love is why you marry but if you become unhappy in your marriage, you should stop believing in true love.
  • Other Cow: It’s not OK to leave a marriage to be with a new partner.

Except, as the Tellers point out, the research doesn’t back up any of what we’ve been told and thus believe.

The New I Do asks you to question your assumptions about marriage; the Tellers ask you to question your assumptions about divorce.

If you’re struggling in your marriage or thinking about divorce, we highly suggest you read Sacred Cows. It won’t give you any answers and it isn’t going make some things about divorce — the grief, pain, financial impacts, etc. — any easier. It will, however, help you be aware of society’s damaging messages that clutter rational thinking.

Just as you have permission to have a marriage based on your values and goals, you have permission to examine your marital situation without shame or guilt.

Q: Your book originated from your own divorces. You mention how people tried to help while others made you feel shame. How did you sort through all those conflicting messages to look at the bigger picture of how we marry and divorce?

Danielle: Quite painfully. I spent a good year feeling horrible before I started getting a new perspective. Society’s giving you these messages that don’t make a lot of sense.

Astro: We didn’t come to any truths, but we did uncover some deep inconsistencies in society. That’s what the book turned into; neither an argument for marriage or divorce, but simply that we felt we had uncovered some sufficiently large hypocrisies in those narratives. We felt freed from a lot of the narrative pressure once we recognized how much hypocrisy was baked into those narratives.

Q: One divorce is often enough to scare people away from any sort of relationship, let alone another marriage. What was the path each of you followed that led you to the decision to tie the knot again?

Astro: We were just madly in love, there was no way we weren’t going to get married. … but, importantly, we made sure from the very beginning that there wasn’t going to be any guilt or the overhang of those sacred cows. Instead of promising that we were going to be together, which neither of us believes, it’s a desire to be together. If she decides tomorrow she’s no longer into me, she’s not a bad person. I’ll be sad, but she’s not a bad person. It sounds like a really small change, but it’s not.

Q: What makes a second, third, fourth or 10th marriage different than the first — is it just having a new partner, is it wisdom or personal growth, is it doing things differently or something completely different?

Astro: We went into our marriage even more romantically than into our first. … Everyone who goes into a second marriage has to understand, at least conceptually, that marriages don’t last because they have this abject lesson in their lives. What they do about that is very different.

Danielle: We have this narrative that all marriages are equal. If you’re unhappy in your marriage, then being married to someone else isn’t going to make things better. … I don’t know why as a culture we don’t admit who you marry makes a difference.

Astro: I think we do know why, because if the narrative of who you choose matters and choosing differently could be a successful way to get yourself happier, it would allow people a legitimate reason to end their marriage and try again. Society is not OK with that. Society starts from the perspective that it doesn’t want people to get divorced, and then it comes up with stories and reasons that cut off all the avenues of escape.

Q: The Holy Cow’s message is that married people are “better than divorced people.” Lots of people who prefer to be single or cohabit hear that, too. Why do you think so many of us believe that’s true?

Astro: I think it’s the other way around. It’s, how are the sacred cows tricking us into it? The reason is society, which we are personifying as these cows, wants us to get married and stay married, not to make you happier or your spouse happier or your kids happier, but because society, rightly or wrongly, believes it will get what it wants if it gets people to get married and stay married. (It’s) a mob mentality where no one of us is puppeteering this but we collectively talk ourselves into it.

Q: Society seems to hold on to a nostalgic view of marriage, that people who married “back then” understood what marriage is really about. Except “back then,” marriage was more a duty than a choice, and an institution that was often a pretty crappy deal for women but they had few choices. Why do you think we still cling to that vision?

Danielle: We romaticize everything about the past. We really want to believe that marriages can be happily ever after.

Astro: If I’m afraid she’ll leave me, and my main tool in keeping her from leaving me is shame and fear and guilt, which the sacred cows bring to my arsenal.. .. If I want her not to quit, I have to look at people who quit less. If I point to them (and say) that those people were noble, it latches into the general romanticizing of the past and then I can effectively make her feel like shit if she’s thinking of leaving.

Q: What are the most important things you hope people get from reading your book?

Danielle: To give permission to make decisions about marriage and divorce without the piles of guilt society puts on them. … Just because you’re divorced or you want to get divorced, that doesn’t make you a bad person.

Astro: If they go through the process of asking whether marriage is working for them without the fear and shame that the scared cows produce, they’ll still probably have some soul searching to do and maybe a lot of pain to go through, but it would be less than it would be otherwise and they’ll probably end up in a happier place if they can make that decision free of that fear.

Want to individualize your marriage? Learn how by ordering The New I Do on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

Illustration courtesy of “Sacred Cows”

Why a parenting marriage trumps conscious uncoupling

Many people have been curious about what’s involved in a parenting marriage — how do you tell the kids, what about love, what about sex? Here’s a peek into what’s involved in an article Vicki wrote for The Guardian:

Valerie Tate knew her marriage was over seven years after she’d wed. parenting marriage

She and her husband, Clark, tried therapy but they eventually realized that they wanted different things in an intimate relationship. As a therapist, she’d seen the damage divorce could do, especially to kids. The last thing they wanted to do was to drag their son Jonah, now 11, through an ugly breakup while they all were grieving. So they decided that they’d stop working on their marriage, which wasn’t helping anyway, and try something different.

Whatever you think about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling”, the San Francisco Bay Area couple did one better; they uncoupled but didn’t divorce. They stayed married and they stayed put. They just removed the romantic and sexual aspect of their marriage, but remained loving and respectful to each other, and focused on co-parenting.

Read the rest of the story here.

Read through the comments, too; many believe, as we do, that it makes sense. Here’s a sampling:

“How will they learn about love” – I would reckon they will grow up with a far better understanding of love than the rest of us. Love is what a parent has for a child. Romantic love is a myth perpetuated by society and does most of us nothing but harm. Platonic parenting sounds a very good idea.”

***

“A great article on a very important topic. Looking around, it seems to me that something along these lines is on many people’s minds. I may not have read each and every comment but so far, have not seen anything on how to work it out with the “other” person outside the marriage. Which is what I happen to be! The only way through any of this is open communication, one step at a time, being honest about where you are at including fears about “how is this going to work”??????? We are writing the book as we go. So far, so good and I pray it stays that way. I am definitely not into wrecking anyones marriage or making a hard time for the child … or the mother. Having grown up in a hell of a family, that would be the last thing I want.”

***

“Love the way this was written! Started out thinking this concept is just odd but after reading the article, i just think it’s interesting and would like to know more! I just wished it was longer.

“Children are love radars; they can feel when there’s love and kindness and they can feel when there’s hurt and cutoff between parents,” says Valerie Tate, who works with couples to bring loving feelings back into their relationship and has helped a handful of couples transform their marriages into similar arrangements. “The way people treat each other makes a huge difference.”

This is so, so true. My parents loathed each even before I was born (how my brother or I were conceived is a complete mystery to me) and didn’t get divorced before I was 15. Our household was nothing but hell – screaming behind closed doors, death/violent threats and both of them trying to us on their side by describing what a shitty person their partner is. I have forgiven my parents but it was utter hell. I don’t think this model would have worked for them (completely opposite parenting styles) but nothing could have been worse than growing up on a psychological battlefield.”

What do you think?

Interested in learning about ways to re-create your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, September 2014). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook.

How ‘The New I Do’ came to be

We were lucky to be interviewed by Jessica Stepleton Stern, who runs the wonderful j.jane.com website, which she calls “an authentic look at the many faces of sisterhood: mentors & friends.”

j.jane_interviews

Read what Susan has to say about marrying later in life, helping people through divorce and other life transitions, and her idea of living a graceful life here.

Read what Vicki has to say about how she became a journalist, overcoming her greatest life obstacle, and how to face Valentine’s Day and other holidays as a divorced person here.

We are also fortunate to be featured on Maggie Reye’s wonderful Modern Married website; read the interview here.

modern_marriedAnd, Maggie is offering readers a chance to win a free copy of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. To win a free copy of the book, name one word to describe your marriage. For example, in the book they mention a “parenting marriage” a “companionship” marriage, a “safety” marriage, etc. Choose a word to describe your marriage and enter it in the comments here. Entries will be accepted until midnight Eastern Time Feb. 27. The lucky winner will be notified by email. U.S. entries only.

Love, sex, kids and marriage

 photo

 

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?

Marriage is rarely ‘until death do us part’

Here’s how we imagine marriage will be: We stand before the people who matter to us — parents, relatives, friends — and we vow to love, honor and cherish our beloved “until death do us part.”   ST_2014-11-14_remarriage-01

Except, many of us have replaced “until death do us part” with “for as long as our love shall last” or something along those lines, which has made some people nervous. “They have divorce in mind — they’re wary. It’s just realism,” says the Rev. Bonnie Nixon, a Torrance, California, non-denominational minister.

What’s wrong with realism — isn’t that better than some fairytale version of marriage? Because the latest stats indicate that “until death do us part” isn’t what a good portion of us experience. According to the Pew Research Center, four out of 10 new marriages last year included at least one partner who had been married before, and a good percentage who haven’t yet are interested in doing so.

Which seems to indicate that, no, marriage is not going away anytime soon.

But the new report also highlights an important fact that conservatives would do be smart to pay attention to — the people who are having second and third marriages tend to be those with high school diplomas only:

Newlyweds with just a high school diploma are almost twice as likely as those with a bachelor’s degree to be entering their third marriage (9% vs. 5%, respectively). Some 8% of newlyweds without a high school diploma have been married at least twice before.

So rather than make divorce harder for couples with small children, and rather than spend millions on promoting marriage as a way to get people out of poverty (which doesn’t work, by the way), why not put that energy into helping people get college degrees? Or, better yet, give each would-be divorced couple a copy of The New I Do and  help them transform their marriage into a Parenting Marriage. Just a thought …

 

A new way to save your marriage for yourself — and your kids

divorcecouple

What do you do when you feel that the love you once shared with your mate has disappeared with no possibility of revival, but you adore your children and can’t imagine spending even one day apart from them?

Until now, the options have been:

1. Stay miserable in your marriage in service of giving your kids a stable home;
2. Work “harder” on the marriage in therapy and convince yourself that if you can somehow see your spouse differently or tap into the part of you that fell in love with him or her, you’ll be fine;
3. Have an illicit affair that makes being home seem more tolerable;
4. Divorce and just accept that you can’t see your kids every day (but feel consoled that you get to talk to them on a daily basis).

Maintaining a romantic bond for years on end is challenging, but adding kids to the mix and keeping a romantic connection the entire length of the relationship is extremely challenging, if not impossible (even with all the great advice books out there on the topic).

Admittedly, there is no good choice when your marriage is over. There are just less-bad options.

The alternative The New I Do proposes doesn’t offer a cure-all for the troubled relationship, but it does provide a better lifestyle option for what we believe matters most — the children. It’s called a Parenting Marriage and it is pretty much what it sounds like: A non-romantic union centered around raising healthy kids.

Some of you might be thinking, “That’s not what marriage is supposed to be about.” Others of you might be thinking, “That’s what we already do. How is this Parenting Marriage different from traditional marriage?”

A Parenting Marriage is different in some significant ways, not the least of which is that it’s a conscious choice the couple makes together, as we saw San Francisco Valerie and Clark Tate do in last week’s post, not simply a holding pattern they have fallen into.

Couples stay stuck in a bad marriage for a few reasons. Sometimes they want to avoid having a difficult conversation about their marital blahs for fear of hurting their spouse. Yet, the hurt and devastation caused by not talking (and having the cliché nightmare ending) is far worse.

Another reason is that it’s not socially acceptable to stray from the love-based model that lasts forever. In fact, we deem a marriage “successful” by how long it lasts. How ironic that we hold those who have unhappy and unconscious marriages as acceptable or even normal, but we ostracize those who create conscious agreements to change the purpose of their marriage.

Another reason is that there has never before been a map or language to help people create a Parenting Marriage. It’s like the difference between having GPS and not having it: couples might eventually find a place that feels right in their couplehood, but with this marital GPS, they can see exactly where they want to go and how to get there.

Marriage is changing in so many ways these days and the rigid paradigm of Ozzie and Harriet is going by the wayside at breakneck speeds.

People are beginning to realize that they have the option to stay single or to get divorced without shame; they have the option to marry later or marry several times without shame. Now, couples are starting to see that they can renegotiate the terms of their marriage without shame.

While a Parenting Marriage isn’t right for every couple, it’s certainly worth looking into.

Here are the key elements:

1. Both spouses agree and accept (and this acceptance is crucial) that the marriage they used to have is over. That is, the love-based relationship is over.
2. Both spouses agree that the primary purpose of their marriage now is to be good co-parents and raise healthy kids in as stable an environment as possible.
3. Together, both spouses will tell the kids honestly and openly about the changing nature of the marriage so that they don’t have to wonder.
(Note that some couples need a temporary break—a time-out, if you will. One couple lived apart for 18 months.)
4. Both spouses agree on the terms of their new marriage. Examples include one sleeping upstairs, the other downstairs; agreeing on a schedule of time with the kids; agreeing to separate financial obligations other than those that impact the family (mortgage, insurance payments, etc.); agreeing that in their free time, they can go anywhere, see anyone and do anything they wish; that each can have another relationship but that no one is introduced to the kids without prior permission.

 

A Parenting Marriage in action

One of the most controversial marital models in The New I Do is no doubt the Parenting Marriage (although some might say the Open Marriage or the Safety Marriage — we’ll let you decide!)

What makes the Parenting Marriage hard to understand for some is that we ask you to choose the best person to co-parent with, not the best romantic partner,  soul mate, The One, or  the person who is going to “complete” you. You marry someone with the same values and goals about parenting and children, and who is as hand-on dedicated to being the best parent he or she can be. If you want to give your children the love, support and stability they need to thrive, marrying for love is not the way to go. All you have to do is look at the high divorce rate to know that’s true.  uncoupling

Children do not need their parents to love each other. But they absolutely need their parents to not fight with each other. As child psychologist Naeema Jiwani, says, “Compared with conventional parenting where the mother and father have to constantly be ‘in love’ in front of their child, co-parenting doesn’t include the ‘strain’ of marriage.’”

And, as we point out in our book, you can restructure the marriage you are already into a Parenting Marriage. We’ve spoken to couples who have done that, and done it well. And many have done it with Susan’s help.

So this week’s story on Nightline, about San Francisco couple Valerie and Clark Tate, caught our eye (earlier this year, they told their story to the New York Times‘ Unhitched column). They have transformed their marriage into a Parenting Marriage for the sake of their son. Read on:

 

In front of all their friends and their 10-year-old son, Clark and Valerie Tate came together for a special ceremony on a California beach.

But this couple wasn’t renewing their vows. They were “uncoupling.”

In a new age ritual that might only be found in San Francisco, Clark and Valerie took the wedding rings they exchanged 14 years ago and gave them back to each other.

“These rings do not symbolize who we are to each other anymore,” Clark said.

“So we’re releasing them,” Valerie added.

They no longer consider each other husband and wife, not even romantic partners, but they have decided to continue living together in the same house in order to raise their son Jonah together.

In other words, it might be the most amicable divorce-non-divorce in history.

“We grieved a lot of our relationship so long ago, this is just sort of marking the time,” Valerie said.

Divorce often gets ugly and expensive. Even actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin decided to “consciously uncouple” earlier this year.

The Tates, who went with their own version of “uncoupling,” believed this was a way to break up their marriage without animosity, but it required an unconventional approach — Clark and Valerie still live together in the same house, with separate bedrooms, and maintain joint assets, but have an open marriage, meaning they date other people.

Read the rest of the story here, watch the video here and then tell us what you think.

Interested in learning about ways to re-create your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, September 2014). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!