Esther Perel on how infidelity can make a marriage better

Your spouse had an affair — can that benefit your marriage? According to renowned therapist Esther Perel’s new book The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, maybe.

Perel explores a lot in her book — much more than I can address here — but I was particularly drawn to her exploration of why more women are cheating nowadays, and we are.

Why? When women had few choices, we played it safer. Now that we are often financially secure on our own and expect a lot more from our marriage, we struggle with what domesticity and motherhood does to us — what Perel calls the muting of eros. Hubby thinks that his wife isn’t interested in sex — she keeps rejecting him, after all, or when they finally get around to having sex, she’s hoping it’s over soon — and so he’s stunned when he discovers she’s been having a torrid love affair. What the heck is going on?

As Perel writes, “Home, marriage and motherhood have forever been the pursuit of many women, but also the place where women cease to feel like women.”

Sound familiar? It does to me. We go from being a desired being to a domestic one.

To read more, go here.

Iceland doesn’t need marriage — does anyone else?

Do we need marriage? The answer to that question might be found in Iceland.

For much of history, marriage mattered. It was a way to make sure property could be passed to heirs, alliances could be forged (often to avoid wars), children could be reared, society could be assured that caregiving would be taken care of and a lot of other practical matters, as historian and Marriage, a History author Stephanie Coontz has extensively detailed. And it’s true that marriage matters today in the U.S., because it grants those who tie the know more than 1,100 perks and protections — and that’s just at the federal level. But what if marriage didn’t matter — people could be romantically partnered or not, have children as part of a couple or not, and still be accepted by society and set up to succeed. Enter Iceland, where more than two-thirds of babies — 67 percent — are born to parents who aren’t married. And no one is freaking out about it. Would we still need marriage? Good question. Iceland

I recently stumbled upon the setup for an episode of CNN’s The Wonder List, which sent reporter Bill Weir to the country to explore its many charms. Among them was the progressive way of thinking about how people can raise children without being married to each other.

OK, marriage is not just about having kids, so we need to be clear about that. But the belief that marriage is exactly about that — which means marriage must involve sex — creates a very narrow view of marriage, and thus a very narrow view of family. Which is probably why, in the U.S., single moms are blamed and shamed, and seen as a problem to be fixed.

But in Iceland? As one woman who has has three kids with two partners “and not a drop of shame or regret” tells Weir:

You have this horrible term in English, ‘broken families,’ which basically means just if you get divorced, then something’s broken. But that’s not the way it is in Iceland at all. We live in such a small and secure environment, and the women have so much freedom. So you can just, you can choose your life.”

Women having freedom to choose their life. Boy, doesn’t that sound good?

Since few Icelanders are religious, “there is no moral stigma attached to unwed pregnancy,” he writes. And that’s a huge difference between Iceland and the U.S. — as well as the fact that Iceland guarantees some of the most generous parental leave in the world. To read more, click here.

How Facebook perpetuates a gendered view of marriage

It’s your anniversary (Aw.) You buy your spouse a card, a gift, make plans for a special getaway (and if you have kids, you arrange for someone to care for them for the dinner/weekend away) and that should be it — right? Well, it used to be all that was needed. but nowadays you have to take it one step further; you have to profess your love for your spouse on Facebook, and you have to provide photos of your special day and love online because …

Because, well, why? I don’t know.  

At the risk of sounding like a social media curmudgeon, I have a love-hate thing with social media and there are some things I just don’t understand about it. Mostly the way married people feel compelled to present an idealized version of their lives online. Not to say that they aren’t blissfully happy — I sure hope they are. But I think it’s more about the pressure couples feel to present themselves that way.

Our spouses are a reflection of us, and to present ourselves as other than happy isn’t good for our personal “brand.” Facebook is “a place for good news, not the place where you talk about your most vulnerable self,” says psychologist and author Sherry Turkle. “Marriage lies so close to the raw bone of who you are, so I think people need boundaries and privacy to feel a certain integrity to maintain the relationship.”

Still, we are sending out messages about marriage we may not be aware of. Which is why I was intrigued by the findings of researchers who looked into what they consider the “performance of unattainable marital ideals on Facebook.” In examining postings with hastags of #sadwife, #happywife, #sadhusband and #happyhusband, they discovered that — happy or sad — they represent the same thing: the “performance of an ideal spouse where the inconvenience of everyday chores (laundry, dishes, childcare) and stresses (fiances, marital disputes, familial relationships, resentments) are absent from the rose-tinted world of marital performance on Facebook.”

It’s disturbing to think of marriage — or any relationship — in terms of being a “performance,” although it’s true that, married or not, we often put on our “best” selves to influence how others view us. Social media just amps it up, encouraging and rewarding us for it. Still, the way we talk about our romantic relationships is a form of storytelling and that’s powerful, as Mandy Len Catron details beautifully in her book How to Fall In Love With Anyone.

Facebook just takes it to a weird level of storytelling.

To read more, click here.

Is there a ‘secret’ to being married?

The funny thing about marriage (well, there are many, but let’s narrow it down) is that lots of people seem to have a “secret” that will magically transform everyone’s marriage into a manageable, doable and supposedly happy union. Like a recent Modern Love written by Gabrielle Zevin — except her secret to marriage isn’t necessarily what you might expect:  The Secret to Marriage Is Never Getting Married. 

Zevin, a novelist and screenwriter, describes the 21-year relationship she has with her partner, Hans:

I have had four dogs with the man I am not married to. I have dedicated several of my books to him, but really, they all could be. He is my most important reader and creative collaborator. We have traveled the world with one suitcase. We have cooked more than 100 Blue Apron meals without killing each other. We have shared a dozen different addresses. We have built a life.

But, they’re not married.

And that’s where Zevin reveals the complications of committing to someone without actually tying the knot, even though, given a complicated and unfair debt Hans brought into the relationship two decades ago, it made sense not to co-mingle expenses — then. Still, she had found herself unable to explain that to people — many often don’t understand the financial realities of a marriage license. It isn’t just about love, it’s about money and property and a lot of other stuff, too.

Which is why her longtime accountant is advising that they now tie the knot. Why?

I guess because I am turning 40 this year, he said, “Well, there are reasons to be married when you are old.” The reasons fell largely into two categories: What happens when I die? And what happens if I get sick and then die?

And this is what hetero couples don’t understand about marriage but same-sex couples do: The big reason why same-sex couples fought so hard for the right to legally marry is exactly because of the sick and dying part, the importance of which was made glaringly clear during the HIV epidemic. It’s really important for people to understand just what a marriage license offers you; it isn’t just about love and commitment.

Zevin ventures — somewhat blindly — into that territory, too, and it bothered me. To read more, click here.

Want to learn how to create a renewable marital plan? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


Dear Millennials: Here’s some marital advice you can ignore

Millennials have become a much maligned generation — they’re either living in their parents’ basement, or spending too much time playing video games, or unable to buy a home because they’re spending too much money on avocado toast or delaying marriage, aka “failing” to reach the traditional markers of adulthood (hey, maybe those markers need to be changed?) or all of the above. And now, evidently, the one positive thing millennials who actually are tying the knot are doing — protecting their assets with a prenup — is being dissed. And, boy, is that bad advice.

In a recent article for Verily, Why Happy Couples Don’t Get Prenups (Even Though Divorce Lawyers Say It’s a Millennial Trend) with the tagline “Don’t buy into the prenup trend!,” relationship editor Monica Gabriel Marshall quotes Joslin Davis, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, who observes that millennials are  “particularly choosing prenups as the best option to cover separate property holdings, business interests, anticipated family inheritances, and potential alimony claims.”

Then she acknowledges that it makes sense, given that people are remaining single longer and thus having more time to build their own assets. But then she quotes two people to switch her thinking to convince young people that its wrong to get a prenup: Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project — an unabashed pro-marriage advocate — and Mia Adler Ozair, a therapist who advises to never mention the word “divorce.”

If you are serious about wanting to build a long-lasting, loving relationship, then this word can simply not enter the vocabulary in a relationship … Trust is built by knowing that regular marital issues that arise during the course of all relationships will be met with a true desire to communicate. … threats of leaving are not acceptable where trust and love are desired.

Sure — no one should use divorce as a way to threaten your spouse. But — and such a huge but — that isn’t the only way for couples to address the potential reality of divorce, which is always a potential reality no matter what you think.

Read more here.

Is there a ‘secret’ to a happy marriage?

The funny thing about marriage (well, there are many, but let’s narrow it down) is that lots of people seem to have a “secret” that will magically transform everyone’s marriage into a manageable, doable and supposedly happy union. Like this week’s Modern Love written by Gabrielle Zevin — except her secret to marriage isn’t necessarily what you might expect:  The Secret to Marriage Is Never Getting Married. 

Zevin, a novelist and screenwriter, describes the 21-year relationship she has with her partner, Hans:

I have had four dogs with the man I am not married to. I have dedicated several of my books to him, but really, they all could be. He is my most important reader and creative collaborator. We have traveled the world with one suitcase. We have cooked more than 100 Blue Apron meals without killing each other. We have shared a dozen different addresses. We have built a life.

But, they’re not married.

And that’s where Zevin reveals the complications of committing to someone without actually tying the knot, even though, given a complicated and unfair debt Hans brought into the relationship two decades ago, it made sense not to co-mingle expenses — then. Still, she had found herself unable to explain that to people — many often don’t understand the financial realities of a marriage license. It isn’t just about love, it’s about money and property and a lot of other stuff, too.

Which is why her longtime accountant is advising that they now get married. Why?

To read more, click here.

Do you want a happy or meaningful marriage?

What do you want out of your marriage — happiness or meaning?

I’ve been reading an advance copy of Eli J. Finkel’s The All-Or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work, which comes out this September. I’m excited about it for a few reasons, one because The New I Do is mentioned in it — thank you, Eli! — but also because it expands on the Northwestern University professor and head of the Relationships and Motivation Lab’s provocative New York Times op-ed of the same name a few years back.

In that op-ed he wrote:

Our central claim is that Americans today have elevated their expectations of marriage and can in fact achieve an unprecedentedly high level of marital quality — but only if they are able to invest a great deal of time and energy in their partnership. If they are not able to do so, their marriage will likely fall short of these new expectations. Indeed, it will fall further short of people’s expectations than at any time in the past.


I’ll talk much more about Finkel’s book when the book comes out, but one thing stuck me halfway through it — a discussion on research about those who seek happiness, defined as having a life that’s easy and pleasurable, and people who seek meaning, defined as those who think a lot about the future or who have strong tendencies to be a “giver.” It relates to how you view your marriage.

As he writes in his book:

In short, whereas the happy life is characterized by ease and pleasure, the meaningful life is characterized by generosity, deep engagement with difficult pursuits, and a coherent sense of how the self develops across time.

I hadn’t really thought about that before, so when I was on my annual backpacking trip with some of my dearest friends, book in tow, I asked them, “What matters more to you — happiness or meaning?”

I was surprised by what they had to say. Read more here.

Is sex really essential for marriage?

Back when my Susan and I were doing research for our book and interviewing engaged couples about why they wanted to wed (most were already living together), one groom-to-be mentioned sex among the many reasons.

“You want to marry for sex?” his fiancee asked, somewhat horrified.

He immediately got sheepish as he defended himself: “Well, they asked us to check off all the reasons, so, um, yeah …”

I’m with him; most of do expect sex with some sort of regularity to be among the many perks of tying the knot — or any monogamous romantic relationship for that matter. Unless you have an open relationship or an adulterous one, monogamy typically limits who we can sleep with.

But is sex a marital requirement? Does sex really matter all that much?

It clearly does to those spouses who want it and don’t get it, or not enough of it, as so many have written to my personal blog and The New I Do blog. And marital expert after marital expert, and couples counselor after couples counselor will likely tell you the same thing. According to the National Marriage Project, sexual satisfaction is even more important than kind words and acts in a marriage. When I reported on its findings, I basically agreed: “This is a no-brainer, too.

But, what if sex doesn’t matter?

For one couple, it actually doesn’t. Married for 25 years, the couple hasn’t had sex for 20 years — and they’re OK with it, or at least that’s what they told the Guardian.

According to the husband, “we’re very cuddly and close to each other and still as interested in each other and do as much together as we ever did.”

Well, OK — who doesn’t appreciate “cuddly” and “close”?

The wife, however, as content as she was with the arrangement, had moments of wondering if she was missing out on something, but not because she believed she was; she was just concerned about what others thought.

To read the rest of this post, go here.

 

The romance and danger of our love stories

Perhaps you grew up loving fairy tales, where the beautiful princess ends up living happily ever after with a handsome prince. Maybe you watch rom-coms where the guy and girl end up together despite impossible odds. Maybe you’re addicted to The Bachelor or The Bachelorette and what happens to the lucky couples. When love stories end predictably, how does that make you feel? How do you feel when they end unpredictably, like last year’s La La Land?

Maybe you’ve never thought much about it. Mandy Len Catron has. The English professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C., loves love stories. Throughout her life, she especially loved the love story of her parents, a meet cute between the new football coach and a cheerleader asked to interview him for the school newspaper. So when they divorced after three decades of marriage, when Catron was 26, she began to look deeper into her own nearly decade-long relationship, which was faltering, and what she thought she knew about love. In 2015, she wrote a Modern Love essay for The New York Times, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This” — one of the most-read of the series — and now has a just-released book, How to Fall in Love With Anyone, part-memoir, part exploration about the love stories that we absorb and perhaps allow to dictate our ideas of what love “looks like.”

As she writes in her charming and engaging book:

For most of my life, I’d conceptualized love as something that happened to me. It isn’t merely the stories we tell about love that encourage this attitude, but the very words themselves. In love, we fall. We are struck, we are crushed. We swoon. We burn with passion. Love makes us crazy or it makes us sick. Our hearts ache and then they break. I wondered if this was how love had to work — or if I could take back some control. Science suggested that I could.

One thing she noticed when her Modern Love story, based on research by psychologist Arthur Aron, went viral was that people were eager to discover a “secret” to finding love:

[W]e prefer the short version of the story. My Modern Love column had become an oversimplified romantic fable suggesting there was an ideal way to experience love. It made love predictable, like a script you could follow.

Even Catron didn’t come to love her current partner until months after they tried Aron’s research themselves, when they’d gotten to know each other better. (As an aside, Catron and her partner used the questions posed in The New I Do to create a relationship contract that, she writes, “gave us a sense of control” as they merged their lives; Thank you, Mandy!)

We do, of course, have a love script of sorts — meet, date, fall in love, live together, marry, buy a house, have kids. It’s an outdated script; nowadays, many couples have kids first, or buy a house first while living together or apart, or never marry, or never have kids. The romantic script isn’t guiding us so well anymore — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is, as Catron beautifully explores in her book, we still buy into it. Our view of love is limited, something that her fellow UBC professor Carrie Jenkins explores in her book, What Love Is and What It Can Be.

To read more, please click here.

 

To stay in love, you need a contract

As a writer, nothing is more satisfying and affirming than when your writing positively impacts another person. Of course, the entire reason for writing The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels was to impact people — to make them think consciously about their romantic decisions. Which is why Mandy Len Catron’s most recent Modern Love essay was so gratifying — the University of British Columbia professor and author of the just-released book How to Fall in Love With Anyone, used our renewable marriage contract when moving in with her romantic partner.

As you can imagine, it got a lot of comments. Many were negative — but I would expect that. Trying something new and different is scary. Nevertheless, that’s what I wanted to address.

The contract reminded some commentors of the Roommate Agreement that Sheldon Cooper, of the popular TV show Big Bang Theory, created with Leonard Hofstadter that detailed their rights and responsibilities as friends and roommates, and that Sheldon attempted to create with his girlfriend, Amy. I never saw the show, but since that episode aired in 2015 and The New I Do was published in 2014, perhaps the show’s writers were inspired by our book as well. No way to know. In any event, the idea of a marriage contract dates back to at least the 1850s and they were always insisted on by the wives (and any woman who has ever lived with a man probably understands why).

Click here to read my responses to a few of the 286 comments her essay gathered that exemplify some of the main reasons people balk at a relationship contract.