Beyonce and Kanye are not making marriage ‘cool’

No one should ever look to celebs as marital models — even long-term couples like Jeff Bridges and Kevin BaconBeyonce-marriage-lemonade

So it was interesting to discover that Beyoncé Knowles and Kanye West are evidently making marriage “cool” again, at least according to a recent article in the Atlantic. Except marriage has never been “cool” or uncool,” although marriage has traditionally been pretty uncool for women. And if there ever was a time when marriage might have been considered “cool,”  it would have to be when the Supreme Court ruled last year that same-sex couples had the same right to marry as anyone else. Love is love, people. That’s cool!

But the article states that the latest musical creations of Beyoncé and Kanye are revealing “an unexpectedly complicated picture of imperfect yet committed monogamy” and giving “voice to the struggle of reconciling marriage with cultural forces and personal urges at odds with it — forces and urges both stars’ careers have until now often exemplified.”

It’s great that they’re talking opening about the struggles of monogamy. It is a struggle for many people. We should be talking about it.

Beyoncé’s marriage to to Jay Z (Shawn Carter) has been plagued with rumors of infidelity while Kanye has long touted a hyper-masculinity and sexual prowess that wouldn’t quite fit into most happily-ever-after scenarios, even to sex tape-queen Kim Kardashian.

Read the rest of the article here.

If you have love, do you need commitment, too?

Recently there were two stories that addressed the “happily-ever-after” version of marriage many of us expect, or at least want to believe.

Actress Drew Barrymore and her third husband, art consultant Will Kopelman, are divorcing after two children and three years of marriage. At the same time, a Maine couple were being honored for their 77-year marriage and, as nursing home residents, for “their achievements and contributions to the community” until the wife passed away last month.

According to the vice president and director of communications for the Maine Health Care Association: “It was pretty obvious that in everything they were a team. Who’s married that long now? I mean, really. That was really impressive.”

Dos commitment matter?It’s only later in the article that we learn why they might have lasted that long — the wife’s “tolerance for the things (her husband) did” was the secret to their long marriage, which was not without its struggles: “He was very headstrong. If there was something he wanted to do, he was going to do it.”

Hmm, should we actually celebrate that?

When people are asked why they want to get married, an overwhelming number (88 percent) say love is a “very important” reason to get married. A close second is making a lifelong commitment (81 percent).

Yet, we are often fuzzy on defining commitment — a number of people say commitment is very important in their marriage yet if their spouse has an affair, well, bye-bye commitment and hello divorce. Clearly, commitment will only go so far.

Still, society tends to emphasize how important commitment is in marriage and if someone divorces, especially for seemingly “trivial” issues, his or her character often comes into doubt. Thus, commitment takes on a moral value: the more committed you are, the more you love your spouse.

But is that true?

Love should be enough

Anca Gheaus, a philosophy professor whose work I’ve come to admire, questions those assumptions. In fact, she questions if love shouldn’t matter more than commitment in a marriage.

There are two types of commitment, she notes — the promises and the behaviors, and attitudinal. Marriage has both; it’s a contract, with spouses-to-be promising each other certain things over the course of the marriage as well as the daily negotiations that build trust, but it also indicates that spouses think about “each other and their relationship as central to their idea of a good life, and, in least in love-based marriages, to their identity.”

But, she questions, why is it important for people to commit to other people and a relationship just because it’s part of how they see themselves and their life?

“It may be true that most of the things that give meaning to people’s lives are those to which they are usually committed. But commitment does not seem to be necessary for meaning; being engaged with people and activities about which one cares is enough.”

Is commitment, then, really important in a marriage? True, commitment may keep spouses from splitting if more tempting partners or activities that would take time and energy away from the relationship suddenly appear. But, she notes, a more likely reason commitment matters is because it’s hard to live with someone else day in and day out, and commitment keeps a couple going and working toward a life plan together even when things are tough and they may not want to.

Does that mean we really need commitment? With all due respect to the Beatles, wouldn’t all we need is love? If someone loved us, wouldn’t he or she be kind to us and do nice things for us and hang around because of that love? And wouldn’t we do the same?

“As long as love, understood minimally as the inclination to seek another’s companionship and advance her well-being, exists, commitment is not necessary. One need not be committed to one’s beloved in order to suspend any cost-benefit analysis of the relationship … the appearance of more desirable partners will not be a reason to leave the marriage if one loves one’s spouse. … A world where the goods of marriage were achieved without commitment, out of love alone, would therefore be a better world; marital commitment seems to be a second-best solution to securing the goods of marriage.”

Of course, love is fragile and can disappear, too; that’s in part why spouses commit to each other — to kind of “lock in” some future love. But, is that what we really want — someone to be with us out of commitment than out of a deliberate decision to be with us because they love us? Does it really build character to keep staying with someone we no longer love? Love may be a better way to be with someone because “love is a direct reaction to the reality of the beloved” and is in the moment and has nothing to do with the promise you made three, 10 or 77 years ago to stick together “until death.”

Again, this speaks to the beauty of a renewable marital contract, in which spouses would have to react to “the reality of the beloved” every so often and decide — are we still in because we want to be here or not? Are we loving each other in the way we want to be loved?

Why stay together?

Barrymore and Kopelman evidently are no longer in love. Would commitment be reason enough for them to stay together? “Well, they have young kids,” you might be thinking, “and they should stick it out for them.” But, does their romantic and sexual relationship have anything at all to do with their ability to parent their children? No. If anything we’ve seen how love and sex — or the lack thereof — make spouses miserable.

If commitment matters at all, it should be the commitment to the children, not necessarily to each other. So they could transform their marriage into a parenting marriage until their daughters Olive, 3, and Frankie, 23 months, become 18 since they’ve acknowledged that the girls will bind them together forever. And that is exactly what binds a couple — kids, more than a desire to “lock in” a future together and much more than love.

Does their decision to split make them any better or worse than the Maine couple who stayed together for 77 years — seemingly at the expense of the wife’s self-esteem and perhaps happiness? Yet, that marriage is being celebrated for longevity, whether love was still present or not, while Barrymore is seen as a failure because this is her third marriage.

Demanding commitment in a marriage is basically saying we know our partner may stop loving us at some point but we still want him or her to hang around forever. Or, we may stop loving our partner — now what?

Want to learn how to create a marriage based on your values and goals? Order The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels on Amazon, and  follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

How Maria Bello can help you avoid Divorce Month

It’s January — known among attorneys as Divorce Month because more people file for divorce this month than any other month.

Few people get upset if there are no children involved in a marital breakup, but everyone — friends, family and even people who seemingly have no business in what’s basically a private decision — pays attention if a couple has young children.

Is there an alternative to divorce?

For some, yes, and actress Maria Bello is leading the way.

In her Modern Love essay in 2013 and her book, Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning The Labels We Give Ourselves, which came out in 2015, Bello explores the many labels we place upon ourselves and each other and what we consider a partner. Maria_Bello

Two years ago, Bello began a romantic, sexual relationship with a longtime family friend, Clare, and ended her romantic, sexual relationship with Dan, the father of her son Jackson. She questions, why do we consider the person we have sex with as the most important partner in our life? And if we stop having sex with that person, but still remain married or in a relationship with him or her, does that change anything — even the ability to parent?

She writes:

It’s hard for me even to define the term “partner.” For five years I considered my partner to be a friend then in his 70s, John Calley, with whom I talked daily. He was the one who picked me up each time I had a breakdown about another failed romance. Because we were platonic, did that make him any less of a partner? … Can my primary partner be my sister or child or best friend, or does it have to be someone I am having sex with? I have two friends who are sisters who have lived together for 15 years and raised a daughter. Are they not partners because they don’t have sex? And many married couples I know haven’t had sex for years. Are they any less partners?

Those are interesting questions to ask, questions we probably don’t ask ourselves.

She, Jackson, Dan and Clare spend a lot of time together in what she calls their “modern family” — it certainly doesn’t look like a nuclear family, an image we still want to cling to even though those families barely exist nowadays. She has what The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels would call a parenting marriage (although they’re not technically married); Bello is connected to Dan because they are parents to Jackson, now 14, and that will never change — parenthood connects couples forever, whether they are married or not.

As any divorced co-parenting couple will tell you, it’s challenging. She says:

(I)t’s so complicated for a family to shift around. And you know, the truth is, life is fluid. Relationships are fluid. They are not static. And as much as we want to hold onto an idea of what they’re supposed to be, people grow and change and often in different directions. And then what do we do with that? Some people just throw out the love, and some people can make it work. … And I’m not saying it’s easy for us, you know? Some days, like, we can’t stand each other — all of us, and then some days, it’s different. But we communicate as much as we can. We talk about it. It’s certainly not easy, but the only other option is throwing out what we have. And what we have is something very special.

Her comment about throwing out the love reminds Vicki of the conversation she had with San Francisco Bay Area therapist Valerie Tate, whose uncoupling ceremony with her husband, Clark, before their son and loved ones was featured on ABC’s Nightline. Rather than throw out what they had — a rich history that once included romantic love for each other — they shifted the nature of the relationship and what they were fighting for; instead of struggling to maintain their intimate relationship, they just focus on raising their child together.

Look at how most of us end romantic relationships — with anger, hurt, accusations, resentments, vengeful thoughts and more days than not when people “can’t stand each other.”And that is often how we divorce as well, with kids stuck miserably in the middle. We know from studies that it’s conflict, not divorce per se, that hurts children. What can we do that lessens that conflict (besides conscious uncoupling)?

Would it be better to not throw away what you already have with the parent of your child, accept that “people grow and change and often in different directions,” and challenge yourself to do things differently? Would you still value the father or mother of your child as a parenting partner even if you were not having sex with him or her?

It’s a new year, when many people make resolutions to be better or do things differently. If you’re a parent and have been contemplating divorce, it’s a good time to consider following Maria Bello’s lead.

Want to have a parenting marriage? Learn how by ordering The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels on Amazon, and, while you’re at it, follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

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?

George Clooney and the pressure to be married

If you follow celebrity news, you know the biggest thing to happen this week was the announcement that People magazine’s two-time Sexiest Man Alive George Clooney is engaged. It shouldn’t be such a big deal — just another celeb tying the knot, right? Except that Clooney has resisted the societal pressure to get hitched — again — after two decades of bachelorhood.   george-clooney-engagement-ring-photo-amal-alamuddin-engaged__oPt

Not to say that he hasn’t suffered for it; Clooney has had to keep defending his unmarried  state (as if it were a crime) and battling the anti-marriage bachelor image that has been thrust upon him. All of which makes us wonder what is it with this incredible societal pressure that makes an unmarried person have to defend his or her decision to be unmarried?

Do we have an unhealthy obsession with marriage?

Perhaps. Bella DePaulo, author of numerous books on the single life, calls it matrimania.

Clooney keeps reminding people that he isn’t a commitaphobe — he was married for to actress Talia Balsam from 1989 to 1993 after all  (not really long, but still) — and although he has had numerous girlfriends since then, he has been committed to each and every one of them (as are most of us serial monogamists):

People forget that I was married. I love that, ‘Will he get married?’ I don’t talk about it because I don’t think about it. I don’t ever question other peoples’ versions of how they live their lives or what they do.

Nevertheless, that will not stop the media from putting his photo on the cover with the headline, “At last!” — just like poor Jennifer Aniston has had to endure ever since she and former hubby Brad Pitt split.

It’s the “At last!” that’s problematic:

At last! s/he’s found love!

At last! s/he’s engaged!

At last! s/he’s married!

At last! she’s pregnant!

At last? Isn’t it funny — or perhaps odd or sad — that in 2014, when people can live together, have children without being married (or even without having a partner), or be part of any romantic arrangement they want, many still feel uneasy with those who remain unmarried for any length of time? It’s as if we are all blindly following some sort of script for romantic love and any deviation from it causes angst.

It also perpetuates gendered stereotypes. Just look at how the media is portraying Clooney and his fiancee, Amal Alamuddin — she “tamed,” “hooked” and “tied Clooney down,” because she had a secret — she “played hard to get.”

Excuse me, what year are we in?

OK, we get that the spotlight is on celebrities — we are a celeb-driven culture, for better or worse. But there’s a trickle-down effect, and the pressure to marry hits us whether we’re prepared for it or not. So, it’s a good idea to be thinking about it … and hopefully challenge it.

  • What kind of pressures have you felt to couple up or tie the knot?
  • Have you been as successful as Clooney has been in ignoring it until the right person came along and made you feel differently about marrying?
  • What gendered stereotypes have you internalized?
  • Do you have “At last!” moments?