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.

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.

Redefining love and marriage in the 21st century

Valentine’s Day is upon us, and while many still struggle with the perfect way to celebrate the day, most will follow some sort of tradition — roses, chocolates, a fancy dinner out, jewelry, lingerie (and perhaps some handcuffs, given this weekend’s opening of the much-awaited film Fifty Shades of Grey). tnid_flowchart_val

Despite that, there are some major shifts afoot in the way we love, partner, become parents and indulge our sexual passions. Given that, here’s what we predict, based on current trends and research, love and marriage will look like in the years ahead.

Experiments in non-monogamy

Monogamy has long been assumed to be the default if you’re in a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, few have questioned that — until recently. More Millennials are exploring, or at least interested in exploring, the idea of ethical non-monogamy.

Take Chris Messina, the 30-something entrepreneur who brought the concept of hashtags to Twitter. He declared that he is in a monogamish relationship, a term coined by sex columnist and author Dan Savage to define romantic partnerships that are mostly monogamous, but that can openly accommodate sexual relationships outside the partnership. He certainly isn’t the only one who is questioning monogamy’s stronghold, but he identifies the reality for young people navigating today’s technology-driven world:

We’re now living in a period of great (though unequally distributed) abundance where our basic needs are sufficiently met, and reproduction is a choice. As a result, the reasons to be with a single mate for life are less urgent. And with the advent of connected mobile devices and the internet, we’ve entered into the era I’ve dubbed Big Dating. Big Dating unbundles monogamy and sex. … But fear not: just because a viable alternative to “happily ever after” is in ascendancy doesn’t mean monogamy is irrelevant. To the contrary, it just means that there’s now more than one option for building meaningful and satisfying relationships.

They are also taking a new look at infidelity. While in days past many of us might assume infidelity is a ticket straight to divorce court, soon-to-be-wed couples we spoke with said they wouldn’t necessarily jump ship. In fact, one study found that half of the newlywed women surveyed said they expected infidelity would be part of their marriage while other studies found that a good percentage of newlyweds under the age of 35 have already had affairs.

All of which means sexual fidelity may not be as essential to a successful marriage as it was in the past.

 Co-parenting without love

First comes love, then come marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage, the old song went. But not for Millennials; 52 percent say being a good parent is “one of the most important things” in life while a mere 30 percent say the same about having a successful marriage, according to a recent Pew study.

Fertility clinics are full of 30- and 40-something professional single women who are freezing their eggs as an insurance policy while they weigh the possibilities of becoming choice mothers, as Jillian Dunham detailed recently. That may skew younger as companies like Google and Facebook helping to pay for the costs of egg freezing for their female employees, many of whom are young.

While the conversation lately has been about how many socioeconomically disadvantaged women are having children outside of marriage as well as the rise in choice motherhood, don’t be surprised if we start talking instead about how more young couples are finding that it’s a much better deal — and a heck of a lot easier — to find someone who’ll be a good person to co-parent with than it is finding a soul mate.

Websites like Modamily.com and Coparents.com, which help match men who are interested in being dads with women who are interested In being moms, are making it easier to enable couples, romantic or not, to come together for one purpose — have kids and co-parent. It’s a model that’s worked well for many years for same-sex couples, but is now also becoming attractive to heteros. As one child psychologist noted, “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. Also, a child conceived in a co-parenting scenario has access to two loving parents, who have made a conscious effort to conceive this child and may be more financially ready.”

For a generation that values good parenting, non-romantic co-parenting may offer their kids the stability they need to thrive.

Multiple partnering

Forget marriage where “until death do us part” is the marker of its success. Many of us aren’t marrying that way, according to a recent Pew study that found that 40 percent of newlyweds in 2013 had already tied the knot before. It’s clear we aren’t living up to that ideal, if forever actually was an ideal.

Millennials are open to short-term marriages, or “beta marriages,” after which their union could be formalized or dissolved without a lot of drama or expense. It’s a step above living together because, let’s face it, the government gives married couples about 1,000 perks. Beyond that, people don’t know what to make of people who cohabit while we all understand what it means to be a wife and a husband. Cohabiting couples just don’t get treated the same, nor do they see themselves as the same as married couples.

As Helen Fisher notes, that’s how we used to do it: in hunting-gathering societies, men and women paired two or three times in their short lives. “Across prehistory, serial pairing was probably the norm — as it is becoming once again,” she says. Given that we are living longer than ever before, with some predicting that we may live to 150 years or more, multiple partnerships are almost a given, especially since more than half of Millennial men and women believe a marriage can be successful even if it doesn’t last forever.

But don’t worry — despite all these changes, you can still celebrate Valentine’s Day the traditional way.

Want to win a free copy of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels? Seal Press is running a contest on Goodreads through Feb. 23. Enter here and good luck! You can also download an eBook  for just $1.99 though March 15.

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

 

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?

What marriage offers that living together doesn’t

Family-leaving-house

For the first time in literally thousands of years, marriage in our Western culture has viable, socially acceptable, competition while the pressures (and necessitation) of marriage have diminished greatly.

In the past 50 years, the marriage rate in the U.S. has fallen dramatically. In 2008, a mere 26% (one quarter) of people in their 20’s were married as compared to 68% (two thirds) in 1960.

We have not stopped coupling in our culture (although staying single is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice for younger adults). Instead, increasing numbers of up-and-comers have rejected tradition not legalizing their unions; even when they go on to have children.

Having lived with serious boyfriends at different points in their lives, Susan and Vicki understand this choice and believe in many ways, it makes sense. There are things you learn about togetherness in general and your partner in particular that you might not learn any other way. There is also a stronger sense of commitment (albeit unspoken in most cases) in a relationship when you live together.

What’s the advantage to shacking up over marriage? You can have a lovely relationship, be very committed in the moment, and yet, if or when you break up, you can simply go your separate ways back out into your single worlds. It’s certainly easier and cleaner to split when you don’t have all the legalities to contend with: Maybe just a few dishes, airline points or pieces of furniture to split, but nothing small claims court can’t handle.

But here’s the rub: Big problems emerge when couples make other kinds of long term commitments that do bind them legally—like buying property together or worse, having children together—without having protections in place. As outdated as marriage can be, one thing it does do is provide important protections to both parties if a breakup occurs.

No one knows that better than the one who got the raw end of a real estate deal (with no recourse) or the one who got booted out on the street with a 2-year-old and a 5-month-old.  While there are laws that protect children in those situations, there are not the same protections for partners as there are for spouses.

As the pendulum swings toward a less structured paradigm, we’ll likely start seeing and hearing more about this kind of fallout. And it won’t be pretty.

Why can’t we have more options than risking so much by coupling but avoiding marriage or opting for security by marrying someone we may not want to be with forever? It’s not as if it’s never been done before.

The Romans had three different levels of marriage: Confarreatio, the most formal option had more religious overtones; Coemptio, was a less formal and more business-like union; and Usus, was an informal marriage that occurred by default when a couple lived together for more than a year. (Confarreatio and Coemptio required ceremonies but Usus did not have a marriage ceremony).

Throughout history, people have married for all kinds of reasons that had nothing to do with love—primarily for business and monetary gain, for political gain and to procreate. Love was even seen as an impractical emotion in these relationships. The Greeks, seeing the insanity caused by those in love, coined the phrase “lovesick.” Indeed, some cultures even described love as dangerous when it came to setting up stable family structures.

Having spent the past two years (and more) researching the subject of marriage for our book, we can tell you that informal changes are actually happening to the institution behind closed doors.

Unbeknownst to family, friends, and clergy, young couples tying the knot are agreeing to themselves the conditions they want to see in place. Ryan and Lisa is one such example: These 30-somethings are marrying with a purpose and an end date (rather than out of love “because it’s what you do.”). They agreed to have children together but they also agreed that their marriage would end when the kids are out of the house (the option to stay married was there, but not the expectation).

At the other end of the age spectrum, unapologetic third-time marriers (many of whom are Baby Boomers) are stating unequivocally that they want only the best parts of marriage. How are they doing this? Many are vehement about maintaining their autonomy. Some are choosing to live in separate houses, others are asking for open marriages, and still others are quite frank about needing practical things like someone to grow old with, someone with insurance benefits or someone who has financial security.

Far from breaking from traditional marriage, these seeming rebels are reverting back to ways of old. Yet, because they fear being judged, many of these couples keep these arrangements secret. But why? Are they really doing anything wrong? Are these couples harming themselves? Are they harming anyone else? Are they taking anything away from anyone?

If you think about it, marriages based on love often have the most fallout because love is fragile. Love can easily turn to dashed expectations (especially since expectations are so much higher for lovers than they are for friends), jealousy, betrayal and even hatred. These are the things that crimes of passion are borne out of.

Now, this is not to say that love has absolutely no place in marriage, but perhaps love shouldn’t be in the number one spot. Perhaps we should rethink purpose-driven marriages rather than emotion-driven ones. Perhaps we should give individual couples the right to pick and choose aspects of relationship that they want rather than assuming that monogamy and forever are right for everyone. As things stand now, those who don’t play by the current rules are told they are doing something wrong, or they are looked at as odd, damaged or unlucky.

Whether you agree with this article or not, we hope this topic will get you talking with others about the shame-based all-or-nothing paradigm we have now.

We received a terrific compliment recently from a TV talk-show producer. He said that before he read the book, he was against the concept. He fully expected to disagree with us. But, when he read the book, he realized that what we said made good sense and he thanked us for writing it.

If you’d like to open your mind and read more about these ideas, pick up a copy of The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. If you know someone who’s just about to get married or re-married, do them a favor and get them a copy of The New I Do. And, finally, if you or someone you know is considering ending his or her marriage, tell him or her to read this book first. There may be a creative solution to the marriage’s problem in its pages.

 

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.