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The news certainly seemed disheartening for any woman hoping to have an egalitarian partnership. According to Harvard Business School, which recently released the results of a survey that examined the career paths of 25,000 alumni, the women grads expected that their marriages would be egalitarian. But the men? They seem to have known all along that they would put their careers before their wife’s, and the kids would her responsibility.

Are we back in the 1950s?

Some, like Catherine Rampell at the Washington Post, suggest the men are just being pragmatic:”They spent two years studying how to develop successful careers and businesses, which includes understanding both how real-world companies work and what kind of team (at work, and at home) one needs to thrive financially.”

OK, I can understand that (sort of). But some of those Harvard MBAs surely must be in same-sex partnerships. How do they manage?  same-sex marriage

Better it seems, according to  Deborah A. Widiss, associate law professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. It’s just that we heteros apparently are stuck in a gendered past, sadly.

“It never ceases to amaze me how many people will say to us, ‘So, who’s the woman and who’s the man in your marriage?'” Widiss quotes a gay man in her paper, “Changing the Marriage Equation.”

It’s an odd question to ask a couple but a telling one. It means that even today, when couples marry with the desire to have an equal partnership, we still think of marriage in terms of a woman’s role and a man’s role — that’s why we tend to have “his” and “her” marriages. And for the most part, we not only think that way but act that way, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many articles about working women complaining that their husbands don’t do their part around the house or with the kids. Nor would it be assumed that wives should take the day off work to stay home with a sick child.

These are not conversations often heard in same-sex households, Widiss suggests. Same-sex couples typically do have more equitable partnerships when it comes to household and parenting responsibilities, making them role models for equality-seeking hetero couples.

If gays and lesbians can do that, why can’t heteros?

“More than 30 years after explicit sex-based classifications in family, employment, and benefits law were held to violate the Constitution or statutory prohibitions on discrimination, the vast majority of different-sex couples still divide responsibilities along gendered lines,” she notes. Clearly, we’re unable to mentally free ourselves from the “Mad Men” model of marriage — she cleans, cooks and caretakes, he brings home the paycheck — even if we are physically doing the opposite.

But we’re also dealing with laws that still encourage specialization within marriage into breadwinning and caregiving roles, she says. And, because of that, it could be that same-sex couples may decide to specialize along traditional gender lines when more states allow them to marry. Then we’d all be in the same mess together.

But maybe not, since the majority of same-sex couples tying the knot are women.

Widiss spoke with me about the findings:

Q: It seems almost silly to base laws on how much housework and childcare men do versus women. Why does it matter?

A: Families need someone to take care of children and housework. These days, about 70 percent of married women work outside the home. But studies consistently find that wives still spend much more time than their husbands doing domestic work, while men spend more time at paid jobs. If the marriage ends, judges have to decide how much that domestic work “counts” when dividing up property or determining whether to award alimony. Although in most states, caregiving is a factor that judges are instructed to consider, judges often characterize dropping out of the labor force or opting for a job with fewer hours as an individual “choice.” Judges don’t pay enough attention to the ways in which marriage law still encourages one spouse to take on primary breadwinning responsibility and the other spouse to take on caretaking responsibilities.

Q: Your paper indicates that if more states allow same-sex marriage, it’s just as likely that gays and lesbians may specialize and follow gendered division of labor instead of maintaining their more equal partnerships. Why?

A: At one time, husbands were legally responsible to provide economically for their wives, and wives were legally responsible to provide domestic services to their husbands. Now, even though the law no longer specifies which spouse should stay home, it still rewards married couples who specialize into different roles. For example, under federal tax law, a married couple pays less in total taxes if one spouse works outside the house and the other spouse stays home. They get a “marriage bonus” relative to the amount of taxes they would pay if they were single. By contrast, if each spouse earns about the same amount, they often pay a “marriage penalty” relative to the amount they would pay if they were single. As same-sex couples marry — and especially if the law changes so that their marriages are recognized under federal law — I think you might see them begin to specialize more. I don’t know whether they will. I’m hoping researchers will study that question in the future.

Q: If same-sex couples marry and then follow a more gendered division of labor, you indicate that “dismantling the law and benefits that flow from marriage itself” may be necessary. What might be the potential fallout?

A: I’m not necessarily advocating changing marriage law. I’m just suggesting that we should be more honest about the extent to which law still tends to encourage role division. If we as a society really want men and women to share responsibilities equally, then yes, it might make sense to think about reducing the extent to which marriage laws incentivize specialization. It would be equally important to think about how we could change employment laws and workplace norms so that it would be easier for men and women who want to balance work and family responsibilities to do so.

Q: You note that perhaps we shouldn’t “idealize” marriage as an equal partnership and just accept specialization. But that specialization is what upsets many women and hurts them in the event of a divorce. In what way can divorce laws be tweaked to make a marital breakup fairer for all?

A: Divorce law could be changed to provide better protection for women (or men) who stay home or work fewer hours to take care of domestic responsibilities. In 2002, the American Law Institute, an influential group of lawyers, judges, and law professors, recommended that divorce law be changed to compensate caregivers for a “loss in earning capacity.” There are other ways that property distribution or alimony could be restructured so that men and women’s standard of living after divorce would be more equal. The key is recognizing that there is a disconnect in a legal structure that encourages specialization during marriage but then, upon divorce, often treats such specialization as simply an individual “choice” made by the caretaking spouse.

Q: Marriage encourages specialization, but some studies on cohabitation indicate that while it often is more equal than marriage, women still end up doing more household chores than men. What’s going on?

A: It’s not just marriage that encourages specialization. Gender norms do, too. So even without marriage, women living with male partners may feel pressure to conform to expectations — either internal or external — that they take on a greater share of household work.

Q: It isn’t just women who face gender roles — men do, too. So why do women tend to feel more slighted by them than men?

A: It’s important to consider the pressures men feel to conform with gender roles. In fact, new studies show men feel increasing levels of stress as they try to balance home and work responsibilities. And men legitimately worry that they may be penalized at work if they ask to take a paternity leave or for other flexibility to meet children’s needs. But women may feel more slighted by gender roles because “women’s work” is not as respected as “men’s work.” Our society tends to assume that there’s no great skill involved in taking care of a baby or cleaning a house. People who do caretaking work for pay (not coincidently, an almost entirely female workforce) are usually paid poorly.

 


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We all know the tired stereotype — that older men prefer to marry younger women. Case in point, the newly married George Clooney, 53, and Amal, 36.

But he’s fabulously wealthy and handsome — surely not every man can attract a younger babe. Except, many do. A new Pew study indicates that 20 percent of divorced men who marry again have a wife who is at least 10 years younger, while 18 percent have a wife six to nine years younger. Few have a much older wife. Pew_remarriage

The reverse is not the same: Just 5 percent of divorcees have a hubby 10 or more years younger, and 6 percent have a husband six to nine years their junior.

When Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s marriage exploded a few years (she was 15 years older than he), people said, well, of course — no man is going to stay with a woman as she gets old (although Demi looked pretty good at 48). But the odds may have been stacked against them from the beginning. Marriages in which the woman is much older than her husband often lead to divorce.

Not to say that they’re not happy for a while — certainly Demi and Ashton appeared to be for many years, as well as the eight couples in a 2006 study by Sandra L. Caron and Nichole R. Proulx in which the wives were a decade or more older than their husbands (an admittedly small sample).

Still, the women in the study admitted to a certain insecurity about aging, which is just never going to be a good thing in a relationship. Plus, the couples felt stigmatized by others, especially the wives — and those judgments may even impact a woman’s mortality. Says Sven Drefahl of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research:

“Couples with younger husbands violate social norms and thus suffer from social sanctions. Since marrying a younger husband deviates from what is regarded as normal, these couples could be regarded as outsiders and receive less social support. This could result in a less joyful and more stressful life, reduced health, and finally, increased mortality.”

Yes, but if she could just not worry about what everyone else was thinking, she’d at least have a huge smile on her face when she kicks off!

Judgment aside, marriages in which the wife is older than her husband are more likely to be troubled — and the age difference doesn’t have to be all that big. In fact, couples in which the wife is just five years older are three times more likely to divorce than couples of the same age. Researchers don’t say why, but perhaps it’s for the reasons researchers Caron, a professor of family relations and human sexuality at the University of Maine, and Proulx, a marriage and family therapist, of the 2006 study discovered — society just isn’t ready to accept December-May marriages as easily as it does May-December marriages. Maybe we just can’t shake the image of Mrs. Robinson out of our mind, or maybe it’s because there just aren’t that many of them. Just 5.4 percent of wives are five years older than their hubbies, and only 1.3 percent are 10 years older, but those numbers are rising; in fact they doubled between 1960 and 2007. Still, despite all the Miss Cougar contests, cougar cruises and cougar how-to dating books, more older women seem to be dating or hooking up with younger men than actually marrying them — most likely because the women are divorced and aren’t too interested in saying “I do” all over again.

Although men still skew much younger when looking for love online, most of us tend to marry someone close to our own age in first marriages — according to the Pew study, 80 percent of men and 78 percent of women marry someone within five years of their age.

Still, some research suggests having a much older husband isn’t so bad; those marriages don’t seem to divorce that much. Some studies say if a wife is five or more years younger than her hubby, they’re much more likely to avoid divorce. Others say she needs to be four to six years younger. According to a Canadian study, “Divorce rates are lowest when the husband is two to 10 years older than the wife or when the magnitude of their age difference is extremely large.” And still others say a man should marry a woman about 15 years younger — at least if he wants to make sure his kids survive. All of which should make boomer and senior men very happy indeed.

But perhaps not the boomer women who are looking for love. A Stanford study confirms what they already know: The older a man is when he marries after age 40, the greater the likelihood his wife will be a lot younger — whether he’s rich and educated or not. Men in their 40s tend to marry women about seven years younger, men in their 50s marry women 11 years younger, and men in their 60s marry women 13 years younger.

Still, the optimistic outlook for May-December marriages may be masking the mortality issue; who knows how many might have ended in divorce if hubby hadn’t died first, notes a 2005 government study of United Kingdom marriages since 1963. Death is a sure way to avoid divorce.

Although more research is called for, a preliminary finding of that same U.K. study may offer a ray of hope — there doesn’t appear to be any strong association between age differences and the probability of divorce.

So, perhaps we shouldn’t give up hope on December-May marriages; if Hugh Jackman, 46, and his 59-year-old wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, can last for 18 years — happily, one presumes — so can the rest of us.

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.

 


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Earlier this week, Angelina Jolie said marriage to Brad Pitt has changed her for the better, inspiring her to “be a better wife. I’m going to learn to cook.”

It was a curious thing to say — is being a cook what “good wives” do? Maybe, for Angelina. But I’m not sure it answers the question for the rest of us — what exactly makes a good wife?  Good_wife

Well, people have ideas about that. Thought Catalog recently listed 25 Things Girls Do That Make Guys Realize They’re Wife Material. Sure enough, along with bringing others happiness, being likeable, going with the flow, being the guy’s biggest fan and being low-maintenance, “they can cook.”

I’m not sure I agree with that although I indeed can cook and love to do so. That wasn’t enough to keep my marriage together, so obviously wives need a few more skills than that. (and let’s face it, when it comes to divorce, those desirable wifely attributes often have no monetary worth in court of public sentiment — just ask newly divorced multimillionaire Jamie Cooper-Hohn).

The Telegraph’s Daisy Buchanan, about to become a wife herself, has some thoughts on society’s expectations of wives:

The problem that persists (and my problem with the Thought Catalog piece) is that we place an enormous weight of expectation on women and their behaviour within a marriage — but culturally, that pressure is not forced on men in the same way. We’re still suffering from a hangover of hundreds of years of seeing ourselves as desperate, wannabe wives, hoping to be picked out from the crowd by a choosy potential husband.

Although marriage is a contract between two people, we still cling to the convention in which we wait for someone to ask us to be their wife and then take their name. … Of course, being a good wife shouldn’t be any different from being a good husband. But men aren’t targeted with the same stream of ‘make her marry you!’ articles.

Sadly, she is wrong in believing that “being a good wife shouldn’t be any different than being a good husband”; an overwhelming number of never-married women want a husband who has a steady job (while men say they favor someone who shares their ideas about raising children) and that male-as-provider model most likely perpetuates gendered expectations when it comes to marriage.

When George Clooney proposed to now-wife Amal Alamuddin, some people — and I’m sure some of his former girlfriends — wondered, why her? What does Amal have that the others didn’t? It’s clear the typecast “perpetual bachelor” and purported commitaphobe was neither; he just was waiting for the right woman to commit to. A woman who is wife material.

Again, we are stuck trying to define what that means.

Awhile ago a college senior and a “proud career-driven feminist” wrote an essay about how her peers were questioning if they were marriage material. One friend, an “ambitious girlfriend with a 4.0 GPA,” told her, “I want to be good at domestic tasks. I have this fantasy of being a great wife.”

Domestic tasks? What year are we in?

Mrs. Clooney (yes, Amal took Clooney’s last name) is a top-flight human rights attorney — she may or may not cook and she may or may not know her way around a Swiffer, but somehow I don’t think Clooney married her because of her great domestic tasks. I’m guessing he asked her to marry him because she’s smart, she’s beautiful, she has a kind heart and she has confidence. And, perhaps most important to Clooney, a noted jokester, a sense of humor.

But there are other expectations of being a “good wife” that go beyond our own. Just ask Oprah — despite being smart, beautiful, kind-hearted and confident, she is clear that society’s expectations of being a good wife is not her thing; she’d rather stay a good girlfriend. Which means that perhaps she isn’t good wife material after all. Which means there is no one-size-fits-all definition of what a “good wife” is or does. Or is there?

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!


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Ever since the allegations of sexual abuse by Bill Crosby have been coming fast and furious, I  — and many others — have been thinking about his wife of 50 years, Camille.

We have all seen images of the long-suffering wife standing by her poorly behaved man, from Hillary to Silda to Huma to Dina. And now, once again, it’s Camille’s turn. Bill Cosby, Camille Cosby

I have tried to find the same image of a long-suffering husband standing by his philandering wife as she explains herself or apologizes before the public, but I am hard-pressed to recall a time that happened — are you?

Six of the now 15 sexual-abuse allegations against Bill date to when the comedian’s newfound fame and fortune skyrocketed, offering wealth and a lifestyle that, she admits “changed our lives” and led to Bill’s “selfish” behavior — including an affair that resulted in an extortion attempt by a woman who claimed to be his daughter.

As we watch yet another wronged women stand by her husband’s side, people can’t help but ask, why did she stay?

Camille expressed why in an editorial back in 1997:

“Bill and I were very young when we married; he was 26, I was 19. We had to mature, we had to learn the definition of unselfish love, and we did. When we committed to each other wholeheartedly years ago, our marriage became healthy and solid. Also, we blossomed as individuals. Our marriage encompasses mutual love, respect, trust and communication. Sound relationships must have positive reciprocity; they can’t be one-sided and strong.”

One has to wonder about that “respect” and “trust” thing when one party is cheating on the other. But, OK, it’s what she believes, and it’s clear she came to a place of forgiveness, or maybe takes her vows — for better or for worse — seriously.

As she said in a 2000 interview with Oprah:

“You cleanse yourself of all of that baggage, and you look at each other and determine whether the relationship is worth salvaging, whether you really love each other and want to be together.”

It is one thing to cleanse yourself of baggage when it’s infidelity; it’s quite another when it may be rape. Did she know? Did she know how many times? When did she know? In truth, spouses don’t always know what’s going on with the other. Sometimes they just are incapable of hearing it. And sometimes, as Erin Gloria Ryan writes in Jezebel, spouses chose to believe (it’s kind of the deal we make when we say “I do”):
Maybe Camille Cosby is standing by Bill for a reason entirely different than one considered out here. Maybe she believes him. Not because it’s rational, but because it’s easier to believe the word of a person you know and love than it is to believe the word of a stranger, or 15.
It’s all too easy to imagine ourselves in the shoes of a woman whose husband is cheating and know exactly what we’d do — throw the bastard out! But maybe we wouldn’t. Maybe we’d cleanse ourselves of all of that baggage and determine, yes, the relationship is worth salvaging. And we’d salvage it. Or maybe we’d just chose to believe because we want to.

 

In discussions with newlyweds about commitment and what they will and won’t tolerate in their marriage, none told me that they would stick with their spouse if there was infidelity — except the times that they might.

 

Those who consider all infidelity as abuse might consider Camille an abused woman. But, if that’s true, what are we to make of women like Camille, or others who find their husband’s affair(s) transformational in re-creating their marriage? Psychologist and author Esther Perel has said, “An illicit liaison can be catastrophic, but it can also be liberating, a source of strength, a healing.” I just can’t imagine anyone calling a physically or emotionally abusive marriage “liberating.” Can you?

 

So why do women stand by their man? There’s isn’t a universal “right” or “wrong” answer about; there’s just a right and wrong answer for ourselves. Ultimately, we will have to live with our decision. As uncomfortable as it may have just become for her, Camille is.

 

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!
 

 


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

Except, many of us have decided to replace “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.  remarriage

I’m not sure 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 when you break it down by gender, more women than men say they have no interest in marrying again.

While some may say that’s because men their age aren’t necessarily interested in women their age — and let’s face it, when it comes to marriages that aren’t the first, some 16 percent of the men are 10 years older or more than the little missus), there are a good number of women who just aren’t interested in marrying again.

I’ve already explored why those middle-aged women don’t want to the the knot again, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in having deep, intimate and, yes, sexual relationships with men. We do. It’s just that we acknowledge that marriage may not be the best way to get that.

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? Just a thought.

 

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!


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Say what you will about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” or Jewel and Ty Murray’s “thoughtful and tender undoing,” but if they lived in Oklahoma, they’d be forced to kowtow to legislators who think they know what’s better for couples than the couples themselves.   divorce with kids

As of Nov. 1, Oklahoma’s married couples with children younger than 18 have been required to pay for and complete a marriage education program before they can split.

There’s a movement to make divorce harder in the U.S., and it’s wrong.

To be sure, there are many who believe making divorce harder would save more marriages and provide the children in those unions with stable homes. I have no doubt that the founders and supporters of the Coalition for Divorce Reform, which promotes the Parental Divorce Reduction Act, and the Institute for American Values, which endorses the Second Chances proposal, are sincerely concerned about the number of young children being disrupted by divorce every year. About a million children experience parental divorce each year, although not all are minors — a staggering number. I also don’t doubt that these groups sincerely believe that the required marital education classes and waiting periods would get parents to see the bigger picture of their split and help them reassess their perceived marital grievances.

But people divorce for all sorts of reasons that don’t necessarily fit these groups’ assessment of “unnecessary divorce,” marriages ending because of some vague unhappiness or a lack of commitment, and that fall outside of the few reasons they consider valid — physical abuse, drug or booze addiction, incarceration and abandonment. In some cases, marriages are never salvageable, like when a spouse comes out as gay or a spouse is emotionally abusive. Should a man or woman be forced to reconcile with a serial adulterer, emotional abuser, petty thief, or porn or gambling addict? Not only would such measures prolong suffering for the spouse, but the very children legislators are desperately hoping to protect may be subject to even more parental conflict. What’s the sense in that?

Here’s a Perspective I wrote for KQED. I welcome your thoughts.

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Across the globe, it’s a similar story — fewer people are choosing to marry and more are divorcing. Except, maybe I shouldn’t say people. Maybe I should say women. While it’s true that more men than women aged 30 to 50 say they’re not interested in tying the knot — 27 percent versus 8 percent of women, according to a recent Pew survey — many women seem to be interested in creating a meaningful and productive life whether they have a partner or not. And that includes having kids as solo parents.   women

According to sociologist and author Pepper Schwartz, 53 percent of U.S. women aged 18 an older are single and many may stay that way for good. Why? She suggests that marriage just isn’t a good deal anymore for women, especially now that we have so many options.

When women’s life choices were highly constrained, they had little negotiating power. They had to marry or were seen as damaged. … It’s different now. While most women still want marriage, they don’t want it at just any price. They don’t want it if it scuttles their dreams. … women want to craft a life instead of having it pressed upon them. And that means some of us will be single for a long time, and some of us will be single for life.

And this appears to be true for women all over the world, not just here in the United States.

The divorce rate in Iran has been skyrocketing since 2006, with about 20 percent of marriages  ending in divorce. Why? “There has been a big growth in individualism in Iran, especially among women. Women are more educated and have increased financial empowerment,” according to Hamid Reza Jalaipour, a sociologist at Tehran University. “It used to be that a woman would marry and she would just have to get along. Now if she’s not happy, she’ll separate. It’s not taboo.”

It’s the same in the United Kingdom, where the number of divorces in England and Wales are rising. Again, it’s women who are overwhelmingly asking for a divorce.

Ditto for China, where the divorce rate is about 19 percent, nearly five times the 1979 rate. Divorce, once a dreaded fate for women in China, is now considered almost as a civil right for young women. No surprise that it is the women who are initiating divorce (although a new law may hurt divorcing women, or maybe even keep them from marrying altogether).

And even Saudi Arabia.

Back home, there are more divorced or separated women in the United States than ever before — 15 percent, compared with less than 1 percent in 1920. Here, like elsewhere, women drive divorce, filing more than two-thirds of the divorces.

Are women anti-marriage? Not necessarily, but marriage hasn’t been all that great for women — for many years our husbands could legally beat and rape us (both are still allowed elsewhere in the world), and it wasn’t until the 1960s that we could have credit cards in our own name, serve on a jury or attend an Ivy League university. Once no-fault divorce came along, the rates of suicide, domestic violence and even murder at the hands of their partner for women dropped dramatically. But sadly for many years, marriage was a woman’s only option.

Except times have changed, right? Women are better educated, earn more money and have readily available contraception.  And studies indicate that by waiting to tie the knot until they’re 30 or older, women accumulate more wealth — about $18,152 (nothing to sneeze at). Not so fast. Despite all the declarations of shared breadwinning and caregiving young couples aspire to, when push comes to shove most men say they expect their wives to take on most of the parenting duties so they can focus on their careers.

And the ladies?

Hmm.

So, why are women so unhappy with marriage? As I’ve written before, women tend to be responsible for most of the emotional caregiving and that takes its toll.

But is that it? Maybe not. There are a lot of us who just aren’t eager to look at our own crap. According to a study by psychologist and author Terri Orbuch, research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, 65 percent of divorced individuals blame their former spouse for the problems in their marriage, but here’s the kicker — women are much more likely to blame their former spouse than men are, 80 percent compared with 47 percent. And while 16 percent of men blamed themselves just 4 percent of women do the same. (Although some researchers suggest women invest more energy and resources into maintaining our relationships than men do, and thus might resort to finger-pointing because we believe our partner wasn’t investing as much into it as we did.)

What does that mean? I have no idea. We know from studies that men benefit from marriage — married men tend to be healthier and better off financially than unmarried men— but suffer the most in a divorce. But I have to question whether marriage is good deal or a raw deal for women. 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. Let’s Occupy Marriage!

<a href=”http://polldaddy.com/poll/8440081/”>Why do women seek a divorce?</a></p>

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Despite the belief that marriage is “until death do us part,” the truth is many of us are serial marriers. How many? Well, a recent study indicates that about 30 percent of newlyweds have been married before — almost a third of those tying the knot — and it’s more than 40 percent in places like Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas.

While people in Southern states tend to marry young, thus explaining some of the multiple marrying, there may be more to the stats than just youthful indiscretions. Like infidelity. Considering that infidelity is among the main reasons couples split, I wonder how many of those second (or third or fourth) marriages are an outcome of people touched by cheating. Second marriages

My guess is quite a few, making the news of a public apology by the second wife of Christie Brinkley’s former husband, Peter Cook, of great interest.

Suzanne Shaw married Cook shortly after Brinkley divorced him in 2008, after it was revealed that he’d had a year-long affair with an 18-year-old. At the time, the supermodel warned her about his wandering eyes. She ignored her, chalking Brinkley up as just another crazy ex. Now Shaw’s divorcing him because he allegedly cheated on her, too. And she wished she listened to Brinkley.

In a letter she’s made public, Shaw writes:

“Christie and I have talked recently and I have privately apologized to her, but, given the public nature of their divorce and custody battle, I feel a public apology is also appropriate and deserved. Christie was wrongly vilified as being an embittered ex-wife. I’m deeply sorry for my part in causing Christie any unnecessary pain.”

Let’s face it — being the new spouse of a philanderer is a leap of faith, even if he or she cheated on the former spouse to be with you. Once a cheater always a cheater? Not necessarily, but it certainly makes a would-be spouse pause. Do you risk it? Shaw did and now regrets it.

But given the high rates of infidelity, chances are we will meet and fall in love with a cheater. Deen Kharbouch, estranged wife of rapper Karim “French Montana” Kharbouch, has words for new girlfriend Khloe Kardashian — “be careful.” They’re still an item. Tiger Woods’ former wife Elin Nordegren warned model Yvette Prieto that marrying womanizer Michael Jordan, whom she blames for turning Tiger into a cheater, would be a mistake. Prieto married him anyway. Jesse James’ former mistress Michelle ‘Bombshell’ McGee, whose affair with James broke up his marriage to Sandra Bullock, warned new fiancee Kat von D to stay away. The tattoo artist listened and called off their engagement, but only after she discovered he cheated on her, too.

I’ve often wondered why so many people are willing to risk marrying a known adulterer. At the same time, I know it’s not that simple. People change — I did. But how would any man interested in me know that for a fact? Honestly, he wouldn’t. He would have to watch my actions and listen to my words, and then decide to trust me or not. I can understand why some might be hesitant even though my former husband isn’t publicly or privately warning anyone nor am I.

But should we have listened to the people who have been cheated on, and heard their side of the story? Is it the former spouse’s responsibility to tell a new love the truth? Of course not. I don’t know if a new love would listen to him or her, quite honestly. As for “the truth,” I know that after x-number of years of dating, relationships and marriage, there’s his story, her story and their story, and “the truth” is somewhere in the middle. Former spouses aren’t always as horrible as someone makes him or her out to be.

I have been upfront with every man I’ve been with since that long-ago affair, including my former husband — a second marriage for both of us. He was honest with me, too, and I remembering feeling at the time that our level of honesty and shared bad behavior gave us a certain special something that connected us more than other couples — Yeah, we both cheated, we know the warning signs, we know the damage it does and we don’t need to go there again.

Except he did and I didn’t. Did I make a mistake? Yes and no. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, and so I believed him. But I also ignored warning signs. I own that.

I have friends who cheated on former spouses and haven’t said a peep to their new love interests nor do they plan to — and their partners asked them not to tell them anything. Foolish? I don’t know.

The past is the past and it may or may not inform the future. But talking about monogamy — have we been good at it in the past? Do we willingly choose it or do we just expect it? What’s hard about it? — is a great start, as I advocate in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. And it’s a conversation that should never end.

But listen to a former spouse’s “warning”? I don’t know. What about you?

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!

 

 


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People talk about good divorces and bad divorces, but what most of us consider a bad divorce typically has to do with money or nastiness and manipulations. I’ll agree that those can be pretty ugly, but there are some divorces that are beyond bad divorces, the “who would do that?” divorces, the Mother of All Divorces divorces. Those would be when splitting causes an additional incomprehensible pain to a spouse and the children.  Ready for surgery

For instance, John and Elizabeth Edwards. They separated after 32 years and Elizabeth filed for divorce within days after John admitted, yeah, I did father a baby with Rielle Hunter — at the same time that Elizabeth was battling the incurable cancer that ultimately killed her. How painful is that?

Sen. John McCain’s divorce was no better. His was schtupping a younger babe while wife No. 1, Carol, was barely recuperated from a devastating and disfiguring car accident. Then he dumped her to marry his mistress, now Mrs. Cindy McCain. Nice.

It seems especially callous to cheat on and divorce a partner who’s sick or suffering. And yet, it isn’t all that unusual. Not too long ago some doctors noticed an odd pattern in their oncology practices — too many of their patients, female patients that is, were suddenly getting divorced. A study last year, “Gender Disparity in the Rate of Partner Abandonment in Patients with Serious Medical Illness,” backed their observations.

The odd thing about the aptly named “partner abandonment” is how big a role gender plays in it. Women who are diagnosed with cancer or multiple sclerosis are six times more likely to find themselves separated or divorced shortly after their diagnosis than if they were a man, according to the study.

As if that wasn’t enough, the older the woman, the more likely she was headed for splitsville, resulting, not surprisingly, in some serious impacts on her health and quality of life. Great! And women get called out for initiating divorce more than men; maybe we sense men don’t fully buy into “in sickness … for worse” thing.

What would drive a man to abandon his wife at the time she needed him most? The study’s authors don’t quite answer that — who can really know? – but they cite other studies that indicate men are “less able to undertake a caregiving role and assume the burdens of home and family maintenance compared with women. Thus a woman becomes willing sooner in the marriage to commit to the burdens of having a sick spouse.”

As a twice-married and twice-divorced woman, I know what the researchers are talking about. One of my fantasies is that my partner wouldn’t mind — dare I say enjoy – pampering me just a little when I’m sick as I so willingly do when he’s feeling crappy.

What gives, guys?

Another beyond-bad divorce scenario is when a cheating spouse ends up shacking up with or marrying his or her lover and there are kids involved, as in McCain’s case. I can’t even imagine how to begin that conversation with your kids let alone spin it to be a good thing, especially if they now have to live with the woman or man who helped destroy their family. A few of my friends have been those kids, and the anger and resentment even decades later haven’t totally gone away.

Not that I think explaining why you dumped Mom when she was sick would be any easier.

Then there are the double betrayals — think Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Soon-Yi Previn. Losing your spouse to a good friend — or to your own child — would pretty much suck.

All of which makes me so thankful that my divorce from my kids’ dad fell into the “good” category. Sure, there are many times that we’ve been frustrated and disappointed with each other, but his betrayal was just the good ol’ fashioned kind — an affair that eventually ended.

But in some weird stroke of luck, I ended up following Nora Ephron’s sage advice: Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.

How about you?

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!

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It’s hardly new news, that the couples that are divorcing the most in the United States right now are boomers. We’ve been talking about that since Al and Tipper Gore decided to split in 2010 after 40 years together (although they’re not yet divorced, another trend — the undivorced). But a recent study once again pointed out that the divorce rate for Americans over the age of 50 has doubled since 1990, and more than doubled for those over the age of 65. Most of today’s divorces — 55 percent — are happening to couples who’d been married for more than 20 years.

What does that mean for us, the women and men of a certain age? 2011-04-06-Fotolia_784659_XS.jpg

A number of us have gone on to have loving partner-ships, which is great. But it’s also left many in dire financial straits, according to the study. And it has other ramifications, such as who will take care of all those divorced boomers? As one researcher noted:

“Now that they no longer have a spouse, divorced older people have less social support. Relationships with their older children could be compromised as a result of the divorce. As they age and experience health declines, who’s going to take care of them? Especially if they’re not able to afford the level of care that others with more economic resources have?”

It’s a complicated situation, and one that I’ve thought a lot about since my parents got ill and then passed away. But my parents weren’t divorced; they were married for 61 years, although a few bad things happened that led them to live apart for about half a year and that had me flying back and forth every few weeks to Cleveland, where my mother had heart surgery and then suddenly died, and to Florida, where my dad lived in a nursing home not far from their condo.

As complicated as that may have been, it may not be as complicated as the situation I may face as I age. Despite the 70 percent of adult children polled by in-home care provider Senior Helpers who said they’d happily have Mom move in with them, daughters were more likely than sons to do so, as were children living in the Northeast and Southeast. I have two sons and I live in California. Bummer for me. And I have another, bigger, strike against me — I’m divorced, so it’s likely I may be fending for myself during my golden years.

Children of divorce tend to be less involved in the daily care of aging parents, according to a study by Temple University researcher and gerontologist Adam Davey. Not necessarily because they don’t want to but because they often live far away from each other. Except I wasn’t a product of divorce and yet I still lived on opposite coasts from my parents for decades, and I don’t think that’s all that unusual nowadays.

Others often struggle with having to care for an aging estranged parent and perhaps aging stepparents with whom they may or may not have been close, says Elizabeth Marquardt, director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values and author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. I have certainly seen that.

With low birth rates, high divorce rates, a burgeoning population of single mothers — including single mothers by choice — and about 60 percent of second marriages ending in divorces, “our families, our nation will soon confront a never-before-seen shift in how we die and whom we’ll have around us when we do,” Marquardt says. “And the likelihood is that on every level, we will be dying much more alone.”

For boomers already caregiving divorced parents, stepparents and sometimes multiple stepparents, it’s making “an already complex and emotional situation” even more problematic, says Suzanne Mintz, president of the National Family Caregivers Association. As When the Time Comes: Families With Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions author Paula Span writes in “Years Later, Divorce Complicates Caregiving” on the New York Times’ The New Old Age blog:

Years after parents split, their children may wind up helping to sustain two households instead of one, and those households can be across town or across the country. Further, unmarried women (whether single, widowed or divorced) face significantly higher poverty rates in middle and old age, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that AARP published last year.

I can understand why some might not want to care for an estranged parent, but honestly there are no guarantees that children from intact families are going to care for their aging parents, either. There are plenty of people who have such troubled relationships with their still-married parents that just thinking about calling them — let alone caring for them one day — is enough to send them to a shrink. And it isn’t just divorce that’s complicating things; there are still many under- or unemployed boomers who may not be able to help their aging parents — or themselves.

Of course, the truth is that divorced, widowed, never-married, married, parents or not, close or far, we all die alone, or so psychiatrist Irvin Yalom says in his book Love’s Executioner:

“Though we try hard to go through life two by two or in groups, there are times, especially when death approaches, that the truth that we are born alone and must die alone, breaks through with chilling clarity. I have heard many dying patients remark that the most awful thing about dying is that it must be done alone. Yet, even at the point of death, the willingness of another to be fully present may penetrate the isolation.”

 Who is that other “fully present” person? Yalom doesn’t say. It could be anyone.

If you’re lucky, maybe a new partner. Or your child.

Photo © Przemyslaw Koroza/Fotolia.com

 


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