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It’s been a monumental week. If you have one of the masses who welcomed allowing same-sex couples to marry, then the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday was a blessed decision. Coming right before Pride celebrations across the country, it made the yearly event even that much more proud and colorful.  happily unmarried

So it was hard for heteros who welcomed our LGBTQ friends and family into this new era of marriage equality to even think about raining on their long-awaited and well-deserved parade. But as we read Justice Anthony Kennedy’s writings, it was equally hard for some of us — the unmarried — to ignore the thick lump that grew in our throats. According to Kennedy:

“No union is more profound than marriage for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. … Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness.”

Whoa. Where do we even begin with that?

It once again speaks to the incredible matrimania — a great word coined by social psychologist, author and tireless singles advocate Bella DePaulo — that’s prevalent in this country. And it also speaks to what society tends to think about the unmarried — we’re somewhat less than. Unmarried because you’re divorced? You have issues and don’t know what commitment means. Unmarried because you haven’t found your “soul mate”? You’re too picky,  damaged, high-maintenance or needy, or you’re too obsessed with FOMO (fear of missing out), or you were too selfish focusing on your own needs and career. The only unmarrieds who seem to escape much of society’s wrath are the widowed, but even they are not above judgment — “It’s been two years; shouldn’t she move on already?” “Well, he sure didn’t wait to partner again; his poor wife’s body is still warm!”

But the worrisome part of Kennedy’s wording is the belief that those who are unmarried, by choice or chance, don’t have much going on — we’re just “condemned to live in loneliness.” Never mind that we — and that includes me — have full lives that involve family, friends, neighbors and community, and that involve activities, passions, sex and love. Aren’t we done seeing singles as people to be pitied?

Evidently not.

Just as disturbing is Kennedy’s lofty version of marriage. While marriage may — may — hold the promise of “the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” it often falls woefully short, especially in fidelity (Ashley Madison anyone?) and, let’s face it, even love. Given the distressing comments by people who are in frustratingly sexless marriages, many marriages may indeed be less about love than sacrifice — sacrifice of one’s sexual needs. I don’t think that’s what Kennedy meant but still …

And then, despite however well-meaning he may be, Kennedy slams single parenthood:

“Marriage also affords the permanency and stability important to children’s best interests … Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life.”

Yes, recognition. That’s huge. And while marriage often offers “stability and predictability,” it most certainly does not guarantee that children within those unions will have the kind of environment that is indeed in their best interests. Many kids are raised in emotionally, physically or verbally abusive households, and let’s not forget that numerous studies indicate that kids who grow up in a high-conflict family suffer as much as those whose parents are divorced, and that they do often better if their parents split.

But being a single mom is no bed of roses either — 69 percent say single moms are bad for society (no word on how bad single dads are despite the rise in single fatherhood, but don’t hold your breath).

And what about kids being raised in unmarried but happily cohabiting partnerships, like Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson? They are very clear, as is Goldie Hawn, who has been living with Kurt Russell for 32 years and raised four children together — it’s intention, not marriage per se. Kids don’t need their parents to love each other, nor do they need their parents to be married.

Rebecca Traister wrote an insightful article in New York magazine’s The Cut in response to Kennedy’s writings, with the unfortunate headline Marriage Equality is Also a Win for Single People, which clearly it is not. While much of what she says is true, it is not same-sex couples who have turned traditional marriage on its head. As sociologist Stephanie Coontz beautifully explains, heteros have. In fact, same-sex spouses may get sucked into the specialization that marital laws tend to encourage. And while she writes that, it’s revolutionary to be “fighting for marriage to be about love and companionship — and not about a strictly gendered economic or social power construct,” she misses the point that same-sex couples already had love and companionship — what they wanted, and needed, were the legal and financial perks and protections marriage grants them.

It’s true when she says the numerous social movements have allowed us to “live these full, varied lives without being anyone’s wife or husband.” But, it isn’t about that; we’ve had freedom since the women’s movement.

What the unmarried don’t have, however, are the legal and financial perks and protections married couples, hetero and now same-sex, get — even if we are rising kids, too, or caring for elderly parents or a disabled sibling or lover (and the best person to follow and read on this is Bella DePaulo).

Is that right?

Interested in creating a specific kind of 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.

(polls)

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While the Supreme Court and Americans debate whether marriage for same-sex couples is OK, two studies on same-sex couples came out recently that caught my eye and should catch yours, too. Many people are worried that marriage between same-sex couples will change marriage and these new studies indicate, yes, it may — for the better for everyone.  LGBT egalitarian

The first looks at what cohabitation and marriage mean to gays and lesbians. Denied marriage for so long, same-sex couples tend to view cohabitation through a different lens than heteros. Few cohabiting heteros live together for the long haul — most break up or marry in about five years, with many seeing it as a cost-saving measure (one apartment is cheaper than two) more than a statement of their commitment to each other. For same-sex couples, though, living together “symbolizes and solidifies their commitment to their relationship,” according to the study.

The commitment already exists; living together means something.

But, the more interesting part of the study was the reasons why same-sex couples say they want to marry, and many of them do. The vast majority —  91 percent — cited legal benefits and financial protections. This is a radically different reason than heteros give for tying the knot; they overwhelmingly say love is the reason to wed (93 percent). Coming right after that is lifelong commitment (87 percent), while same-sex couples say they already feel committed, the study indicates. It isn’t until all that romantic stuff is addressed that heteros admit, at reason No. 5, that yeah, there are some financial benefits, too.

Clearly, same-sex couples understand the importance of marriage’s legal benefits and financial protections much more than heteros do. Why?

Maybe some heteros do. But, let’s face it —  if a straight person, let’s say a woman, said she was tying the knot for legal or financial reasons, well, wouldn’t most people call her a gold-digger? The truth, however, is that many heteros do marry for legal and financial reasons — we just don’t like talking about it as it seems to detract from the “sanctity” of marriage. Uh-huh.

The other study is on how same-sex couples divvy up the child care. Unlike different-sex couples, it’s more equally shared by about 74 percent of gay couples versus 38 percent of straight couples. They also more equally shared the responsibility of caring for a sick child, 62 percent versus 32 percent for straight couples.

Many hetero women want that kind of an egalitarian union, and may even have it when they’re newlyweds. But once a baby comes long, hetero couples slide back into gendered patterns. Just as important, same-sex couples were more satisfied with how chores and child care were divvied up than were hetero women. Why? Because — and this is so simple as to be mind-blowing — they talked about it.

Yeah, that’s it. They just, you know, talked about it, and continue to talk about it.

How is this somehow escaping the conversations of hetero couples?

Well, in part because women bite their tongue. According to the survey, 20 percent of coupled hetero women said they hadn’t talked about how to divide chores, but wish they had. At the same time, 15 percent of  women in same-sex couples had those conversations. According to study author Ken Matos:

“Perhaps because they can’t default to gender, people in same-sex couples are in more of a position to have these conversations. That’s probably the biggest takeaway of the survey: how important it is to talk and say what you want, rather than stay silent, not wanting to start a fight, making assumptions, and then letting things fester.”

Silence, not wanting to start a fight, assumptions, festering issues — are these just women things? No, but society still tends to dump chores and child care into a woman’s domain, and women are particularly good at what Divorce Court judge Lynn Toler calls “The False OK”:

“I think a lot of women tell the very same lie for years on end. They say ‘okay’ when they don’t mean it. They tell their husbands, ‘everything’s fine,’ even when it’s not. ‘Keeping the peace’ is what they call it. They are, they tell me, getting through the day. It is all about the argument they simply do not want to have. … I think there is a whole group of women out there who don’t do well with conflict. “

Same-sex couples don’t deal with those gendered expectations. As writer Andrew Solomon says of his arrangement with his partner, “If there’s one thing same-sex parents could teach is that it’s not that one of us is ‘really’ the mom and one is ‘really’ the Dad. Those are irrelevant concepts. We’re just both in this together.”

Repeat after me — “We’re just both in this together.”

Will this change once more same-sex couples tie the knot? Maybe, or at least that’s what Deborah A. Widiss, an associate law professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, told me when we spoke a few years ago about her own study, “Changing the Marriage Equation.” Part of the problem is that society “tends to assume that there’s no great skill involved in taking care of a baby or cleaning a house.” Which means anyone who takes on that role, male or female, is screwed. Unless things change. As she says:

“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.”

And, let’s be honest — we women are going to have to speak up. Really. We’re going to have to find a partner who understands what “We’re both in this together” means, and we’re going to have to talk about our expectations around chores and child care, and we’re going to have to be willing to not fall into gendered divisions of labor once a child comes along, and we’re going to have to commit to talking honestly about our expectations. And, if we’re smart, we’ll write it all down in a marital plan. How hard is that?

And, while we’re at it, let’s stop romanticizing marriage and realize what it really is — a contract that affords a couple legal and financial benefits. You can love and be committed to someone without tying the knot. Really.

Interested in creating a specific kind of 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.

(polls)

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There’s been a lot of discussion about “sexless” marriages, many focusing on how to define “sexless. Honestly, I don’t want to have to turn to a so-called “expert” or another couples’ definition of sexless — I want to determine if my relationship is sexless based on whether my sexual needs, and those of my partner, are being met. And, for anyone who has watched Woody Allen’s classic Annie Hall, even couples themselves have radically different definitions of what’s “too much” or “not enough” sex.    woman

Enter the discussion that’s going on over at The New I Do website. The post dates back to 2014, but regardless — the recent comments indicate a certain percentage of wives and husbands are not getting their sexual needs met, even though in many other ways their marriage is comfortable and their husband or wife (and, despite the stereotypes, their are more wives complaining about disinterested husbands than vice-versa) is “wonderful” or a “great father/mother.”

As I’ve written before, there are many ways spouses can betray each other beyond just affairs or denying the other sex — being “neglectful, indifferent, contemptuous, asexual, demeaning, insulting, as Esther Perel says — often is as — and sometimes more — damaging as physical abuse. In my poll, people overwhelming thought those behaviors were just as much of a betrayal as infidelity

Still, tell people that you sexual needs aren’t being met, and you’ll no likely hear about how you only “need” sex X times a week or month to be “normal,” or that you should focus on the other great qualities your hubby or wife has. Great, but it’s little consolation for those who are literally starved for sexual contact.

Just listen to the comments. From Katrina:

We have not had successful sex in 19 years. He has no interest in rectifying his problem. Wonderful man in all other ways, but I am very depressed over this.

From Joy:

To me, it’s not merely the act of sex. What I’m missing is being desired, having the intimacy and spontaneity that we had before. Breathing each other’s air, cuddling up, caressing faces, shoulders, derrieres, all of it. Secret looks, anticipation. Where did it go and do I have to go the rest of my life without it? This is not the relationship that I was “promised” when I bought the idea that we would be lifelong partners. I am in no way interested now in him. It is, in fact, a betrayal.

From Lisa:

it is so hard to go without any physical connection. I feel cheated and misled. I didn’t sign up for this and don’t know what to do. I get where I am very angry with him and don’t want to even be near him. It helps to know I am not alone.

From Sally Jones:

Doctors often ask if one is “experiencing a lot of stress”. For me, living in a sexless marriage is very stressful. Is that a normal reaction?

From Lonely Wife:

I live in a sexless marriage where my husband thinks it’s ok to brush over this because he loves me and we’re otherwise happy. Well I’m not. I don’t want to leave him because I love my kids, I have nowhere to go, I gave up my career for his etc. I cannot stand being trapped here for 20 years wasting my life away with a friend when I want a lover too. I feel so disgusted in myself and hate myself so much. I used to feel attractive but not I just feel worthless.

And from the guys, including Bern:

It’s been three and a half months since we have been together and I’m starting to consider other alternatives. This isn’t what I signed on for, but the phrase for better or worse still means something to me. If we can’t improve things I’m afraid I’ll be someone who will cheat, and that isn’t who I want to be.

From Bwood:

My wife, who is 7 year older than I and I love deeply, has fallen into a not uncommon phase where she has no desire for sex. She attests to find me attractive still, but she just doesn’t feel the desire for sex anymore. Waxing a little selfish, this leaves me in the lurch as a healthy 40 year old male who loves his wife, finds her completely desirable and desperately wants to consumate that love… Two wrongs don’t make a right, but the hole created lends to such other problems as blocks in communciation, unconscious distancing, wandering eye syndrome and the desire for the intimate touch even if it’s from another person/lover. It’s a terrible place in an otherwise very happy marriage.

And, finally, from Sam:

My wife tells me she cant decide if she wants to be in the marriage anymore. And she has no energy for sex. We have kids. She has asked me to be patient with her, but its two years now. I really want my marriage to work, but I am feeling frustrated and confused. Some woman do not understand how damaging withholding sex in a marriage can be.

Actually, Sam, I think many men and women realize just how damaging withholding sex can be, if they’re the ones who are victims to the withholding.

So some of those commenting said they felt justified in cheating. But while that solves their problem temporarily, it creates its own new problems.

If medical issues have been ruled out and your spouse won’t make any effort to help bring desire and sex back into the marriage when you lovingly and honestly express your needs, well, that’s telling you a lot.

There’s no easy answer for the unhappy and sexless masses if they don’t want to divorce except to turn their marriage into a parenting marriage, if there are young kids at home, or an open or monogamish marriage.

What do you think?

Interested in creating a specific kind of 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.

(polls)

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You’ve finally met someone special, someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. Congratulations.

Perhaps you are one of the thousands of couples who will say “I do” this month — the most popular month to tie the knot. Whether you end up making it “until death” or not, the intention to spend decades with someone — no matter how well you may know him or her — can be daunting. Few of us would go on an extended journey without at least some planning, yet that’s how we typically embark on our marital future.

Many people ask, “Where is this relationship going?” after several months of dating or living together. The end goal seems to be marriage, with little thought to what happens after that. And, as you know, there is a lot that happens after the wedding day.

While no one can guarantee that your marriage will be as happy and healthy as you hope — or expect — it to be, wouldn’t you feel better committing to all those years together if you had a better idea of where your marriage was going?

Believe it or not, you can; it’s called a marital plan, a framework for your marriage that you and your spouse-to-be create together so you can define and agree to what will make your marriage a success. It’s like a road map for your combined goals and dreams, with specifics on how you plan to accomplish them, and when. It holds each of you accountable. Marital planAnd it’s a way to measure your marriage’s success by something other than longevity — the only way we currently consider a marriage successful.

If you truly believe your partner is special — and I’m presuming you wouldn’t be marrying him or her otherwise — then you don’t want to just create a life with him or her; you want to create a specific kind of life. Your kind of life.

That’s what Susan Pease Gadoua and I present in our book The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels. But, we are not alone in believing that marital plans are the way of the future for anyone considering marriage, or even renegotiating an existing marriage. I chatted with two family and divorce attorneys who are big proponents of marital plans — Mark Ressa, who practices in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Michael Boulette, who practices in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They see couples at the opposite end of the happy wedding day, when all those dreams and expectations have been dashed with hard and unanticipated reality. While no can predict everything that will happen in a marriage — it’s understandable that Kris Jenner may have had no idea her husband of 23 years, Bruce, would transition into Caitlyn — there are many familiar and contentious issues in a marital arc, such as chores, kids, finances and sex, that can and should be discussed early and often as couples move from childfree dual-earners to (perhaps) dual-earners with kids to empty-nesters and all the variations in between.

A shorter version of our conversation ran in the Huffington Post; here’s our chat in its entirety.

Q: Why do you like the idea of a marital plan?

Ressa: Most couples contemplating marriage are focused on spending their lives together without fully considering what that means. Before they exchange “I do’s,” rarely do couples articulate in a meaningful way what their expectations are for the marriage. What do they want to see happen in the first three to five years? Are they on the same page about having children? What about intimacy issues; what are their expectations? Marital planning provides an opportunity to discuss these issues beforehand, see if both parties are on the same page and, more importantly, set expectations and plan how to address expectations that are not met. If the marriage does not last, at least a marital plan can be a reference that gives insight into what they had originally intended.

Boulette: I began representing clients in divorces in 2010. One year later, I got married.  With that kind of juxtaposition, you almost can’t help but start drawing parallels, look at the cases you’re working on and think, what would happen if my marriage broke up? I started discussing them with my wife. The more we talked about our “future divorce” the more I learned about what she values, what she wants out of our marriage, and what she wants out of me as a partner and as a parent to our daughter.

I’ve started to see marriage planning as an innovative solution for a number of the problems plaguing modern relationships (and the law that governs them). It’s a way to:

  •  increase marriage rates among couples that may not feel ready for marriage (in its current form) but who want to create a relationship that’s more than just roommates
  •  incorporate changing social norms around what marriage means and to embrace a variety of different “meanings” of marriage without writing any one meaning into our laws
  •  help reduce the conflict in divorce by allowing couples to create their own ideas of fairness when they still have each other’s best interests at heart

Q: How do you see a marital plan differing from a prenup?

Ressa: Pre- and post-nuptial agreements, if enforceable, dictate what happens in the event of a divorce. Marital plans document the parties’ intent and expectations about how they will move through life as a married couple. A prenuptial agreement largely deals with financial issues; a marital plan, instead, focuses on lifestyle choices.

Boulette: Marriage planning is a paradigm shift. If prenups are about protecting yourself from your spouse, marriage planning is about creating a life together and deliberately choosing the sort of relationship you want to have over any number of alternatives. Prenups are often a work-around for state divorce laws that might put one partner’s wealth at risk. Marriage plans reach beyond the financial into questions of what you want from your spouse as a partner, as a friend, as a co-parent, what you’re seeking from the marriage emotionally, physically, even professionally. And also what you’re willing to give — what you’re committed to investing to make the relationship and the family work.

Q: From your perspective as a family lawyer, what do couples ignore or misunderstand when they tie the knot?

Ressa: Most couples do not consider what happens in the event of a divorce, how the standard-one-size-fits-all divorce laws would apply in their circumstance. Rarely do I hear of couples who are about to marry — other than the small percentage who actually enter into a prenuptial agreement — contemplate financial, wealth acquisition or parenting issues.

Boulette: In first-time marriages, no couple really has any idea of what laws would govern their relationships in the event of divorce. But I don’t think that antiquated divorce laws are necessarily driving divorces or reducing relationship quality. Because getting married is so easy, at least from a legal standpoint, many couples avoid hard questions: “What if the marriage doesn’t work out?” “What if I (or you) fall in love with someone else?” “Should we prioritize both our careers equally or the one with the greatest earning potential?” Ignoring these questions can create conflict later on, and in the most extreme scenario could lead couples to question whether the relationship is right for them.

Q: In what ways could a marital plan help them?

Ressa: A marital plan forces couples entering into marriage to openly discuss issues that might create points of conflict in the future. Additionally, couples should contemplate, discuss and agree on what happens in the event an agreed-to expectation is not met. For instance, what if the parties’ intimacy expectations deviate from the marital plan? Should that trigger a requirement to discuss the issue through counseling?

Additionally, as divorce lawyers we see increases in divorce filings at multiples of seven years. You have heard of the seven-year-itch? It is real. There are also reports indicating marriages begin to come undone approximately six years prior to either party actually filing for divorce. Putting those two observations together, what if marriage plans required a therapeutic, marital counseling wellness check approximately five to six years before the aforementioned divorce-filing bumps? So a marital plan could provide the opportunity to apply some preventive medicine to maintain the health of the marriage.

Boulette: Marriage plans promote exactly the sort of “hard conversations” I mentioned before. But more than that, they provide a touch point to channel these discussions to a productive end. If you create a marriage plan and, for whatever reason, the relationship does end, you, as a couple, have created a road map for how to leave the relationship with dignity, mutual respect and exactly the sort of fairness so many divorcing couples aspire to.

A plan also comes with the added benefit of being able to revisit and revise as needed, rather than relying on shadowy recollections of a conversation you had years ago. Say two years into the marriage, life has thrown you a curve ball. That’s OK. Have a new conversation. Make a new plan.

Q: Could couples just create these marital plans by themselves?

Ressa: Couples can always DIY; most divorces are resolved by litigants who are self-represented. There is nothing to prevent a couple from creating their own marital plan.

Boulette: Of course. Nothing about a marriage plan has to be legally binding. No one would bother to get a prenup if they didn’t think it could be enforced in court, but a marriage plan can be valuable for any number of reasons even if its completely unenforceable in the event of divorce.

But if the goal is a legally binding agreement that you’ll be held to should one of you want to end the relationship, a lawyer is an important part of the equation. Prenup laws (which are inevitably the legal avenue through which marriage plans will be enforced) are such a patchwork from state to state, not just in how the law is actually written, but also in how courts interpret them. Add to that the wrinkle that marriage plans reach well beyond established law to touch on parts of couples’ lives where prenups are not traditionally enforced, and this isn’t a DIY project.

Interested in creating a specific kind of 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 onFacebook.

(polls)

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I have been enjoying reading Mark Manson, a self-described “author, blogger and entrepreneur.” Recently, he blogged on why people cheat on their partners and I felt compelled to send it to a friend who’d recently gone through an unexpected and painful breakup of an eight-year relationship, albeit unrelated to cheating. the power of 'no'

“The one time I told him no,” she lamented, “and he left.”

Our friends and I commiserated with her, convinced that his behavior wasn’t kind or fair, and that she deserved better. Then I read Manson’s post. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he said — including calling “life-long commitment” the most important thing — I appreciate his assessment of how we often set ourselves up for misbehavior when we “do everything” for our partner (or never tell him “no”):

“The person feels like a goddamn saint and then what happens? They get cheated on. … The reason this is actually a toxic situation is that when you do everything for your partner, when you take care of all of their problems and show them that no matter what happens you will always make it better for them, you show them that there are essentially no repercussions for their actions. … If you had a dog that continuously pissed on your rug and every time you just cleaned up the rug because OMIGOD I LOVE HER, why would the dog ever stop pissing on it? That’s what happens when these people cheat on you. You’re actually surprised when you’ve been tolerating and enabling the exact behavior that led them to cheat all along. No, it’s not your ‘fault,’ but you sure as shit weren’t helping the matter.”

Boy, can I relate! When my marriage was falling apart, I remember telling the marriage counselor that all my former husband basically had to do was show up — although I always worked part time, the household chores, the kids, the hands-on caregiving and the emotional caregiving had somehow been dumped entirely on me. Plus, I wrote winning grants that furthered his career, and never took time away from our family — certainly not for pleasure. I was selfless! Meanwhile, there had been numerous times that he was deceptive, and made other questionable decisions — even once resulting in the need for a restraining order — scary! — that were damaging to us, our family and to me over the years. Of course, I never once asked that we seek counseling or help, never held him accountable. Then, he had a long-term affair. Hmm …

All the times that I let those lies and bad behaviors occur, I basically had been “tolerating and enabling the exact behavior that led (him) to cheat all along.” Indeed, he never suffered a consequence for his actions. No wonder he was shocked — shocked! — when, after first wanting to salvage the marriage, I finally said I wanted a divorce (although women initiate divorce than men, it’s often exactly because of this). It was the first time I had ever set a healthy boundary for myself in our marriage — I will not be lied to or disrespected again — but it also meant that the marriage would have to end. I don’t blame my former husband for my behavior; in fact, I own it. But it sent me on a quest to understand why — why didn’t I believe I deserved better treatment?

Women do this a lot. Many of us have a problem saying “no,” but when that “no” is setting  boundaries for ourselves and honoring our needs — and it’s not selfish to have needs — then it’s actually healthier for us and our relationship.

As Manson says, setting healthy boundaries means we’re standing up for ourselves:

“That means declaring what is and is not acceptable in the relationship both for yourself and your partner. That means sticking by those declarations and following through on them. … That means you recognize that you are not responsible for your partner’s happiness nor are they responsible for yours. That you do not have a right to demand certain actions from them nor do they have a right to demand certain actions from you. … That means that they are responsible for their own struggles just as you are responsible for yours. … That means that you realize often the most loving and compassionate thing you can do for a loved one is allow them to deal with their struggles themselves.”

This, of course, is hard. I’m not saying it isn’t hard for men, too; I know men for whom saying “no” has been challenging. Still, women, are typically brought up to be pleasers; I sure was. And that hasn’t worked out well for anyone.

So, I am better at saying “no.” I’m better at identifying my needs and expressing them in a loving, respectful way. It still feels foreign, and, yes, I still make mistakes. But I finally am convinced that, yes, it’s not only OK to look after yourself, but it’s also really healthy. How about you?

Interested in creating a specific kind of 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.

(polls)

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I feel bad for poor Jennifer Aniston. She gets engaged — finally!!!! — almost three years ago, August 2011, and now people are wondering, well? When is she finally going to get on with her life and tie the knot with fiance Justin Theroux? What’s holding them back?

Which has made some people feel compelled to remind everyone that Theroux may not know how to commit; after all, didn’t he live with former girlfriend, stylist Heidi Bivens, for 14 years without saying, “I do”? What’s wrong with him?    happy unmarried woman

Maybe nothing.

Maybe there are many ways to be committed, and we experience them through various relationships we have at certain times in our life. Those are the findings of a study that looks at women’s experiences in intimate attachments. What the researcher finds is that there are push and pull factors that determine commitment. Push factors are from the couple themselves, the desire to be together. Pull factors are the pressures couples feel from parents, friends and society in general to not only be in a long-term stable partnership, but also that they should stay together, which can become internalized and thus reinforce their own expectations about the relationship and whether it lasts or not (although there always seems to be an asterisk to commitment if someone cheats).

Although the young women in her study still see marriage as the ideal, they believe that commitment can come without a marriage license, a notion I discussed not too long ago for couples that choose to live together but not wed. While a romantic relationship may end, that doesn’t mean there was no commitment while it lasted. Unfortunately, society does not see things that way:

Policy formulation that sees marriage as the only good relationship format for commitment seems, therefore, to be rather short-sighted and ill-informed when other relationship forms, such as cohabitation or living apart together, can involve equal if not more commitment. … Individuals may now experience more committed relationships than it was possible to in the past, but this does not mean that there is less commitment or that it is impermanent — if anything, there is more commitment in more relationships and the commitment that is being experienced is taking on a different form.

What if societal views and policy recognized that? What would it mean for people like Aniston and Theroux, who are in a committed relationship but unmarried? It would mean that the pressure to marry would be lifted, and people would see their commitment to each other as no less than the commitment of a married couple — which they may or may not be one day — and maybe more: they would recognize couples stay together not because they have to because they are legally and financially entangled and because they made vows (which, of course, get broken all the time), but because they choose to stay together.

What would that mean for people like Kate Bolick, whose new book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own — presumably a celebration of unmarried women by choicehas been the subject of much debate? It means a book reviewer would not shame her for having “a nearly seamless string of long-term, serious relationships with men. One wonders how well she understands living a life truly alone.”

Excuse me, but that is exactly how you can live life alone, whether you’re a man or a woman, if you choose it (and let’s not forget that according to the Pew, 4 out of 10 newlyweds in 2013 had been married before, sometimes twice; do these multiple marriers understand how to be” truly” married?). It means that there are many ways in which to enjoy a rich and full life, that you can have your needs met in numerous ways with various people over a lifetime. What’s wrong with that?

Interested in creating a specific kind of 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.


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Is it OK to view marriage as a financial plan?

Before you get all “gold-digger” on me (because I’m pretty sure you thought of beautiful women marrying wealthy men as a way to have a lifestyle they want and not beautiful men marrying wealthy women, but OK), let’s explore what’s been in the news recently.  Marry for money

This week, it’s all about Ekaterina Parfenova, an erstwhile actress-socialite in the middle of a multimillion financial battle with her estranged second husband, Richard Fields, to whom she was married for 11 years and with whom she has two children.


“My financial strategy? Find a new husband, Russian beauty queen tells divorce hearing,” the headline in the Telegraph said about Parfenova.

“I am a very good wife. I will try to find a husband,” she told the divorce judge when he asked her if she planned to get a job (but stated later online that it was a joke: “I joked that since I am great at being a wife and mother, and if that’s my main skill, as they define it, then perhaps I could look into being a wife again, if they so insist!”)

When she parted from her first husband, she got about $1 million as well as a good hunk of cash from Fields, an American lawyer whom she met when she was still married to husband No. 1. Fields has paid out a lot for his previous divorces, but that hasn’t stopped him from tying the knot five times — and he’s hoping to wed wife No. 6 soon. The future Mrs. Fields us driving around in a Porsche he’s leasing for her and shopping with his platinum AmEx card, causing Parfenova’s attorney to say he “uses money both to attract and demonstrate affection for someone.”
While Parfenova’s “financial strategy” might make some cringe, what are we to think of the way Fields uses his money? Isn’t he dangling his money as bait? If men use money as a way to attract a woman, why do we look down on, judge and shame women who go for the bait? Isn’t the man just as guilty?
Almost all of us can be “bought” — a survey not too long ago indicated both men and women said they would marry an average-looking person they liked, if he/she had money — about $1.5 million. And while men don’t put as much emphasis on a woman’s financial situation, women generally won’t date a broke men for too long, if at all. In The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, we talk about why a safety marriage might make sense for some couples: In this case, Fields traded his wealth for Parfenova’s beauty, mothering and wifely skills.
It’s disturbing that only women are judged negatively for marrying for money while a man who uses his money as a way to attract women is not.
I have no idea if Parfenova is indeed a good wife and mother. But considering the results of a recent Harvard MBA study  — the women grads expected that their marriages would be egalitarian, but the men knew all along that they would put their careers before their wife’s, and the kids would her responsibility — men clearly benefit from women willing to take on that role.
Does that really make women gold-diggers?

Interested in creating a specific kind of 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.


(polls)

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We just celebrated Mother’s Day and even if you believe, as I do, that it’s another Hallmark holiday like Valentine’s Day, it is always nice to reflect on the women who birthed us or raised us or both. Sometimes, they are not one and the same; many of us were raised or mentored by women who were like moms to us.

There’s still a lot of angst about motherhood, whether we’re discussing moms who work outside the home; moms who care for the children at home; moms who breastfeed and moms who don’t; what it means to be a “good” mom; helicoptering moms; why many women are opting out of motherhood …  you name it, and it’s causing conflict somewhere on the Internet.  good mother

But there often isn’t a lot of discussion about mothers who walk away from motherhood.

Not women who choose to be childfree, but moms who abandon their kids. A good number do.

Well, we don’t know that for a fact. There are 2.4 million moms who don’t have custody of their kids (versus 8.6 million single moms) and there are 2.6 million single dads. There’s no way to know from those numbers how many women willingly gave up their kids, how many single dads are widows or single dads by choice, etc.

But every once in a while, we’re reminded that some moms abandon their kids. Few of us, rightly or wrongly, raise an eyebrow when we hear of a dad giving up custodial rights. But, a mom? That goes against everything we believe — or choose to believe — about mothers. Still, it happens, and there are many ways to look at it.

For a child, it isn’t necessarily a happy thing, or so Melissa Cistaro told me as we chatted about her new memoir, Pieces of My Mother, which details her decades-long search to understand why her mother abandoned her and her two brothers when they were all under the age of 5. “I have a great deal of compassion for my mother. I really do. I always loved her, but I longed for her so much,” she says.

But as a mother herself — and one whose third child came unexpectedly many years after the birth of her first two, just when she was about to have some coveted “me” time — she relates to the ambivalence her own mother felt:

“Somewhere deep inside me, I can relate to my mother’s irrepressible desire to be free of everyone, everything. Maybe I have inherited this fleeting nature, too. Though I love my children passionately, I leap at opportunities for time away from them.”

When Rahna Reiko Rizzuto wrote about leaving her husband and two small children in her 2010 memoir Hiroshima in the Morning, she was vilified — even receiving death threats — for her decision:

We want our mothers to be long-suffering, to put their children’s needs first and their own well-being last if there is time left. We need her to get dinner on the table and the laundry done and the kids to school and the homework finished and the house clean and the cookies for the bake sale made and the school clothes purchased. Our society is hurting, schools are bankrupt, family finances are squeezed, drugs and guns and sex in the media and international terror are all bombarding our children and the person we designate to help kids negotiate all of this is their mother. It’s a big job, too big for one person. Especially when she also has to work, and when she also has a life of her own to care for. But to say that, to act on it, is too much of a threat.

This, of course, isn’t an issue for dads. Sure, there are lots of conversations about absent dads and “dead-beat dads,” but since many women seek sole custody after divorce, many so-called absent dads have been given little alternative but to be somewhat absent — well, maybe except for every other weekend and one night a week.

For whatever reason, society seems to think that dads don’t have to be there for dinner, laundry, homework, cookies for the bake sale, etc. to still be a good dad. He’s either working really hard supporting his family or he’s divorced and so the kids are most likely with Mom (why?). But if Mom isn’t there for the typical “mom things,” well, not only is she not a good mom but she’s obviously selfish, too, putting her needs — career, schooling, her sanity, whatever — before her kids’ needs (although women who don’t have kids are evidently just as selfish, according to the Pope and others).

What’s a woman to do?

Perhaps there’s another way to look at the mothers abandoning their kids phenomena (if it can indeed be called that). What if it means we are at a point in society when we believe dads are just as capable as moms in caring for their kids 24/7?

That’s how some would like to frame it.

“People are recognizing that fathers can be amazing primary caregivers, and we shouldn’t sell men short,” says Rebekah Spicuglia, one of the three moms who gave up custody of their kids profiled in Marie Claire in 2009. “It’s increasingly a trend, especially as society becomes less judgmental of men who want to step into that role,” Joanna Coles, the magazine’s then-editor-in-chief, told the Today show.

Wouldn’t that be a positive thing?

There are 2 million stay-at-home dads today, although that wasn’t necessarily their choice. Are we as a society able to accept that men can be as good, perhaps even better, caregivers than moms?

I would hope that we could embrace that.

But sometimes, it isn’t quite about that. Sometimes it’s a recognition that staying would do more damage than leaving. As Cistaro herself says:

“Actually not growing up with her, we were protected from a lot of her behavior. I would have been a very different person had my mother raised me, maybe not better. As hard as it was having her absent, my father was the more reliable parent.”

Maybe it doesn’t matter which parent walks away as long as it’s done for the kids’ benefit, because staying would subject them to bad parental behaviors; children who grow up with an alcoholic or mentally ill parent often suffer. Maybe that’s the conversation we should be having. I’m not sure that it is, but I’m sure of this: vilifying moms who abandon their kids more than we vilify dads says a lot about who we value more as a parent, mom or dad.

Interested in creating a specific kind of 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.


<a href=”http://polldaddy.com/poll/8860227/”>Moms who give up custody</a></p>

<p><span style=”font:9px;”>(<a href=”http://www.polldaddy.com”>polls</a>)</span><br />

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A few friends and I were talking about the affairs we either experienced in our own relationships or that we knew of among other friends. And that’s the context in which a married former neighbor’s one-night, tequila-fueled fling while on a gals get-away in Cabo San Lucas was brought up.

“I think we’d all forgive a one-night stand,” I said, perhaps a tad too confidently as my friends nodded and mumbled in agreement.  one-night stand

But, would we?

Is a one-night stand really forgivable?

Yes, according to the engaged couples my-author and I interviewed while researching for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels.  A one-night stand can most likely be worked through, they said.

They aren’t the only ones.

A quick Google search indicated that there are a lot of couple who wrestle with this. Still, many tend to fall in line with this woman’s thinking on Wedding Bee:

I’d be more likely to forgive a moment of weakness one night stand situation that he immediately admitted to, than say an ongoing sexual and emotional affair. If my SO went through great lengths to hide his infidelity and lie to me about it I could not forgive that.

A one-night fling is not the same as a long-term affair, or multiple one-night stands.

So, it’s clear that there are many gradations of infidelity. Which is why listening to so-called experts on infidelity makes me nervous and should make anyone trying to sort out infidelity nervous. I always want to question, well, what makes this person an expert in X, Y or Z? Because a lot of  “experts” have nothing else to offer but their personal experience and the stories of people who flock to them because they, too, have a tale of sexual woe.

I have nothing against personal experience; however one person’s experience cannot possibly speak for the numerous shades of gray that infidelity encompasses, nor can it be used to guide someone through infidelity. I would appreciate a more broad-minded approach.

That’s not to say that we need to agree with therapist Esther Perel’s belief, that affairs can be transformative. But, as she writes:

Affairs have a lot to teach us about relationships — what we expect, what we think we want, and what we feel entitled to. They open the door to a deeper conversation about values, human nature and the fragility of eros, and force us to grapple with some of the most unsettling questions: How do we negotiate the elusive balance between our emotional and our erotic needs? Is possessiveness intrinsic to love or an arcane vestige of patriarchy? Is it really so that what we don’t know doesn’t hurt? How do we learn to trust again? Can love ever be plural? … Infidelity is still such a taboo, but we need to create a safe space for productive conversation, where the multiplicity of experiences can be explored with compassion. It might be uncomfortable, but ultimately that will strengthen relationships by making them more honest and more resilient.

Yes, we do need to create a safe space, where compassion — not judgment and shame — has a place in our conversations about our experiences of infidelity. Only then will be able to have more open and honest partnerships. And isn’t that what we all want?

Interested in creating a specific kind of 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.

 


(polls)

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OK, I will admit it — I grew up a bit of a sci-fi geek. I loved Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and Star Trek and read books by Asimov and Bradbury. But I lost my passion somewhere along the way to adulthood with the occasional lapse when movies such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind came along.

But two recent movies have made me think about one aspect of sci-fi  — artificial intelligence — in a different light, given my focus in this blog on relationships, love and sex: Her and, now, Ex MachinaExMachina

I wrote about Her last year, when the movie, in which a divorced man falls in love and has a relationship — and sex — with his operating system, first came out.

I find a different discussion in what transpires in Ex Machina, but one just as fascinating. Again, it says more about us as humans than it does about robots: how easily we are deceived and deceive, and how our primal instincts of desire make us stupid.

I must issue a spoiler alert — if you haven’t seen the movie and plan to, stop here. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t plan to, stop here — and reconsider; it’s worth it.

There are many fascinating issues brought up in Ex Machina (the dude-bro relationship between Nathan, an eccentric billionaire, and Caleb, a peach-fuzzed coder, as well as  how we are literally selling our souls to companies like Google), as well as the deception humans are capable of  (to ourselves most importantly). It’s too much to talk about all that here, so I will limit my discussion to how Ava, the robot, seduces and basically destroys Caleb, who was chosen by Nathan, his employer, to interact with her to see if she passes the Turing test, which examines if a machine has consciousness and is indistinguishable from a human.

Part of the problem is that Caleb has been sort of set up — Nathan tells Caleb that Ava has a vagina-like opening “with a concentration of sensors.” Meaning, yeah, sex with her will feel pretty damn good for both of them. That matters because Ava’s appearance has been modeled on Caleb’s online porn history. Basically Ava is his fantasy come true (and what man doesn’t want that?)

So of course he falls for her, of course he foolishly trusts her and of course his desire for her makes him stupid. He lies, loses reason, chooses sides without considering all possibilities (even when presented with a reasonable one, that Ava may be playing him, and she does), and he makes rash decisions.

How human! Especially when it comes to love, or at least lust.

Caleb is reacting like any other man in the presence of a beautiful woman — his mind gets fuzzy. And that makes him relatively helpless. Of course, Ava is a seductresses. She knows exactly what Caleb wants in a woman, and presents it to him.

But while we may meet many beautiful people who leave us stupid, what does it mean to meet our perfect person — The One or our soul mate? While Ava may be the woman Caleb wants to masturbate to in the privacy of his home, does he really want to have a relationship with her — perhaps until death do they part?

Well, probably in the beginning, when things appear easy. And easy is really attractive nowadays, when we’re all so busy, stressed and, as clinical psychologist and  Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle, says, feeling “a certain fatigue with the difficulties of dealing with people.”

Because people are messy, we have needs and we cause drama; a robotic woman wouldn’t be (although most of the robotic women of sci-fi movies don’t stick to the program and more often than not lead to chaos and destruction, which is what many men might say in-the-flesh women do, too. AI cannot be programed to have a sense of morality).

But is easy and perfect what we really want?

Maybe. A recent poll of American heterosexual men indicates they’d prefer a wife who is “intelligent,” “attractive” and “sweet,” with “attractive” being more important to men in the prime marrying years, 18- to 49-years-old.

Ex Machina director Alex Garland isn’t sure. But he acknowledges that we’re closer than ever to making our perfect person come true regardless: “The thing we desire and think we can’t have we can now shape exactly to the specification of how we want it. There’s something incredibly scary about how unstoppable it feels.”

Interested in creating a specific kind of 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.


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