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I don’t know how anyone can make a love triangle feel good for everyone, but there are some love triangles that just appear downright, I dunno, weird.

Take the Mark Sanford-Jenn Sanford-Maria Belen Chapur saga. Mark_Sanford

The Sanfords’ bitter divorce drags on — five years after the married South Carolina Representative mysteriously disappeared only to be found in Argentina with his lover — thanks to complications over visitation arrangements for their four sons. This week, more twists and turns have occurred. On Sept. 12, Sanford suddenly ended his two-year engagement with Chapur (for some odd reason, quite publicly on Facebook.

Say what you will about Sanford’s methods when it comes to relationships (then and now), but there are a few unhappy circumstances surrounding his divorce from his former wife and potential marriage to his fiancee that make me pause.

Sanford turned to Facebook (bad idea!) to respond to what clearly had been somewhat privately discussed with Chapur first. Sanford evidently told his fiancee that he needed two more years before they tied the knot. Why? That’s when his 16-year-old son would no longer be a minor and thus no longer a legal issue to tussle over with his former wife. Sanford also acknowledged that creating family with a person who helped bust up an existing family is, well, a bit complicated. Anyone who has had to live with a cheating parent and his or her lover knows that all too well; it’s one of those worst-case scenario divorces, and the anger and resentment can last decades. As Sanford wrote:

“No relationship can stand forever this tension of being forced to pick between the one you love and your own son or daughter, and for this reason Belen and I have decided to call off the engagement. Maybe there will be another chapter when waters calm with Jenny, but at this point the environment is not conducive to building anything given no one would want to be caught in the middle of what’s now happening.”

His affair and divorce have been in the public eye for years (and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be), which adds an extra layer of angst to a new relationship. I just can’t help but feel bad for his kids, especially the 16-year-old still at home, who are most likely expected to accept (embrace?) the partner who in their eyes helped “destroy” their family.

So, what’s the problem now, years after the affair became public, the marriage disintegrated and the mistress became a respectable fiancee?

Well, a lot that speaks to all that can go wrong in love. Sanford’s former wife’s latest motion asks that both she and her former husband be banned from having overnight guests of the opposite sex who could be considered a “paramour” while their sons are in the house. Meanwhile, Chapur has been pressuring him to marry, saying that she didn’t want to “continue in the category of mistress.”

Wait, what? How does a fiancee, a woman you’ve proposed marriage to and who responded with a yes (and presumably has a pricey rock to show the world), remain in the “mistress” or “paramour” category? Well, she doesn’t although it’s clear that in Jenny and Maria’s mind she does.

I’d like to ask all the newly engaged women of the word, are you a mistress?

Shoving a fiancee into that category speaks more to the fact that the former Mrs. Sanford is angry and resentful that her former husband has not only found happiness with someone else, but that he also happens to be finding that happiness with the woman who caused her marriage to fall apart. I’m sure that hurts.

And I’m sure the the former mistress is upset, too. She wants to move on with the relationship and become legit — aka the next Mrs. Sanford.

It’s pretty much a recipe for disaster, but I worry less about the adults, who created this mess, than the 16-year-old still at home. As poorly as Sanford treated his marriage — and by extension, his family and perhaps his constituents — I have to give him credit for recognizing that at this point he’s a father first. It is never too late to decide to do the right thing, and Sanford is — finally — doing the right thing. He’s thinking of his kid first. It may be out of exhaustion from fighting his former wife or it may be spurred by his desire to be re-elected (although he is unopposed so it won’t be too hard) but regardless — his kid is coming first. The bad party now isn’t Sanford but his former wife.
Jenny, let go. Just let go.


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Last week, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie tied the knot — or finally tied the knot if you’re a follower of pop culture websites or mags.

While they didn’t follow the typical trajectory — meet, date, fall in love, become a committed couple, move in together, wed, have kids — they ended up in the same place anyway, (presumably) marital bliss. They just decided to have the kids — all six of them, although Angelina came with one — first. Is there something wrong with that? Smiling kids

Gaby Hinsliff of the Guardian says no. In fact, she wonders if they didn’t do it a better way, given the fact that one in four unmarried couples ties the knot within five years of becoming parents:

Some, perhaps, might have been brought together by the baby but for many marriage was probably always the long-term plan; it’s just that they have good reasons to put the cart, as my granny would have said, before the horse.

I would be concerned for those who were “brought together by the baby”; we used to call those shotgun weddings, and they rarely were healthy for the couple or the kid. The “good reasons” speak to financial realities for Millennials nowadays:

The gloriously unattainable fantasy for many young women now isn’t a man and a meringue, but a house. It makes no economic sense for a couple struggling to save £30,000 for a deposit to blow everything on a frock and a honeymoon. And given the age at which first-time buyers finally get the keys, the next most urgent priority for many is probably to get pregnant before it’s too late. Marriage naturally gets shuffled to the end of the list, becoming less the starting point of family life than the full stop at the end of it – invariably parked until someone has the time and the energy to think about it.

Well, you don’t need a house to be happily married. But whatever. By 2016, half of all the babies born in Britain will be born to unmarried women, she notes. In the United States, that number is closer to 40 percent. As sociologist Philip Cohen detailed this week, just 34 percent of all young children are being raised in what we consider a “normal” modern family — two working parents.

Times are changing.

There’s a lot of hand-wringing over children born to couples that aren’t married. Sometimes that concern is justified, especially for fragile families. Yet as many scholars have pointed out, telling them to just get married will not get them out of poverty. (Interestingly, poverty rates for unmarried moms are high across the world, but they are highest in the United States, Cohen points out. That speaks volumes.)

Clearly, Brad and Angelina don’t have this financial problem. But they also didn’t delay marriage because of “troublemaking men,” incarceration, abuse, unemployment or because they can’t afford to get married — many of the reasons poor women cite as delaying marriage (an institution they value, perhaps more than their middle-class sisters). It was a choice they made that speaks to a bigger issue that Hinsliff and others aren’t addressing — commitment to parenting.

Couples don’t have to be married to raise kids well (after all, same-sex couples who weren’t able to marry have been doing that for decades). And as I’ve written before, kids don’t need their parents to love each other. What kids need is stability, and Angelina and Brad gave their kids stability because they were committed to them (as well as each other) and probably could have continued that way forever. The marriage license and wedding — as symbolic as they are — didn’t make them be or act any more committed than they already are, nine-years into a parenting relationship. The pressure they felt to tie the knot supposedly came from their kids (and I suddenly feel a great need to ask my long-time cohabiting parent friends how — or if  — they have dealt with that even though they clearly have resisted that pressure). Even if that’s true, the kids most likely absorbed that from societal expectations that people, especially parents, should be married. For whatever reason, society tends to see cohabiting couples as “less than.”

While I’m supportive of childree couples who choose to marry (or not), I recognize that not everyone feels the same way. While it’s lovely to imagine that society worries about childfree couples, the truth is we don’t; no one outside of family and friends cares whether you stay together or not if kids aren’t involved.

Not that I know them (I don’t) and can say this with 100 percent conviction, but by all appearances Brad and Angelina have been doing a fine job of co-parenting their kids. That’s really all that matters, right? I don’t think we need to encourage couples to have kids first and then tie the knot or vice versa, even though I agree with Hinsliff that having kids first may create couples that “have already weathered plenty of ups and downs, who know exactly what is meant by ‘for better, and for worse’ and are still willing to sign up for a lifetime of it.” I’d feel much more comfortable supporting the commitment couples make to co-parent once they have kids, married and living together or not. What about you?

Want to keep up with The New I Do? Pre-order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!


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Does marriage change you as a person?

According to Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, who has been married all of six weeks so we’ll have to take whatever he says with a grain of salt, being married makes him feel more “masculine.”

“If it’s the right marriage, if it’s the right person, the guy feels a little bit more like a man,” says Levine, People magazine’s sexiest man alive for 2013.

Really? Masculine?  marriage femininity

What about being married might make a man feel more like, well, a man?

At Role Reboot, Eric Sentell realizes that his evolution from an independent bachelor into an interdependent married man meant, yes, he’d have to give up some power — thus, his masculinity. But rather than lose his manliness, he benefited (as, presumably, did his wife):

Whereas a codependent person cedes identity and power to his or her partner and can hardly function independently, an interdependent person retains individual identity while also forging a partnership based on shared power. The unique benefits of interdependence convinced me that sharing power does not equate to a loss of masculinity. In fact, far more is gained than lost.

Still, I am curious what about being a husband makes a man feel more manly. A part of me wonders if Sexy Man Levine’s masculinity is coming less from a place of power, like Sentell, and more from a place of believing that as a man, he should protect and cherish his wife — what’s known as benevolent sexism.

On the surface, benevolent sexism doesn’t sound so bad; who among us doesn’t want to be cherished or protected or both? What’s so wrong about that?

Nothing — unless it’s based on the belief that “women are wonderful, but weak.” Thus a man can be more of a man (whatever that means) and a woman can be more of a woman (ditto). Insert gendered expectations here. But in general it would reinforce some women’s feelings of entitlement, that they somehow deserve to be made to feel special by their lover. As long as they are “nice,” that is.

So does that mean that some women feel more feminine after saying “I do”?

Asked, “What makes you feel feminine,” on Reddit, not one woman said being a wife or being married. Same at the Frisky, where women name painted nails, makeup and bubble baths as markers of femininity.

Becoming a Mrs? Nope.

In fact, being a wife is often a complicated reality for women; as poet Jill Bialosky wrote so succinctly in The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth about Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood and Marriage, “I had wanted to get married, but I realized now that I had never wanted to be a ‘wife.'”

Still, being married makes people feel grown-up, or at least that’s what Susan Pease Gadoua and I heard from the engaged couples we interviewed for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels.

“Marriage is just the next thing you do,” a bride-to be said as her fiance nodded in agreement. “You graduate, you get a job, you get married.”

“Our married friends just seem more adult,” another bride-to be said, despite the fact that she and her fiance had been living together for five years and are well established in their careers.

They’re not the only ones. “I was surprised how much I liked it when I first heard my wife refer to me as her ‘husband,’ and how much I liked saying ‘wife.’ I’m not sure why. Maybe it made me feel kind of grown up,” says former Salon columnist King Kaufman, then 34 years old.

And that’s why people who live together don’t really have the full experience of what it’s like to be married; not only do others view them differently (typically “less than“), but they themselves feel different about their relationship and each other.

But feminine? I have never heard a woman say that marriage makes her feel more feminine, although we are often advised by people like The Surrendered Wife author Laura Doyle to be feminine, aka “soft, delicate, and receptive,” in our marriage (and if we have to be told to be more feminine as a wife, it would seem as if marriage itself doesn’t automatically make us feel feminine). Which sounds a lot like perpetuating the benevolent sexism model — some women tend to be “soft, delicate, and receptive” therefore women who aren’t are seen as the problem.

I’m happy Mr. Levine feels more masculine in his marriage. I’m hopeful his wife, Behati Prinsloo, thinks it’s great, too. She hasn’t weighed in on whether marriage has made her appreciate her hubby’s boosted masculinity and/or have a new-found appreciation of her own femininity. But it’s clear that anyone who wants to tie the knot might want to pay attention.

 

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Women want sex and passion — surprised?

If we are to believe a recent study by AshleyMadison.com, that’s why married women say they cheat. They’re not interested in ending their marriage, they’re just looking to put some spark in their sex lives and, let’s face it — once you’ve tried new sex toys, new positions, new porn flicks and new lingerie, there just isn’t much more that a married couple can do.

Except there is. 2014-08-22-Fotolia_5649786_XS.jpg

Married women (as well as men) looking to get some action from others are forgetting, or perhaps just ignoring, an important reality about infidelity — it often ends marriages, painfully. Which is sad because, according to one study, 56 percent of cheating men and 34 percent of cheating women considered their marriage “happy” or “very happy.”

So why risk it? Why cause all that pain and anger, not to mention the potential loss of your marriage, your family, your home, when all you have to do is sit your husband down and say, “Honey, I think we are both aware that neither of us is enjoying sex all that much lately. Actually, we haven’t enjoyed it for a long time. What do you think about opening up our marriage?”

After the shock — or maybe relief — you might actually be able to have the first honest discussion about monogamy you’ve ever had as a couple.

Not to say it will be easy. Talking about non-monogamy is hard; everything we think about non-monogamy is about cheating and deception, or promiscuity. We don’t have any healthy models of consensual non-monogamy. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening.

While researching for our book, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, Sept. 28, 2014), Susan Pease Gadoua and I heard from numerous couples who had open marriages, or who opened them up for a while. It isn’t as rare as you think; somewhere between 4.3 percent to 10.5 percent of all relationships identify as open, which can be anything from couples “in the lifestyle,” to the occasional threesome to poly arrangements.

All the couples that decided to experiment with non-monogamy told us they were happy they did it, even though, yes, they sometimes struggled with jealousy, managing schedules and setting boundaries. Not only did opening up their marriage bring them closer, but they also were proud that they broke from the norm and forged a new path. It was “a badge of courage” they said.

“Our sex life was better because we felt invigorated,” one husband told us. “We found each other very compelling because we were both embarking on this experiment and it takes a certain kind of bravery, and we found that attractive in each other and ourselves.”

“For a lot of people, it doesn’t even occur to them that they can be anything other than monogamous,” his wife told us. “Monogamy can be dangerous even without sleeping with other people. Just having a sense of your own sexuality, being attracted to other people, being able to flirt with other people; when you can’t do that, it just shuts down a part of you. It changes who you are in your marriage and so long-term, that can be really damaging.”

By opening up their marriage, they got to have sex with other people safely and honestly, and with their partner’s knowledge and approval. How refreshing is that?

No lying, no deception, no cover-up, no sneaking around. Of course, that might be a turn on for some people; about 30 percent of people admitted they cheated because it’s exciting.

So, is bringing up the idea of an open marriage a tough conversation to have with your spouse? Of course it is. But trust me — it’s a heck of a lot easier than the conversation you’ll have after your affair has been discovered!

Want to keep up with The New I Do? Pre-order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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Recently, there was an article on the HuffPost that I found somewhat disturbing. A newly divorced mom who admits she married young — 21 and just out of college — to a man with mental challenges. They eventually divorced with young children and now she has to co-parent with him as former spouses.

If co-parenting wasn’t easy as an intact couple it surely does not get easier while co-parenting apart. Still, I was disturbed by this:  fathers

I wanted to fight. I believed I was on the side of right. I still do. But I came to the realization that life is not fair. The courts are not fair. Despite everything I saw and my lawyer saw, there was a chance I might not win. That if I was one of the less than 5% of cases that ends up in court, it might not go my way. In continuing to fight, I was sacrificing my own and my children’s well-being, and our financial future. And I wasn’t willing to potentially sacrifice those things just to prove I was right. … I compromised. I acquiesced to what eventually became a 50/50 share of custody. For my children’s sake, instead of fighting, I tried and continue to try to make peace. At first, I felt like I was sacrificing a piece of my soul every time I pasted on a fake smile and compromised in order to maintain a peaceful existence for my children.

Hey, my heart goes out to her. She sounds incredibly genuine, and I have no idea what it’s like to be married to someone with a personality disorder (although I totally understand what it’s like to be married to someone who is a tad less than honest — and to be a tad less than honest myself).

At the same time, I have a really hard time accepting that a having mental illness means a man can’t be a good dad. Robin Williams, a brilliant comic and a kind person, lived with depression all his life yet he was a beloved man and loving father. Why wouldn’t he be entitled to 50/50 custody? So to take Live by Surprise’s statements as a gospel truth is worrisome.

But the discussion reminded me of a post I’d written a while ago about men who want to be “good” dads — mentally challenged or not  — are often screwed. So please indulge me while I revisit a HuffPost Divorce piece that never made it in my blog, but based on a reality I experienced nonetheless. Here it is, raw and real (with a few updates, thanks to a recent study by Pew on stay-at-home dads):

The moms had seen him at the ballet school every Thursday — an attractive 30-something guy with earrings and cropped blond hair. They gossiped about him — Who is he? Is he unemployed? Is he a trust-fund baby? What is he doing with that cute little girl? Where’s her mother? What is he doing here? He just doesn’t fit in.

Finally, a mother got her nerve to walk up to him. “I see you here every week. What are you doing here?” He was taken aback. What did this mother think he was doing at 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday, the exact time of the beginners’ ballet class? The answer was embarrassingly obvious: “Taking my daughter to ballet class.”

It’s a scenario that seems to be plucked off of the pages of Tom Perrotta’s brilliant novel “Little Children,” or the movie starring Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson based on it. But this isn’t a scene from a novel or a movie — it’s real life if you are a stay-at-home-dad or a single or divorced father. As much as we love the idea of men being an equal partner in a marriage, we don’t necessarily embrace the idea of men being an equal partner in a divorce.

The divorced father who shows up for his kids in meaningful and obvious ways, such as taking a daughter to a midday, midweek ballet class, is still considered odd. It’s a similar but slightly different reality than that of stay-at-home dads — the trail-blazing “feminist, father, and husband who doesn’t care what the gender roles are,” is how Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, sees them.

Not all, however. There are more than 2 million stay-at-home dads, according to a recent Pew survey. But the recession, which hit men hard, has kept many more men at home, willingly or not. (Indeed, the largest share of stay-at-home fathers, 35 percent, is at home because of an illness or disability while 73 percent of mothers are home specifically to care for their home or family). That number is sure to grow; some 45 percent of men said they’d stay at home if their wife made more money than they do, according to a recent survey by Men’s Health and Spike TV.

And then there are single fathers, about 1.8 million in the United States — a 27 percent jump in the past decade, according to the latest Census. Of those single-father families, 46 percent are divorced, and another 19 percent are separated. That’s about two-thirds of all single-father families — a pretty substantial portion of men taking their children to ballet classes or Little League practice. So why are we surprised that many of them are either co-parenting or have full custody?

As Sally Abrahms writes in Working Mother magazine:

“Today, it’s not uncommon for fathers seeking sole custody in a contested case to prevail at least 50 percent of the time. And Dad is asking for joint or primary custody more and more: Over the past decade, the number of fathers awarded custody of their children has doubled, according to the latest data. In the current generation of dads, gender doesn’t dictate who changes a diaper or consoles an infant. And as fathers become more entrenched in their roles as co-caregiver, they’re less willing to hand off that role when a marriage breaks down.”

We should applaud that — dad’s an equal partner, exactly what women want! Yet as a society, we still aren’t used to seeing dads being so hands-on with their kids in public. The stereotypes are challenging. All dads — whether stay-at-home, single, co-parenting or full-custody divorced dads — are likely to hear comments rife with judgment, such as, “Are you babysitting today?” or “Giving Mom a break?” if they’re out with their kids. And they are suspect if they volunteer in classrooms, hang around parks while their kids play, or try to join in a playgroup, typically made up of moms. As one stay-at-home dad tells Andrea Doucet, a Brock University sociology professor and author of Do Men Mother, “It’s kind of bad for men to be interested in other children.”

But divorced dads often experience another layer of judgment and gender-based expectations. “When men parent as single parents, they’re expected not to be as good at it,” says Dr. Wendy A. Paterson, dean of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. School of Education at St. John Fisher College in New York and author of Diaries of a Forgotten Parent: Divorced Dads on Fathering Through and Beyond Divorce.

“We don’t trust men. A lot of women, and they don’t even understand they’re doing this, take on all the mothering and they ‘allow’ the father a peripheral role or an ‘invited in’ role, and then when the father isn’t as big a part of the lives of his children, they get blamed for not participating.”

It isn’t unusual for divorced fathers to hear comments like, “How often are you allowed to see your daughter?” As Sam Magee, a divorced co-parenting dad, writes, “despite having a solid full time job, a regular salary, and no concerning habits of any kind, people were stunned that I got 50% custody. ‘Wow, that’s a lot,’ people would remark. ‘Every weekend?’ They were shocked that I was actually going to be a consistent and active part of my son’s life post-divorce.”

When people react that way with words, they react that way with behaviors, too. While they may have been fine letting their young daughter have a sleepover when a guy has a wife, not many feel the same when he gets divorced. Now it seems creepy. That’s on top of the general stereotypes that all divorced men are womanizers, cheaters and dead-beat dads; after all he must have done something wrong for her to dump his sorry butt.

“There’s a huge need for people who can mediate the separation of a family into two families, and not one family with a visiting dad. Calling someone a visitor; the language of that has to change,” says Paterson, a single mom. “Women will never be liberated until men are.”

Want to keep up with The New I Do? Pre-order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!

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You love your life, you love your spouse and you’re thinking about adding a baby into the mix because you love the idea of having a child with your beloved.

No problem, right?

Right … depending on your gender, something Rebecca Onion addresses so beautifully in her Slate article:

I’m willing to allow that being a mom might strip me of some independence, and the bright little faces of my nieces are a good argument that there would be ample compensation. What I most worry about is that motherhood might make me hate my darling husband. … For a person like me, a feminist with a keen awareness of the generally unfair division of domestic labor, my friends’ irritated gripes, or the findings in books like Arlie Hochschild’s 1989 classic The Second Shift, are little horror stories. “Many women carry into their marriage the distasteful and unwieldy burden of resenting their husbands,” Hochschild wrote. I can see how this would happen to me, and I Do Not Want.  Pre-pregnancy contract

Welcome, Ms. Onion, to the his and her marriage sociologist Jessie Bernard detailed 50 years ago and that is still prevalent today. Ms. Onion worries that motherhood might make her hate her “darling husband,” but what about becoming a mother would do that? Well, a few things, all related to our gendered expectations of who does what better — even among the most enlightened of us. As sociologists Karyn Loscocco and Susan Walzer detail in Gender and the Culture of Heterosexual Marriage in the United States:

The role expectations  associated with being a husband or wife intersect with those to which men and women may more generally be accountable. … people tend to be accountable to dominant gender beliefs whether or not they act on them and to treat them as shared cultural knowledge whether or not they endorse them.

Kudos to Ms. Onion for recognizing that. So how does she want to address those gendered realities? With a bit of brilliance, a pre-pregnancy prenup:

Wouldn’t a not-at-all legally binding document, outlining expectations and setting a course for periodic re-examination of the division of labor, alleviate my fears, and prevent aggravation, or fights, or divorce, in the future? … There is a list of things I’d want if we had a kid. I’m a writer with a very flexible schedule—just the kind of mom whose work time gets bitten into when a child care crisis arises. Could I ask for a guarantee that I could have six (seven? eight?) hours a day to myself, for work, no matter how inconvenient that arrangement gets for him? Could I stipulate that he would need to be done with work at 6 or 7 p.m., rather than his current workaholic quitting time of 9:30 or 10—again, no matter what mitigating factors might arise? Could we acknowledge the unfair cultural expectation that allows fathers to take time for leisure, while denying the privilege to mothers, and try to change that in our own lives through planning? Could I ask for him to learn to cook and shop for groceries, so we could split that 11-hour-a-week burden?

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The past week has brought into our lexicon the idea of a beta marriage — a limited term marital contract — thanks to an article in Time magazine by Jessica Bennett, “The Beta Marriage: How Millennials Approach ‘I Do,‘ based on a (clearly unscientific) survey conducted by the USA Network in conjunction with Satisfaction, its new TV series. The beta marriage idea caused a kerfuffle at Jezebel, Salon, Fox News and a gazillion other media outlets, some of which began wringing their hands over the idea that young people may not be committed to go the distance.   Millennial marriage

Whoa, slow down! It’s not about a lack of commitment; because young adults are wisely postponing marriage, they have more opportunities to have several committed relationships before they tie the knot. In fact, they’re getting better at commitment because they are approaching it consciously. As one Millennial tells Bennett:

“Millennials aren’t scared of commitment — we’re just trying to do commitment more wisely. We rigorously craft our social media and online dating profiles to maximize our chances of getting a first date, and ‘beta testing’ is just an extension of us trying to strategize for future romantic success.”

I love the term beta marriage and wished we had used it in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels — a reminder that, yes, I am too old to have beta be the first thing that comes to mind when I think of what’s new and uncharted — instead of using the name that caused a similar kerfuffle a decade or so ago, a starter marriage.

In truth, as Bennett points out, the idea of a short-term contractual marriage is not new; anthropologist Margaret Mead was talking about such an arrangement back in the 1970s. But as our research for The New I Do uncovered, the idea of a short, childfree (that part is essential) marriage goes, way, way back (you may be surprised to learn how far back).

So much for Millennials creating a new marital model!

Nevertheless, I was encouraged to read that young adults are looking at our current “traditional” model that bases a successful marriage solely on longevity and sexual fidelity, and deciding, nah, that just isn’t working. That is exactly what we hope people get from The New I Do — an awareness of whether the marital model we know still works for who we are today.

OK, if beta/starter marriages have been around for so long, why aren’t we embracing them? Why aren’t they the norm? Well, more people are having beta marriages although it’s still a pretty small amount — just 17 percent divorce before their fifth wedding anniversary — but there’s still a lot of shame, judgment and sense of failure around short marriages (and divorce in general) and, let’s face it, it’s hard to embrace something that a huge portion of society pooh-poohs.

But Millennials may change that — they may be the first generation to remove the stigma around short marriages, just like they may change expectations about monogamy since the same survey reveals many Gen Xers and Yers believe it’s “a social expectation but not a biological reality.” Because it isn’t biological — monogamy is a choice.

Yet, short contractual marriages will not necessarily give couples what they want from that marriage; why marry for two or five or eight years if you don’t have particular goals in mind? While The New I Do suggests the idea of limited contractual marriages, we believe couples must agree in advance what their responsibilities in the marriage are and what they want the marriage to accomplish. That way, they can determine when the time to renew the contract or not is upon them whether their marriage was successful. And it’s a way to hold themselves accountable. The goals of a starter marriage are going to be a lot different than the goals of a parenting marriage.

None of this means that people won’t be able to marry for lifelong commitment and sexual fidelity; that choice will likely always be available for those who want it. But what’s exciting is how young people are willing to put marriage and all its trappings under the microscope and decide for themselves what a successful marriage will look like. That is exactly how you create stable, happy marriages. And isn’t that what the conservatives (many of whom are pushing to make divorce harder) say they want?

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We haven’t had any big celebrity or political sex scandals lately so we’ve thankfully been spared the rash of “How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage” articles that inundate the Internet in the days and weeks after. But from time to time they pop up, here and elsewhere, along with “How to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage” articles.

While the advice in most of those articles isn’t bad or wrong — who can argue with fighting kinder, communicating better, getting it on more often, romancing each other, showing appreciation, boosting intimacy, etc.? — the truth is that following that advice won’t necessarily prevent you from being cheated on or hearing, “I want a divorce” from your spouse.  DDivorce-proof your mariage

Because here’s what none of the so-called relationship or marriage experts is willing to admit, but I am — you can’t affair- or divorce-proof a marriage because you can’t control another person’s behavior, you can only control your own.

There, I said it. In fact, I’ll say it again: You can’t control another person’s behavior, you can only control your own.

I can hear the protestations: “But, shouldn’t I learn how to communicate better, shouldn’t I plan date nights, shouldn’t I appreciate my spouse, etc.?” Yes, yes, yes — it’s wonderful to do all those things and more, but not because you’re hoping it will keep your marriage on track or prevent something bad from happening; you do those things because you want to be the best person you can be, period. No expectations attached.

Let me say that again: Be the best person you can be in your marriage because you want to be the best person, period. No expectations attached.

Granted, I am not an expert; I don’t have a degree in psychology or a license to practice therapy. I’m just a woman who has been married and divorced twice and who has cheated and been cheated on, and who writes about marriage and divorce. That’s why I’m not going to give you advice; don’t we already get plenty of that from the media? And yet that hasn’t changed the infidelity or divorce rates.

Still, I would like you to consider a few things:

  • In her research for her 2010 book, How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy, Jennifer Gauvain discovered that 30 percent of the women she surveyed knew they were marrying the wrong man but tied the knot anyway. Given that fact, what chance do you think those marriages will survive even if each hubby is a romantic communicator who appreciates his wife?
  • Then there are the men and women who marry and a few years or even decades later come out of the closet as gay or lesbian, or who want a sex change. Recent research indicates about 5 percent of American men are attracted to men and a good percentage are closeted. And given recent research into women’s sexual fluidity, there are many more women who, after decades of marriage and raising children realize they are lesbian. While some couples may choose to stay married after a spouse announces, “Honey, I’m gay/lesbian,” others may not — no matter how many date nights you’ve set up.

OK, that still leaves a lot of other couples, people who married their “soul mate” and a husband or wife who is 100 percent hetero. What about them? How are they going to keep their marriage free from affairs and divorce? Well, you know how because I already told you. If you’re looking for a guarantee, you’re not going to get one. Being a Mr. and Mrs. (or a Mr. and Mr. or Mrs. and Mrs.) earns you some sort of status in the eyes of many, deserved or not, and about 1,000 government perks. But it does not offer any protection or guarantee that all is going to be rosy — that is fully dependent on the way you and your spouse act and think in your marriage. And while you can control how you act and think, you cannot control the way your spouse does.

So stop reading “10 Reasons Why Men Cheat,” “The Surprising Reasons Why Women Cheat, “11 Ways to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage” (why 11?) and “9 Easy Ways to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage” (9? Easy? Really?), and start being the best person you can be. Because you want to. You may still end up being cheated on and you may still end up being divorced, but you will always know that you brought the best “you” you could possibly bring into your marriage.

Want to keep up with The New I Do? Pre-order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!

 

(polls)

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Oprah Winfrey is one of the most famous, richest and powerful women in the world — she recently interviewed Matthew Sandusky, Jerry Sandusky’s adopted son and launched her own tea, Tevana, with Starbucks — and beloved by many. And yet even she isn’t free from having to defend her choices. Oprah is unmarried, although she has had a steady partner for 28 years. But because she has chosen to remain unmarried, some wonder — is she or isn’t she gay? Oprah Winfrey unmarried

Here’s how the media handled a yacht cruise of the Virgin Islands Oprah took her BFF of 38 years, Gayle King, on this past March:

Not seen with Oprah and Gayle was the legendary talk show host’s partner of 28 years, Stedman Graham. The Oscar-nominated diva and her 59-year-old gal pal are practically inseparable, which has led to persistent gay rumours. “I am not lesbian. I am not even kind of lesbian,” The Butler star told Barbara Walters on ABC News in 2010.

And that’s how society treats people who chose to couple outside the one-size-fits-all marital box we’ve been led to believe is the only way to live — get married and live together. If you don’t chose that path, well, you must be gay. Think how tiring it must be say, “I’m not lesbian,” over and over again (as if being a lesbian was a bad thing). And think how tiring it must be to explain why — at age 60 — you still aren’t married!!!!

It’s what Susan Pease Gadoua, my co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, was constantly asked until she — finally!!!! — wed at age 43. What’s wrong with you, everyone wondered. And it’s what the 52-year-old George Clooney has had to face until he — finally!!!! — got engaged a few months ago (never mind that he’s been married before).

But Oprah is smart enough to realize that marriage would change what she and Stedman have, and not necessarily for the better:

(H)e’s a traditional man and this is a very untraditional relationship. I think it’s acceptable as a relationship, but if I had the title ‘wife,’ hmmmm. I think there would be some other expectations of what a wife is and what a wife does. First of all you gotta come home sometimes.

Yep, being a “wife” comes with all sorts of expectations and restrictions, and that’s why couples have a “his” and “hers” marriage. Not to say that there aren’t expectations and restrictions for husbands; after all, we still expect men to be the provider even though there are more two-income families and bread-winning wives. But many women tend to lose their sense of identity in a marriage (aren’t we the ones who are often expected to change our last name?), and it’s clear from Oprah’s statement that “you gotta come home sometimes” she just isn’t willing to give up her freedom or identity that way. (That’s why in The New I Do, we acknowledge the fact that some people desire freedom while still wanting long-term commitment and companionship, and offer a marital model that provides both.)

But rather than see Oprah’s arrangement as “wrong” or “odd,” we should applaud the fact that she understands that being a “wife” would limit her ability to be the best Oprah she can be (and who knows how that would have impacted all that she’s created and given us?). She also values friendship, which often “delivers what love promises but fails to provide.Most of all, she doesn’t look to her partner and lover to provide all her emotional needs; her BFF and all the experts she befriends and supports help her with that. Isn’t that a healthier way to approach a relationship than the soul-mate model, which puts way too many expectations and burdens on another person?

Oprah has become a success on her own terms, which may have been harder to do if she had to add “wife” to all her other titles. Isn’t it time people stop worrying about the fact that she’s unmarried? And isn’t it time all of us consider more deeply how being a “wife” or a “husband” would impact the best “you” you offer the world?

Want to keep up with The New I Do? Pre-order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Let’s Occupy Marriage!

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Maybe it’s my age, but when I hear the phrase “on the radio” it’s kind of hard not to break out into Donna Summer’s “On the Radio” (where we you in 1979?)

So,  Susan and I were on Canadian radio last week (thank you for the love, Canada!) and I thought I’d share the conversations in case you missed them. Have a listen and let me know your thoughts.

First we chatted about The New I Do with Bill Good, host of the popular Bill Good Show on CKNW Newstalk 980 in Vancouver, B.C.:

Then we spoke with Andrew Grose on the Tencer and Grose show on 630 CHED in Edmonton, Canada:

And, because I can’t resist ….

(polls)

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