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Enrique Iglesias, son of popular Spanish crooner Julio Iglesias, was in the news recently — not because he came out with a new album or because he’s on a world tour. No, it’s because Iglesias was asked — again — whether he was ever going to marry his girlfriend, former tennis pro Anna Kournikova.

Never mind that they’ve been together for 13 years and living together since 2013. Obviously something’s wrong with them otherwise they would have done what everyone else does and tied the knot by now.  cohabitation

So Iglesias had to defend himself — again:

“I didn’t say that I don’t want to get married. I don’t know if I maybe came out the wrong way. What I said is that, ‘We are extremely happy the way we are.’ I’m not against marriage by any means. … But when you’ve been with someone for such a long time, I don’t think it’s going to make — bring us closer together. I don’t think it’s going to … make us any happier.”

Iglesias isn’t the only one who thinks that way; there are numerous couples that are choosing to live together rather than marry.

There’s been a lot of talk and a fair amount of hand-wringing about the numbers of couples that are living together — there are 12 times as many cohabiting couples today as there were in the 1970s (in part because we’re a lot more accepting of such arrangements and in part because Millennials are — wisely — delaying marriage). But, a good percentage of those couples eventually go on to marry while some 40 percent split within five years. A small amount, about 10 percent, however, see living together as an alternative to marriage, and a recent study by sociologist Alison Hatch, “Saying I Don’t to Matrimony: An Investigation of Heterosexual Couples Who Resist Marriage,” is a revealing look at why couples prefer cohabitation over marriage.

Lest anyone think cohabitors don’t know how to commit, Hatch found the opposite. And they are not merely “trying marriage on” either, which doesn’t work anyway, as Susan Pease Gadoua and I detail in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels; cohabitation is viewed as second-tier to the “real thing” so you can’t live together and experience what being married is like.

So what did Hatch discover? There are two big themes on why couples reject marriage — what marriage means and what marriage does:

“First, many of the stated reasons to resist marriage stem from the participants’ concerns about the meaning of marriage. In other words, some do not want to marry because they do not agree with what marriage, as an institution or a ritual, means in today’s society. These respondents were concerned with issues of civil liberties, and equality and religious freedom, and they felt as though marriage conflicted with those ideals. In addition to concerns about the meanings associated with marriage, respondents also indicated trepidation about what marriage does to the relationship. Thus, the second larger category of responses comprised fears about the consequences of marriage and the belief that the perceived risks associated with marriage outweigh the perceived benefits.”

Included in the above are a few prevalent beliefs about marriage: that it creates a sense of ownership (well, it’s true — women were the property of their husband for many, many, many years); that it stifles freedom and independence (it has been called a “greedy institution“); it enables couples to become “too comfortable,” and the label “wife” and the expectations that come with being a wife are troublesome for some women — especially woman who have been married before.

I’ve talked about the problems of being a wife before (something Oprah seems to understand), and how instead of having the egalitarian marriage couples say they want, they still end up with a “his” and “hers” marriage (and for black couples, it’s even more challenging). And I’ve talked about how couples can get “too comfortable” in a marriage — except, it happens with long-term cohabiting couples, too, as Susan Sarandon discovered. Some of the problems may not be marriage per se, but living together, which is why I prefer being a LAT. Still, society understands and expects marriage, despite the fact that some see it as becoming more irrelevant at the same time same-sex couples are continuin fighting for the right to have it. Clearly, marriage still means something.

As Hatch notes, the cohabiting couples she interviewed look and act a lot like married couples, with the same concerns and arguments, shared responsibilities (including in some cases children) and yes, even commitment. The difference — and this is a big one — is what they’ve given up by rejecting a marriage license:

“This decision often comes at a price, as many faced legal obstacles in their attempts to secure the rights and privileges given automatically to married couples (e.g., the right to coverage by a spouse’s health insurance). Additionally, most to some degree faced social pressure to marry, which reflects Andrew Cherlin’s (2004) argument that despite the increase in cohabitation and ‘deinstitutionalization’ of marriage, the symbolic significance of marriage remains high within the culture.”

This is what Susan and I discovered while researching for our book — once you live together as romantic partners, being unmarried creates as many complications as being married does, except you have legal protections once you tie the knot. So whichever way you choose to be partnered, married or not, there is a strong case to be made for individualizing your partnership, either in a marital plan or a cohabiting plan. Recently, I’ve stumbled upon two good sources for the latter — Cohab Monkey (which, like The New I Do, asks important questions about why the couple is moving in together, what are the union’s goals, the scope of commitments, financial and non-financial, etc.) and Living Together Agreement. I just can’t see anyone moving in together for the long haul without a cohabitation plan. I would suggest a cohabiting plan even if you’re living together for convenience/financial issues (if you’re moving in together and already talking about and/or planning marriage, you need The New I Do).

Two of the most high-profile cohabitors I know of, economist Justin Wolfers and Betsy Stevenson, wisely created such a contract. As Stevenson, an economic adviser to President Obama, has written:

“Marriage is a contract between two people about how to organize their lives together. But modern marriage is a one-size-fits-all contract — a default written by the state legislatures. It makes no sense to me that I would want to sign the same contract with Justin that you sign with your partner. So we didn’t take the standard off-the-shelf contract that we call marriage. Instead, we’ve talked at length about what is important to each of us, and it’s that Betsey-and-Justin-specific agreement that guides our lives together. And as anyone who has studied divorce knows, the formal marriage contract doesn’t actually bind our future selves. But I have something far more enduring with Justin than a wedding certificate: We have an amazing daughter, who will bind us together for, well, until death do us part.”

There’s nothing wrong with choosing to live together and reject marriage or choosing to live together and embrace marriage — or, for that matter, live apart and be committed nonetheless. You just need to choose one of those paths consciously.

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.


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Dear Anthony D’Ambrosio,

I usually don’t say “I’m sorry” when I hear someone tell me he or she’s newly divorced — often, it’s a happier, healthier outcome — but in your case, I’m truly sorry. You seem a tad nostalgic. older marriage

You have been blogging about love and relationships since your divorce and a recent post, 5 Reasons We Can’t Handle Marriage Anymore, went viral and elicited all sorts of reactions.

The way you put it, marriage is “a pretty simple concept — fall in love and share your life together. Our great grandparents did it, our grandparents followed suit, and for many of us, our parents did it as well.”

Not so fast. In your grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ time, divorce was fault-based and really hard to get, marriage was a duty and women had few options to support themselves. So, they really had no other choice but to stay together. And while it’s nice that you compliment your family on their long marriages, you are 29 so your parents are no doubt baby boomers, and the divorce rate for people in their 50s, 60s and older — the so-called gray divorces — is growing, fast. Before you go romanticizing marriage “back then,” let’s not forget that their expectations from marriage were a lot different than ours are now; your great-grandparents and grandparents didn’t marry a soul mate or look for The One. Your grandmother married a good provider, your grandfather married a good homemaker. That’s about it.

“Our generation isn’t equipped to handle marriages” you say, based on — what? You don’t cite any studies or research to back up your statements, just your observations, but let’s examine a few of your reasons anyway.

You lament the demise of sex. After the crazy can’t-keep-my-hands-off-of-you way most couples begin a relationship wears of — and it does, pretty regularly, in about the second year — couples are faced with a dilemma, now what? Thus the constant advice for couples to spice up things, learn new positions, buy new toys, etc. While all of that is fine, the bigger issue no one talks about is monogamy — did you and your former wife willingly choose it, or did you endure it? Monogamy is a choice and, let’s face it — with infidelity rates between 20 percent and 70 percent, it’s clear many of us don’t do monogamy well. Every couple needs to have have conversations about it, as well as have matched expectations about sexual needs and desires.

Same with money. You are right — many millennials are having a hard time chasing the American dream. But since money is one of the issues couples fight about the most, talking about it can’t be ignored. Marriage tax laws encourage specialization, with breadwinning and caregiving roles, even though most couples nowadays want an equal partnership. No one’s going to get that unless they create a marital plan together that addresses finances — how much do we save, what are our long-term goals, who contributes what, etc. Why does that matter? Because, as you now know as a divorced man, the state already has such a plan for divorcing couples — a default prenup, if you will. Why not create your own?

Still, you are astute in observing that marriage doesn’t work for many people, as you are among the “many people today that have failed at marriage.”

And, that’s the problem right there — it’s actually the institution of marriage that has failed you. The traditional marriage model we have was set up at a time when marriage was about protecting wealth and property and forging alliances. Its roots are in coverture, making women their husband’s property. Thankfully, no one marries like that any more — we marry for romantic love (which has made the whole institution unstable) and companionship. We need new marital models that support us in what we want from marriage now, when marriage is one option of many. And, just as important, we need different ways to measure a marriage’s success than just longevity. You yourself mention the couples that “stay in their relationships, miserably, and live completely phony lives.” Are those marriages a success just because they’re still intact? But, if they divorce, they have a “failed marriage“; it’s a shame-based institution.

Here’s what research indicates: When couples have matched expectations, they have happier, more fulfilling marriages.

“I am a believer in true love and building a beautiful life with someone,” you say. l believe you, and I truly hope you find that special someone one day. But Anthony, you don’t you want to just build “a beautiful life” — you want to build a specific kind of life, one that sets up you and your new wife for success by your definition of success, no one else’s.

You’re not going to find that in traditional marriage, but you’re free to individualize your own marriage — one that’s text- and social-media proof. Oh, and I’ll bet you’ll have all the sex you want, too.

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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It wasn’t too many years ago that people believed children should be seen and not heard. Now kids have become the center of their parents’ universe. But that hasn’t necessarily been good for the kids whose parents hover over their every thought and action: According to recent studies, college students who have helicopter parents were more likely to be neurotic and dependent, and kids who keep hearing how special they are are likely to turn into narcissistssingle mom

Not to mention the guilt moms — especially moms employed outside the home — have wrestled with about not having enough time with their kids. Relax, moms; new research indicates that the amount of time parents spend with their young kids pretty much makes no difference in how they turn out (there’s a minimal difference when it comes to adolescents). In fact, kids actually suffer when parents — particularly moms — are sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious.

But, forget about the kids; What about the parents?

Some experts are much more worried about what all this sacrifice is doing to a couple’s marriage. As Margaret K. Nelson, a sociology professor at Middlebury College, notes, trying to balance a demanding job with the pressure moms feel to be with their kids means they’re more at risk of divorce or separation; there’s just less time for their husbands.

Those kinds of statistics haven’t gone unnoticed, thus the increasingly vocal group challenging parents to change their ways, among them David Code, an Episcopal minister and family coach, who writes, “To raise healthy kids, simply put your marriage first and your children second.”

Agreeing with him is psychiatrist Michelle Goland who says, “The mistake many moms make is they believe that if they are a good mother, their husband will be fine and he will understand, but in reality, the husband may feel pushed out of the parenting role and begrudgingly gives up trying to have a relationship with his wife.”

Adds author and cognitive behaviorist Judith S. Beck, “Parents need not, and should not, sacrifice their needs (and some of their desires) for the sake of their children. They should be able to make decisions based on what is good for individual family members, including themselves, and what is good for the family as a whole.”

But what if you’re divorced, as I am? What if you have no marriage to work on, no spouse to pamper and put first? What if there’s just you and your kids? Can a divorced person put his or her needs first, before the kids?

Not so fast! It’s bad enough that 69 percent of Americans believe the rise in single moms is bad for society. But most of us believe that “good” single parents are supposed to sacrifice for their kids. After all, our kids need us; a new love? Meh.

That’s what single mom Shoshana Alexander, a founding editor of the Utne Reader, found while doing research for her book In Praise of Single Parents: Mothers and Fathers Embracing the Challenge: “All of the successful single parents I interviewed … had, early on, decided to make their children the central focus of their lives.”

Somehow, that doesn’t seem right — or healthy.

Why would single parents have to go beyond the normal sacrifices that make up good parenting? A single mom who’s frazzled trying to put her kids first isn’t helping her kids; she’s just making herself unhappy and unhealthy. And, as the saying goes, if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

But if we single parents take care of our own needs, we’re seen as, well, selfish. Worse, many of us guilt-trip ourselves, believing that we’re failing as a parent if we take time out for some personal indulgences, dating or even casual sex. It’s worse if our kids don’t see their other parent that much, or at all; it’s easy to overcompensate while trying to take on the role of both parents. And so we fall into the single parent trap, forgetting that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we turn into miserable, stressed-out, crappy parents.

Here’s why we need to re-frame that conversation. In some ways, single parents are poised to raise kids exactly right — they’re able to get their emotional and sexual needs met outside of a romantic love-based co-parenting situation, and often outside of a cohabiting situation, while also focusing on caring for their kids (not unlike the parenting marriage we propose in The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels). There’s no romantic drama when you’re raising kids solo (and let’s not forget that it’s conflict that’s damaging to kids). They just need to be sure to create a healthy balance of caring for themselves and their kids, as Beck says, “based on what is good for individual family members, including themselves, and what is good for the family as a whole.”

Why isn’t that seen as a good thing?

Interested in learning about ways to re-create your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, September 2014). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook.


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Believing things between the sexes have gotten tense, Esquire magazine explores the state of men and women today in April’s issue. While I can’t say I understand any better what’s going on now that I’ve read the essays, I was particularly drawn to Jen Doll’s essay, The Burden of Choice: What it Means to Be a Modern American Female. choicesI guess because I, too, am a modern American female, albeit two decades beyond her version (but, hey, let’s not quibble about such things, shall we?). Here’s what she says:

I am a particular kind of woman in America: healthy, white, single, heterosexual, childless, and at thirty-nine, still relatively young (though some may disagree). I feel pretty okay. I’ve been lucky. I have options.

Luck and options asides — Education, check. Career, check. Friends, check — the choices that have been available to her are making a mess of her life. Or, rather, they are forcing her to accept living with mess. And among the messes she’s questioning is, what about marriage? What about motherhood?

“I find I’m always wanting more—including some of what I’d scoffed at as a teen as “unoriginal”: the white dress, the traditional trappings of adult life. … I admire my friends who are freezing their eggs but tell myself, for me, if it’s not to be, it’s not to be, at the same time that I wonder, if I never actively choose to be a mom, have I given up something that I will always regret? (To be a woman now in America is to do battle with some sort of baby panic or another, particularly as you head into your later thirties.)”

Baby panic and “always wanting more.” Just a few decades ago, this was not even a concern for women — it was a duty.

I’ll admit, choice is scary, and having a panoply of choices often doesn’t get us what we want, as Barry Schwartz wrote in The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less more than a decade ago but still rings true.

But, it was a lot scarier when we had no choices, when women were limited in their educational and career choices; when they had to marry to survive (and then could be legally beaten and raped by their husbands); when being child-free wasn’t a choice but something to be pitied; when men had to be the provider as Barbara Ehrenreich details so beautifully in The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment, creating a bondage of breadwinning that set them up for unhealthy lifestyles, including depression and suicide. And people in unhappy or abusive marriages couldn’t easily divorce, either, until no-fault divorce came along.

Now, all of us finally have choices; we can have sex, kids, a live-in partner and financial security (huge for women) without marrying. We get to choose our career and lifestyle. We can be single, partnered and living together, partnered and living apart, a single parent, single moms alloparenting in shared housing — the list goes on and on.

So, of course that makes us anxious, and makes life messy. How do we create a meaningful life? How do we know how to bring another person into the fold? Why marry when we no longer have to?

That, of course, is the premise of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, but when I read Doll’s essay, I realize that the same consciousness that we promote in the book in deciding whether to marry or not, and how to have the right marriage, can be applied to deciding just about anything. Given that we can’t have everything, what do we actually want? Because our desires change as we age, we need to think short- and long-term. And, let’s be real — just because we have choice doesn’t mean we can always control the outcome. More often than not, we can’t.

Bring on the mess.

As I mentioned above, I, too, am a modern American female — a middle-aged divorced modern white American female. And that has made all sorts of things easier and harder at the same time. Which means I have adjusted my expectations while also being more discriminating. Here’s what drives me: connection. Friends, family, my partner. The rest is icing.

I doubt we’ll go back to a time when we’ll have fewer choices (and I’d be really, really worried if we preferred that). And while Doll talks about the complications of being a modern American female, she fails to consider that she’s a privileged white American female; being poor, white or not, undoubtedly limits many of the choices she’s struggling with.

Choice can be paralyzing, but it also can be liberating. How do you see it?

Interested in learning about ways to re-create your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, September 2014). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook.

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It has been pretty amusing to watch the reactions this week to an off-handed comment actress Eva Mendes made about sweatpants:

 “No, no, no, no! You can’t do sweatpants. No. Ladies, number one cause of divorce in America? Sweatpants. No. Can’t do that.”  mendes_sweatpants_divorce

She apologized with good humor on Instagram a few days later, blaming orange crocs instead (I’m with her on that!). Still, you think she had something really controversial about, say same-sex marriage or the Middle East or ISIS or something of real substance, but the world reacted swiftly and snarkily and the 41-year-old actress, who had a baby with boyfriend Ryan Gosling last September, had to tweet — hey, it was joke! Gosling, being the good partner, backed her up on Twitter:

“Obviously sweatpants thing was a joke. Wearing them now. That’s right, tweeting in sweatpants. Rats! Said too much! You win again Twitter.”

Among the brouhaha was an article by Brian Moylan, who gave his own spin in Time magazine. There’s a message behind Eva’s comment, he says, no matter how flippantly she made it — if someone lets him/herself slide, it means trouble for the relationship:

The sweatpants could be anything. … The “sweatpants” are not bringing flowers home or not having sex regularly or gaining 20 pounds or peeing with the door open or buying your partner a present just because. … The sweatpants are familiarity and the contempt that they breed. Familiarity is one of the great things about being in a long-term relationship, the possibility to be so comfortable around another person that you can just be yourself. But it’s also dangerous territory. The problem is when your real self is sometimes a little bit less desirable than the ideal version of you that your partner saw in your first few months of courtship, when the emotion was high and those intoxicating love hormones in your brain were freely flowing. That’s why, sometimes, we have to give up our comfort and do something a little special for our significant other.

I have written before about a complaint many men have — their wives have gained so much weight that they’re no longer turned on by them — or that that their wives are no longer interested in sex. And I have addressed how familiarity breeds well, not necessarily contempt as Brian states, but certainly complacency and taking each other for granted (any you don’t have to be married for that to happen, as Susan Sarandon once observed, and Eva and Ryan are not married, either).

But the problem with both Eva’s comment, no matter how much of a joke it was, and Brian’s assessment of it (because everyone took it seriously, reminding me of the reaction to my tongue-and-cheek Huffington Post article on why women shouldn’t marry hot men) is that one person is responsible for a divorce. That if the wife lets herself go, well, of course her husband is going to want out — or maybe just an affair. Thus we are inundated with well-meaning but misguided articles on how you can divorce- or affair-proof your marriage. Except you can’t — all you can do is be the best person you can be and hope that you married someone who’s also interested in being the best he/she can be. You can’t control another person’s behavior, and if wearing sweats send your partner running, well, that says more about his/her character than your own.

And — hello, peopleit isn’t just a women’s job to keep her marriage/relationship on track, despite what we’ve had shoved down our throats like the geese that are destined for foie gras.

So, does that mean you can wear sweats? I don’t see why not (although I prefer yoga pants, but whatever). There’s a wide spectrum of what “letting yourself go” means, and from my experience as a twice-married and divorced woman, I will say here’s what I’ve observed — most of us are totally capable of losing weight, exercising more and looking better once we’re divorced and perhaps looking for new love, which is why I say we should all act like we’re divorced in our marriage (again, tongue-in-cheek). If we can do that while single, why not do it when we’re married? If you don’t, it does not give your spouse carte blanche to act poorly. And if you do, it doesn’t mean your marriage will be divorce- or affair-proof — there are no guarantees in love — but at least you will feel great about yourself. You do want that, right?

Interested in learning about ways to re-create your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, September 2014). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook.

 

 


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If there’s one thing almost all of us can agree on when it comes to divorce it’s worrying about the kids: How will divorce impact them?

That’s the reasoning behind the wrong-headed push to make divorce harder in this country for parents of minor children and it’s why no one seems to be too upset when a childfree couple divorces (again, wrong-headed, but it’s the truth). divorce kids

And kids have their feelings about it, no matter how old they are when their parents split. A handful of young children reveal their thoughts in Bay Area filmmaker Ellen Bruno’s wonderful documentary, “Split,” which is, at times, heart-wrenching in its honesty although it’s clear that parental conflict causes them the most stress, not the divorce per se, and not being able to see their father as much as they’d like.

So I was intrigued by an article on BuzzFeed on what adult children (or at least the demographics that read BuzzFeed, the majority of which are between 18 and 34 years old, so Millennials and GenXers) think about their parent’s divorce.

Here are some choice quotes:

“Not everyone is meant to be monogamous forever and that’s totally OK. It doesn’t make you a bad person.”

“My parents got divorced when I was 21, and I learned that if you hate your spouse, you should not stay together for the sake of your kids because you’re not doing anybody any favors.”

“Looking back on it, the best moments I’ve had with my family happened after my parents got divorced and started co-parenting.”

“I’ve learned that ‘marriage’ doesn’t always mean that everything works out all happily ever after – but it does mean you still have a life together, at least in some way, if you have children together.”

These quotes give me hope.

While no one would promote divorce as being some sort of wonderful event, although it often is the route out of dysfunctional or abusive relationships and can lead to amazing transformations, what these answers illustrate is that perhaps, finally, people are taking off the rose-colored glasses about the institution as well as busting the fairy-tale romantic myths we keep perpetuating about it. Marriage can be great if you’ve married a good partner and are a good partner, or it can be a prison. It’s up to the people in it to make it good or bad; the marriage license doesn’t guarantee anything except access to legal protections.

Yes, monogamy needs to be a discussion. Yes, staying together “for the kids” rarely makes anyone happy, let alone the kids. Yes, once you have kids together you continue to be parents even if things don’t work out “happily ever after” — better learn to deal with that. What’s wrong with those messages? Aren’t they part of a much more real conversation about about what we want and expect from marriage? Who knows if these are the kinds of observations they’d have if they hadn’t been through parental divorce. Maybe the divorce made them pay more attention to their own romantic relationships. Maybe divorce was a positive thing for them.

Of course, no one wants children to be in the crosshairs while parents attempt to figure their stuff out. We want to be able to give kids the stability and consistency they need to thrive (hello, Parenting Marriage!!). But now that we don’t talk about kids being from broken homes, now that much of the stigma about divorce is gone, why are we still perpetuating myths about marriages that fall apart before the so-called perfect time — death (although we haven’t quite gotten rid of the idea of calling a marriage that ends before “death do us part” as a “failed marriage”)?

I’m not trying to put a good spin on divorce; for some people and for some kids it’s devastating, and  I want to acknowledge that. I also want to acknowledge that some people who grew up with it have found positives from the experience (although I don’t quite buy into Kate Winslet’s philosophy). Both are true and neither is right or wrong.

Marriage isn’t always the answer and divorce isn’t always the problem, whether you have kids or not. You just want to uncouple as consciously as you can and stop fighting. Really, that’s it.

Interested in learning about ways to re-create your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press, September 2014). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook.


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The wedding season is approaching and just as weddings have changed into grand and expensive events, and with an expected boom in weddings for same-sex couples, there are some major shifts afoot in the way we love, partner, become parents and indulge our sexual passions. Given that, here’s what I predict, based on current trends and research done for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics Realists and Rebels, love and marriage will look like in the years ahead.

Experiments in non-monogamy  Plural_marriage

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

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

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

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

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

 Co-parenting without love

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

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

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

Websites like Modamily.com and Coparents.com, which help match men who are interested in being dads with women who are interested In being moms, are making it easier to enable couples, romantic or not, to come together for one purpose — have kids and co-parent. It’s a model that’s worked well for many years for same-sex couples, but is now also becoming attractive to heteros. As one child psychologist noted:

“Compared with conventional parenting where the mother and father have to constantly be ‘in love’ in front of their child, co-parenting doesn’t include the ‘strain’ of marriage. Also, a child conceived in a co-parenting scenario has access to two loving parents, who have made a conscious effort to conceive this child and may be more financially ready.”

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

Multiple partnering

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

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

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

Despite all these changes, don’t worry — you can still say “I do” in a white gown or tux.

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

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A few of my friends have made a name for themselves by their work, whether as an ER doctor or an author.

One made it by her husband’s infidelity.

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Not to say that she wasn’t an amazing woman on her own; she clearly was and is. But when local media picked up on the blog she started about the infidelity that led to the end of her marriage, His Giant Mistake, Cleo (a pseudonym) took it and ran.

Her blog and then book have since catapulted her into another stratosphere, but the underlying message is what she told a reporter back in 2012: “It’s stunning how many people are going through the same thing.” The “thing” being infidelity, which, if it were a disease, might be considered at epidemic proportions. Clearly infidelity impacts us a society, not just as individuals, couples, kids, family and friends, which I why I question what the high rate of infidelity says about marriage.

So, when Cleo and met recently and I asked her how she’s doing, four years post-discovery, I was so happy to learn that she’d doing great, and has poured herself into help others struggling with betrayal with a weekly call series. I don’t want to present divorce as a wonderful life event, but I do want to acknowledge how healthy and happy it can be for those who were in a bad marriage. And I want to acknowledge that there’s an upside even if you weren’t the one who wanted out, even if you  thought you were in a good marriage, as Cleo did.

Here’s what we talked about:

Q: For those who don’t know your background, please share a bit of your story and what your blog, His Giant Mistake, is about.

A: Four years ago I moved across the country to Marin County with my husband, two children and our dog. Six months later, I answered my cell phone and listened to my husband order a bottle of wine to take to his room, with his mistress in tow. I was completely blindsided. It was only a few months earlier that we celebrated our 15th anniversary with him expressing his joy at being blessed to have me in his life. He denied the affair, but soon I discovered that he had been leading a double life and had been engaged in the affair for at least five years prior to that pocket call. I also discovered that I had met her.

His Giant Mistake was born out of desperation. I was alone, my entire family was back east, I had two little boys who had just been moved across the country. I had a choice — get fearless and make good choices, or screw them up forever. To keep me on track, I started writing HGM.

Q: How has your focus changed since you began blogging?

A: This has not been a linear journey, but I am in a place now where I feel I can explore infidelity and divorce with some distance, providing a perspective that isn’t driven by fear or anger, but by having discovered that in those painful and scary hours some real magic happened. I was fortunate enough to capture it in my writings. In that first year a handbook of sorts was created — how to not vaporize while your world implodes. And now I focus on gathering up those lessons and applying them in this new phase of my life, which honestly isn’t any less challenging, but I am so much more present and courageous.

Q: It seems that a lot of good things have happened since the discovery of your former husband’s affair, your divorce and now. Can you talk about that?

A: I’ve learned to make good choices, courageous choices, and experienced explosive emotional and spiritual growth from a commitment to tireless self-excavation. Writing about it with absolute honesty gave others who experience betrayal a voice. The biggest gift has been becoming a better parent to my children, a more present parent, and a better friend to myself — more loving, supportive, trusting, forgiving. From there my writing blossomed and I was rewarded with a contract to write a remarkable true story of betrayal and redemption set in Afghanistan. It’s a huge challenge and opportunity, the next level of being fearless in life for me.

 Q: You have two young children. How have they handled their new life and what has helped them through the many transitions?

A: They, like many young children, wish Mom and Dad were still together. Divorce complicates the lives of children and they just want their childhood to be free and easy. Given that I can’t undo the choices made by my former spouse, I chose to give my children a reliable, grounded mom. In the first few days I became acutely aware of the fact that I was making memories for them, and I wanted them to be good ones. That said, I’ve done a lot of apologizing to them along the way.

Q: When you look back at where you were in 2011 and now, what would you tell your younger self?

A: One day you will look back fondly on this experience and realize that it was the gateway to the most explosive personal growth in your life. Without it you would have lived an unconscious life and barely scratched the surface of all that is magical on this planet. Your experience with infidelity and divorce will bring you fully to life.

Q: Why did you decide to offer a weekly call series and whom is it for?

A: It’s for people experiencing betrayal, infidelity, divorce. The idea for the call came as I wrote replies to emails sent to me from people who feel lost, overwhelmed, angry and need to be heard by someone who understands how they feel. I wanted to be able to speak to them and let them know that they have a magical opportunity hidden in the rubble they feel trapped by. It’s part class, part support, part meditation, part yoga for the emotional body.

Q: People are all over the map when it comes to infidelity. Some say couples can use it as a way to re-create and strengthen their relationship, and others say it’s the end of a relationship. What advice do you have for people who are facing infidelity?

A: Use the experience as an opportunity to look within. Refuse the victim mindset and instead embrace this as an opportunity to make courageous choices and flourish. Whether you stay together or divorce, this step is essential to realize your full potential in life. Self-excavate, explore, be curious about who you are, honest about how you are living your life and love yourself.

Photo by Leslie Sophia Lindell

Download an eBook of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels for $1.99 through March 15. Details here.

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

 

 

 


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When I interviewed Eve Pell, who chronicles late-in-life marriages, including her own, in Love, Again: The Wisdom of Unexpected Romance, I, as usual, researched her life so I didn’t have to ask her questions I already could get answers to. In my research, I discovered her socialite mother cheated on her father, ran off with a lover, married him and had a custody battle that was sordidly played out in New York newspapers. how infidelity impacts kids

So Eve ended up living with the man who effectively destroyed her known family life, a situation I would consider to be one of the worst-case divorces. Except, it wasn’t; Eve loved her stepfather much more than her dad.

But that often isn’t the case. A friend never quite forgave her mother for having an affair and then forcing her to live with her and her lover, whom she also married. And she believes it screwed her up for a long time when it came to her own romantic relationships.

I can imagine she’s not the only one.

It’s hard to know how many kids have been in the middle of a parent’s infidelity because we just don’t know how many people are cheating; estimates are from around 25 percent to as high as 70 percent. And, it’s hard to know how many cheating spouses take their kids with them if they go on to live with or marry their lover. I’m guessing it would be mostly women who would do that; women seek divorce much more than men do, fewer women don’t have custody (2.4 million out of 8.6 million single moms, but that’s approaching the number of single dads, 2.6 million) and they seem to face less public scrutiny or at least less outrage than cheating men do. There are about 1 million kids who experience parental divorce each year, and I’m pretty certain infidelity played a part in a big percentage of those splits; it’s among the top factors for divorce.

And, we aren’t even sure how to define infidelity — Watching porn? Masturbation? Sexting? We are ill-equipped to define infidelity (outside of intercourse) and therapists are, too; that’s why every couple must decide between themselves what’s OK and what’s not.

So it’s no surprise that many, like my friend, go on to have problems with trust and honesty.

“I’m not saying that everyone does it, but 55 percent of adult children that came from families where one parent was unfaithful ended up being cheaters themselves,” says clinical psychologist Ana Nogales, author of Parents Who Cheat: How Children and Adults are Affected When Their Parents Are Unfaithful.

But there are a number of factors to consider — when the kids find out, how old the kids are, whether it’s one isolated incident or a history of sexual shenanigans, whether it leads to divorce, whether the cheating parent moves in with the lover, whether the child becomes a confidante, how their parents handle themselves after, whether the child discovers the infidelity accidentally (like after DNA testing that indicate the man they believe is their father isn’t, which occurs a small percentage of the time). The list goes on and on.

There just isn’t enough long-term data to make generalizations on how a parent’s transgressions impact a child as he or she enters adulthood. But, there are patterns, just as we see in children whose parents are addicts or abusive. “It’s not just a behavior, it’s a whole dynamic of relationships,” says Azmaira Maker, a family therapy psychologist.

And it begins to impact them before the actual infidelity is exposed, says psychiatrist and author Scott Haltzman:

“The unfaithful spouse is mistaken to believe the pain inflicted by the affair happens at the moment the child is told. No, the harm done to the child occurs at the moment that that partner elected to go outside the marriage for an emotional or physical relationship. When an affair happens, it cheats the spouse and the family of the love and commitment of a partner and parent. Telling the child may put an ugly name on why a parent has pulled away from the family, but it is, ultimately, naming a truth. And if there is one thing that affairs teach us, it is how devastating lies can be.”

With that in mind, Haltzman doesn’t agree that children should always be told about a parent’s infidelity. (Which is yet again another reason why all infidelity is not abuse; most of us would agree that children should be immediately removed from an abusive home.)

My kids, 9 and 12 at the time we divorced, knew an age-appropriate amount; I was unsure if they should know, but their father shared that with them and so there you go. Because there was forgiveness — yep, that matters if you ever want to move on — and because we co-parented well with 50-50 physical custody, it hasn’t been an issue as far as I know. I’m sure they will have more questions about it later in life, if they marry and have kids, which is when the Pandora’s box of our family-of-origin issues opens wide.

I imagine few of us have had a perfect, idyllic childhood; most of us are on a spectrum from pretty great to horrible. A parent’s infidelities is just one of the many things life can toss at us. Please share your story.

Download an eBook of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels for $1.99 through March 15. Details here.

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


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You were in love. It didn’t work out. You split. Then one day something happens — maybe your parent dies or you get sick or you realize you’re tired of the dating game at midlife — and you start thinking, “I want my ex back.” No worries because there are thousands of “proven techniques” on the Internet to help you do exactly that.  ex_back

That seems to be stuff of snake-oil con men, but there are plenty of people who do want their ex back, and get them — most recently Ethan Embry and Sunny Mabrey, who have gotten engaged again after divorcing in 2012.

While Embry admits his former wife of seven years may have been somewhat manipulative in her approach — “She drove over to pick up my son, and I came out to say hello and she’s wearing my old shirt, my favorite f–king shirt! And it’s this vintage Levis plaid number, and she had tied it at the titties” — they are hopeful it works out this time (although I’m skeptical about this maneuver …)

“We grew up,” Mabrey says. “I don’t know, we needed that time, obviously we did. We were just … a little mixed up. It takes a long time to realize what’s important and figure out your own issues. I just think we’d been apart for so long and the love wasn’t going away.”

That’s nice for them but for many divorced people having a root canal would be preferable to remarrying a former spouse; after all, he or she’s a former spouse for a reason.

Yet it happens.

Marie Osmond says it was “mental cruelty” from former pro-basketball player Steve Craig that sent her to divorce court. But when her teen-aged son from a second marriage, which ended in divorce, committed suicide, Craig was there for her. They tied the knot again in 2011.

During a tragedy, we often count on the people who know us best to show up, and he did. That’s pretty powerful. But is that and a couple’s shared history enough to sustain a remarriage?

Perhaps not; while about 15 percent to 45 percent of first marriages end in divorce about 60 percent to 80 percent of second marriages end in divorce (although numbers vary on how many of those second marriages are to the former spouse or a different one with assorted children from different parents all trying to live happily a la “The Brady Bunch” under one roof).

But the bigger issue for exes who are remarrying is personal growth, as in has there been any? “Remarrying may be a good idea if, during your time apart, you’ve changed elements of your behavior that were causing the problems in your relationship. Then you’re not the same person you were before and you have a better chance of success second time around,” says U.K. psychologist Denise Knowles.

But if you haven’t, it’s too easy to slip back into old habits. “Do that and the relationship certainly won’t last,” she says.

And we all know how easy it is to change at midlife.

Of course, Osmond and Craig aren’t the only ones to tie the knot again. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton did it, so did Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, Elliot Gould and Jennifer Bogart, Stephen Crane and Lana Turner, Eminem and Kimberley Scott. Pamela Anderson married Rick Salomon twice, but is now is the middle of divorcing him yet again.

And it’s not just celebrities. According to research by Nancy Kalish, a psychology professor at California State University in Sacramento, about 6 percent of the participants worldwide noted that they married, divorced, and then remarried their former spouse, and about 72 percent of those reunions were successful.

Science writer Rachel Clark, who chronicles her marriage, divorce and remarriage to her former husband on the Psychology Today blog, Marry, Divorce, Reconcile, believes the 6 percent is too low. So does Michele Weiner Davis, author of Divorce Busting and The Sex-Starved Marriage; she believes about 10 percent of the population remarries their spouse, although not necessarily with the actual legal actions:

“People in long-term healthy marriages experience many divorces over the course of their lifetimes, it’s just that they never leave and they remarry each other. Marriage changes over time. We need to divorce our ‘old’ partners and start relationships with our ‘new partners,’ without ever leaving home.”

That may be so, but once you do leave, the old Thomas Wolfe book comes to mind; you can’t go home again.

That’s why The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels suggests that you try something different rather than work harder on a marriage, which is what “experts” often recommend.

But if you’re already divorced, be really careful about romanticizing your former spouse. Even with all those “proven techniques” to get him or her back.

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

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

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