man Anthony Weiner was sexting (the first time) while wife Huma Abedin was secretly pregnant, back in 2011. Whether you consider that cheating or not, Abedin finally did — filing for divorce after the third sexting scandal.
They weren’t the first poorly behaved dads-to-be.
The concept of a husband who cheats while his wife is pregnant is “probably more common than people suspect,” says Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and author of The Secrets of Happily Married Women.
It isn’t necessarily about sex. “It can also stem from an emotional need, like a desire to be cared for, to feel important or special,” he says.
Or, as psychologist Robert Rodriguez, author of What’s Your Pregnant Man Thinking?, says, it could be because the husband feels a bit lost — or “usurped by the impending arrival” — and what that may mean for him and his role in the family, which may explain why Rodriguez says about 10 percent of dads-to-be cheat on their partners during pregnancy.
sociologists will explain that cohabitation breeds indifference, but the biggest factor ends up being that all of the sudden, especially when a first child or pregnancy is on the scene, your sex life goes from 100 mph to zero. Like, literally, there becomes a period of abstinence. Women feel less attractive so there’s an emotional side to not wanting to be sexually active for some, not all. There’s a healing period of time, and then there’s a demands period of time. Having a newborn is tough. It doesn’t lead to a lot of intimacy.
No matter how you feel about the Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt divorce — including the desire to not have to think about it, celebrity divorces or divorce in general — there is one thing all parents should pay attention to.
The reason they split, we’re lead to believe, is because they couldn’t agree on how to parent their six children: Jolie wants to homeschool their children so they can become “worldly” as the family travels throughout the world and among their homes in France, New Orleans, Los Angeles and New York City, and Pitt supposedly wanted them to be enrolled in school.
That’s just one small part of being a parent — school is important, yes, but there are a lot of other factors that go into how parents will have and raise children, from how many they’ll have to how far apart they’ll be born or adopted to religious instruction to discipline to who’ll care for them to activities and sports. In other words, there are lots of things to think about when a couple decides to become parents — and a similar process must happen when a man or woman considers whether to become a single parent. But, here’s one thing that doesn’t happen when one decides to become a single parent — there’s no one else’s opinions, feelings, thoughts, desires to take into consideration. But if you’re raising children as co-parents, there are a lot of things that need to be decided together.
Except, are parents fully deciding together how they will raise their children?
What is a parent’s responsibility?
OK, most of us are not living the life of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. But, any couple deciding to have children together or even those couples who didn’t decide but suddenly find themselves pregnant, have a certain responsibility to figure out what they’re doing and why … ideally before their child is born.
Of course, things change once your kids are born and then start to grow. Learning challenges may suddenly appear or an illness. So, having a parental plan of action isn’t set in stone; you have to be flexible. But a parenting plan is a baseline.
Apparently, it wasn’t just how the kids were going to be schooled that helped lead to the Jolie-Pitt split; it also was how they were being disciplined. Both Jolie and Pitt admitted he was the stricter of the two — but perhaps just with their boys. “I am with the boys,” Pitt once said. “Girls do no wrong so I don’t have to be.” As a former girl myself, I would beg to differ. Girls do plenty of wrong and I’m actually surprised by his rather sexist view.
Nevertheless, discipline and schooling are two huge issues when it comes to raising children and if couples become parents without having some sort of a meeting of minds, they are setting themselves up for trouble — and perhaps divorce. Divorce per se isn’t bad for children, but if the parents are still fighting, well, we know from studies that conflict is what’s harmful to kids. And because Jolie is fighting for full physical custody of their children and Pitt has reluctantly agreed to that for now, continued conflict for them is not out of the question. Guess who will suffer?
Given all that, it’s clear the old way of becoming a parent is no longer working for us or our kids. There’s been some talk about a “new ethic of responsible parenthood,” which sounds great on the surface although I have some problems with what’s suggested on how to create that.
Yes, there needs to be policies that give parents the support they need, but the onus is on every person who decides to raise a child to plan for parenthood, especially if they’re co-parenting.
Are prenups for kids?
Jolie and Pitt allegedly have an “iron-clad” prenup for their substantial wealth. How ironic, then, that they don’t create a “prenup” for what seems to be even more precious — the well-being of their children. Those six kids have a right and a need to have access to both parents (assuming that doesn’t put them into a harmful situation) equally. At the same time, each parent should have a right to be an active partner in deciding what’s best for his or her children. Neither is likely to happen now.
That’s why divorce can be so painful.
Many of today’s marriages are based on having children — so-called high-investment parenting (HIP) marriages. But that’s not enough. In The New I Do, we address what a prenup for a parenting marriage may look like; in fact, we call it the true definition of planned parenthood. A prenup for kids may seem silly — honestly, who has one? — and perhaps even unnecessary. Except, there are no guarantees in life, love or marriage. If your kids matter to you — and I’d say most parents would say they do — and you want to make sure you have a say in how they’ll be raised, whether you’re cohabiting, married or in a parenting partnership, please don’t wait until things fall apart (and none of us think it will) and you and your co-parent are unhappy or angry or both or worse; make a plan. Now. Your children will thank you for it one day. Or, just as good, perhaps they’ll never even have to know.
Affairs have suddenly popped up in the national conversation, and honesty — who doesn’t like a good open discussion about the dishonesty of infidelity?
OK, well maybe it’s just me …
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a pal of Donald Trump’s, recently suggested in a conversation slamming Hillary Clinton about Bill Clinton’s affairs that “everybody” commits infidelity.
That’s an interesting comment coming from the party of “family values” (or maybe that’s just how you feel because, you know, you yourself have fooled around).
In any event, saying “everybody” cheats seems to be a stretch; while it’s hard to get an exact number of people who are cheating because it’s all self-reported (and you have to think that those who are lying to their spouse are probably not going to be totally honest when it comes to a poll on infidelity), some studies indicate it’s about 20 percent of married couples while others suggest it may be as high as 60 percent to 70 percent. Not everybody, but a lot nonetheless.
People cheat for all sorts of reasons. And we know that a certain percentage of people who engage in infidelity say they have happy marriages. Still, it would be interesting to know how some affairs start. So I was interested in reading a new study that looks at exactly that.
According to the study, there were a few things going on:
Dissatisfaction and hopelessness in the marriage
A value of novelty and passion in romantic/sexual relationships
There is a sense of deserving sexual satisfaction
The spouse and self are viewed as fixed characters
Lack of curiosity for the spouse as a subject
An experience of passion overtaking and overriding one’s judgment
The affair is not recognized as an affair until after it begins
Divorce is not considered a real option
This is hardly rocket science. As study author Nicolle Zapien states:
The current structure at first glance is not particularly surprising and seems intuitive — one is experiencing an unsatisfying marriage, has a desire for passion and novelty, and begins a passionate affair with a stranger. It reads like the plot of a romance novel. However, the current structure is not experienced as a familiar plot, leading to an affair, by the one who begins an affair; instead it is surprising and later confusing.”
In other words, the person who ends up cheating didn’t actually plan it, and the “moment that it is considered ‘erotic,’ named ‘sexual’ or therefore ‘an affair’ occurs after a clear and embodied sexual act (e.g. a kiss, going to a hotel with the intent to have sex).”
That certainly seems to fly in the face of what most of think is going on when infidelity occurs; how can someone not see that his or her behavior — flirting, sexting, sneaking around, etc. is a recipe for trouble? Wouldn’t it be inevitable? Not to say that some affairs aren’t planned. It’s just interesting to see how some people never saw it coming (but I’ll bet if their spouse knew what they were doing, he or she would!).
OK, the study was really limited, just three people — this is not comprehensive. It references similar results of another study, of four women in the Bible Belt who had affairs, and yet that, too, was extremely limited. Limited or not, however, it at least forces us to acknowledge that for a certain percentage of the cheating population, affairs “just happen.”
What about opening up the marriage?
What I find interesting is that the discussion of opening up the marriage — what we present as a viable option in The New I Do — was quickly rejected: “I knew that he couldn’t handle it if I actually said, ‘I want to see other people,'” one woman says.
That’s too bad because as much as we may know our partner and what he or she might say, we might want to consider giving him or her the option to be an active participant in what happens within the marriage regardless. That’s the part of cheating that hurts the partner; excluding us from our own marital destiny (and the lying, obviously). Of course, suggesting that we want to sleep with someone else — and hopefully granting the same privilege to our partner — can create all sorts of problems we may not want to deal with. So many of us just choose to do the “easier” of the scenarios: cheat.
Recently the Guardian ran an article on how to cope with a sexless marriage. It was the usual response — be patient, be kind, seek help, etc. — with tips on how to “bring back intimacy.” None of that is wrong per se, but those tactics can only go so far. This week, the paper ran some selected comments by readers — because there were many — on what it really feels like to be in a sexless (by their definition) marriage. They are as painful to read as the ones readers have posted on The New I Do website and on this blog. If the only options are to suffer, divorce or cheat, well, who’s really the “bad” guy or gal in the scenario?
Obviously, not everyone who has an affair has a sexless marriage and obviously not everyone who has a sexless marriage cheats. And, sorry Rudy, not “everybody” cheats. But every committed couple right now, married or not, might want to have a conversation about monogamy, define infidelity and determine what their options might be should their sexual needs ever differ. Or, they, too, might find themselves surprised and confused one day.
I loved my wedding rings. The first one, purchased when I was not yet 21, from a jeweler’s case in Golden, Colorado, was a gorgeous delicate band of flowers in white gold. Because it was mass produced, I imagine there were hundreds of other hippish young women who wore the same band to prove their special union, but that didn’t matter to me — the ring proved my very special union, and that’s all that mattered.
My second wedding ring was custom-designed by me, fashioned from the melted-down gold from the bands of our first marriages, as well the diamonds (yeah, that’s what happens). I’m not sure a custom-designed ring offers a couple any more clout or guarantees than a mass-produced one but, regardless — both my former husbands and I wore rings that clearly displayed, “I’m married.”
But does that matter? Must married people wear a wedding band? What if they don’t want to or can’t because of metal allergies or their occupations or maybe they just don’t like jewelry; do we judge them? Is it making a statement about their union?
If we want married and engaged people to wear rings that clearly proclaim “taken,” then what should we think of people who wear wedding bands when they’re not married, or women who wear engagement rings when they’re not engaged? Are they liars?
No wedding ring = available?
A number of married men don’t wear wedding bands — Donald Trump, Prince William and Jay Z among them. Some people believe that if a man doesn’t wear a wedding band it’s because he wants to let it be known, “Hey, I’m available,” even if he’s quite committed or married, which may or may not mean he’s available (there are open relationships after all). “There are many who subscribe to the notion that affairs may be avoided if both sexes would simply adhere to this public signifier that they are ‘taken,'” says the New York Times.
Really? Wearing rings would prevent affairs from happening? Nah …
Does this just speak to women’s insecurities? Why are we looking to a ring to tell us “the truth”? Shouldn’t a direct, “Are you married or in a committed relationship?” be enough?
But some people pursue men or women wearing a wedding band precisely because they’re unattainable; all they want is a romp or two and a married person is probably more likely to just want a fling and nothing else.
Which makes me wonder, does a wedding band mean anything anymore (besides to the couple, obviously) and, if so, does it mean what we want it to mean? And while women often wear engagement rings, there’s nothing comparable for men — no bling that says, “I’m spoken for,” before the “I dos” have actually been said. Why not? It kind of speaks to the “women as a man’s property” thing.
There’s power in wearing a ring on the left-hand ring finger: “make no mistake, people always notice rings. They may not say anything, but they scanned your hands within seconds of seeing you and deciding to engage in a conversation. So be careful about what messages you are sending in certain situations (interviews, conservative business settings, trips abroad) where the casual observer may have their own interpretation of what your rings mean.”
It’s funny but if you are a woman, attached or not, certain circumstances may make wearing an engagement ring or wedding band a survival tactic; “Being seen as married will lower your profile and stave off uninvited advances,” suggests the Canadian government’s “Her Own Way: A Women’s Safe Travel Guide,” which got a bit of flack for that advice.
I’m pretty sure a lot of women would agree that we’d rather not have to bother with that pretense, but I have no idea how many have succumbed to that supposed “survival” tactic abroad. But a lot of us do just going about our daily life.
The problem with this is that in removing wedding bands women are giving in to the societal perception that they’re somehow unable to succeed in both their careers and family life. There’s also the mentality that if a woman is engaged, hiring her could be risky because obviously, she’ll be getting preggers as soon as she can, so whatever training and work went into her time at a company before her maternity leave will be seen as a waste.
So that big rock or the gold band on your finger is sending all sorts of messages. So does not wearing one. I guess the bigger question is, does that matter to you?
None of us wed thinking we’ll get divorced. Oh sure, most of us are aware that divorce is an option, but not for all, whether for religious beliefs, a desire to make it work no matter what (commitment being a commitment), fear of “failing” or perhaps good ol’ stubbornness.
And then, stuff happens.
Stuff happened to three popular, powerful women recently: Elizabeth Gilbert, Elizabeth Vargas and Glennon Doyle Melton. Different stuff, but the end result was the same — each is divorced or getting a divorce.
Which is why my head explodes whenever I read about the efforts to make divorce harder for parents of minor children. No one enters divorce lightly, because it’s typically an emotional and financial clusterfuck. But even for the childfree, divorce is usually the last resort. Need proof? Read on …
Gilbert, author of the best-selling Eat Pray Love, doesn’t have children, but she famously divorced the first time exactly because she didn’t want to have children and somehow that wasn’t a discussion she and hubby No. 1 had. Still, her separation from Jose Nunes, her partner of 12 years and husband of nine, isn’t because anyone cheated or sexted or did anything “wrong” or “bad.” Gilbert realized, at age 47, that she’s in love with someone else, her best friend — who also just happens to be a woman. “Love is always complicated,” she wrote in Eat Pray Love. Yes, it is.
Doyle Melton, the hugely popular, Oprah-approved blogger at Momastery, had been open and honest about a lot of her marriage except one huge aspect of it — her husband’s infidelity. Three years ago, right around the publication of her first book, Carry On, Warrior, she confessed that she and her husband, Craig, were separating over something he disclosed when they were in therapy. She was vague about details but said they were determined to work at it — they have three young children together. In February she laid a bombshell — her husband had confessed to cheating on her throughout their marriage but they were staying together, a journey detailed in her new book Love Warrior. And then in August, right before the book was published, an announcement — they were separating again.
What does it mean?
The only common thread among the three women is they are divorced or in the process of divorcing, not what led to their split. I have no doubt that when each of them stood before her husband and said whatever vows she said, she meant them. That’s how most of us marry — with good intentions.
And then, as I wrote above, stuff happens.
For the people who want to make divorce harder, shaming couples into “working harder,” well, I think all of us can agree that Glennon Doyle Melton worked pretty damn hard to salvage her marriage. Nevertheless, it is still ending. I also think that we can agree that no amount of “working harder” was going to give Elizabeth Gilbert’s marriage a happily-ever-after ending. And while Elizabeth Vargas didn’t ask to be divorced, her addiction helped create a situation her husband could no longer be part of — one he most likely didn’t want their children to be around either.
Who is going to fault any of them for having their marriage end?
So the next time you read an article or listen to a so-called expert exclaim how you can divorce-proof your marriage, think of these three women. Then you’ll know the truth — you just can’t divorce-proof a marriage. And you may also realize that people do not “give up” on their marriage easily and quickly nowadays.
Each of these women has made a career out of transparency and truth-telling, yet for a long time they did not tell the real truth to their fans, their spouses and even themselves. No one really knows what goes on in someone else’s marriage.
But those in the marriage know. As Doyle Melton says about being a woman who doesn’t ignore what she knows or betrays herself, “you never promised yourself an easy life, but you did promise yourself a true one.” And sometimes, that truth means you need to divorce.
I am not a fan of the self-help industry nor of most so-called relationship “experts.” Whenever people start spewing what someone should or shouldn’t do, I get nervous. Who can tell us what’s right or wrong for us?
That said, some people often make sense in sharing their stories of their missteps and what they learned from them. I’m not sure how or when or why I stumbled on Mark Manson’s writing, but a lot of what he writes makes sense. Not all of it, but enough to make me want to read his frequent posts on his website — with the tagline Personal Development That Doesn’t Suck — and now, his just-released book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.
Manson got his start blogging about dating for men; started coaching men on having luck with the ladies at a time when the world traveler was partying and sleeping around; came out with a self-published book, Models: Attract Women Through Honesty, written when he was on the fringes of the PUA movement; and along the way gathered millions of avid readers and more than his share of detractors. True to his book’s title, he doesn’t give much of a fuck about the latter.
But what Manson gives a fuck about and what you give a fuck about may not be the same, and that’s what I appreciate about his writing. He’s not telling you what you should care about. Instead, Manson encourages his readers to “pick and choose what matters to you and what does not matter to you based on finely honed values.” So his book is more about values — your values — and how to stay true to the ones that are working well for you, and not getting distracted — aka giving a fuck — about the other stuff. “Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent,” he writes, “it means being comfortable with being different.”
I like that. And I like this when he says that rather than ask, “What do you want out of life?” a better question is, “’What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?’ Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.”
“I grew up in a family that was very bad at intimacy, it was a muscle that was never trained so I didn’t know how to do it so I was bad at it,” Manson told me in a recent Skype interview. “My first relationship was toxic and I was hurt in my early 20s, very angry and hurt guy who lacked intimacy but didn’t know how to achieve it.”
So, he channeled that energy into partying, chasing women and being a player.
Still, Manson’s solution for his self-proclaimed intimacy issues is the usual suspect — a romantic relationship. On a Reddit Ask Me Anything in 2012, Manson writes:
As great as rampant casual sex with hot girls is, having a healthy relationship with a great girlfriend is one of the most psychologically beneficial experiences I’ve ever had. Totally does not get enough credit in this industry. And I know this totally sounds gay, but being loved by someone you admire really can be healing and better than the best sex in the world many times over.”
Maybe … for him. But I don’t think that’s a message everyone appreciates — let alone the “totally sounds gay” comment. At 32, Manson is relatively newly married; his wedding is in November. I’d like to check back with him after 10 or 15 years of marriage …
His new book has a chapter on intimacy that builds on his Reddit comment. Which is why I was eager to chat with him about the book.
There’s some wording in his book that I find disturbing (as anyone else who is seeking help from a self-development coach might be) or just clunky: in describing the relationship with his first girlfriend, who cheated on him and broke his heart, he writes, “Ultimately, while she was to blame for how I felt, she was never responsible for how I felt. I was.” Blame? Nope. The cheating was the underlying cause of his pain, but at least he owns how that made him feel.
Then in describing a woman’s unhappy relationships with men: “Meredith had had a series of failed intimate relationships with men, including a failed marriage.” Failed marriage? Ugh. If an unhealthy relationship ends, why is that a failure? If a healthy relationship ends because the two people in it decide they want something different, why is that a failure?
And, he chats up marriage as offering freedom when marriage, in fact, typically limits freedom; it isn’t called a “greedy institution” for nothing.
Here’s an edited (for length and clarity) version of our conversation:
In what way did your PUA experience shape where you are today?
“A lot of that background has been great because nice thing about men’s dating area or PUA area it was kind of counter-cultural. Back then it was like men receiving dating advice was not OK, not cool. And it was all these connotations that these guys were predators and it was manipulative. There was a lot of room to explore ideas and write about them in ways you wouldn’t typically approach them. I think it’s definitely been influential to me. I got away from that industry after a few years because there’s so much toxicity over there.”
When you talk about commitment in romantic relationships, how do you define it?
“I’ve never sat down and defined it. I would say it is two things: one is, it is prioritizing the health of a relationship, making it one of your top priorities, and two, adopting the expectation that you will do that indefinitely; there’s no end point. It’s not, ‘OK, we’re going to do this for a year.’ When you commit to someone, you’re saying this relationship matters and I’m going to make it a high priority to make it work and … we’re going to make it work as long as we can, as long as we’re capable.”
I like that you say for as long as you can make it work.
“You can have a 20-year relationship that ends but that was hugely successful. In the new book, I have one chapter that relates to relationships and rejection, and I talk about the importance of saying no. One thing I say in that chapter is that for a healthy relationship to exist is for both people be willing to end it. The reason is, if they’re not, you take each other for granted and when you take each other for granted, you stop working on it. One thing my fiancée and I talk about sometimes is, we both totally have the right to say out loud, ‘I need this’ or ‘This doesn’t make sense for me.’ In the Disney vision of relationships, it’s like, OK, you’re married and that matters more that individual emotional health, individual happiness. I see it the other way around; if you don’t have happy and healthy individuals then it’s impossible to have a happy and healthy relationship. So the individual needs to come first but you need to find a way for each individual to meet their needs in a way that supports the relationship.”
You talk about marriage giving you freedom. I don’t agree with that. Can you talk a little bit about that?
“Most of us think about freedom in terms of breadth of experience, how many places you can live, how many people you can know, how many people you can have sex with. It’s kind of a quantitative approach to freedom. I always struggled with committing to anything in my life, that’s been one of my big issues, it’s one of the issues I’ve slowly gotten over in the past three, four years. And what I’m discovering as I’m slowly learning to commit to things is that there’s this other form of freedom that exists in the depth of experience. … I imagine there are freedoms that can be achieved, but they won’t necessarily be achieved depending on the quality of the relationship, but they’re theoretically possible, by being with the same person for an extended amount of time. … Another way to think about it, without using the word freedom, there’s certain enriching experiences, life-enriching experiences, that can only be achieved through an intense and long-term commitment.
You touch upon family-of-origin issues in the book. How do you think that impacts people and their choices?
“It’s very important but I don’t think I’m the person to guide people into that. It’s something I try to put up a sign and say, “Look here.. Search here.” … I’m a very vocal proponent of people getting a therapist. I tell people through email all the time, you probably shouldn’t be emailing some random guy on the Internet; you probably should go talk to a therapist. … I think reflecting on your childhood and family life and the values that were imparted on you, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is something everybody should evaluate and go through regardless is your life is miserable or great. It’s an incredibly important component of self- knowledge.”
Women get a lot of advice, terrible advice. What about men?
“In some ways it’s worse. The whole men thing is interesting. It was never socially acceptable for men to go look for advice but the anonymity of the Internet suddenly made it feasible. … Unfortunately, a lot of the information that’s popping up for men is really toxic and damaging. I think a lot of the stuff that gets sold to women is just … innocuous bullshit. The same kind of thing is happening on the men side, but at least the communities I see popping up, many come with a sick and twisted ideology.”
What do you hope people take away from your writing?
“I hope it helps people but I try not to get involved emotionally or otherwise in how that helps or how many people it helps. I’m always very wary of getting in the business of the course of other people’s lives.”
We had been talking about honesty in romantic relationships — how honest should you be, and if there’s a place for little white lies.
It was prompted by a memory. Years ago a friend was egged on by her husband to tell him her fantasies. She hesitated for a long time because her fantasy involved a man known to them. After repeated requests — OK, badgering — to tell him, she finally did … and they promptly ended up seeing a marital counselor because he was extremely upset.
As Jack Nicholson’s Col. Nathan R. Jessep says in “A Few Good Men,” “You can’t handle the truth!”
And so it is for most of us.
If ever there was a right time to tell a little white lie, I suppose that was probably the time. Sharing a sexual fantasy? Sure. Sharing a sexual fantasy about a specific person? Unless it’s someone you’d probably never be able to have sex with — say Chris Pine if he’s your version of hot or, in my case, Javier Bardem — probably not.
But it did make me wonder just how honest couples should be with each other. And while I was pondering that, as if by design, Elizabeth Gilbert posted something on her Facebook page that explored the same issue: “The biggest emotional trouble I’ve ever gotten into in my life always stemmed from the same dilemma — when I was torn between telling the truth, and being kind,” she begins.
Oh yeah, I know this all too well. Always wanting to be the nice person, as many women are raised to be, the pleaser. Yeah, well, it works against us.
As Gilbert says:
For years, I told lies to people because I didn’t want to hurt them. Some of this was because I am “a nice person,” sure. But some of it was because I was “a scared person.” And some if it was because I was “a controlling person.” (Which isn’t very nice, when you really think about it.) … It took years of terrible consequences and suffering for me to realize that I wasn’t doing anybody any favors by hiding the truth from them, again and again. By lying to people out of kindness, I was being neither honest NOR kind. What I was practicing, in fact, is what the Buddhist call “Idiot Compassion” — which is when your cowardliness and your weak-heartedness makes you pity people instead of respecting them.”
I don’t think we’re consciously pitying them. But we know something’s up, and we’re trying to justify our actions to ourselves. Ultimately she says, “White lies are OK. Other lies are not. … Whenever you are called to choose between truth and kindness, choose truth.”
Maybe. Lies told to help another person or to protect someone’s feelings — aka white lies — tend to be good for relationships, a recent study found.
Still, where do you draw the line?
Honesty versus feeling good
In popular blogger Mark Manson’s new book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (I interviewed Manson recently and will blog about his book next week, so come back for some good stuff next Tuesday), he writes that when his wife is looking a little bit less than her usual beautiful self, he tells her the truth — and she gets pissed off. Many men lie when asked to answer questions like, “Does this dress make me look fat?” etc. to be kind, he says. So why does he do it?
Because honesty in my relationship is more important to me than feeling good all the time. The last person I should ever have to censor myself with is the woman I love. … When our highest priority is to always make ourselves feel good, or to always make our partner feel good, then nobody ends up feeling good. And our relationship falls apart without our even knowing it.”
The feeling good trips us up. Perhaps the biggest lies most women tell are the ones we tell to avoid a fight; I have been very good at this, sadly. It’s what “Divorce Court” judge Lynn Toler calls “The False OK”:
I think a lot of women tell the very same lie for years on end. They say “okay” when they don’t mean it. They tell their husbands, “everything’s fine,” even when it’s not. “Keeping the peace” is what they call it. They are, they tell me, getting through the day. It is all about the argument they simply do not want to have. … I think there is a whole group of women out there who don’t do well with conflict. They are the ones with a happy husband because he always gets what he wants and she doesn’t seem to mind. But what he doesn’t see are all of the collected hurts stored up in her emotional closet. Not because she doesn’t ever get what she wants but because that lopsided equation makes her feel unloved.
Are those “harmless” white lies?
I have spoken my share of white lies. I’m not convinced they are really all that harmless. Can we be honest and kind at the same time, as Elizabeth Gilbert says, by always telling the truth?
I am feeling it for Huma Abedin. Just yesterday, Abedin — vice chairwoman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign — announced that she is separating from her husband, Anthony Weiner, who resigned from Congress in 2011 and lost a bid to be mayor of New York City in 2013, both times because of sexting scandals.
Both times, Abedin stood by her man, being the Good Wife, for her marriage and their son, now 4 years old.
It took a lot of work and a whole lot of therapy to get to a place where I could forgive Anthony. It was not an easy choice in any way, but I made the decision that it was worth staying in this marriage. I made a decision for me, for my son and my marriage.”
But yet another just-revealed sexting scandal evidently led Abedin to her decision:
After long and painful consideration and work on my marriage, I have made the decision to separate from my husband. Anthony and I remain devoted to doing what is best for our son, who is the light of our life.”
I was willing to give Weiner the benefit of the doubt after the first sexting scandal — is sexting even infidelity? For some it is but each couple should decide for themselves if it is or not. Then I was royally skewered when I, very tongue-in-check, wrote an article on Huffington Post advising women like Abedin to “marry ugly” (I don’t find Weiner attractive but obviously other women do, not just Abedin).
Many may be shaking their heads, wondering why she stayed so long. Research psychologist and author Peggy Drexler says don’t:
It’s important to remember that we can never know what goes on in other people’s relationships. To assume Abedin chose to stay with Weiner despite his many flaws is to ignore the fact that she quite possibly decided to stay with him because of the many good qualities he possesses, the ones that appealed to her in the first place.”
If he had an old-fashioned affair, or affairs, perhaps people would be more forgiving (and isn’t that funny?) Instead, he just hurt his wife over and over in such a public way, even as they struggled to keep their marriage together. At some point, enough is enough.
If, as Abedin says, they are “devoted to doing what is best for our son,” then they have a few options — have a traditional divorce and live apart, divorce and birdnest, or transform their marriage into a parenting marriage.
None is perfect right now, but removing the romantic/sexual aspect of their relationship — which may have already occurred months ago — and transforming it into a parenting marriage would allow Abedin to focus on what she needs to do in Clinton’s campaign and Weiner to do whatever he needs — therapy, perhaps, unbridled sexting, or — who knows? — a career in porn. He already has the name, Carlos Danger. Mostly, it would give son Jordan what he needs — the love of his parents in his family home, and most likely an end to conflict.
Let’s say you’re in a long-term marriage, one that’s pretty satisfying. You love your spouse, your spouse loves you, but you have a lot of things on your plate — work and kids and other things — and you’ve lost your sexual mojo. Would you tell your spouse, “Please have sex with someone else?”
“I’m 46, I have a busy life and have two kids. I am so lucky. … We used to have a fantastic sex life. I still love my husband, we cuddle up and it’s lovely. We’ve been together for 11 years, but I’m not interested [in sex]. I don’t want to. … I’ve lost the desire and I find myself making excuses from around 6 p.m. … As soon as he comes home, I panic and start saying, ‘I’m so tired!’ I’m embarrassed to say this but I said to him you can go with someone else if you want. I want to make him happy. He’ll kill me for saying this … Am I the only one?”
So the choices are cheat (some do), divorce (some do) or suffer (what the majority do). Of course, we suggest in The New I Do that couples consider opening up their marriage, which assumes both will partake of extramarital couplings with each other’s blessings and according to whatever parameters they set up. But, it just as easily could be one-sided — a hall pass, as it were.
Khan’s confession caused a kerfuffle, but Hayley MacMillen at Refinery29 wrote an article that could have been taken out of the pages of The New I Do — all of us have options but when they deviate too far from what marriage is “supposed” to look like, watch out — especially if you talk about it publicly:
[W]hen we depart from the monogamy script — first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes dutiful once-a-week sex with no one but each other until death do us part — we are supposed to keep quiet. But those whose sexualities — whether that means their libidos or orientations or preferences — are mismatched with their partners’ understand that relationships are not one-size-fits-all. … Her husband didn’t happen to be interested, and that’s fine — but Khan recognized ethical non-monogamy as an option that might help satisfy their needs. And that’s what we’re not talking about when it comes to marriage, and relationships in general. There are more options than we acknowledge in public, more options than we are led to believe.
Yes! Mismatched sexualities, ethical non-monogamy are all part of the marital conversation. But, are we talking about them publicly?
‘So, how’s your marriage?’
Emma Johnson, aka Wealthy Single Mommy, says we should be. In a recent post, not about sex per se but about busting marital myths, she advocates for more of us asking, “So, how’s your marriage?” and more of us sharing truths, not facades:
[L]et’s normalize discussing marriage. Stop pretending like it is this blissful, sacred, impenetrable institution, because of course that is horseshit. Your marriage, just like parenting, career, finances, friendship, health and any other part of life has its ups and downs. Nuance and complications. Misunderstandings, heartaches, joys. Cordoning off marriage from the mix of acceptable conversation topics only heightens the pressure for couples to hide behind a perfect facade, pretending all is always well — while affections, trust and respect crumble, privately. Meanwhile, truth and vulnerability are barricaded from friendships and other relationships outside of the marriage — relationships that are critical to supporting both the individual and the couple.
If you Google “marriage is hard,” up pops 133 million results; try “marriage is boring” and you get more than 20 million results. It’s not like people aren’t writing about marriage’s downsides.
But just look at what happened to Khan when she spoke honestly about her marriage; I’m tired, I’m busy, I’m not interested in sex right now but I want my partner to be happy so I told him he could bang other women.
Which gets us back to our original discussion. If you weren’t interested in sex, or were unable to have intercourse for whatever reason (not that there aren’t other ways to be sexual), what would you be willing to do to make sure your spouse was sexually happy? And how open would you be about your decision? If you’re squirming at the thought, well …
But the article states that the latest musical creations of Beyoncé and Kanye are revealing “an unexpectedly complicated picture of imperfect yet committed monogamy” and giving “voice to the struggle of reconciling marriage with cultural forces and personal urges at odds with it — forces and urges both stars’ careers have until now often exemplified.”
The problem with monogamy
I think it’s great that they’re talking opening about the struggles of monogamy. It is a struggle for many people. We should be talking about it.
Beyoncé’s marriage to to Jay Z (Shawn Carter) has been plagued with rumors of infidelity while Kanye has long touted a hyper-masculinity and sexual prowess that wouldn’t quite fit into most happily-ever-after scenarios, even to sex tape-queen Kim Kardashian.
In their respective albums, Lemonade and The Life of Pablo, Spencer Kornhaber notes, the musicians ultimately decide that, despite the hard stuff of marriage:
‘Till death do us part’ really is an ideal worth striving for and that ‘For better or for worse’ can encompass some very bad things. But success also entails the effort to reach out beyond the self to something larger, not just community and religion but the well-being of children, who figure in both albums. Despite plenty of profanity and sex talk, these artists are modeling surprisingly conservative ideals about the seriousness and irreversibility of wedlock. They’re also proposing that culture can support attempts to live up to those ideals.
Yes, they are “surprisingly conservative ideals,” and while I strongly believe couples should understand the seriousness of tying the knot — it’s a legal contract after all — I strongly object to the idea of marriage (“wedlock”? Ugh) being irreversible, kids or no kids.
Not only are those “surprisingly conservative ideals,” but they’re also perpetuating the shame-based model of marriage. I thought we’re already moving past that.
If staying together through infidelity is working for Beyoncé, awesome. There are many experts, such as Esther Perel,Dan Savage and Tammy Nelson, who talk about the same thing — infidelity doesn’t have to end a marriage. But that doesn’t mean it’s what everyone should do. It’s not cool to insist that marriage is irreversible no matter what — should you stay with an abuser? Even covenant marriages — the most restrictive marriages of all — don’t insist on that.
And if Kanye is wresting with the “strain, anxiety, and dread” of married life, monogamy and fatherhood, well, that isn’t the only way to be married. Which is why we wrote The New I Do.
Traditional marriage is not cool
I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around having a more traditional version of marriage being touted as “cool,” versus the many alternative versions brave people are exploring — from open to LAT to parenting to renewable marriage. Those alternatives are absolutely making marriage exciting. If you want to call that cool, fine.
But to insist that marriage is irreversible? No. To insist that “till death do us part” is an ideal worth striving for? Maybe. But if you’re going to treat each other miserably until one of you pops off, why?
Marriage isn’t something you enter into because you think, as Kanye says, “Family is super cool. Going home to one girl every night is super cool.” You can have children with someone and have a monogamous relationship without getting married; people have been doing that for millennia. Marriage gives a couple more than 1,100 legal and financial perks and protections, and it also is a social celebration. That’s it, plus whatever emotions you want to attach to it.
Perhaps Beyoncé and Kanye are just cashing in on whatever controversies surround them; why not control the script of a partner’s infidelity in this celeb-obsessed world? But I wish celebs in alt relationship arrangements would tout their lifestyle, becoming role models that prove, yes, you can have a romantic partnership or have children without following the traditional marital “until-death-do-us-part” script. Now THAT would be cool!