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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?”  non-monogamy

That’s exactly what Saira Khan, a panelist on the popular British show “Loose Women,” told her husband earlier this year.

“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?”

That’s a rather brave thing to do, although perhaps some might say ill-advised or worse. (For the record, hubby Steven Hyde would have nothing to do with it.)

But it does offer a rather interesting — if not generally socially acceptable — solution to an age-old problem: sexless marriages.

Sexless marriage heartbreak

Of all the blogs I’ve written here, the comments on Sexless marriage: Cheat, divorce or suffer make me sad. Same with the blog post I wrote on The New I Do website, Sexless marriage or cheating spouse — what’s worse? There are 365 comments on that post, and most of them are heart-wrenching. Many people, men and women, are struggling because they have a spouse who is either unable (understandable) or unwilling (not!) to have sex with them.

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.

I’m cool with people asking about each other’s marriage — it’s what usually what newlyweds have to deal with anyway, until they’ve been married long enough for everyone to realize that they’re most likely in the same miserable marital boat as everyone else.

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.

How’d that honesty work out for everyone? Hmm …

If we really want people to talk honestly about their marriage, we’d have to promise that we’d hear what they say with an open heart and mind, and understand that monogamy is a choice, not a dictate. I just don’t see that happening yet — at least in mainstream heterosexual conversation. No wonder why talking honestly about monogamy and sex with our partner is often challenging.

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 …

Want to explore consensual nonmonogamy? 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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I know I’ve written about celebs from time to time, but just to be clear, I don’t think anyone should ever look to celebs as marital models — even long-term couples like Jeff Bridges and Kevin BaconBeyonce-marriage-lemonade

So it was interesting to discover that Beyoncé Knowles and Kanye West are evidently making marriage “cool” again, at least according to a recent article in the Atlantic. I honestly don’t think there ever was a time when marriage was “cool” or uncool,” although marriage has traditionally been pretty uncool for women. And if there ever was a time when marriage might have been considered “cool,” I think it would have to be when the Supreme Court ruled last year that same-sex couples had the same right to marry as anyone else. Love is love, people. That’s cool!

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.

Shame-based model

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!

Want to have a cool alt 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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I’ve long been a fan of the writings of Meg-John Barker, a psychology lecturer and sex and gender therapist whose book, Rewriting the Rules, is a must-read for those who question the romantic love script most of us tend to follow as if it’s the only path available to us.  relationship anarchy

So I was not surprised when her name appeared in an article on relationship anarchy, a term I hadn’t heard before but one that expands on rethinking the way we privilege romantic/
sexual relationships over every other type of relationship.

“In RA, the idea is that all kinds of relationships are important,” she tells the Establishment, a feminist site. “People are interested in RA because it does reflect the reality of many people’s lives: that platonic relationships can be very important, and that things change over time, so it’s important to have freedom and flexibility to keep considering how we manage our relationships.”

Freedom and flexibility

I love having freedom and flexibility in my romantic relationships although it took me a long time to understand that. I didn’t realize that I had choices, that I didn’t have to ask for permission to live my authentic life, that my platonic friendships — which have lasted longer than any other relationship (except with my parents, sibling and my kids) — really matter to me. Well, better late than never.

Yes, I believe all kinds of relationships are important. So, am I a relationship anarchist? I haven’t been, although I’ve come to a place where I make it known in my romantic relationships that my friends matter a lot to me and I’m going to see them frequently and sometimes when it “should” be partner time.

But are my relationships equal? No; although I’m pretty much a serial monogamist, I still let my romantic relationships run the show. And so have many of my female friends. Are we freely choosing to live like that or are we unconsciously following the societal romantic love script?

While I have more recently been much more protective of my gal-time (especially now that my kids are grown and I have “me” time), it’s easier to do that when you’re already in a romantic partnership; my friends who have gone years without a romantic partner and who want one probably would like to put him or her first for a change.

If having an open or polyamorous relationship seems challenging to many of us, being a relationship anarchist seems to take relationships a step — a huge step — farther.

Why must love trump friendship?

In questioning why society emphasizes romantic love over friendship, writer Andrew Sullivan  notes that “friendship delivers what love promises but fails to provide.”

Yes, but romantic relationships typically delivers sex and passion — for a while, anyway. Many of us want that.

I can see that we’re already starting to rethink old romantic scripts, such as the increase in interest in parenting partnerships. That indicates some people value the co-parent relationship as much or more than a romantic/sexual one. Same with the rise in multiple marriages. Longevity and “until-death-do-us-part” alone doesn’t mean you have a happy, healthy relationship.

What matters is that during the time the couples are together, they’re committed to each other or, in the case of parent-partnerships, to being co-parents. All kinds of relationships need a certain amount of trust and commitment to be meaningful. According to Swedish activist Andie Nordgren, who coined the term “relationship anarchy” and created a manifesto on how to make it work, it’s the same for those who want to practice RA:

Relationship anarchy is not about never committing to anything — it’s about designing your own commitments with the people around you, and freeing them from norms dictating that certain types of commitments are a requirement for love to be real, or that some commitments like raising children or moving in together have to be driven by certain kinds of feelings.

Right. Like love or the desire for sex. Why should those feelings and desires drive our relationships? Why do we consider the person we have sex with as the most important person in our life? And if we stop having sex with that person, but still remain married or in a relationship with him or her, does that change anything?

I’m intrigued by the idea of RA just as I am intrigued by the idea of consensual nonmonogamy. Putting them into practice in my own life? That, I’m not so sure. How about you?

Want to learn how to individualize your marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

 


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The conventions just ended and there were a few speeches that will never be forgotten, Melania Trump‘s for one and Michelle Obama‘s for another. And then there was Bill Clinton’s about his wife and Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Of course Bill praised his wife. But as he did, many couldn’t help but wonder about their marriage, given his many public scandals over his indiscretions (and who knows how many private ones), and the fact that Hillary has continually stood by her man.  Bill and Hillary Clinton

In fact, Bill addressed that directly: “She’ll never quit on you.”

Which, of course, perplexed and irritated many from the beginning, and it was even a topic in the primaries when Hillary was accused of enabling Bill’s infidelities by Donald Trump and Ben Carson. Then GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina questioned if the Clintons have a real marriage, stating, “If my husband had done some of the things Bill Clinton had done, I would have left him long ago.”

Making many of us once again wonder, what is a “real marriage“?

Writing in the Washington Post,

The harder the Clintons have worked to preserve their marriage, the less easily that marriage has fit into easy stories about what true love should look like. … If I hated the choices Clinton’s husband, other politicians, the media and the American public forced her to make in the 1990s, the Clintons’ marriage also taught me that marriage is a mystery — not merely in that it’s perplexing, but that its power lies in part in the fact that any given marriage is not comprehensible to outsiders.

Thank you! Because it’s true — not every marriage fits into what we think, or have been told, “true love should look like” and, yes, relationships are often incomprehensible to those outside them. The problem isn’t with marriage and relationships per se; it’s more about the collective belief that there’s any “should” when it comes to love and marriage. Love is complicated and hard to define, so how can it look like one thing for all of us? And that means living with a partner’s sexual transgressions isn’t all that bad for some people as long as they’re getting other things from the marriage.

What we think about infidelity

Whenever we learn of an affair, we look for someone or something to blame. If someone dates or marries a cheater and then gets cheated on, we smugly say, “Well, what did you expect?” Once a cheater, always a cheater, and all that. But sometimes, if we know of a bad marital situation, we’ll excuse an affair, believing the person was driven to cheat because his/her spouse failed him/her in some way. If we ourselves have cheated, we’re more likely to be sympathetic to a friend’s marital straying.

In other words, we easily make exceptions when it comes to infidelity, based on certain knowledge or experience or both. So why would we be so harsh (and in Hillary’s case, cynical) if a wife or husband stays in a marriage touched by infidelity?

The implication is that staying with a cheater, as Hillary has, is worse than if she divorced him — even though many of us are still conflicted about divorce. As Ada Calhoun writes in Cosmopolitan:

This cheating-is-worse-than-divorce assumption is baked into mainstream society. People from across the political spectrum say that cheating should be a marital deal breaker, and that to tolerate or repeatedly forgive infidelity — especially someone as much of a hound as middle-aged Bill Clinton has often been painted — is to be a doormat, a punching bag, a fool. But that doesn’t have to be true. … We’ve done a good job getting rid of the stigma around divorce, but in doing so, have created one around the decision to keeping your vow to stay together no matter what.

We have traditionally vowed to stay married “for better, for worse.” Keeping a vow to “stay together no matter what” could be dangerous thinking, yet that’s what many promise each other when they wed. So what’s all the judgment about marriages we find incomprehensible — even ones that actually stick to their vows?

Each marriage is unique

Maybe the Clintons didn’t put a high premium on sexual fidelity. Maybe they did for a while until Bill realized that sexual fidelity is easier in concept than in reality. Maybe they did or a while and Hillary decided, when things didn’t turn out the way she thought, that no matter what anyone else says she “should” do, this was the man she wanted to be married to and that’s that. Who knows? Does it matter?

From Bill’s speech, it’s apparent that the Clintons were attracted to each other together because they shared many similarities, “a mutual desire for a truly equal partner, of equal talent and aptitude,” writes Jill Filipovic in Time. In that, they are truly matched.

“For all of his shortcomings — and they are myriad — there is little doubt that Bill respects and admires Hillary not just as a wife, but as an intellectual equal,” she continues.

Some might say the fact that he has strayed means he doesn’t respect her: How can a husband respect a wife if he cheats on her (or vice versa, or the same-sex variation)? Some consider infidelity abuse. Was Hillary abused by Bill?

That doesn’t seem to be the discussion here. Still, people just don’t understand what the Clintons’ marriage is about — or they project their ideas and beliefs about what their marriage “should” be. They foolishly want to fit the Clintons into a one-size-fits-all box. But each of us gets to choose what goes into our own marital box; if we all could just accept that then we would finally be able to stop trying to comprehend other people’s marriage and go about the most important relationship task at hand — figuring out what we want from our romantic partner and then making it happen.

Hillary has done that; she stuck to her vows. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump hasn’t, but he’s chosen what’s gone into his marital box nonetheless — by being the cheater and leaving two of his three marriages despite his vows. And yet both the Clintons and the Trumps have “real marriages,” no matter how in

Want to learn how to individualize your marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

You’ve consciously coupled. You and your spouse discussed everything from money to sex to children to in-laws to household chores. Maybe you even read The New I Do (hey, an author can dream, right?). I applaud you and support you. Still, I’ll bet there’s something you didn’t discuss, and it’s not because you’re oblivious. You’re not. Even my co-author and I neglected to address it in The New I Do — who will care for your elderly parents and stepparents and how?

women-caregiving

Parental caregiving is huge, especially since people are living longer nowadays, most of us don’t live close to our families — or in multi-generational homes, as in days past — and because most women are working outside the home. It didn’t happen to me until I was divorced so it wasn’t a big part of my romantic reality, even though I had a romantic partner at the time. He and I lived apart and he’d barely met my parents, who lived 3,000 miles from me, so who was going to take care of whom wasn’t part of our discussion; it did, however, impact my relationship with my sister, my only sibling, and let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.

Honey, we need to talk

My “aha” moment about it came when I stumbled upon a post (and the heartbreaking comments) in the wonderful wedding planning website A Practical Wedding. In it, author Stephanie Kaloi wonders if she and her husband will become the caregivers for their families; it’s something they never discussed when they wed years ago even though they have six aging parents and stepparents between them. As she writes:

In our house, we didn’t start having this conversation until two years ago, when my husband started working at a home for patients who have Alzheimer’s and/or dementia. It’s worth noting that his home was one of the “good” ones, and in a state that has far better laws and regulations about elder care than others. But even still, he quickly, and firmly, made a decision that none of our parents would ever end up in a facility like that. Since I have always assumed I would offer my mother a space in our home at any point in her life if she needed it, I agreed. At the time neither of us was thinking about our ever-pressing student loan debt and what that might mean for our financial future (to be honest, we still have no idea) — we just felt like this was the only clear option before us.

 And often it is the only clear option. But not necessarily a happy one.

Adult children are doing nearly half of the daily caregiving for their elderly parents, stepparents and in-laws, and — no surprise — the overwhelming majority of those caregivers are women. While the burden of that affects many adult daughters, heterosexual women  — married women — suffer the most. Why? Their husbands often aren’t supportive of their parental caregiving, leading to marital stress as well as personal stress. Same-sex couples — particularly women — without the same societal gendered expectations seem to fare better.

Does it suck to be a hetero woman or what?

Well, I’m actually happily hetero — a divorced one at that — and yet I believe it’s wrong that we women are expected to handle the majority of the caregiving, including the emotional caretaking, in our families. Are we responsible for being our elders’ caregivers, too? We pay a huge price for it just as do for caring for our children. As Liz O’Donnell writes in the Atlantic:

There are currently 44 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the majority are women. And yet there are very few support programs, formal or informal, in place to support these family caregivers, many of whom are struggling at work and at home. Working daughters often find they need to switch to a less demanding job, take time off, or quit work altogether in order to make time for their caregiving duties. As a result, they suffer loss of wages and risk losing job-related benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits. … Caregiving tends to hit women in their mid-40s, just around the time their earning potential starts to wane and dangerously close to the age when they may not be able to reenter the workforce if they leave.

How much do we women lose? About $324,044. But our health and, sometimes, marriages suffer, too.

Making a plan

If parental caregiving isn’t something you want to do or if it’s something you actually want to do but want to create boundaries and realistic expectations — like you only want to do it for your own parents and not your in-laws or vice versa or some variation — please don’t be like Stephanie Kaloi and wait X-number of years into your relationship to have a discussion about it.

Do it now, wherever you are in your romantic relationship (yeah, even if you’ve been dating for a while and things are getting serious). It’s your life. And, of course, have that discussion with your parents first; they may — and probably will — have other ideas than yours. And, have that discussion with them and your siblings, if you have them, because they may have other ideas, too.

It’s true that we can’t plan for everything in our future, but we can at least discuss some of the hard stuff, which will uncover beliefs and values we may not have been aware of, and create a tentative plan with flexible options. That’s the beauty of a marital plan — it forces you to have those tough discussions and gives you a baseline from which you can tweak things. And if your husband is adamant that his mother will never go into a nursing home, but he doesn’t plan to quit or cut back work to care for her, well, that’s probably something you’d want to address ASAP.

It may not be an easy discussion, but I can tell you from experience that few if any rational and satisfying decisions are made in moments of crisis, especially when it comes to our parents.

Interested in having a marital plan that includes parental caregiving? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

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Recently, an old Modern Love piece appeared in my social media feed. It was about consensual non-monogamy so of course I had to click on it. I suppose it was a popular piece, as most Modern Love essays are, but this one — “When an Open Relationship Comes at a Price” — irked me a bit.  

I am not consensually non-monogamous, and I am neither for or against it; that’s for couples to decide. But the author, Eliza Kennedy, makes a few assumptions, perhaps misunderstands consensual non-monogamy as well as marriage, but ends up beautifully describing the terror that we call romantic love.  non-monogamy

As a college student, she moved in with her boyfriend who “was committed to living his life according to strict intellectual principles, and for him, personal freedom was paramount. Love could not require constraint, foreclosure or deprivation.”

And so, he demanded that they have an open relationship. She agreed because, “If an open relationship was necessary to prove how well I loved my boyfriend, I was happy to comply.”

‘Complying’ isn’t choosing

I am no expert on relationships, monogamous or not, but if you are doing something for your romantic partner that goes against your own principles, or demanding that your partner do something for you that goes against his or her own principles, there’s a problem right there. That’s not how one “proves” ones love (and why should you have to do that anyway?). But, she was 18. Everyone makes mistakes at 18.

Kennedy indulged in consensual non-monogamy with gusto while her intellectual boyfriend didn’t — and, instead of supporting her in following his own dictate, became critical, dismissive and judgmental of her choices. There are names for people like that.

Eventually, he moved out and Kennedy observes that being non-monogamous “was a complete disaster.” Not because there was something inherently wrong with non-monogamy, but because they weren’t good at it:

The weight of other people hadn’t caused our bough to break, but it certainly hadn’t helped. No longer in thrall to his supremely persuasive rationale for open relationships, I understood why he reacted as he had. He was jealous. He feared losing me. I’d thought I was living his principle, but I had really experienced only one side of being in an open relationship — the fun and easy side. How would I have responded if he had been the one making out and messing around? Not well, I suspected.

Hmm. If she would have responded poorly if “he had been the one making out and messing around,” it’s pretty clear that she wasn’t willingly choosing an open relationship because it’s what she wanted and fundamentally spoke to who she is. And when you do something you don’t fundamentally believe in, there will be problems.

Not surprisingly, it’s pretty much the same for people who are in monogamous relationships … except because monogamy is culturally compelled, most of us aren’t really actively and willingly choosing it. It’s the societal assumption, the default, and because we have few models of healthy open relationships, monogamy “wins” even though it isn’t always good for men or for women.

But her boyfriend wasn’t really committed to having an open relationship either; if he was, he probably wouldn’t have acted the way he did. So why did he want one? Maybe he thought he should have an open relationship but wasn’t really committed to the practice of it, just the idea of it. Maybe he thought she wouldn’t actually indulge, especially since it was his idea and not hers or theirs. Maybe, once it became a reality, he couldn’t handle his own insecurities. Who the heck knows?

Maybe her open relationship was a “complete disaster,” but we shouldn’t diss open relationships per se.

All relationships come at a price

As an editor, I know it’s likely Kennedy didn’t write her own headline, which feels a bit misleading. It isn’t just open relationships that come at a price; all relationships come at a price. No matter the arrangement, we always give something up (and gain other, better, things — one hopes). Thankfully, she acknowledges that at her essay’s end. Observing her friends who coupled up — monogamously — as she did, there’s a sober reality:

I have watched and listened as some of those friends learned how fascination fades. How reality can dull the bliss. Their eyes began to wander, or their hearts did. They cheated. Or split up. Or cheated, then split up. Or stayed faithful and married, but now feel hemmed in and hamstrung. They’re all around me, these people who said “you, and no other,” and meant it. Until they didn’t. … I had fled an open relationship, opting for the safety of a closed circle. But the wreckage of monogamous relationships lies all around us. The notion that they’re somehow more stable than open ones is an illusion. Not because monogamy is unsafe, but because all romantic love is. It’s powerful and thrilling. It’s also terrifying.

Yes, romantic love is powerful, thrilling, terrifying, unsafe. Yes, monogamous relationships are no more or less stable than open relationships. It’s all one big gamble, one most of us seem to be willing to take, often repeatedly. Because we believe the rewards are worth it.

That should be the takeaway of the essay.

But then, she disappoints me. “Marriage isn’t the place to sample and explore,” she writes.

Really? Says whom?

Wouldn’t a loving and supportive marriage be exactly the environment in which to sample and explore all sorts of things — whatever the couple chooses, if the couple chooses it? Clearly, that’s how those in open and poly marriages see it. Why marriage? Well, because there are 1,100 financial and legal perks and protections, as well societal expectations that marriage is forever (all of which can be traps, too) that offer a buffer. It’s why in The New I Do, we offer couples ways to reinvent their marriage when they start to feel “hemmed in and hamstrung” and ways to build flexibility into their marriage from the get-go with marital contracts. Marriage isn’t a static thing; it’s ripe for exploration. But so are all relationships.

What matters more is what happens if things don’t work out — do we see those explorations as failures or as brave, bold actions that challenge us individually and jointly, and disrupt societal expectations and assumptions?

We’ll pay a price either way, but it’s only in the latter case that we’ll come to appreciate that the price was actually worth it.

Interested in learning about other ways to re-create your marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.


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You’re in a long-term happy, sexually active marriage and one day you discover that your spouse has been cheating on you — basically since Day 1.

How do you feel?  Heartbroken_infidelity

You’d probably feel heart-broken and devastated, which is how a man writing to author, LGBTQ activist and columnist Dan Savage signed off as in his latest Savage Love column.

I am a huge fan of Savage — I turned to his writings and used his term monogamish in The New I Do — so I was not surprised by how he answered “HAD”:

A long-term relationship is a myth two people create together.  … You thought your marriage was a loving, committed, and “completely loyal” one, but it’s not — it can’t be, and it never was, because she was cheating on you from the beginning. But loyalty isn’t something we demonstrate with our genitals alone. Your wife wasn’t loyal to you sexually, HAD, and that’s painful. And the conventional “wisdom” is that people don’t cheat on partners they love. But you were married to this woman, and you describe your marriage as good, loving, and wonderful. And it somehow managed to be all those things despite your wife’s betrayals. She must have been loyal to you in other ways or you would’ve divorced her long before you discovered her infidelities.

Boy, do I love this: “loyalty isn’t something we demonstrate with our genitals alone.” How true! And yes, the conventional wisdom is people don’t have affairs if they truly love their partner. Yet, they do.

The lies and the truth

Savage ran the letter by psychotherapist and Mating in Captivity author Ester Perel, another person whose work I greatly admire, who didn’t think the marriage was necessarily doomed:

“You have a good relationship, from everything you tell me, and the question is always, does one discovery topple an entire relationship, an entire history? … With so many marital tasks in your hands, this does not necessarily redefine an entire relationship. This doesn’t say, ‘Everything else was a lie and this is the truth.’ This says, ‘There was a lot of truth and then there was a whole other closet in which stuff took place that I had no idea about and now I need to find a way to understand it, cry over it, experience acute pain, but also make meaning of it, and potentially integrate it — and in the end, I may choose that it is too big for me to integrate and then let go.’

That’s a LOT to think about or integrate. I’m not sure I could do that. Many people are forgiving of a one-night stand, but serial cheating? Hmm. And yet …

One thing I love about Perel is the way she matter-of-factly acknowledges that there are many ways to betray a spouse that have nothing to do with sex. The nonsexual types of betrayal probably occur a lot more than the sexual ones, although sometimes both occur, and we put up with them — often for years. Where do you draw the line? Is it OK to put up with years of nonsexual betrayal as long as your spouses isn’t cheating?

When non-monogamy’s OK

I have observed with a certain amount of fascination the sexual shenanigans that have gone on in my own life, my circle of friends and acquaintances, and the world at large. I have engaged in all sorts of sexual shenanigans yet I am, at heart, a monogamous woman (albeit, a serial monogamist). I, like many other serial monogamists, seem to want our current partner to also be monogamous — even if we began seeing him or her while they or we were still married, a relatively common occurrence. Which means many of us — men and women — are OK with non-monogamy being on the sly as long as it’s something we’re choosing for ourselves but not if it’s happening to us. Yet we balk at the idea of consensual non-monogamy — when couples decide for themselves to have an open marriage, be polyamorous, swing, etc. — and consider it to be abnormal.

So non-monogamy of the cheating kind is normal but consensual non-monogamy is not.

Isn’t that kind of crazy?

Interested in opening up your marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.


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Fans far and wide reacted to Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert’s announcement last week that she and her companion of 12 years and husband of 9 years, Jose Nunes (aka Felipe in her best-selling book), are separating. Elizabeth Gilbert wedding

It’s never an easy decision, even for a woman who so publicly wrote about the demise of her first marriage in a book and then addressed her reluctance to tie the knot again in her 2010 follow-up book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, but ultimately did in order to keep him in the States.

In a long post on Facebook, Gilbert, who’ll be 47 this month, wrote, in part:

Our split is very amicable. Our reasons are very personal. At this time of transition, I hope you will respect our privacy. In my heart, I know that you will do so, because I trust that you understand how this is a story that I am living — not a story that I am telling.

I am not a fan of Eat, Pray, Love, but I am a huge fan of Gilbert herself. I was lucky to have interviewed her twice — when Committed was published and when she republished her great-grandmother’s cookbook, a benefit for Dave Egger’s program that helps under-resourced students go to college — and saw her talk locally once. Each time, she came across as genuine, grounded, generous and self-effacing.

And so I understand her request to respect their privacy because, as she writes, the reasons for their split are “very personal.” Honestly, what split is not “very personal”? Every split is. Although I can imagine a time when there will be an “exclusive” (perhaps with Oprah) in which Gilbert “finally opens up” about what went “wrong.”

Looking for reasons

Because we believe the only reason people split is because something’s wrong, even if the split means there was growth or the relationship accomplished what the couple wanted from it. For some reason, we see longevity as the only way to measure a relationship’s success. So when a relationship ends, we look for reasons we can understand because it’s scary to think that the people we look up to as getting it right — whatever the it is — are no better at it than we are.

Some might question whether the 17-year age difference was the problem. (“Sometimes I feel sorry for him; my energy is so tiresome for him,” she told me.) Some might question the fact that they wed for the most part to keep him in the States — not quite a green card marriage but he most definitely needed the green card if they were going to live in the same country. Some might question whether their childfree relationship led to a split — childfree couples tend to divorce more than those with children. They don’t have children together — Gilbert has famously said she was never interested in having children — but Nunes is a dad. Some might question if the problem was the fact that it’s a second marriage for both, which often has a more dismal divorce record than a first marriage but not always; some second marriages struggle because blending families with young children can be a challenge more than anything else. Others might question if it’s because she’s admitted to being a seduction addict. Well …

When I spoke to Gilbert, she was very clear that she was doing things differently in her second marriage — a prenup for one (her first divorce cost her a lot of money). She also said she was a different person and was marrying a partner who was better suited to her. Sharing that she and fellow author and friend Ann Patchett both had older husbands who absolutely adored them (Patchett’s second husband is 16 years older than she), she said they often joked that if they couldn’t make their marriages work, well, no marriage would work.

And yet …

Marrying older … and smarter?

In an interview with Patchett in the Wall Street Journal when Committed was published, Gilbert talks about the beauty of marrying later in life:

Marriage is a strange combination of dream and reality, and we spend our lives as couples trying to negotiate that divide. I will say this, because I think it is the single most important piece of information in the whole story: Marriage is not a game for the young. … Maturity brings — among other things — the ability to sustain and survive enormous contradictions and disappointments. Marriage is — among other things — a study in contradiction and disappointment, and inside that reality there is space for us to truly learn how to love. But it is wise to check at least a few of our most idealistic youthful dreams at the door before entering.

I agree with her, to a point. Ultimately, to me, the “single most important piece of information” is this: There are no guarantees, maturity or not. Marry young, marry old, marry for love, marry for kids, marry once, marry twice — nothing’s a given. But that doesn’t mean the relationship was for naught — we may have experienced wonderful love and growth and happiness within it.

A good friend tied the knot again last year, another is about to do so in a few weeks. Both are in their 50s with grown children, older for sure and presumably wiser this time around. Neither has questioned the institution, as Gilbert has; they just want to spend the rest of their lives with their respective partners and believe marriage is the best way to do that. They may not have “idealistic youthful dreams” anymore, but they have dreams nonetheless. Maybe that’s the most we can hope for.

Interested in re-creating your marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.


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You’ve gone on a few dates, you’re starting to like each other and then, the question — “So, how many people have you slept with?”

It’s more than just a number, of course — it’s a peek into your sexual beliefs and practices, and, sometimes, a source of shame or pride.  sexual_partners_divorce

According to a 2015 study, almost 30 percent of men and women disclosed their sexual histories once they became an exclusive couple; about 22 percent never shared it.

Does it matter? Disclosing it may or may not matter; after all, few of us are truly honest about it. Men tend to skew higher while women tend to skew lower, thanks to the slut factor sexual women face. Hopefully, whomever you end up with not only accepts your number but also embraces it as part of your journey into being the sexual god or goddess that you are. If not, it’s might be a good idea to ditch him or her!

But a new study indicates that the number of your sexual partners and marital bliss may have nothing to do with your partner at all; it may — just this one time — actually be about you.

Is saving yourself worth it?

Most of us are not virgins when we tie the knot. In fact, about 95 percent of us aren’t; the few who are are also are typically religious. That has its own problems.

As one woman writes about saving herself for marriage:

I innocently assumed that all of that work on both our parts to remain chaste would pay off with a hot, passionate sex life after we had finally said “I do.” I assumed this because no one had ever told me differently.

It didn’t work as planned, and although she still would have saved herself for marriage, she worries about the message repeatedly told in the Christian church: “We spend so much time teaching teenagers to avoid intimate interactions, that by the time they’re married they’ve been conditioned to react against intimacy.”

Which is not healthy for a marriage.

Religious men don’t fare much better. According to a recent study by Sarah Diefendorf, men, too, are taught that sex outside of marriage is animalistic and but sex within marriage will be special and sacred. But they struggled after marriage nonetheless because sex still felt dirty — and not in the good way.

Still, the number of partners you have before you marry — whether it’s zero or dozens — figures into your chances of divorce, according to the study by University of Utah sociology professor Nick Wolfinger.

Risk of divorce

There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” number of sexual partners if you want to wed with any hope of having a happily-ever-after, but there are some numbers that are better than others for relatively recent marriers, and having just two partners isn’t it — if you’re a woman — he writes. It’s better to have just one or more — just not too many. Between six and nine ought to keep your marriage intact.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know how I feel about keeping a marriage intact — it only matters if both partners believe the marriage is worth keeping intact and then actually act that way (yeah, you actually have to follow it up with action). Otherwise, it’s fine to part ways, but if you have young kids at least get your crap together, learn to be good co-parents and always put the kids first.

But, why one sexual partner? Typically, he says, that means the bride has only slept with the man who became her husband and therefore has no other person to compare him with. Same with having zero partners although, as I write above, that may lead to an unhappy sexual life even if you stay married.

Having two partners, hubby-to-be and that other guy — perhaps the “bad boy” who may have rocked her sexual world but was not husband material or who split, or wasn’t “all that” or perhaps didn’t want to have have kids, etc. — is more likely to make her look at her sex life after the $20k wedding and Maui honeymoon are over — when many newlyweds wonder, “WTF have I just done?” — and realize she might have made a mistake. A big one. Bring on the divorce attorneys and the XOJane confessionals.

Better to have slept around a bit.

As Wolfinger writes:

Having two partners may lead to uncertainty, but having a few more apparently leads to greater clarity about the right man to marry. The odds of divorce are lowest with zero or one premarital partners, but otherwise sowing one’s oats seems compatible with having a lasting marriage.

No guarantees

Except, other things than sex factor into choosing the “right man to marry.” If a woman had a deliciously exciting sexual time in her 20s, or a few long-term committed relationships or perhaps a combo, and then had a dearth of partners in her mid- to late-30s, when she may be thinking about having a child, the definition of the “right man to marry” may change, clarity be damned.

Plus “the right man” in marriage changes over time — endearing habits become intolerable, etc. — as does sex with him. Even the most hanging-off-the-chandelier types typically slow down after kids come along. Sometimes other things, game-changers, occur: addiction, illness, menopause, passive-aggressiveness, lack of interest, erectile dysfunction — you name it. Then you find yourself in a sexless marriage and you’re stuck suffering, cheating or divorcing (or, for the few brave souls, opening up a marriage). And, as Esther Perel notes, it’s hard to keep things erotic in a long-term relationship anyway.

Ultimately, Wolfinger writes, “this research brief paints a fairly complicated picture of the association between sex and marital stability that ultimately raises more questions than it answers.”

Right. Because who really knows if how many people we slept with — or confessed to sleeping with (which is not always the same) — is why we decide to split or stay? There’s also no way to know if this holds true with lesbians or bisexual women (the data is for heteros only).

Different expectations

I can understand why having one partner might make someone stay in a marriage. There might be different expectations. Who knows if there’s anything better? Maybe the sex is decent enough. Or maybe you think this is just how sex is. Maybe you’re not particularly sexual. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who has mind-blowing sex with your one and only sexual partner. I’m not religious but, hey, God bless them if that’s so!

I don’t know too many people who had just one partner when they wed; one friend who’s religious turned to porn when his wife lost interest after the babies came and, then, after he’d developed a full-on porn addiction, was shut out sexually for good. No surprise that they divorced. The few women who married as virgins that I interviewed for The New I Do were instrumental in opening up their marriage; they saw that as an alternative to divorce — and it is.

Still, there’s nothing wrong in divorcing, no matter how many partners you may or may not have had before marrying. If your sexual needs aren’t being fulfilled by your spouse, or you’re sexually incompatible in the long-term, or your spouse isn’t interested in learning how to be a better lover or becoming more creative or adventurous and you want more — and maybe even had more once or twice — why wouldn’t you get divorced instead of making yourself, and most likely your spouse, miserable? It’s the same if you’ve never slept with someone before marriage and you’re not even sure better sex exists. Because the best reason to divorce is not because you believe there’s better sex or a better someone “out there” for you; it’s because you’d rather face being alone than stay in your marriage.

And if you do find someone better and marry again, the upside is the number of sexual partners probably won’t matter. You’ll just have other, perhaps bigger issues, than sex.

Interested in re-creating your marriage? Order “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels” on Amazon, and follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

The cover of a recent Time magazine declared, “How to stay married (and why).” As you probably know, I am not against marriage or for it either despite the fact that I  co-wrote a book about marriage. Time_magazine_marriage

OK, yes, my co-author and I did say in the book that we were for marriage, but — and this is a big but — only because it offers the best legal protections and benefits for couples right now. That may change in the future, and personally I hope it does; why should the government decide who gets what based on his or her love life? That mattered when there were few options, but now there are many. It no longer makes sense, and it also leaves a lot of caregiving unprotected.

And for cohabiting couple like economists Betsy Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, who are not married but have a child together and have drawn up a contract, marriage isn’t all that necessary — they’ve done the essential work of detailing what they want their partnership to look like. If everyone did that — and I have no idea why committed couples don’t — we really wouldn’t need marriage, although couples still might be missing out on certain government perks, especially tax breaks. Which gets us back to the financial aspect of marriage that few want to address — even Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, divorcing after just 15 months of marriage and no prenup: marriage is, at its heart, a financial arrangement. Yes, it’s about the money and stuff, even if we really want it to be about love.

The pressure to marry

But, getting back to the Time article, journalist Belinda Luscombe gives a somewhat relatively balanced view of the studies indicating the pluses and minuses of marriage. Still, the end result is the same (evidenced by the title) — you probably should marry, as long as you learn how to be properly married, and probably should stay married.

Tireless singles advocate Bella DePaulo, whom I know and greatly respect, and other singletons saw the article as shaming singles; I don’t. Still, what concerns me about such articles, as seemingly balanced as they are, is that there isn’t full transparency about the studies (which DePaulo rightfully continues to address, to often deaf ears) and, perhaps more important, many of them don’t full address the many options available to us now that might indicate similar results. There are scant longitudinal studies on independent men and women who prefer to live alone, live apart together for the long term or cohabit, and until there are, we really won’t know whether marriage is still the best arrangement for couples. As I wrote recently, if you love someone, do you really need a legal arrangement binding your commitment?

The benefits of alternative arrangements

Recently, there have been some interesting studies that show that cohabiting couples — a hugely growing segment of society — often go to couples therapy earlier than married couples and, guess what, they feel more satisfied and committed by the experience. Why? As the study notes, “Without the institutionalized rules of marriage, cohabiting couples may perceive threats to their relationship earlier than married couples.” And some studies indicate that the stigma of cohabiting — versus being married — impacts younger couples, probably feeling the need to follow a normative romantic path, much more than older couples, who seem to fare quite well cohabiting or even as living apart together couples.

All of which means that before we tout the presumptive benefits of marriage for everyone, we should be willing to explore what’s working for those who are happily living alternatively and whether what doesn’t work for them is the actual arrangement or the societal expectation that committed couples marry and live together as well as the judgment they face if they don’t follow the romantic script. And, we need to look at whether marriage matters for couples past the baby-making years or for those who chose to be childfree.

What if those societal expectations didn’t exist? Would Time magazine or other mainstream media still tout the benefits of marriage, especially long-term marriage?

We really don’t know. I just wish that the possibility that it might not make a difference would be acknowledged.

Want to learn how to create a marriage based on your values and goals? Order The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels on Amazon, and follow TNID on Twitter and Facebook.

 


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