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I’m not one to live in regrets. My feeling is, if I’m happy where I am right now then everything before this point, good and bad, got me here. That’s good enough. But every once and a while, I come across the “what I wish I knew before ….” articles, including ones on “what I wish I knew before I got married.” As if someone’s else’s marital experience would be the same as yours. Probably not — especially if they seemed so specious.

I never felt that way, maybe because when I married the first time I was a few months shy of my 21st birthday (yes, how silly!) and I didn’t give marriage too much thought. In retrospect, it probably wouldn’t have hurt; oh well. When I wed the second time, I was 32, had a life and a career and experience. I had my shit together!! But did I have more perspective? Well …

Yes, this time my husband-to-be and I talked about what we wanted — careers, kids, life goals, etc. — and we also talked about what we learned from our past infidelities. Even that, however, didn’t change the trajectory of our marriage.

The advice I wouldn’t have listened to

I can’t say there’s anything I wish I knew about marriage per se before I married, and I probably wouldn’t have listened to any advice anyway. I used to think that marriage in and of itself didn’t change us, and I still think it doesn’t have to. But now I believe we can allow it to, consciously or not.

These are not things I would ever be able to put in the “wish I knew” category, because I’m not sure I could have known them. That said, I have observed patterns among women (of my generation, anyway) and so I put it out there:

  • We can lose our sense of self. I have heard from men that they, too, lose part of themselves in a marriage. I have no doubt that they do. That said, women are often expected to be the caregivers — and then are judged harshly if they care for themselves. We’re supposed to be selfless, I guess. And, as Moira Weigel points out in her book, Labor of Love, so much of romantic love is actually free labor on the part of the homemaker and caregiver, historically women. That’s a conversation all couples should have.
  • We can believe being “nice” will get us what we want. I was a people pleaser for many years. This seemed to be a good thing — I was nice to everyone! I wanted everyone to like me! I especially wanted my husband — and later, my boyfriends — to see me as the cool gal, the “easy-to-be-with” partner. I went along with everything my man said because “I am a nice person.” Well, B.S. on that. Oh, well, I actually think I am generally a pretty nice person, but the kind of people-pleasing nice person I was for many years was not authentic. It’s what what Divorce Court judge Lynn Toler calls “The False OK.”  It’s what blogger Mark Manson observes as the way “nice” people sabotage ourselves — and our relationship — when we “do everything” for our partner and don’t set healthy boundaries for ourselves.
  • Being the best person doesn’t guarantee anything. I know that we want it to. I certainly wanted it to, and I think I kind of expected it. But being the best you you can be won’t necessarily protect you from bad stuff in your marriage, no matter what so-called experts may say. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be the best we can be; it just means we may not want to have expectations about how our partner may act because of it.

Not unique to being married

None of these are things that fall into the “what I wish I knew before I got married” category. All of these were lessons I learned exactly because I went into my marriages without a lot of expectations and with a certain obliviousness. And honestly, these are not unique to marriage; any long-term, live-together romantic relationship might create similar dynamics.

You may feel differently.

So I throw it back to you — if you’re married, is there anything you wish you knew before you said your “I dos,” and in what way do you think it might have changed your marriage — for better or worse? You can answer the poll below or you can leave detailed answers on my blog or you can email me your answers if you wish to be anonymous; I guarantee you will.

It’s not scientific by any stretch of the imagination; just some insight. Thanks, as always, for sharing.

Want to individualize your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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There’s an odd thing that happens whenever women write about how marriage is a better deal for men than women — men want to argue that we’re wrong. Marriage is bad for men, then say and then they back up their arguments by talking about … divorce.

They complain that women get alimony, or spousal support, and while that has been historic-
ally been true, it actually has been rather rare, from about 25 percent of divorces in the 1960s to about 10 percent today or even lower, according to Judith McMullen, a law professor at Marquette University. Let’s not forget that women couldn’t even have credit cards in our own name until the 1960s. So, yes, a few of us who gave up our careers to stay home, watch the kids and take care of all the household duties needed some help getting on our feet. If couples want someone at home to take care of that stuff, the at-home caregiver should be compensated in the event of divorce. But ever since women have been working outside the home, in many cases becoming the family breadwinner, that is changing (in a side note, even who gets custody of the children is changing, too).

Still, I hate to tell it to you, guys, but marriage isn’t divorce and divorce isn’t marriage; there’s no such thing as alimony or child support within a marriage. That only can potentially occur after a marriage ends. (And if men are so upset by things like spousal support and child custody, why don’t they just get a prenup so they can decide for themselves who gets what instead of relying on the state’s prenup?) But if we’re talking about who actually benefits from marriage, it has traditionally been men — and that continues today.

An unequal institution

I bring this up because sociologist Lisa Wade recently circulated a popular blog post on marriage in an end-of-year roundup. Wade writes:

Heterosexual marriage is an unequal institution. Women on average do more of the unpaid and undervalued work of households, they work more each day, and they are more aware of this inequality than their husbands. They are more likely to sacrifice their individual leisure and career goals for marriage. Marriage is a moment of subordination and women, more so than men, subordinate themselves and their careers to their relationship, their children, and the careers of their husbands.”

Why does the media keep promoting marriage for women, she wonders.

Good question, but there’s still a lot of societal pressure to couple up and put a ring on it, even though marriage has been called a “greedy institution,” limiting both men’s and women’s freedom, including sexual freedom — unless you have an open marriage and that, my friends, is up for you to create or not.

Women want in, women want out

Noam Shpancer, professor of psychology, notes in his Psychology Today blog that women work harder for a smaller share of the benefits of marriage, which although they may be more eager to get into, they’re just as often also more eager to get out of, too:

(M)arriage actually appears to benefit men more than it does women. Research has shown that the ‘marriage benefits’— the increases in health, wealth, and happiness that are often associated with the status — go disproportionately to men. Married men are better off than single men. Married women, on the other hand, are not better off than unmarried women.”

Which is why women initiate divorce more than men. This is, as I’ve written about before, not unique to the United States; divorce rates are up across the globe, from the U.K. to Iran to China to even Saudi Arabia, driven by women. Given that there are many places in the world where married women suffer incredible injustices, this makes sense. In some places men can still force their wife to have intercourse (which was only changed in the U.S. in 1993, but there still are loopholes), and others where a man can abduct a woman but all’s OK as long as he marries her (no matter what she wants) or even rape her and then force her to be his wife. Why would a woman want to be married and stay married if that’s how she can be treated?

Despite the fact that many studies indicate marriage makes men become better men — even Ben Affleck agrees — many men still think marriage is better for women. Oh, OK — they want to talk about marriage in the U.S., where the hardships women face elsewhere in the world isn’t quite our reality, thankfully. So why are more women rejecting marriage in the States?

For one, we have choices now and some women prefer to be single. But for others who’d like to marry, well, therein lies the rub.

Women want more from marriage

There’s been much talk about a lack of marriageable men, not only for those in lower socioeconomic groups, but also for educated professional women of any color. Sociologists Tristan Bridges and Melody L. Boyd note that what used to make a man marriage material is changing — it’s not just education and jobs (although, yes, women generally want a husband who makes a good salary, and for many lower-socioeconomic women, that’s essential). Women — finally — want more out of marriage itself:

Many still want the economic security associated with marital households, though women today may not need to lean on this security as much as they did thirty years ago. But, they also want a set of intangibles that is much more related to the quality of the relationship than the individual qualities any given man might possess. High-quality relationships provide economic support, but they also come with emotional support, shared commitments to household labor, childcare, and more. They want a partner in every sense of the word.”

Which means men who only pride themselves on having a steady, reliable paycheck may be doing so “to the detriment of things that women might actually want from them,” thus excluding them from being seen as marriageable.

This probably isn’t a happy thing for men who are either unable or unwilling to change in those ways. It may be easier for a man to work harder and earn more money than it is to take on what some men might consider “women’s work.” But who knows how artificial intelligence technology will impact that; we’re going to lose jobs, and whatever jobs arise will require new skills.

Still, a lot more men are interested in become equal partners, although when push comes to shove, they still want and expect their wives to defer their career to his. And, they’re often penalized at work for taking time off to be more hands-on dads. That is something all of us should be protesting.

The end of marriage?

So what do women want? For women who want husbands, we want more out of marriage. And if women want more out of marriage, if we want the similar benefits men get from it, will this mean that there will be fewer hetero people marrying in the future? Probably. (I make a distinction between hetero couples and same-sex couples because same-sex couples, denied marriage for so long, may be more likely to wed and take advantage of the 1,100 government and legal perks and protections, while also enjoying more egalitarian unions).

And if that’s true, then there are a lot of things society depends on marriage for — like caretaking — that we’ll need to find creative solutions for. Maybe it will be having robotic caregivers. Maybe we’ll have time-limited, renewable marital contracts so we’ll finally be free of the belief that marriage should be lifelong. I believe we need to create a society of modern-day alloparents, what I call carenting, which would hugely help the growing numbers of single people and childfree couples, and that’s important.

What do you think?

Want to know how to create a marital plan to have an egalitarian 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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Ever since the second International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots took place a few weeks ago, there have been a deluge of articles talking about marriage between humans and robots and how sexbots might impact marriages, for better or worse.

For every robot enthusiast, like artificial intelligent expert and Love and Sex With Robots author David Levy, who predicts human-robot marriages within in the next few decades, there’s a naysayer, like Kathleen Richardson, founder of the Campaign Against Sex Robots, who worries that “the creation of such robots will contribute to detrimental relationships between men and women, adults and children, men and men and women and women.” 

Which sounds a lot like the people warning us about how marriage between interracial couples, or same-sex couples, or how the increase in divorce will ruin the institution of marriage. Actually none has ruined the institution of marriage — in fact, they’ve just added to the number of people marrying. Instead, love-based marriages, the increased desire for independence and the availability of choices, especially for women, nowadays have done enough “damage” to the institution — if you want to call it “damage,” which I don’t. Instead, they’ve helped people realize marriage isn’t the only way to live.

These are things I’ve talked about before. I’ve also talked about how robots might impact romantic relationships before, too — the movie Her beautifully asks us to question, what is a relationship? — so it doesn’t make sense to regurgitate old ideas.

But since the recent spate of articles, I’ve been thinking about other ways robots will impact us beyond sexbots, because they’re surely going to be part of your future and mine. Certainly when it comes to work; this is a given. As well as self-driving transportation of all sorts. And even if you have no desire to have sex with — let alone marry — a robot, easy access to robots (assuming they’re affordable, a big unknown but presumably not initially) may impact how we approach our relationships, and create and re-create family.

Elderly care

Say, taking care of an elderly parent. Caregiving is an essential part of society but typically seen as women’s work, thus undervalued and underpaid — if paid at all. In fact, more and more working women over the age of 50 are leaving their careers to care for an elderly family member — at great personal loss, financially and emotionally. What if a robot could do that for us? A few years ago I interviewed Christopher Ford, who made his movie Robot & Frank — about the bond between an elderly man and a robot — after watching the struggles his parents faced while caring for their elderly parents, his grandparents. Would robotic caregiving be a bad thing? Would it be better than putting an ailing parent in a nursing home? Would it free up adult children — again, overwhelmingly women — from that responsibility so they wouldn’t have to disrupt their career?

Child care

What about caring for your own child? Would you choose a robotic nanny to help raise your kids so you wouldn’t have to opt-out — or struggle with work-life issues? What if a self-driving car would pick up your kids from school and take them to their various after-school sports and activities? Would that relieve some of the parental duties, again overwhelmingly the women’s role, that make having a career and a family seem so daunting? Will having a robotic caregiver make marriages more egalitarian? Would the robotic caregiver have a gender — and will that just perpetuate gendered caregiving?

Single parenting

What if you’re a single person who wants to have a child but hasn’t found a romantic partner to have one with, or perhaps isn’t even interested in having a romantic partner; would having a robotic caregiver make your life easier, or perhaps even make you more likely to have a child on your own? And, if so, would that mean fewer people would actually choose to marry, or even cohabit, given how “there is evidence of a certain fatigue with the difficulties of dealing with people,” as Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes.

I think the emphasis and perhaps freakout about sexbots is obscuring other discussions about how robots likely will be intertwined in our relationships, romantic or not. Artificial intelligence is a growing part of our future, and not just when it comes to sex.

Will you welcome it and, if so, in what ways? Food for thought in the new year …

And, happy new year!

Want to explore having a robot be part of your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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I grew up watching Disney films, from Cinderella to Snow White to Fantasia to Mary Poppins. I loved all of them, dressed as a princess or ballerina on many a Halloween and … well, I think it stops there.

As a young girl, I never thought — or expected — a handsome prince would rescue me, and I didn’t feel that way in my 20s, either. I went to college to study ecology — I had dreams of saving the world — but then dropped out and left it all behind to follow my boyfriend to Colorado, where he was attending college. Well, were he was taking PE classes; he had no idea what he wanted to do. I supported us by working crap minimum-wage jobs and relying on food stamps to make ends meet. Nevertheless, I married him a few months before my 21st birthday because I was in love. Clearly, I was not looking for a Prince Charming to rescue me!

But was I somehow influenced by the Cinderella story nonetheless? Did I expect it but settled?

That was one of the topics discussed at a workshop in Vancouver, B.C., on love put on by Carrie Jenkins, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, that featured many wonderful speakers besides Jenkins, whose thought-provoking book, What Love Is And What It Could Be, comes out in a few weeks, including Marina Adshade, UBC professor of economics, author of of Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and entertaining TEDx speaker; and Mandy Len Catron, who teaches writing at UBC and whose Modern Love essay on how to make anyone fall in love with you was one of the most-read Modern Loves, and that lead her to write a book on love essays that comes out in 2017.

Catron discussed how the Cinderella tale influenced her as a young girl. It’s ubiquitous in our society — there are 345 versions of Cinderella across the globe — from fueling some of our most-beloved rom-coms (Pretty Woman, anyone?) to infiltrating sports, or what ESPN calls “the ultimate underdog for whom we wish a fairy-tale ending.” We’re suckers for the Cinderella story because it’s about good things happening to good people.

Who doesn’t want to be seen as a good person? Who doesn’t like a fairy-tale ending? Don’t we all want to live happily ever after?

I certainly do. But is that somehow skewing our view of romance? Do women today really believe that, despite cheerfully withstanding unbelievable abuse and cruelty (usually from our own family, mostly other women), our beauty and goodness alone will lead a handsome and typically successful prince to notice us, and once he does, we’ll go off with him (despite barely knowing him) because he has power, status and money and thus will provide for us? Isn’t Cinderella just a story, one of many love stories we tell, and one that’s no longer relevant in today’s empowered you-go-girl reality?

The dangers of Cinderella

There have been many articles and books written about the danger of the Cinderella story. Men, especially in the MGTOW (men going their own way) movement, love to blast women for believing — they’d say demanding — a fairy-tale romance, forgetting that those fairy tales were written by men, turned into movies by men (hello, Walt Disney) and are stories that model what a patriarchal society expects from women — to be “good girls,” people-pleasers and dependent on men. That’s how women can be controlled (which is why the assault on women’s rights that is sure to happen under President-elect Donald Trump is very real and something to be vigilant about).

So in the 1970s, feminists started rewriting fairy tales to create stronger female roles for their daughters to read. That sounds great but just switching genders — say, making a princess rescue a prince — doesn’t change the narrative much; someone is still a victim who needs rescuing and someone’s a hero who has to do that. It’s still sexist, and it still makes romance and a happily-ever-after heterosexual life of two beautiful people together the outcome.

Clearly, most women nowadays are more interested in having rich, full lives of our own. If Cinderella and other fairy tales are as damaging to girls as some say, why do we continue to read those stories to our children, especially our daughters, and take them to see Disney movies?

As parents, this is something we should be paying attention to. The stories we tell, especially if they have romantic love endings, help shape our idea and expectations of love. As one scholar notes:
There are myriad other traditional fairy tales where women and girls take it upon themselves — often at great personal risk — to become the heroines of their stories. The real question is not ‘why don’t fairy tales reflect strong and powerful women?’ but rather why don’t we read those fairy tales that do? Or a better question still, why do we insist on selectively reading only those fairy tales that tend to reflect passive female characters?”
Good questions! Because we have a choice. There are many fairy tales that have nothing to do with romantic endings (or whose original tellings, such as “The Little Mermaid,” have much different endings.) There’s even a West African version of Cinderella, Chinye, in which the smart and resourceful heroine discovers a treasure and uses it to help the women in her village live a prosperous life. No prince needed. How’s that for a great girl-power story? Why didn’t Disney decide to make a movie about Chinye? Probably because we can’t resist a good love story — all of us want love, and many of us want a partner and perhaps marriage. That’s the romantic script we unconsciously follow.

A different Cinderella

Still, is it wrong to want someone to rescue us? Interestingly, not all women feel the same way about Cinderella. “For white women the Cinderella myth is about passivity, but for black women it’s about actively seeking a partner who’s their equal,” according to Newsweek.

Historically, the struggle for racial equality left little room for black women to indulge in Cinderella fantasies. From Reconstruction through Jim Crow and through the civil-rights movement, black women devoted their energies to these struggles while secretly hoping that one day their prince would indeed come. Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint remembers that during the 1960s, ‘many of the black women in the movement used to joke — but it was partly serious — that part of why they were fighting was so black men would be able to get good jobs and they would be able to stay at home like white women and have their men take care of them.’ Furthermore, in the 1970s, many black women were reluctant to embrace feminism because it seemed that just when it was about to be their turn to be Cinderella, white women were telling them that the fantasy was all wrong.”

If women of color would happily desire to be chosen and cared for, what about other women for whom handsome princes aren’t readily available? As professor Sami Schalk explores in her paper “Happily Ever After for Whom?: Blackness and Disability in Romance Narratives:”

The structures of the romance genre — which rely upon white, middle-class, able-bodied, and heterosexual norms of social mobility and citizenship through the marriage union — make a nonstereotypical and nondiscriminatory inclusion of black and disabled people quite difficult, since social mobility, rights of citizenship, and marriage are still actively denied to black and disabled people.”

wrote a provocative essay in the New York Times about how even having a strange man on the street check her out would be welcome:

I also do understand what it feels like to get attention from the wrong man. It’s gross. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary and tedious. And in certain cases, traumatic. But I still would much rather have a man make an inappropriate sexual comment than be referred to in the third person or have someone express surprise over the fact that I have a career. The former, unfortunately, feels ‘normal.’ The latter makes me feel invisible and is meant for that purpose. I like it when men look at me. It feels empowering. Frankly, it makes me feel like I’m not being excluded.

I imagine she wouldn’t be too upset if a prince wanted to give her a happily-ever-after future, either.

All of which means we don’t have to stick to fairy tales that have a happily-ever-after romantic ending. It just fuels matrimania — the obsession society has with being a couple and marriage as the be-all and end-all. As parents, we might want to pay attention to that. Let’s tell our children other stories, too. On the other hand, if having a happily-ever-after fairy-tale romantic ending isn’t all that available to us in our daily life, is it wrong to actually want it?

Interested in creating a happily-ever-after marriage based on your needs and goals? Learn how in 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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Let’s face it — there’s no way to divorce-proof a marriage. You know it and I know it even if so-called marriage “experts” tell you there is.

As I’ve written before, you can’t control another person’s behaviors and therefore if your spouse wants out, he or she is going to get out. That’s how it goes, whether it seems fair or not.

That’s not to say we should just throw our hands up, look to the stars and accept our fate. We can certainly try to be the best person we can be and we can set up healthy boundaries that respect us and our partner, and our relationship.

That said, we know there are certain things each of us can do to give our union a boost. The Gottman Institute suggests kindness and generosity go a long way. In The New I Do, we suggest creating a marital plan based on our individual and joint needs and expectations, which creates a kind of a road map and baseline from which we can see how our relationship is doing. And then there’s professor Judith Gere’s study on joint goal planning, or the lack of it, and what that might mean for a marriage. When I came upon her study, “The Effects of Lack of Joint Goal Planning on Divorce Over 10 Years,” and her comment that “Given the negative consequences of divorce on health and well-being, it is important to try to identify its predictors,” I was curious.

Basically, what she discovers is that, even when controlling for various demographic, individual and relationship issues, the “lack of joint planning with the relationship partner was associated with a 19% increase in the odds of divorce.”

Well, a 19 percent increase in the odds of divorce is something to pay attention to. While we may not quite be able to divorce-proof a marriage, we can at least make it a bit less likely to end that way.

What’s joint planning?

What does she mean by joint planning? I reached out to professor Gere to learn more about her findings. Here’s an edited version of our email exchange:

Q: What got you interested in looking at how couples might engage in joint goal planning or not?

A: Some of my prior research has shown that goal conflict is really bad for people’s relationships and well-being. I thought that one way to potentially reduce goal conflict would be to plan jointly with the partner. So I wanted to investigate if lack of joint planning would be associated with higher rates of relationship dissolution.

Q: It seems like planning long-term goal would be a no-brainer. From your research, does it appear as if most couples haven’t been doing that? Any reason why?

A: Most couples do, in fact, plan jointly with their partner. However, there are some couples who do less of that, and it seems that the less people plan their goals jointly with their partner, the more likely that relationship is to end over time.

Q: Did you look at specific kinds of goals — if and when to have children and how to raise them, financial, lifestyle, etc. — or just the general idea of planning the future together?

A: (W)e looked at joint planning of both short and long-term goals. One of the questions asked specifically about joint planning regarding medical/financial/family issues, whereas the other two questions looked at joint planning across all domains.

Q: Do you believe joint goal planning occurred more in the past, or did wives basically just go along with their husband’s desires or vice versa?

A: I am not sure if joint goal planning has changed across time. I unfortunately do not have data that could address that.

Q: Does the desire by most of today’s couples for an egalitarian relationship make joint goal planning harder or easier?

A: Joint goal planning is probably challenging in some cases, regardless of the type of relationship people desire. But higher egalitarianism probably promotes higher motivation to plan jointly with one’s partner or at least have equal levels of joint planning between the partners (egalitarian relationships can also mean neither consults the other when setting goals). So it’s hard to say what the effects of wanting the egalitarian relationship would be on planning jointly.

Q: As far as you can tell, did couples merely talk about future goals or did they write them down in some sort of informal contract?

A: We did not assess this. We asked about whether they consult their partner or seek advice from them. So these seem to be issues assessed more in conversations than in writing.

Q: Was there a difference for couples who have children and those who do not?

A: No, joint planning was good for partners regardless of the presence of children.

Q: You mention that “perhaps joint planning is more important in the case of certain types of issues.” Were there some issues that were apparent for you?

A: In this study, we did not have data on the types of issues people discuss. But I would presume joint planning with regards to long-term goals would be more important than short-term daily goals.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you from the study’s results?

A: I was surprised that the effects of lack of joint planning on relationship dissolution were apparent even when we accounted for various relationship quality indicators, the partners’ agreement on various issues, overall goal planning, and all sorts of other things. These effects seem to be really robust.

Q: How can couples best use this information in their own partnership?

A: I think the best way to use it is to make sure one plans goals in some way jointly with the partner. It is really important for people to make decisions about their goals in consultation with those who will be affected by their goal pursuits.

Q: From the results of your study, do you see any value in couples creating a written marital plan with long- and short-term goals clearly addressed with the agreement that they’d revise and tweak as life circumstances may dictate?

A: I do not think that writing things down would be necessary. Goals change all the time and what’s important is ultimately whether the partner behaves in a considerate manner and supports one’s goals, rather than whether you have that in writing or not.

While I agree with professor Gere that “goals change all the time and what’s important is ultimately whether the partner behaves in a considerate manner and supports one’s goals,” I also believe know that, over time, partners don’t always act in a considerate manner nor do once-supportive partners always stay supportive. Which is why I like the idea of writing it down.

Why writing it down matters

Do I think that having goals in writing will prevent divorce? Absolutely not. Still, when a couple writes down their goals together, when they clarify for themselves what they’re both agreeing to and some “what ifs,” then there’s no question or doubt of who said what. That doesn’t mean that you or your partner might say, X-number of years later, “Well, I meant that at the time but now things have changed.” Hopefully, when things change, couples would be addressing it in real time — “I know we agreed to X, but now that I have this job offer, I’d like to talk about what that might mean for us” or something like that. In other words, the long-term goals are not set in stone; they’re fluid.

Still, from my experience, as a twice-divorced woman as well as from the experience of many of my friends who were breadwinning wives with stay-at-home/marginally employed husbands, it’s all too easy to have a partner renege on joint plans (and I imagine many breadwinning husbands will feel the same). “I never said that!” or “I didn’t really mean that” or “I only meant that if …” are not open to negotiations if you actually have a written agreement that clearly spells out your partnership goals.

Yes, you still might end up divorced (sorry, but that’s real!). Still, having some sort of “proof” that you both approached your partnership with the best of intentions may make the dissolution less contentious, which may help you uncouple consciously, without anger, regret or revenge. If you have kids together, this is huge. But even if you don’t, it’s an important step toward acknowledging and accepting that we can love people and they can love us without demanding or expecting that it lasts forever.

Interested in creating a marital plan? Learn how in 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’m probably late to the party on this, but evidently millennials aren’t having much sex.

Blame it on porn, blame it on hookup culture, blame it on the number of 20-somethings still living it home — maybe it’s all of that or some of that or none of that.  Is sex bad for women?

Or maybe it’s something different. Like maybe there are getting so many mixed messages about sex that young people would rather not deal with it at all. Especially women.

I’ve been reading Laura Kipnis’ book Men: Notes From an Ongoing Investigation, and her chapter on the late Andrea Dworkin — an anti-porn activist who believed intercourse is domination — and her book, Intercourse, in which she makes an argument that all sex is bad for women, and my head has spinning ever since.

Kipnis did this to me with her book Against Love: A Polemic, too. If you read nothing else in the new year, you might want to read this book. Then let’s discuss.

While Kipnis has her disagreements with Dworkin, she acknowledges the “alarming extensive” literature of bad sex — the kind that dissuades women from “having sex, or sex of the wrong kind, or with the wrong people” — that has gotten replicated, repackaged and reinforced for decades.

Any of this sound familiar?

  • Women can’t have or don’t enjoy casual sex
  • Women only have affairs for emotional connection
  • Women don’t enjoy, or are hurt by, hookup culture
  • Women don’t care as much about sex as men do
  • Women lose interest in sex as they age

I could go on and on but those are probably the top five.

So what are we to make of this?

It’s the anatomy, stupid

For Dworkin, it isn’t that women are doing anything wrong, it’s that anatomically we are “unspeakably vulnerable in intercourse because of the nature of the act — entry, penetration, occupation.”

Well, if you put it that way …

But, as Kipnis notes, doing away with intercourse, an act of dominance or not, would “implicate marital sex, too, and marital sex is supposed to be the reward for virtue.”

Because many still hope that the end result of sex while dating will lead to marriage.

Even though women are delaying marriage and living together with their romantic partners for longer periods, a lot of women still want to be married. And in order to attract a man, Kipnis notes:

(W)omen transform themselves into pathetic sex scavengers, wanting sensuality and tenderness but settling instead for ‘being owned and being fucked’ as a substitute for the physical affection and approval we actually crave from men. Women need male approval to be able to survive in our own skins, and solicit it through sex; but obtaining sex means conforming in ‘body type and behavior’ to what men like. Given the vast amount of time, energy, and disposable income many of us invest in achieving and maintaining whatever degree of sexual attractiveness is feasible (sometimes known as ‘fuckability’), again, it’s hard to argue.”

Rough, but, yes, it’s hard to argue with that. Again I ask, what are we to make of it?

Relentless messages

I agree that the relentless messages from books, women’s magazines and so-called relationship experts geared toward women trying to stop us from having so much sex, or having the wrong kind of sex or having sex with the wrong people is not only making a lot of women unhappy and anxious, but also leading us to accept a lot of bad sex. We’re getting a raw deal. Not with intercourse per se, but with what’s expected of us (or what we think is expected of us), and because everything’s geared to pleasuring our man (or men) and not ourselves.

Are women having pleasure in sex? Not really, according to studies by sociologist and American Hookup author Lisa Wade. “Women were dissatisfied with the sexual skills of their partners, but they also often deprioritized their own pleasure, ” she writes. “Overall, in first-time hookups, it turns out, women have orgasms less than half as often as men.”

Evidently, it’s not just college-age women walking around without having sex be pleasurable. A number of women of all ages never orgasm. Of course, you can have pleasure without orgasms, but still …

Why do we accept that? Why shouldn’t we expect and insist on the same kind of pleasure we’re giving our male partners. As Nicki Minaj states, “I demand that I climax. I think women should demand that. And why not?

I don’t think sex is bad for women. But bad sex — and bad sex advice — is never good.

Why do you want to marry? 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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The news that Melania Trump will live apart from her husband, President-elect Donald Trump for a few months until their son Barron, 10, finished school, was shocking to many people.

While it may seem odd that a married couple doesn’t live together, the Trumps’ decision to live apart is actually part of a growing trend  —  living apart together couples, also known as LATs, or apartners.  live_apart

About one-third of U.S. adults who aren’t married or cohabiting are in LAT relation-
. While some are young people in long-
distance relation-
ships because of schooling or careers, or couples who want to live together but can’t for various reasons (such as military families), many include women like me  —  divorced, middle-aged empty-nesters who want nothing that resembles the married life we knew. In fact, more older divorced and widowed women are choosing live apart together relationships so they can enjoy their romantic relationships without the complications, caretaking and complacency of living together.

But a good portion are married, like the Trumps — who will be the highest-profile example of this demographic trend. Still, the number of couples who are “married, spouse absent,” according to the United States census, is a lot less than the numbers of couples living together — just a little more than 3 percent of the population.

How will they make it work? Does it help or hinder a relationship? What are the benefits? What about the kids?

Upsides of living apart

In researching LATs/apartners for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels—  which offers a living apart together model as one of many marital options couples can chose from to individualize their marriage  —  I discovered that LATs/apartners feel more committed and less trapped than live-in couples. When you live apart, each person has to actively work on commitment and trust; it’s not taken for granted. Nor is sex — especially since so many couples are dealing with what they consider sexless marriages.

I also learned that many people who are in LAT relationships, or were in them for a while, say that they learned valuable relationship skills, such as trust, patience and better communication. Many also got better at time management, independence, and discovering intimacy that wasn’t just about sex and touch.

Those are the kind of skills can lead to a more satisfying relationship, and relationship satisfaction can make couples feel more committed to each other. Couples who feel committed to each other are motivated to show it; they act in ways that their partner can clearly experience as loving. And they don’t need to be under the same roof to act loving.

Isn’t that exactly what people want in a romantic relationship?

Living apart — good for women?

“It’s of particular interest to women, who often get the short end of the stick in marriage and cohabitation. They still end up doing most of the caretaking and household chores, even if they work full time,” says Montreal filmmaker Sharon Hyman, who is working on a documentary called “Apartners: Living Happily Ever Apart” that I will be a part of as well as apartners from around the world.

Couples, especially women, who are apartners relish the fact that to have time and space apart, and believe it may just be the secret ingredient to keeping love alive and passions growing. When you remove the petty, annoying parts out of a relationship, like laundry on the floor or who’s spending too much on what, then you are left with the good stuff — the chance to truly be intimate and present with your partner. Many believe that it actually makes them a better spouse.”

Hyman has been an apartner for almost two decades and wouldn’t have it any other way, although she acknowledges it may not be right for everyone.

“I am not an advocate for couples living apart. What I am an advocate for is having options. I just do not believe that there is only one way to love, no one-sized-fits-all, cookie-cutter way to have a relationship,” Hyman writes in Psychology Today. “It is all about what works best for you and your mate.”

What about the kids?

Of course, living apart together isn’t that hard if you don’t have kids or your kids are grown and out of the house; it’s an entirely different thing if you’re trying to raise a child or children together. Barron’s schooling is supposedly why the Trumps made the decision to live apart for a while. Children add complications to the arrangement, but they aren’t insurmountable.

The Trumps will have to come up with a plan that addresses how Donald will maintain meaningful connection with Barron and have everyone feel like they’re part of one family. Technology makes that awfully easy nowadays.

Then they’ll just need to keep communicating. Trump will want to be sure to let Barron know when he’ll be home again, and assure him that they will have plenty of one-on-one time together, as well as family time, before he heads back to Washington.

In most cases, the person living apart from the family home would want to be sensitive to the spouse at home with the kids; you want to avoid the “super-parent” syndrome — making one person responsible for all the caretaking — as much as you can. Since that’s the arrangement the Trumps already have — and let’s face it, they have lots of paid help, too — this won’t be an issue for them.

A POTUS who looks like us

Say what you will about the Trumps, but here’s an upside to their planned arrangement: couples about to wed or even long-term couples who feel stuck in their marriage may look at the marital arrangement of the future POTUS and FLOTUS and decide that they, too, would like to become apartners. Since fewer of us in America are in traditional nuclear families, why wouldn’t we want a president who reflects who we actually are — beyond just a man of color like President Obama or a woman like presidential-hopeful Hillary Clinton.

Every couple is free to individualize their marriage so that it works for them, no one else. And that’s exactly what the Trumps, married almost 12 years, plan to do.

Unfortunately the Trumps’ arrangement will cost U.S. taxpayers money — an unknown amount right now, unless they plan to fund their lifestyle on their own, which is highly doubtful. There may be many things to not like about Trump whether you voted for him or not, but choosing an alternative marital model shouldn’t be one of them.

Interested in having a LAT 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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On a rainy cold night recently, I watched “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” again, the Oscar-winning 2004 film about love by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry that developed a cult following of sorts.

Ostensibly, the romantic-sci-fi-comedy-drama addresses the importance of memory even as we struggle to get closure after a relationship falls apart so we can move on. As more and more of us are serial monogamists and not “until death” types, this seems more urgent than ever.  why_relationships_end

We may not have memory erasure nowadays, but we most certainly have ghosting — a quick way to end an unhappy relationship that social media has perhaps enabled and even encouraged. But that only adds to the confusion; how can you get closure after that?

Hearing the truth

While there are many, many compelling things about the film, I found myself gravitating toward a teeny-tiny subplot: when both Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) accidentally hear the tapes each recorded of the other in their attempts to erase each other from their memory, they get a glimpse of what their former romantic partner was thinking of them at the time things went south. Let’s just say it isn’t pretty.

Joel was boring, Clementine says. Clementine was stupid and only slept with people to get them to like her, Joel says. And so the things that initially attracted them to each other ended up being among the things that repelled them.

There’s some truth in that. “We all start as strangers, but we forget that we rarely choose who ends up a stranger, too,” writes Brianna Wiest.

Yet, they try again — with Clementine acknowledging that she’ll eventually end up thinking that he’s boring and he’ll probably end up thinking she’s a slut. “OK,” he says. “OK,” she says. And just like that, they take another leap of faith, which we all do every time we enter a romantic relationship — although it’s usually not with the same partner.  They’re doomed and they know it; we’re always hopeful we won’t be but often end up doomed anyway.

Easy = complacent?

There are lots of articles on the “secret” to long-lasting love, usually tapping into the wisdom of a couple who have hit, 50, 60, 70 years or more of marital “bliss.” Usually, it’s about having good communication, which makes sense. Still, many of us want a relationship to be easy, forgetting that “easy” can lead us to become complacent. That doesn’t work well, as even Susan Sarandon discovered.

Among the many things the movie made me think about was this: perhaps if we want to have long-lasting love we have to keep finding new things to love about each other instead of just thinking of our beloved as static — he’s this, she’s that — which, as Clementine and Joel discover, only leads to frustration, disappointment and, eventually, rejection. Of course, in order for our beloved to find new things to love about us, we just might have to actually offer new things to love.

Want to learn how to create a marriage based on your goals and values? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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When my second hubby and I married, we knew we wanted to be parents. We were both working in the newspaper industry — meaning we weren’t wealthy — but because we both agreed that we wanted someone to be home to raise the kids. Since he was older and more established in his career (and also worked for a paper that was part of the union), we agreed I’d quit my full-time job and do freelance and he’d be the breadwinner. We knew we’d have to live small; thankfully, our home had a rental unit, and we relied on that income. stay-at-home working parent

Freelance writing with a baby? Trying to make calls and write in stolen moments of nap time? Uh, nope. So after trying an at-home business that, when I finally looked at the numbers, made me less than minimum wage — I painted wood high chairs in fanciful designs — I took a part-time job as an on-call copy editor at night. Later, when our second son was born, I worked part time a few days a week, relying on the help of the lovely young woman, a former nanny who lived in our rental until and watched the boys in exchange for reduced rent while she went to school to become a hair stylist, until I got a job that I could do at home, as the editor of a kids’ newspaper.

Granted, none of those jobs made me a lot of money, but it helped keep our family afloat — and was essential income when my former husband’s union went on strike — and, more important, it kept me up-to-date in the career I loved and enabled me to maintain relationships with editors.

I had no idea how important that would be until, 14 years into the marriage, we divorced and I needed to find full-time work again. And I found it, but at wages I made when I was in my 20s — except I was in my 40s! I was making below California’s poverty level. But I didn’t have the luxury of hoping for a job at a nearby union paper to open up and I wasn’t in a position to move to another city or state; I didn’t want to uproot my kids or have them be raised solely by me or their dad (we had 50-50 physical joint custody). So, I grabbed the first job that came along and lived small.

Do I regret my choice? Not at all; as isolating as being the stay-at-home parent can be, I would never trade those years with my boys. But, there are a few things I would have done differently. Unlike a recent blog post by Wealthy Single Mommy, aka Emma Johnson, you can afford to be a stay-at-home parent nowadays; it just takes a new way of thinking.

Like Johnson writes, you must plan for the unthinkable — divorce, disability, job losses, death. These are real things and they happen, a lot. Marriage is not a financial plan — unless you’re entering a safety marriage, in which case the agreement is most likely sealed with a prenup.

Ah, yes, a prenup! While prenups have historically been about money and property, I would have made mine about other things, too, addressing chores, cooking, childcare, etc. — all the things couples fight about. I call that a marital plan.

So, what can parents, or couples who want to become parents, do? How can we solve the stay-at-home-working-parent-work-life-balance-dilemma instead of just waiting for companies to solve it for us (if they even will)?

Get a prenup/postnup

When a couple decides to have children, women — and it’s still women — are the ones who typically stop or curtail work to take care of them. Increasingly, men are doing that, too. Regardless of gender, anyone who is the main caretaker should be compensated, and that must be put in writing. As we wrote in The New I Do, Beyonce’s prenup supposedly stipulates that she’ll get $5 million per child for time lost from her career. Just recently, she and husband Jay Z updated it — aka a postnup — to address custody issues and other things. Because that’s what smart couple do; they keep talking about what their needs are as their life changes. You also want a parenting prenup, one that addresses everything about how you will raise your kids, from schooling to discipline to religion. Don’t assume your spouse will be on the same page once you pop out a baby, and in the event of a split, a parenting plan of action will help you avoid a long, nasty custody battle. Honestly, the state already has a prenup for you and it generally is not a happy one for one or both people; why give the state the power over your life?

Create a work reentry plan

Like my former husband and me — but with a gender switch — my esthetician and her husband decided, since she made more, he’d stay home to raise their daughter until she was in kindergarten. Well, that time has come, but he didn’t wait until now to start thinking about what he was going to do; he’s been actively training, networking and keeping the gears in motion so he’d be ready to jump back into the working world full time. Luckily, she has a flexible job and she can create her own hours, working nights and weekends if need be, so he can be flexible in whatever new job he gets.

Find flexibility

We are increasingly moving toward a gig economy. This has its downsides for sure, but it also has its upsides in that you’re not stuck to a 9-to-5 (if you’re lucky to only work those hours nowadays). That said, if one of you has a job that allows you to make your own hours, or if one works mostly nights and the other mostly days, or you have one day together instead of the weekend, or whatever creative way you can come up to share the child-rearing while having two incomes, you’ll each be be able to spend more time with your kids.

Create community

Parents were not meant to raise kids on their own. Throughout history, couples — OK, moms — had help raising the kids, whether from grandmas or alloparents or kinfolk or nannies or other kinds of help (wet nurses, anyone?). It’s only relatively recently that couples seem to think that they must do it all by themselves because they’re the only ones who know how to do it (not true) or they’re just afraid that they’ll be judged (very true). Get help. You need it and your kids will benefit. When you think about, we already rely on various people — teachers, coaches, babysitters, family, friends, etc. — but few of them are ongoing, readily available and fully engaged with our kids. It really does take a village to raise a child. Rather than worry about whether we can afford to stay home or not, why not think about different ways to raise our kids while we work, whether from home or not?

Think outside the box

We’re closing in a time that we need to stop talking in terms of “stay-at-home” versus “working” parents, and more about, how do we — individually and as a society — want to raise our kids, the future? I love the creative ways people are finding a way to get back to community child-rearing, from cohousing to communes to intentional intergenerational communities to multigenerational housing. In other words, they are acknowledging that it isn’t just about careers and work-life balance; it’s more about how you want to live, what you value and what you want your society to look like. If you’re creating a space for others to care for your children in an ongoing, engaged and loving way, many of your childcare issues will be non-issues and you won’t have to worry about losing income or career momentum by opting out. And even if you work at home, being a parent won’t be so isolating.

Redefine success

In her brilliant new book, “The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream,” Courtney Martin writes, “When the economy crashed, the air was let out of the overinflated ego of the so-called American Dream.” Rather than keep struggling for that dream, which is increasingly becoming unattainable, she says many young people — she’s in her 30s — are redefining it. Her “new better off” doesn’t mean a big job, big salary or big house — it’s more about living in a supportive, creative community. People around the world raise children with much less than what most Americans have, and they’re often a lot less stressed. Why? According to recent research: “The negative effects of parenthood on happiness were entirely explained by the presence or absence of social policies allowing parents to better combine paid work with family obligations. And this was true for both mothers and fathers.” We have a new President-elect, and I don’t have much faith that Trump will do much, if anything, to create social policies that support caregiving and child-rearing. Which means it’s really up to us to find ways within our own communities to make things better; I’ll pretty much bet there are other parents who want the same thing.

Want to learn how to create a parenting prenup? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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It’s a familiar story — a talented but tortured man, consumed by drugs or booze or demons or womanizing or all of the above, is told by his woman: “It’s me or your partying.”

And just like that, he cleans up his act and starts putting her and their family first. Then they live happily ever after — like in a fairy tale. Rescue

In his new biography, Bruce Spring-
steen credits his wife of 25 years, Patty Scialfa
, for helping him through his depression by being stable and strong.  Alec Baldwin recently credited wife Hilaria for helping him be a better parent to their three kids (his poor older kids!) Ozzy Osbourne thanks his wife, Sharon, for standing by his side as he’s dealt with his sex addiction. Samuel L Jackson credits his wifeLaTanya Richardson, and daughter, for getting him into rehab. And Jon Bon Jovi just thanked his wife of 27 years, Dorothea, for helping him to beat his demons.

These are feel-good stories, ones that might actually make us us think that fairy tales really do come true.

Except, these aren’t the fairy tales I grew up with — did you? In these fairy tales it’s the women who rescue the men. Honestly, when did you ever read a Princess Charming story? When did you see a Disney movie in which the beautiful princess rides in on a white horse, rescues the man in distress, takes him to her castle and they live happily ever after?

Right. Never.

Women stand by their man

Yet, there’s a collective “awww” when a celebrity acknowledges the power, patience and enduring love of their woman. And as women, there’s no better testament to what we do best — we love, we nurture, we trust, we give and we wait, patiently. We stand by our man. Somehow we’ve been convinced that it’s up to us gals to save our relationship. And so we often do.

But if women can save men with society’s blessing, why is everyone so down when men save women? Could it possibly be because we women tend to “save” a man emotionally and men tend to “save” us financially?

Everyone from therapists to friends to parents to relationship “experts” have been hammering one message to women: Prince Charming doesn’t exist. A man is not going to come and rescue us, gals, so we need to get our heads out of happily-ever-after fairy tales and Disney movies, and into reality and our own 401(k) plans.

Fantasies run deep

As much as we women understand that, those fantasies still run deep. “Sometimes women just want to be rescued,” Your Tango declared after a survey of single women in New York City revealed a preference for firefighters (brawn) and Wall street execs (bucks) as potential perfect mates.

A recent study indicates many women nowadays see Prince Charming as their retirement plan. Even highly educated and well-off women still marry men who make more than they do, another study indicates. Not too long ago, Cosmo reported the results of a few surveys that found most young married and single young women would become domestic goddesses if they could afford to.

And the guys? Well, unemployed, underemployed and low-income men are just not good dating or marriage material in the eyes of many women.

In truth, it isn’t just women who want fairy tales to come true. Men do, too, or so says Robert J. Sternberg, a professor of human development at Cornell University. But they don’t dream of being saved — their fairy tale is more about a beautiful, sexy woman they can sacrifice for. I wouldn’t begrudge a man his fantasy, but time and time again, men’s fairy-tale ending is the direct result of their woman saving him when he messes up.

The message is clear: You can be an emotional gold-digger, but you sure can’t be a financial one.

Want to learn how to individualize your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.


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