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Articles from February 2008

February 25, 2008

Having Fun

In James Madison University's student newspaper, The Breeze, Katie King reported:

Though Valentine's Day tends to be embraced more by those in relationships, freshman Nicole Carter is currently single and not sweating it.

"I think that there is someone out there for everyone, you just have to wait until you find that person or until they find you," Carter said. "I know a lot of people who are in relationships and I also know a lot who are single. I don't really think it's a big issue though because college isn't necessarily about finding your husband or significant other, it's about having fun."

I think it's great a freshman isn't yet looking for her life partner, but her expectations alarm me. I've heard them from lots of folks her age. I even shared them back when I was in college.

Marriage can be fun, lots more fun than a party or a one-night stand. It offers a safe base from which to pursue big dreams, a partner for adventures, an appreciative audience for our greatest talents. It offers greater wealth, a much easier way to raise children, and more frequent sex.

Those of us who grew up as witness to an unhappy marriage or no marriage at all have no way of knowing this. So, intead of preparing ourselves for marriage, we spend our college years bracing ourselves for it, getting in as much fun as we can before we take the risk of marrying.

We also fall for the myth there's someone out there for us, and all will be well if we just manage to meet. Then we fail to repair the marriage problems keeping us from having fun, because we've convinced ourselves any problems mean we married the wrong person.

As the number of divorces has grown, so have the fears. And the hooking up. Katie's article reports on early findings from JMU faculty member Aimee Brickner's study of college dating. Now "some students are opting for casual sex as a way to avoid the responsibilities and time commitments that come with relationships or dating."

Sex is definitely not the best we can hope for from another person. And love is not a crap shoot. It doesn't depend on finding our perfect mate. It depends on learning something about how to give and receive love.

Still single? Really want to have fun? Check into marriage education courses, especially if you're not investing your time in the trial-and-error education of dating and relationships.

February 21, 2008

Radio Interview with Barbara Sher

On February 17th, I was interviewed on Barbara Sher's Live the Life You Love web radio show. Barbara is a wonderful interviewer, and the hour turned out to be great fun for me.

The interview is all about how to Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives and why these help us Enjoy Being Married.

To listen, click on the link above and look for the 2/17/2008 show. You can play it over the internet or download it to your MP3 player or iTunes. You may also want to subscribe to the entire series. Barbara and Matthew Pearl interview all sorts of interesting people.

February 13, 2008

Why Be Married? To Get into the Guiness Book of World Records

Sydney, Australia set the record at 272 last September, but Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania smashed it this weekend. Which record? The number of married couples simultaneously renewing their wedding vows.

To help celebrate Pittsburgh's 250th birthday and their love for each other, approximately 750 couples gathered in Pittsburgh's Carnegie Music Hall on February 10th for the celebration, which included champagne, wedding cake, photos, and prizes. The new record, after it's verified, will stand at 611, the number of couples present who recited their renewal vows and produced their wedding certificates to be copied for the folks at Guiness.

Ed and Helen Downing of Bellevue had been married the longest. They married on Thanksgiving Day in 1947. Meet them and watch as all those couples renew their love for each other on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's website.

Pittsburgh was my home for five years, but I live in the Philadelphia area now, and I hope the new mayor, Michael Nutter, accepts the challenge to beat Pittsburgh's record. With four and half times as many people in this city, we can easily push the record over 2,500!

February 9, 2008

Best Valentine's Day Gift for a Husband

Valentine's Day is a magnificent day to expect love. Especially if you've had marriage problems recently, avoid the trap of expecting chocolates or dinner or jewelry or something romantic. Your chances of expecting the right thing are tiny. Your chances of missing out on love when you expect some particular sign of it are great.

The best gift you can give your husband on Valentine's day is to expect love and welcome it with open arms, no matter what form it might take. Genuine appreciation and acceptance means more than just about anything you could buy or make on February 14th.

February 6, 2008

Why Be Married? It's a Calling

From The Georgian Times this week:

Theoretically Georgia [the country between Turkey and Russia, not the US state] should have a decreasing divorce rate. In the Soviet period getting married was a civil contract, without the deeper relevance of an Orthodox Christian marriage . . . In the Orthodox Christian understanding . . . marriage is a calling, and people marry if they are ‘called’ to do so. Often this calling is not accompanied by any romantic feelings whatever, and can only be confirmed by seeking the counsel of clergymen and other wiser people.

While the divorce rate may be increasing, Georgia has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world, whether you measure it by the annual ratio of divorces to new marriages (6.6%) or the annual number of divorces per 1,000 people (0.4).

February 4, 2008

When Marriage Crumbles

What an honor it is to walk into someone's life at just the right moment. I had a chance recently to talk about assuming love, expecting love, and looking for the third alternative with a woman ready to toss in the towel on her marriage.

Recent life events had created a lot of tension between her and her husband of twenty-plus years. Like me when I was 34 years old and frantic, she'd already written her version of the list. Thank goodness she hadn't presented it to him yet.

What's the list, you ask? It's all the things you ruminate about when life grows unpleasant and you desperately want your spouse to love you enough, respect you enough, cherish you enough, take care of you enough to make it all better. It's powered by a desperation to regain closeness, but it comes out like a laundry list of holes in your life you insist your husband or wife or life partner must fill. And it always ends with "or else."

Or, as she put it, "It's my way or the highway, buddy."

When she tried on the idea that he loves her fiercely and hasn't lost any of his best qualities, then tried to explain the upsetting incidents as if those things were not in question, she got it. Right away. She had known enough all along to find the path back to a close relationship, but her fears had shut out that knowledge. That's the power of assuming love.

Whenever we are afraid, our thinking narrows. We become focused on the danger signs. For her, a raised voice had been a warning of real danger in an earlier relationship. She immediately focused on protecting herself, setting self-protective boundaries, instead of listening. But there was no threat in this raised voice. It was, she now realized, a way to communicate his own fears, which her actions had accidentally racheted up.

She had recently retired. An event like retirement takes away structure from our lives -- both of our lives. It offers many possibilities, but it also guarantees changes in even the littlest moments of our daily lives. We may never have discovered if we're married to the sort of person who can stand to break away from a task for a shared excitement or someone who needs single-minded focus. We can see the "look at this" interruptions as greater intimacy or as childish annoyances. We can see the "not now" signals as withering criticism or great communication.

We get out of sync, too, during life changes. One of us is ready for an exciting new risk just as the other reacts to too much change by becoming unusually risk-averse. One wants a cheerful supporter to help reduce the scariness of risk. The other wants a helper in taking the painful steps to reduce risk. Neither wish means we've stopped loving each other or don't want the other to succeed. But we need some third alternatives, not competing agendas.

In any new adventure -- and every life change brings a new adventure -- we want emotional support, help with challenging tasks, someone to clear the distractions from our path, comfort when we don't get the results we hope for, and understanding for the effort and attention it requires. It's easy to expect all this will come from our partner, but it won't. No one person can do all that. It's easy to mistake rejection of any of these expectations as a withdrawal of love, but it's not.

The way to receive the most from our mates is to expect love. It's what we chose them for. It comes in many forms, and we don't get to choose which ones. But we always get more when we're not resentful about whatever else we're expecting. And our ventures and marriages benefit when we look outside the marriage for the rest of the advice, cheering, assistance, and patient listening we need.

I'm always surprised by how someone just inches away from walking out on a marriage reacts when assuming love restores their hope for the relationship. I haven't met one yet who wasn't still very much in love and frantic to feel their spouse's love again. Giving that back to them is the most rewarding thing I've ever done.

The Author

Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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