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Articles from May 2008

May 28, 2008

Marriage and the Risk of Divorce

Five years from now, you will be a different person. You will have different interests, different tastes, different challenges.

Date, live together, avoid commitment, and you'll be free to move on to a partner who shares your new interests, matches your new tastes, helps with your new challenges.

That's the choice of many who were exposed to unhappy marriages or divorce while growing up or whose own first marriage ended up in divorce.

I think there's a better choice. Commit -- not to a person who shares all your current interests or tastes, but to someone who shares your most important values. Don't just promise to stay -- invest in the relationship. Build wealth together. Invest in each other's dreams. Make each other's family your own. Tend to each other's health and wellbeing. Set some joint goals.

What's the payoff? The excitement of new interests and tastes introduced into your life by someone who shares your values, cares about you, loves to see you happy, and sees the world just a bit differently from you. The grounded feeling that comes from being intertwined and rooted as you grow, instead of being blown this way and that by people coming and going in your life. The security of support through your rough patches from someone who knows they will be just a small part of your time together. The warmth of doing the same for a loved one. The extra time and money freed up by working together instead of independently and self-protectively.

This is big. It's not just worth the risk of divorce; it's the antidote protecting you from divorce. You'll never get even a glimpse of what's possible as long as you're focused on your current needs or on keeping your exit easy if your needs are not met.

You know how to Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives now -- or you will as soon as you rummage through the archives here. You know how to take care of a marriage. You know how to avoid unmet needs, hurt feelings, and unnecessary anger or worry. You know you can't grow apart when you're growing together, when you're attuned to your spouse and your interests are changing in response to all of the wonderful new things this person brings into your life. You're all set to make the next five years fantastic ones.

And if kids enter your life, planned or unplanned, there's one more huge payoff. You get to offer them what you may never have had: a parent who loves and finds great happiness in the other most important person in their child's life.

May 26, 2008

Vinegar Hill

On Saturday evening, I watched the CBS made-for-TV movie, Vinegar Hill. I found myself yelling "Assume Love" at the screen many times.

The movie's based on an Oprah Book Club selection by A. Manette Ansay. It opens with a close-knit and cheery family of four packing up in Chicago to move in with his parents on their farm. Ellen and Jake have lost their jobs, and she'll be able to teach at their hometown school while he looks for something to let them get a place of their own again.

Almost instantly, their marriage and family start to crumble under the weight of his parents' unhappy marriage and their grief over his brother's recent death. Jake reverts to his childhood role as his father ridicules him and compares him to his dead brother. He fails to stand up for his wife against his mother's whining demands and his father's constant disapproval.

Ellen's in a mighty uncomfortable spot: no money, her kids exposed to their grandparents' awful role models, her husband withdrawing from her and behaving like a child. So what does she do? Does she Assume Love and recognize that the husband whose character was so upbeat, strong, cooperative, and loving a few days ago in Chicago must be under fierce pressure to change so much in just a day? No, she appears to assume he must not care much for her if he won't protect her from them, and so she turns to the old high school flame who still carries a torch for her.

When she realizes staying with his parents is tearing them apart, does she Expect Love, instead of one particular way of showing it? Does she recognize the situation is hers to deal with, whether he's there or not? Does she look for a way to get the four of them to a safer place if he can't make this one safe? Does she ask any of the old friends she's reconnecting with to help them find some other place to stay? Does she ask her mother, who lives in the area, but further from the school, to help them out? No. She makes it pretty clear this is her husband's problem to solve, and if he loves her, he'd better get on it.

When he's upset by her obvious dismay, does he Assume Love and see it's just the best she can do in the face of his bossy but timid mother and his angry father? Does he suggest they try to find a Third Alternative together? No, he takes off with their car for a make-believe sales job requiring he be on the road. When he stops to buy her a lingerie gift out of guilt, he ends up in a motel room with the sales clerk. When this makes him feel even more guilty, he hurries home, only to find she's with her old flame, his long-ago rival.

By now, I should not have been surprised neither of them could Assume Love and at least try to explain how a loving spouse could turn to someone else for comfort during a crisis like this. Instead, both seemed to leap to the conclusion everything they knew and loved about the other at the start of the movie had all been fake and what they saw now was the real Jake or Ellen. She leaves. He stays.

In the end, they come back together again, but it takes an incredible plot twist to get them there. In real life, they would have been on their way to divorce, even worse financial stresses for them and their kids, and perhaps, for him, a lifetime of replaying an unhappy childhood role.

If they told their stories later, anyone would have believed there was nothing else they could have done in such a stressful situation except divorce. But just maybe, if either of them would just Assume Love and try to explain their spouse's behavior as if it's possible the love and the admirable qualities seen as they packed their car were still there, they could have found their strength in each other and created a very different ending for this tale without all that dying and revelation of past crimes.

We're into another period with the possibility of severe financial stresses for lots of us. If it forces you and your loved ones into a really rotten situation, try to remember to Assume Love. And try to remember to draw on each others' strengths and love, instead of pretending they never really existed.

May 21, 2008

Divorce, Affairs, and American Morals

The folks at Gallup released a poll on Monday about Values and Beliefs. Topping the list of moral acceptability: divorce. Seventy percent rated it morally acceptable. Only twenty-two percent said it was morally unacceptable.

But it would be a mistake, I think, to jump to the conclusion that divorce has become no big deal for most of us.

At the opposite end of the spectrum of sixteen morality issues, the likely reason for why so many accept it: only seven percent find affairs between married men and women acceptable. A full ninety-one percent say such affairs are morally wrong. More of the people they surveyed found extramarital affairs unacceptable than found polygamy, human cloning, or suicide wrong.

So, let's look back at a Gallup poll from March for a qualification on what we Americans really think about divorce. We know affairs happen. There is plenty of evidence many of the ninety-one percent who find affairs morally wrong have them anyway.

How would you react if your husband or wife committed what you and almost everyone else feels is an immoral act? The March poll revealed sixty-two percent of Americans believe they would definitely or probably divorce a spouse who had an affair.

Would they divorce because they see nothing wrong with divorce? Or do they view divorce as acceptable in some circumstances, because they simply cannot imagine staying together after an immoral act against them and would not demand anyone else tolerate this?

I believe it is the second of these. In the May poll on moral issues, sixty-one percent said sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable for those who are unmarried. Only seven percent said it's acceptable for those who are married. The only difference between the sixty-one percent and seven percent is wedding vows. They still matter to us. We still find it morally wrong to ignore them. But we don't demand one side honor them when the other side does not.

By the way, you can count me among the thirty-seven percent of married Americans who probably would forgive an affair and remain married, if my husband sought my forgiveness. I know he considers cheating on me immoral and trust it could only happen under extraordinary and temporary circumstances. He's way too good a man to let go over anything temporary.

May 13, 2008

A Different Sort of Healthy Marriage

The U.S. and Saudi governments are both rolling out Healthy Marriage initiatives. But what a difference!

Here in the U.S., a healthy marriage is defined as a mutually beneficial and satisfying relationship between two people with deep respect for each other and the skills to communicate and handle conflict. The initiative involves supporting and strengthening secular and faith-based marriage education programs and using the media and the internet to motivate couples to learn relationship skills.

In Saudi Arabia, a healthy marriage is one without hepatitis B or genes likely to lead to unhealthy children. They are making it easier to get pre-marital blood and genetic tests.

In both cases, the reason for the initiative is the well-being of the nation's children. May both succeed.

May 12, 2008

35th Wedding Anniversary

Today is the 35th anniversary of the day I got married. It was a gorgeous Spring day, and we married, surrounded by lilacs in bloom and our closest friends and relatives, in the garden behind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Cambridge home.

Would we still be married now, if I knew then to Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives? If we had been able to stay close through those tough times twelve and thirteen years after that happy day, would Rod still be alive? Did the stress contribute to his death?

I miss him, and I miss the model he would have continued to provide for our son and now for our daughter-in-law and grandchildren. He was an exceedingly gentle and peaceful man, and a man of exceptional intellect. He loved mathematics and understood it as few people do. He greatly valued learning and would surely have encouraged our son to complete his Ph.D. and not follow in my footsteps of leaving grad school. They would have spent many hours discussing philosophy together. I wonder if he would have taught our son and grandkids the poker strategies he wrote about as a master of the branch of mathematics known as game theory.

But it's hard to reflect on this great loss without immediately feeling the great love of my second husband, Ed. We've used what I learned in Rod's death to build the sort of marriage that helps both of us to thrive, to grow, and to feel wonderfully loved. I would not want to imagine life without Ed. He, too, is a great model, a smart, brave, generous man with a strong sense of craftsmanship in everything he does, and the ability to be totally present in whatever he does, without distraction. I can't imagine my life, or that of my son and his wife and children, without Ed in it.

I wish you much love in your life. If you're having trouble finding it, please write to me and let me help. You can use the Comments link. If it's personal, and you don't want it to appear here, just say so in your comment. Either way, I will write back.

May 11, 2008

Staying Married

Sometimes, it seems it must be awfully difficult to keep a marriage going for very long. After all, for every two couples marrying in the U.S. each year, another couple gets divorced. But it's really not true caring for each other as long as we vow rests on anything as random as a coin toss.

Saturday, in London's Westminster Cathedral, 700 couples married for ten years or more renewed their vows. These 1,400 people have been married for 43,000 years. They didn't beat Pittsburgh's recent record, but that's a lot of marriages going well.

May 10, 2008

Doing What Your Spouse Doesn't Want You to Do

You want to work, take a class, quit your job, stay in touch with your friends, get your exercise by dancing, offer a relative a place to stay for the night. Your husband or wife isn't happy about this. What do you do?

First, remember to Expect Love. It's what you're married for. You need it. But when you demand love come in a particular package, you chase it away. Don't demand that your spouse agree with you about what's best for you. Don't demand that your spouse be responsible for running your life or take any blame for your choice to do things his or her way. And please, please, please don't demand that your spouse be pleased with what you must do to be true to yourself.

You may need to watch really hard for other signs of love while the two of you are dealing with a difference of opinion. It's worth doing. We can love and disagree at the same time.

And we have a tool for dealing with disagreements. We can Look for Third Alternatives. Providing a place to stay to a relative need not mean putting her up in the home you share with your spouse. You could pay for a hotel, find a hospitable friend with an available guest room, even rent a travel trailer.

But don't jump to any conclusions about your spouse's objection to housing your relative, or you won't find a real Third Alternative, an option that pleases both of you as much as your opposing options. Ask! Perhaps the objection isn't about having a guest in the house, but about losing private time together. You can schedule a dinner date or a walk while your guest is there or schedule an outing for your relative without you, making it clear in advance who really has priority in your life.

How do you start this conversation? I would start it with a reminder of your goal: "I want to give you everything you desire in life and more, and sometimes I need a little help figuring out how to do this without denying myself what I know I need."

This will be especially important if it appears at first glance that your choice will force your spouse into an unpleasant choice, such as quitting work when you're the sole source of income for both of you or taking a class on the date of your spouse's college reunion or mother's birthday.

Keep in mind that your husband or wife really does not understand why you need to do whatever it is you need to do. This is why your spouse's objections seem so reasonable to him or her. If they seem unreasonable to you, you probably don't really understand your spouse's thinking, either. Be gentle with each other. And begin by trying to understand, not to be understood.

It may look like the person you chose to love you has been possessed by gremlins, but it's much more likely he or she remains a great person with a great deal of love for you. Take the time to learn more about this love, and you will be able to find the strength to do what you need to do for yourself without pushing away love.

May 7, 2008

Why Be Married? For the Name

Michael Buday and Diana Bijon wanted to share a last name: hers. On Monday, he finally got his new driver's license with the name Michael Bijon. He sued the State of California--and got a change in the law--when they told him it would cost $350 and require court appearances to get a name change women can make for free.

According to Reuters, only nine other states include this option on the marriage license application.

May 2, 2008

Is My Husband (or Wife) Cheating on Me?

While driving in New Jersey a while back, I listened to a radio talk show about relationships. The topic of the day was whether we have the right to read our spouse's mail and email and check his or her cell phone text messages and call logs.

No matter which answer callers gave, the question itself, and their eagerness to engage it, disturbed me. A better question would be whether we stand to gain or lose by checking up on a spouse.

When we marry, we take a big risk, in exchange for an even bigger payoff. This question recognizes the risk. A spouse who steps out on us could bring home a deadly disease or destroy his or her career through scandal. An affair might result in the birth of a child or the death of our marriage.

We can reduce the risk by leaving our spouse no privacy. But we can't protect the payoff, the love we need in our lives, the feeling of being special to another human being, the support for our mission in life. Suspiciousness pushes all this away. We can't receive love and look for harm simultaneously. We can't distrust and feel love at the same time.

Whether we have the right to behave this way or not, by checking up on phone calls and email, we choose to give up the payoff that justifies the risk. We choose to lose.

A much better approach to dealing with our fear is to Assume Love and Find Third Alternatives.

The Author

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

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