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Articles from April 2013

April 29, 2013

A Great New Book on How to Survive Tough Breaks

Would your marriage survive if you or your spouse had to deal with any of these?

  • Firing

  • Severe depression

  • Blindness

  • A home so small your visiting father can only get to the bathroom through your bedroom or by going outside

  • Bulimia

  • Painkiller addiction

  • A rehab program you cannot leave that's so bad your counselor commits suicide

  • A bad hiking fall with a serious head injury for the one spouse who can drive

  • Wanting to move back to a more familiar place to escape a bad job when you cannot find jobs for both of you there

  • The slow death of a widowed mother

It could. And you could. And I know this because I just read a wonderful memoir of woman and her remarkable husband who survived all of them. The amazing thing? It's an incredibly upbeat, optimistic book full of events as amazingly delightful as these are awful.

If you have ever wondered, "How will I/we survive this?" — read this book. If you have ever thought divorce or suicide was the only way out of your current pain, read this book. If you are married to someone life seems to challenge at every turn, read this book, and pay attention to Jim's part of the story.

You need to know what remarkable things await someone who rides the waves that might have knocked them down. You need to feel, through Sue's story and the masterful way she writes about it, the other side of each wave, where anguish turns to exuberance and grief turns to peace.

If you bail while it's bad, you will never know the upside of crisis. And if you don't get this book, you will miss one great read.

Out of the Whirlpool: A Memoir of Remorse and Reconciliation, by Sue Wiygul Martin.

The book comes out in May 2013, so right now, let Sue know you want the announcement. While you're there, you can read early drafts of some of the chapters for free.

I am supposed to reveal when I receive anything from anyone whose work I tout. I received an autographed copy of the advance reader's copy of this book, with no requirement to do anything more than offer my feedback to Sue.

I received something much more valuable from her that I am not required to reveal. I met Sue while working for the US Department of Veterans Affairs on website and elearning accessibility. We met in person several times at meetings and conferences.

Sue possesses a presence, a fire in her belly that lets her move from outrage to laughter almost as fast an an infant does and to tender concern or all business as fast as that infant's mother. It's affecting. It's contagious. It's life-affirming. And she will tell you flat out that it and her blindness come from the time she took a rifle to her head to try to end a very unhappy time in her life.

So what does this have to do with marriage? Divorce is nowhere near as final as suicide, but it ends a family and a relationship. It keeps you from ever getting to the other side of the wave if there is one. Before you pull that trigger, you owe it to yourself to read Sue's story and try to catch a spark from that fire in her belly.

April 28, 2013

Support for Your Goals

One of my fellow Success Teams leaders asked me a couple of interesting questions recently on behalf of some of her team members.

  1. How do you get a partner (or a friend) who is resistant, to express THEIR goals, and
  2. How do you get a partner who is threatened by your new enthusiasm to support YOUR goals?

The answer to the first one is simple. You don't.

You may hope to support a partner's goal in pursuit of more support for your own. This does not often work very well.

  • Not everyone has goals.

  • Some who have goals have process goals, like staying in the moment or maximizing flow or gratitude each day, rather than outcome goals, and outcome goal-setters may accidentally tramp all over their partners' enthusiasm because they are unable to see them as goals.

  • Some need to be sure of their own commitment to a goal before mentioning it to anyone else, even a partner.

  • Some are so afraid of creating conflict by mentioning a goal that they can do it only in anger.

  • And some have grown to suspect strings attached to any support for their goals, like an expectation of their automatic support for a partner's goal. If you're rummaging about for something to support as you set your own new goal, the strings will be very obvious.

The second question is a lot more interesting. How can they court support for their own goals?

Start with the very reasonable assumption that your partner who pledged to love you does and wants to show it. This might not be true, but start with this assumption in your quest to discover how to get support, or you might get mired in fear of losing your mate.

If your spouse loves you, he or she wants to wholeheartedly support your goal. Any failure to do so results from resentment towards you over some other issue or fear of what your goal will impose upon your partner. We are usually rather aware of the first and clueless about the second, so let's talk about how your goal affects your partner.

Here is an example from the Success Team I mentioned earlier:

One has a hubby who has been really stressed about her taking time to go to our success team meetings and training with me to run a half-marathon.

Remember back when we were first falling in love, and a partner's distress over time apart seemed like a sure sign of a good relationship? Sometime later, it feels like we've lost our freedom. And we fall into either-or thinking: either I keep my freedom or my partner is really stressed.

But issues like this are seldom either-or. Finding that Third Alternative that allows for our goals and our partners' peace of mind is the answer. To find it, we need to see beyond the first-glance issues.

Her partner is not necessarily stressed by the time she spends on running or meeting. He may be stressed by having too many items on his to-do list. He may be stressed by the story in his head of why she's doing these these things. He may be stressed by how little time they now carve out for couple time. He may be stressed by a belief that she is not grateful for what he does with his time, when he would rather be spending it on a hobby or a new goal.

One of them needs to jump the fence and say, "I want you to have this. I really do. I want what I need, too, not instead, and I am eager to brainstorm together how we can have both."

One husband's stress level went through the roof when his wife went off for a five-day workshop to learn to be a writer. Both had recently retired, and he was becoming so obnoxious she wasn't sure she wanted to return from the workshop. And then she realized he might believe her new plans conflicted with his travel plans, even though she was looking forward to combining writing with travel, because they had never talked about how to have both. She's published two books now and can write off travel to places where she runs workshops or does book signings.

Here is another example from that Success Teams leader:

another has a hubby who is upset that I motivated her to go on a girls' only trip for her 40th birthday...He is insecure about the fact that she did not plan a special event for him to share with her on that day....(She went with me on my girls' trip on my 50th!)

Of course he's insecure. Telling your husband that you would rather not celebrate a milestone with him marks a change. It opens up all sorts of possible stories about the future. He cannot tell if it is a change in their relationship, a change in her approach to life that he will not like, or simply a different plan for a milestone day. And the human brain almost always goes for the most dangerous story it can invent. And then it embellishes on the danger.

If he's still important in her life, she should say so. If her milestone affects the man who loves her, she can surely come up with a second celebration to mark it with him. His insecurity has nothing to do with who she plans to be with on her birthday. It's all about what his future role in her life will be. The number of possible Third Alternatives for turning a conflict into an opportunity is huge, as long as she starts with, "I really want you to help you feel secure about our future, and I want to mark this milestone with you, and I want to travel with my girlfriends on my birthday. Let's figure out how to have all three."

By the way, if you have a dream you want to pursue, I will be launching my next international Success Team in May. We'll be meeting by phone from 10-noon EDT on Saturdays for 8 weeks. Leave me a comment if you're interested.

April 4, 2013

Where Did the Love Go?

I have had times when I don't feel loved by the wonderful person I married. I'm guessing you have, too.

Do you know why this happens? It's really not sunspots affecting the guys and gals we married. Usually, it has almost nothing to do with how much love they want to offer us.

Remember that story about the fellow who asks for help searching for his dropped key in a dark parking lot? The helper asks, "Where did you drop it?"

"Over there."

The helper asks, "So, why are you looking here?"

"Because the light's better."

If you're thinking your spouse would take out the trash, fix your favorite meal, praise you to your mother-in-law, initiate sex, remember your anniversary, or put a little more effort into shopping for your birthday if he or she loved you, you are looking where the light is better. And you won't find love there.

Once upon a long time ago, when I was a freshman in college, my boyfriend of almost two years asked me to ride with him in a cold rain to purchase something he needed for an architecture class. The sun was going down, and I felt the early signs of a cold. I did not want to ride my bicycle in this weather. He said, "If you loved me, you would ride with me." And in that moment, I knew I never wanted such an awful expectation.

I could have countered with, "If you loved me, you would protect my health." But I didn't. I said, "Then I guess I don't love you." And it was over. I thought I had loved him well, but I was not willing to do this to prove my love.

Years later, I forgot all this as I kept ruminating on all the things I thought my husband of 13 years should do for me if he loved me. I so wanted to will those keys to show up where I felt comfortable looking. It did not work. I felt unloved, no matter what else he did for me.

Now my mantra is "Expect Love." Anyone who married you would love to give you some. Those other expectations, those "If you loved me you would _____" expectations, keep us from finding the love we're offered and make it a lot less fun to love us. We all have a few, the signs of love we simply cannot live without. But the others are making us and those who love us miserable.

Love is endlessly surprising if we are willing to look for it where it can be found, instead of under our favorite street light.

April 3, 2013

Give Up - It's Too Hard, Says Adam Levine

"If you don't get married, you can't get divorced. Why couldn't we learn from the devastatingly low percentage of successful marriages that our last generation went through?"

This quote from Adam Levine is all over the internet this week, attributed to a cover story in Nylon Guys, a fashion magazine, whose own link to the interview comes up with a 404 error.

I am a big fan of The Voice, where the Maroon 5 lead singer is one of four judge-coaches. I cannot imagine him telling someone on that show who hopes for a career in the music industry to give up, despite their much, much, much smaller odds of success.

I would like to suggest he learn instead from all those who have succeeded at marriage, including many of you who read this blog. You have been through awful periods and come out the other side closer for the struggle. You have had those moments, perhaps in a hospital emergency room or delivery room, where you knew marriage was a great choice.

You have been furiously angry at your spouse until you recognized the vulnerability that led to his or her mistake, and you have been awed for this intimate and uplifting view of another human being. You have also been ecstatic over your big trip together or your joint family reunion and savored those memories for years, long after you let go of souvenirs from the things you did with men or women you dated while you were single.

I wish he would talk to you. And tell Nylon Guys or Huffington Post or the New York Post or Cosmopolitan what you said that convinced him it was worth trying. And I would wish you would clip those articles and hang onto them for the days when you forget your dream of being one of the majority whose marriages go the distance.

April 1, 2013

Stay Married for Your Grandkids

Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America just came out. Lots of interesting findings about our ever-increasing average age of first marriage.

The central point is the "Great Crossover," which happened in 2000.

Since 1970, the median age at which a woman has her first child has been slowly increasing. (See Figure 9.) I was 18 then and half of all the women the age I would be at my college graduation already had given birth to a first child. Birth control was just becoming widely available, but a lot of it was rather risky. Abortion was illegal in most places. And having a child out of wedlock could get you ostracized from your family or community.

Job ads in the paper were still listed separately for men and women. MIT had an upper limit on the number of women it would allow, just 9% of my class. Women could not count on being able to support even themselves, no less their children. They married. More than half were married before their 21st birthdays. The median age of a first marriage was about 16 or 17 months earlier than the median age of that first child.

But all that changed. Birth control improved. Universities welcomed women as soon as the Baby Boom has passed through and left fewer applicants for the classes they had expanded to make room for us. Jobs in this country quickly required more education and less physical strength. First men without a high school diploma and now men without a college degree find it a lot harder to provide for a family. And they find women willing to live with them without the sort of due diligence that accompanies marriage.

So, the median age at which women first married rose quickly. And in 1989, the median age at first marriage crossed the median age at first child and kept going. But the Great Crossover comes later, in 2000. The crossover for women without a high school education happened before 1970. But it was 30 years later, in 2000, that it hit for the biggest group of women, those with a high school diploma and possibly some college, but no college degree. The researchers call this group "Middle America."

They write: "Think of the Great Crossover this way: it marks the moment at which unmarried motherhood moved from the domain of our poorest populations to become the norm for America's large and already flailing middle class."

Why does this matter to your current or future grandkids? Because the rest of society can help when a small percentage of families are struggling to get by. When it's the norm, it is the norm.

Currently, 58% of the kids in Middle America have unmarried mothers. For the half of them whose parents are cohabiting, the likelihood of a breakup before they are even five years old is three times what it is with married parents. If your grandchildren get caught up in this new norm, they will be competing with kids whose mothers have the earning power of a college degree, 88% of whom are born to married couples.

How can you protect your grandkids' future? Change your son's or daughter's expectations about marriage. Help them see it as the foundation of a good life, not the capstone.

From the report: "[H]aving grown up in a world where rising rates of divorce and nonmarital childbearing separated marriage from parenthood, young adults are more inclined to take the view that marriage and parenthood are not necessarily connected, compared to previous generations."

While a marriage without children can certainly be a great one, for those who look forward to both a marriage for their own happiness and fulfillment and to becoming a parent, this new separation can be quite confusing. It is fairly easy to think of marriage and parenthood separately, but only until you have experienced them. Both shape every day of your life, especially in the first five to seven years.

Tales of great step-parents are heart-warming, but it takes a lot more to be a great step-parent than a great parent. Looking for great step-dads for 58% of Middle America's kids is a huge challenge. For most families in this new world, thinking about marriage and children separately means offering less to the kids or doing without a long-lasting, loving relationship for oneself.

What do you want the parents of your future grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) to know about marriage and family? What do you want to show them with your own marriage? Is your marriage in good shape for the message you want to send now and as your nest empties while they are making such important choices about their futures and their children's futures?

The Author

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

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