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Getting married

September 24, 2012

Marriage Doubts and Marriage Success

There's a new study out of UCLA making the media rounds. Doctoral candidate Justin Lavner and his psychology professor co-authors, Thomas Bradbury and Benjamin Karney, conclude that having doubts or hesitations about getting married increase the odds you will divorce within the first four years of marriage.

They report that "wives who had doubts about getting married before their wedding were two-and-a-half times more likely to divorce four years later than wives without these doubts."

What should you do about this if you're engaged or thinking about proposing?

If your doubts stem from worrisome behaviors by your spouse-to-be, take your time and check them out. Postpone the wedding if necessary--no one-day event is worth jeopardizing the rest of your life. But if they are more general worries about marriage as an unknown frontier, get yourself some marriage education to improve your skills and have a great wedding.

Why? Because 64% of the couples they interviewed had at least one partner with doubts. And 62% of the couples still married four years later came from this group, the ones we could call the "normal" couples, since they form a large majority.

When neither reported any doubts, 94% of the couples remained married four years later. Where one or both had doubts, 85% remained married. There is a real difference, but the doubts hardly doom the marriage.

If you have doubts about getting married, separate them into two categories. For those that stem from worrisome things your partner has done, get to work on some healthy Third Alternatives that suit the two of you. This is not the time to Assume Love and try to see what worries you in a different light. It's the time to calmly ask for explanations, so you find out if you can truly make the promises of marriage.

Always late for dates can be a style of dealing with time that you can find a way to accommodate or it can be a sign of alcohol or drug abuse. Argumentative or judgmental behavior can be fine if it's balanced out with five positive acts for every negative one, or it can crush your spirit as soon as the excitement of falling in love or enjoying sex with someone new passes. Generosity can be thrilling while it's your partner's money being spent on it but scary when you pool current and long-range expenses. Time apart can be healthy or a source of secretiveness that feeds your jealousy and resentment. If your doubts revolve around such things, work them out first, unless you truly believe you can vow to deal with whatever they may signify.

For those other doubts that stem from not knowing how to deal with what might happen to you two because it's happened to others, take a marriage class or two. Take it from someone who screwed up, good marriages don't just happen and they don't take a lot of hard work.

September 19, 2012

Usher Gets Divorced

Yesterday, one of my Google alerts took me to this story about Usher's divorce and child custody fight from WXIA 11 Alive News in Atlanta. It's about an interview he did with Oprah Winfrey.

I don't have any other details of his life or his marriage, but several things in this interview cried out for comment.

Why they married:

"I impregnated this woman, we were in a relationship, we were in love, so I felt like, this is the right way."

It's not a new story, but it's becoming an incredibly common story as people marry later. People intentionally sabotage their marriages by keeping separate their beliefs about honorable behavior or the best for their future children and their choice of who they let themselves fall in love with or risk conceiving with.

"The right way" is honorable, but it's not the best way to start a marriage or a family.

"I always felt like maybe we weren't ready. Maybe this wasn't the time or the way to do it. Part of that, I think, played into the demise of it."

Well, duh! If you decide to marry, decide to get yourself ready for it. If you fear when you've got a kid on the way with someone you're unsure of is not the right time or the right way to do it, you're right. But once you decide marrying is what you will do, switch gears. Start gathering every bit of evidence you can that this, the future mother of your child, is the right person and the timing is exactly what it ought to be.

You're already off to a tougher start than most who marry, with pregnancy hormones and a very short time left as a twosome. Don't entertain your doubts. Whether you marry or not, this person will always be your child's other parent, an incredibly important person in your child's life whether in it every day or completely absent and uncaring. Find things to love. Find talents and values to encourage. It's like dancing; the best dancer is the one who makes his partner look best.

"It's hard being married and working the way that I work, period. It's hard being in that position and wanting to make someone happy, and there not really being anyway that you ever can, because they've got their own s*** they've gotta deal with."

I cannot imagine what Usher's job and the lifestyle it requires do to a marriage. My life is simpler. But that second part, wanting to make someone happy and realizing they must do it themselves, this I know well. And I used to tell myself it would be easier with a lot more money, but I know it's not, even with all the money and pull of someone like Usher.

But here's what I know now, as a 60-year-old remarried young widow who once was ready to divorce. When you stop trying to make your spouse happy, the best thing you can do, for yourself and your marriage, is everything in your power to enjoy being married. If you don't, you're headed for the end Usher describes:

"[T]owards the end of our marriage, I found myself lost, and I just wanted out."

August 9, 2012

Miley Cyrus Tries to Figure Out Marriage

As I read it in the second-hand press, Miley Cyrus is pretty sure she'll be with Liam Hemsworth for a long time. I definitely hope so. But I don't buy her reasoning.

Her interview in Marie Claire is being widely quoted before it hits the newsstands. In it, she talks about her recent engagement to the man with whom she shares the house and bedroom her parents recently moved out of.

She says, "Life is too short not to be with the person you want to be with. I don't really care about the wedding or the piece of paper as much as I do the promise we've made to each other. And we want to have a long engagement."

So many couples wander backwards into marriage, and here are a couple of young role models showing how it's done. Live together, then make the promise, then take a long time with the engagement.

When you do it backwards, the engagement, short or long, does not give you any time to get to know the character of the person before making a promise to them. You run the risk of being forced to choose between the integrity behind your promises and the freedom to choose again.

When you share a home together before you make the promise, especially at 19 and 22, you run a real risk of becoming parents of children who sense very early that you two chose each other with no concern for their long-term security and trust.

Miley adds, "Liam and I have a really good relationship... neither of us is super-jealous. We know each other and would never do anything to hurt each other."

Dear reader, know this if you haven't yet discovered it: You will do things to hurt each other, even though you adore each other. You will also sometimes be super-jealous of the time or attention your partner gives other people. Don't make the mistake of assuming there is something wrong with your relationship when it happens. If you want a really good relationship, learn how to handle those times and feel close again.

And if you want an even better relationship, never, ever delude yourself into thinking you know each other. People are always changing. What your partner believes is changing. What you're capable of understanding is changing. And getting to know each other, over and over and over, marks the sort of relationship that will sustain you and delight you through decades of marriage.

I wish Miley and Liam--and you--many wonderful years of marriage.

May 22, 2012

What Does It Mean to Be Married?

So many of us today drift into marriage. We date. We move in together. We make a baby. Then we marry.

Or we make a baby, so we move in together and, if we can find the time, date, hoping to kindle enough of a fire to want to marry.

Or it's our second time around. We will make no more babies. We date. We live together to save time or money. Eventually we marry because one or both grow tired of being a couple without the status and protections offered to married couples.

Often, we take these routes because we have seen marriages (even our parents' marriages) fail. We hope to avoid this. We imagine that living together will give us a clue as to how well we'll work out as a married couple. Unfortunately, research says it's not much help. Those who jump in without knowing do at least as well as those who test the waters first.

Marriage, it turns out, changes very little about our relationship with each other. What it changes is our relationship with everyone else. It changes whether our mate's family considers us family or temporary guest. It changes whether folks hoping to socialize with one of us automatically include the other. It changes the reception we get from our mate's conservative religious friends and colleagues.

Unless we take legal steps ahead of time, it changes what the ICU nurse allows when our partner is in life-threatening circumstances. It changes who makes the decisions while the person we love lies unconscious on the brink of death. It changes what money we're entitled to when our mate retires and what's ours when death parts us.

It changes what we owe the tax collector, both while we're together and while we are grieving if we outlive our partner.

It changes what questions we must answer in court.

It also changes who decides who owes what to whom if the relationship ends.

What marriage does not change is our differences of opinion, our misunderstandings of each other's motives, our expectations, or how well our spouse meets them. It does not change anything about the push-pull of wanting to both be together and be ourselves. It changes nothing about our fear of abandonment and the unhappy choices we make when we worry our relationship is unraveling. It gives us no new rights or authority over our mate while married.

Getting married is about choosing to play a particular role in society together. It is a very important role worthy of great respect. If you hope to play it for the rest of your life, don't count on your wedding day helping much. Instead, learn everything you can about how to nurture your relationship. Practice daily.

March 27, 2012

Marrying for Life

Choosing your someone to live with or marry? Never been married before? Lots of juicy new data out to help you choose. It should be heartening to those recently married and wondering if they will make it through their current disappointment or fight, too.

You have probably been hearing news clips about the report on first marriages that was released last week. The data were collected from 2006 though 2010 from 15 to 44 year olds around the U.S.

People are marrying later and more are cohabiting first. This is what the news media keep reporting.

Here is what I notice in the report.

We are marrying later, but by age 40, the probability of a woman having been married at least once remains right around 80%, the same as in the 1995 and 2002 surveys. We are still big fans of marriage.

If you are a woman, you have a 52% chance of a 20th anniversary of your first marriage. But if you have a bachelors degree or higher, that jumps to 78%. No matter what your education, if you get married before you give birth to any children and while you are not pregnant, you have a 77% chance. Finishing college OR postponing pregnancy until after the wedding puts you in a group of women with better than 3-to-1 odds of your first marriage lasting 20 years or more.

Men also get a great boost from a bachelors degree and postponing children: 65% of those with a bachelors or better and 74% of those with no prior kids and none on the way make it to the 20th anniversary of their first marriage.

Your odds are also much higher with a partner who lived with both of his or her biological or adoptive parents at age 14, who has never been married before, OR who has no children by other people. They are higher, too, if avoid cohabitation at least until you are engaged to marry.

The data comes from the National Survey of Family Growth by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and NCHS (National Center for Health Statistics) in a March 22, 2012 report entitled First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth.

February 20, 2012

How to Have a Successful Marriage

I have to applaud Long Island Bride and Groom magazine. In with all the gorgeous gowns and wonderful venues on New York's Long Island, they offered about-to-be-weds tips for continued success after the wedding.

The article, Happily Ever After: How to Have a Successful Marriage, appears in their February 2012 edition (page 359 in print, 363 online). They solicited critical items to discuss before the wedding from relationship advice authors April Masini, Jacqueline Del Rosario, Jan Harrell, Piet Dreiby, Andrew Shrage, Cathi Brese Doebler, Taffy Wagner, and me. It's a great bunch of topics for anyone getting married to discuss before their wedding.

February 17, 2012

5 Helpful Things to Discover Before You Marry

Thinking of getting married? Probably the least useful thing to learn about him or her is how well you share a bathroom or kitchen. Here are some more useful things to find out.

  1. What is his or her Love Language? How comfortable are you using it?

  2. What are his or her 4 or 5 top Character Strengths? Encouraging the use of these strengths in work and play will provide lots of opportunities for admiring your mate and for him or her to experience flow and satisfaction with life.

  3. Who does your intended dream of becoming? Do children matter? Wealth? Public service? Leisure? Athletic, artistic, or business accomplishments? Rural or city life? Fast-paced or laid back? How do these fit with your plans?

  4. How does he or she handle stress, frustration, and loss? And your responses to stress, frustration, and loss? Will you be able to remain present for him or her while dealing with them, or do these coping strategies trigger your own hot buttons?

  5. Your new spouse will change over time, but most likely not in the ways you might plan. If who you see today is the best that he or she is capable of becoming, will you continue to respect and cherish this person?

You can keep yourself out of a lot of marriage pitfalls if you learn all of these before you marry. And if you are already married, discovering them now may help you get out of any you have fallen into.

February 11, 2012

How to Avoid Marrying the Wrong Person

It seems a lot of people get married and then wonder if they married the wrong person. If you are still single and looking, you might wonder how to avoid marrying the wrong person, too.

The right person never uses force or emotional manipulation to get what he or she wants from you.

The right person, like all the wrong people, is not likely to change in the ways you imagine or plan. If that's OK, he or she is the right person, and so are you.

There is a reason you are asked to agree to love, honor, and cherish through all levels of income and all degrees of health. If you want to marry for money, physical ability, or physical appearance, there is no right person, just the best deal you can make for the time being.

If you marry someone who appears to be the right person and you wake up one day to suspect he or she was not the right person, it pays to consider another possibility before you give up. The possibility? That you married the right person and he or she is doing exactly what the right person does, and if you stick around and try to understand, your life will blossom before your very eyes, just as it did when you first became convinced this might be the right person.

January 17, 2012

When You Get Married

When you get married...

  • You try to be the person you think a wife or husband should be.

  • Your spouse tries to be the person he or she thinks a wife or husband should be.

  • They seldom match up with what the other expected.

  • Neither of you keeps trying quite so hard without positive feedback.

  • Each of you may resort to nagging to get what you expect or withdrawal to avoid the pain of not getting it.

A much better approach is to aim to enjoy being married to your spouse. This means you...

  • Let go of your expectations of what you will get from the marriage other than love.

  • Take care of the things you don't much like doing and hoped a spouse would do for you, so you never bury that love under resentment.

  • Pay close attention to all the love you get, and express gratitude for it or return it amplified.

  • Get to know your wife's or husband's character strengths and even create opportunities for her or him to use these strengths around you.

  • Let your spouse know how much you respect and value these strengths, especially the ones you are still mastering.

  • Remember people do not change all that quickly, so what upsets you a month or year or decade after the wedding may well be just a different way of loving you.

  • Recognize differences are normal but seldom as either-or as they look, so try for a Third Alternative that satisfies you both even more before you debate or fight about them or settle on a compromise.

A happy spouse is irresistible.

December 9, 2011

Date One Person, Marry a Bunch

You date one person, but you marry a bunch. As you begin dating, you might want to inquire about all the others. Here are some of the extra people you acquire when you marry the man or woman you fell in love with and what to do about them after the wedding.

Your spouse's children

They may someday view you as their bonus mom or dad, maybe even their "real" mom or dad, thanks to the great relationship you develop with them. However, when you first marry, they will more likely see you as competition for the approval, time, and affection they seek from their parent, maybe even as the obstacle to their family ever reuniting.

Schedule some of the things you do on your own (errands, chores, hobbies) for times when they can have some good time alone with their mom or dad (your new spouse). Schedule some time together with them, too, both with your spouse and without. And teach them how to find Third Alternatives with you when you and they disagree about house rules, outings, or schedules.

If you want to have a great relationship with them, make an effort to find things to like and appreciate about each of them. Pay attention to their talents and strengths. Unlike their birth parents, you can be the adult who encourages them to become themselves. It is a great basis for a long-lasting relationship.

Your spouse's ex

There is no way out of it. If you marry someone with children whose other parent is still alive, you will have an ex in your life. You might also acquire an ever-present ex if you choose someone who left a depressed, addicted, alcoholic, or schizophrenic partner or one who made financial or personal sacrifices to help your new guy or gal become the success you now see.

If you expect you will dictate your spouse's relationship with an ex, you will make yourself miserable over and over and over. All the reasons they are no longer together are reasons why your spouse will do things that seem utterly illogical to you to deal with today's issues.

Your marriage may call on you to create a harmonious relationship with someone who pities or resents you. You will need to Assume Love from your husband or wife and find your way to understanding when your spouse's desire to avoid conflict with an ex constrains where you live, how you live, or which days you can call your own.

Your budget, your peace of mind, your child-rearing practices, and your schedule will all need to include this person. Find some common ground if you can, and keep looking for Third Alternatives together.

Let go of any expectation that you can banish this person. An ex is family, like it or not. You work with or around their flaws.

Your spouse's parents and siblings

If you marry, you will always have an adult-adult relationship with these people. Your spouse quite likely never will. Remember this. When you feel uncomfortable, check to see how much of it comes simply from your mate's behaving in ways he or she almost never does around you. Your in-laws are already familiar with this behavior. What they are noticing is yours. Remain an understanding adult, and your relationship with them will be a much better one.

While it would be very nice if your spouse would defend you in any disagreements with his or her family, it is not all that likely. Instead, remember to look for Third Alternatives instead of stewing over what your in-laws ask for.

Close friends, old enemies, and friends of the family

When you say, "I do," you say it to a rather large crowd. Your relationship with all of them matters a lot after you marry. Try to remember that your role is not to fix your spouse's life, but to enhance it.

Be there for her or him when you can and be supportive from a distance when you just can't. Protect yourself, your relationship, and your assets from the unethical ones and the ones with no boundaries. Talk openly with your spouse about your concerns, without criticizing your mate's inability to see their flaws.

Over time, we all get better at dealing with the people life gives us. If you are a newlywed in shock right now, I invite you to join my teleclasses and ask for help. Whatever the announced topic, we always have time for other questions, and there are often several experienced husbands and wives on the call to join me in offering you what has worked for us.

November 30, 2011

Three Questions to Ask before You Marry

It seems the new question everyone wants an answer to before they marry is whether they can share a home without strife. While it is an interesting question, it hardly seems worth two or three years of sharing a home before agreeing to marry. Learning to Find Third Alternatives can get you through sharing a home with almost anyone you respect and care about.

Here are the three questions I encourage you to ask well before you agree to share a home or even a bed.

  1. Does he or she value my greatest strengths and possess strengths I have less of than I wish I had?
    By strengths, I mean things like integrity, curiosity, creativity, optimism, fairness, kindness, forgiveness, social intelligence, modesty, open-mindedness, self-control, playfulness, a love of learning, spirituality, piety, persistence, a sense of awe and wonder, a zest for living, leadership skills, loyalty, and the like.
  2. Do we agree about the obligations of marriage?
    Do we agree that infidelity is normal or intolerable? Do we agree on the minimum income, chore time, and parenting time required of a spouse? Do we agree about a spouse's obligations to in-laws or step-children? Do we agree about the risks a spouse can take without the blessing of the other spouse? Do we agree that marriage includes children or that it need not? Do we agree that marriage is for life, through poverty and sickness as well as better times, or that it is for as long as both of us meet our obligations, or that it is for as long as we both care to stick around?
  3. Do I know this person's Love Language, and am I willing to show my love this way?
    If your spouse measures the quality of your relationship in acts of service, are you prepared for a life of service? If your spouse needs words of affirmation or respect, are you prepared to offer them, even if words seem cheap to you? If your spouse thrives on gifts, are you prepared to invest the effort to think of frequent gifts and make or buy them? If you marry someone whose love language is physical touch, will you engage in sex even when your libido is low and offer massage and hugs as needed? And if you marry someone who measures love in quality time spent together in activities or conversation, can you make the time to be present in these?
To me, these are far more important than the question of whether you are good at living together.

November 15, 2011

When You Get Married

When you get married, pay close attention to all that is good and right about the person you choose. Pay close attention to the ways this wonderful man or woman makes you feel great about life, about love, and about yourself.

Your new husband or wife will someday reveal weaknesses, envy, selfishness under stress. Those will be temporary. The goodness, the integrity, the honesty, the justice, the creativity, the grace, the playfulness, the loving, these are what will endure and what will see you through those difficult days. Never lose sight of them. They are the heart of your marriage.

When you get married, choose well. Look beyond looks and money and status. If you are going to vow to do anything for life, love is a great choice.

October 29, 2011

May Your Marriage Be Full of Laughter

May these vows and this marriage be blessed.

May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.

May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.

May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.

May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.

May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcomes the moon in a clear blue sky.

I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.

- Rumi (Kulliyat-e Shams 2667)

October 14, 2011

Marriage Tips for Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries

Newlyweds Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries face all the usual difficulties of transitioning from planning for the Big Day to living in love day after day. They get to face them in the spotlight, too. Not easy.

So, when Cupid's Pulse asked me to share some advice for newlyweds like them, I did. I hope you will check out my guest post, Three Tips to Enjoy Marriage Despite the Battles.

This is Day 14 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Following Stu Gray's lead, I am aiming to post daily for the month of October. I welcome all suggestions for questions to answer or topics to cover. Let my know what you want to hear.

October 5, 2011

Can Renewable Marriage Eliminate Divorce Pain?

Bride with bouquetSomeone in Mexico City has proposed a marriage license that expires unless both spouses renew it. The minimum term is two years, so it is highly likely to take longer to terminate such a marriage. Regular marriages in Mexico can be ended with a no-fault divorce in just six months.

The purported advantage lies in a premarital agreement about custody of any children and who gets what from any shared assets. No surprises. No fighting or lawyers allowed.

Is anyone fooled? Is the pain of divorce all about money and control? No pain from rejection? No sense of personal failure? No frustration from getting by without a second household income? No grief for your kids who are now much more real than when you made your premarital choices about possible offspring? No sadness over losing half of your extended family?

If you need to know you can just walk away in two years or five, consider the possibility that you have not yet found someone worth marrying.

August 17, 2011

I'm Dying to Tell You About Something

This arrived today as a comment, but it's too good to be hidden away like that. It's written by a regular blog reader who calls herself Roodle. It made my day, and I think it will give a lot of hope and wisdom to others hoping to get married.

Hi again, Patty.

I'm dying to tell you about something that's happened in my life, largely due to your blog.

I'm in my mid-40's and still single, and I've been trying to figure out what I can do differently so that I have an easier time getting into a healthy, happy relationship and keeping it that way.

A couple of years ago, I decided to stop banging my head against a wall (also known as dating) until I felt confident that I could do things differently. I read a lot, attended a few personal-growth workshops, and practiced new ways of interacting with friends and family. All of this helped, and your blog has been one of the most important sources of new perspectives for me.

I could tell I was developing great new skills, and I knew that I needed practice at a higher difficulty level: with a man I was interested in. I was afraid, though, that I would be so invested in the future of the relationship that I wouldn't feel free to play around with my new skills. What to do?

A few months ago, I met a man I was very attracted to. He wasn't ready for a Relationship (meaning commitment and physical intimacy), because he's getting over the breakup of a long marriage. But he clearly liked me a lot.

Voila! A practice ground! We openly shared our goals. His: female companionship & distraction from his troubles. Mine: male companionship and practicing my new skills without worrying about our future together. We made only one commitment to each other: to stay in communication.

I could write so much about what I've learned! Here are some highlights.

While I can't exactly assume love, I can assume "like" and good intentions, and it's truly transformative. I've found that sleeping on things when I'm upset makes me much better at coming up with alternative ideas about why he did something.

Sometimes, what's going on is that he doesn't understand how important something is to me, so I let him know. Sometimes, what's going on is that he's just living his life and not thinking about me at that moment. That's reasonable. Sometimes, he's confused about his own wants and feelings. Those three probably cover most of the toughest situations!

As you've said in your posts, often it's not important to find out what was really going on. Just to think of innocuous or caring possibilities is enough.

I've always done a lot of ruminating about my relationships, but now it's productive. Either I think of enough positive possibilities that I reach peace, or I realize I can't think my way to peace and I decide to act. Either way, I can stop thinking about it -- aah.

I've learned that talking to my friends when I'm upset at him isn't necessarily helpful. Perhaps I can train them to help me think in the new ways, but for now, most of them do what I used to want them to: lay blame at his feet.

I've realized that, if he does something I don't like and does it only once, I can often just let it go. If it turns out to be a one-off, I'll be glad I didn't waste emotional energy on it. If it happens again, I can deal with it then.

Also, I've gotten plenty of evidence throughout my life that I stink at guessing what's going on with a guy. So I made a new rule: if I'm wondering, ASK. (Obvious, no? But really, I used to brood for a long time and get myself good and ticked off before I would talk to the guy. Great start to a conversation!)

I found that a good way to start a delicate conversation is to lay out the overall goal. In this situation, I said, "We both want to spend time together and enjoy it lot, right?" In a marriage, it might be, "We both want to have a rich connection and enjoy each other as much as we possibly can, right?" That reassures the other person that, even if the conversation gets tense, no one is looking for an out.

Every single time I've gathered my courage and asked him a question or broached a delicate topic, this particular man's response has been "I'm so glad you brought that up," or "Yes, that's important; let's talk about it." I know I can't expect that level of responsiveness from everyone, but it's great to have the reinforcement. And it's got to be in great part because of my more constructive approach.

I've also realized how important it is to accept reality, rather than engage in wishful thinking or avoid looking at the truth. It was freeing and relaxing to get clear about how small a space there is for me in his life. I was confused because he's so very happy to have me in his life. But once I sorted out his feelings from his availability to me, I could focus on how to be happy in light of that reality. I worked on filling my schedule with activities I enjoy; strengthening my connections with friends; and thinking about whether I might be ready for "real" dating again.

I am starting to feel ready to apply these new skills to a relationship with a potential future. It'll still be scary, but I really believe in the new approaches, and I really want a loving relationship.

I'm not sure what this man and I will become to one another if/when we stop being each other's boy- and girl-friend substitutes, and I'm not sure how each of us will feel about the transition, but it's just about time to find out. Staying true to my new approach as I talk with him about it will make it a rich and as-positive-as-possible experience.

Thank you for your generous sharing of your experience and wisdom, which has played such a big part in my growth!


What do you think, men? What would have been your reaction while dating to finding someone like Roodle?

And who else wants to join me in wishing Roodle the very best with her wonderful new skills?

June 10, 2011

Want Commitment? Let Yourself Be Judged

Because I went to a university with a 15:1 male-to-female ratio and found myself a widow at age 34, I have a little experience with dating.

One big mistake people make while dating, assuming their goal is to find and marry a great guy or gal, is trying to duck being judged.

They do what they believe others want or expect, hoping to be selected as good enough to commit to. They fear rejection. All they manage to do is postpone rejection until after the wedding, when it hurts more and costs more.

If you seek a marriage partner, dating is the proper time to judge and be judged. Let yourself be seen and known and judged. Perfect the art of bouncing back from rejection, sure in the knowledge that while you may be able to convince someone to date you, you must find a spouse.

Commitment requires that you judge and let yourself be judged.

June 4, 2011

How to Choose the Perfect Partner

If you are not yet married but would like to be, you may wonder if you now date or live with "the one" you should marry or, if not, how to spot this perfect partner. I received an email recently from someone wondering about this, too.

Who is Your Perfect Partner?

Your perfect partner adds something extra to your good enough life. He or she is not responsible for making it good enough. If you find it hard to meet your perfect partner, do something to make your life better.

Your perfect partner disagrees with you about many things. Otherwise, how could he or she bring anything extra into your life? The Third Alternatives you two discover when you disagree will open your life to possibilities you never dreamed of.

Your perfect partner is not frightened or disgusted by your past or your dreams. You cannot know this, and you cannot find your perfect partner, until you reveal your past and your dreams, ideally after the first date and before the first orgasm, because all that oxytocin will bond you and make it harder to leave if you have found the wrong partner for you.

Your perfect partner does not have a past or dreams for the future that frighten or disgust you. You feel free to admire and encourage a perfect partner.

Your perfect partner will sometimes do things that shock, hurt, embarrass, or frustrate you, simply because you two see things differently. However, barring brain damage from an addiction, disease, or accident (all of which call for immediate treatment, not just forgiveness), your perfect partner will never pose a threat to your health, life, or sanity.

Because your perfect partner's perfect partner is you, your perfect partner cannot be (a) created by attempting to fix him or her, (b) lured by pretending to be anyone by yourself, nor (c) drafted through imprisonment, pregnancy, or financial support.

How Do You Find Your Perfect Partner?

You keep looking. You break up and move on as soon as possible when you discover you are dating someone else. As soon as your life is good enough again, you get out and meet new people, because one of them may be or may know your perfect partner.

Your perfect partner is one of many perfect partners for you, one who happens to inhabit the place or lifestyle you find most comfortable right now. If you do not find him or her there, try traveling in slightly different circles.

If I Marry, Won't It Constrain My Life Choices?

Yes, it will. Life is one giant buffet full of options, but every single one you put on your plate constrains your ability to choose the others. Spend your money on a great pair of shoes, and you have less for a trip down the Amazon or a cozy house overlooking the water. Spend your time in the garden, and you have less time for windsurfing or writing a novel.

If you marry someone who won't get in an airplane, you will need to do your air travel solo. If you marry someone saving for a house, you may need to channel some of your funds into that house, too, or live apart.

And yet, marrying increases your options, too. It increases them because your husband or wife brings a different set of character strengths to inspire you, to rescue you, and to open up options not available to you with your strengths. And it increases them because your spouse can give you a boost up and a softer place to land, making it easier to take a big risk, experience something incredible, and perhaps reap the big payoff.

Marrying also frees up all that time you spend looking for, getting to know, checking out, breaking up with, and recovering from people who are not your perfect partner. Think of all the other things on your wish list you could spend this time on!

May 16, 2011

3 Things to Know Before You Get Married

In answer to a question posed to me today, I think people should know 3 things before they marry:

  • How to find a third alternative to any disagreement, an option that gives each party all they were looking for in their first suggestion without the drawbacks of the other person's first suggestion, instead of arguing.unhappy couple, not talking
  • That what you can expect from marriage is love, not any particular sign of it (like a certain income, a home-cooked meal, gifts on your birthday, an eager participant in your favorite hobby, or even fidelity), and you can miss an awful lot of that love while watching for your favorite signs.
  • That our first story of why our spouse did something upsetting comes from a part of our brain that looks only for threats, so it's a huge help to assume we still have our spouse's love and see if there's an explanation for why someone who loves us might do the same thing.
Whether you marry or not, it's a very good idea to know how to earn a living, prepare meals, keep a home livable, stay within the law, repair (or get repaired) anything you rely on, and learn new things as you need to. Even if your spouse takes care of some of these while he or she can, expecting any of them just gets in the way of enjoying your marriage.

March 3, 2011

How to Choose Your Life Partner

For Amna Ahmad, who asked tonight on Twitter whether Assume Love has anything for the "non-married and looking," here are a few tips.

  1. Don't try to sell anyone on commitment. Date people who are ready for it. If your date invents you (praising you for traits you may even possess but have not yet revealed), tells you in the first or second encounter he or she might move far away or take up a career or hobby that would leave little time for you, or is making an exception to date you in spite of not usually liking your type, run!

  2. Unless you're infertile and childless, don't date anyone you wouldn't want caring for your kids when you can't be there.

  3. Watch out for oxytocin. Skin-to-skin contact and orgasms make even frogs seem like princes and princesses. Get to know a person first.

  4. If your Love Language is quality time together, make sure you both like to do some of the same things. And watch out for folks whose time is tightly scheduled.

  5. You will need to Assume Love many times if you marry, so don't marry until you are sure of two things: this is a person of good character and he or she truly loves you.

  6. Whatever you expect about marriage, you are surely wrong. Everyone loves in his or her own unique way. You will miss out on a lot of love if you are expecting anything else from your wife or husband. Do not marry expecting anything but love.

  7. If you have any doubt about the value of taking a partner for life, read the Why Be Married section of this blog. (There is also an ebook version of Why Be Married.)

  8. Start practicing finding Third Alternatives while you are dating. Those who can't find them are doomed to fight or to compromise.

My thanks to Amna for the great question. She's running an 8-week writing workshop in Brooklyn that starts later this month and she's planning another online for the rest of us. She's also single and very smart.

February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day - 5th and 82nd Anniversaries

Today is this blog's fifth anniversary, a huge occasion for me. I am so grateful to you for being a part of it.

On this wonderful day, I also want to say Happy Anniversary to Winnie and Marshall Kuykendall of Lordsburg, NM. Today is their 82nd wedding anniversary. Their only child, a daughter, has been married for 56 years. Now, as Worldwide Marriage Encounter's poster children for their Longest Married Project, they inspire all of us.

Thanks to the Silver City Sun-News for sharing the Kuykendall's story with us.

August 25, 2010

On Again, Off Again is Not the Best Route to the Altar

In today's Dear Abby column, a reader writes:

Every time I start to get over Guy, he comes around again. It's like he has radar.

In this case, Guy is a married man, but that's the result, not the cause.

If you are looking to get married and running into people like Guy, or if you are in Guy's situation of being unable to choose, you need to know this. Some folks have a dread fear of making a bad choice, especially in a decision as big as who to spend the rest of their life with.

The fear, psychology researchers tell us, comes from childhood experiences of being smothered or tied down by our life-essential love for our caretaker. The fear is real, but it is a phobia, a fear much larger than the risk as others see it. (I was going to say the real risk, but I don't think there is a universal scale for how much fear a given risk deserves.) And, while psychologists have pounded their collective heads against the wall of many problems, phobias are one they've gotten figured out.

The phobia is triggered not by the partner, but by the desire to stay, the toying with the idea of committing to this one partner and, as those wedding vows say, "forsaking all others."

If you are dating someone with this phobia, the more delightful you are to be around, the faster you will trigger the phobia. If you make yourself available for another round after distance has reduced the fear, the odds are excellent the relationship will end again just when it feels the warmest and closest and most hopeful to you. It will end because those feelings trigger fears of horrible strings attached to love (which have nothing at all to do with you) or of missing out on even better feelings by making a choice of a mate before getting to know all the possible choices.

If you are looking to get married, your chances of curing a good prospect's phobia are about the same as those of a travel agent who tries to talk those with a strong fear of flying into enjoying their flight to the islands. Unfortunately, people familiar with their commitment phobia often rush into relationships the way a child who knows the water will be cold rushes into the waves. They can look very promising. You will know them by their other commitment (the one they go home to every night or every weekend but swear they will leave as soon as they are certain) or by their sudden 180-degree about-face cooling off period whenever the relationship warms up.

If you recognize yourself in this description, please know most phobias can be cured. But I also want you to know that your picture of love, the one driving your phobia, is that of the child you once were. Marriages do not succeed or fail because they are a match made in heaven or a pairing of soulmates. They succeed or fail mostly because of what goes on in our heads.

Our knee-jerk fear responses, expectations, and fixation on either-or choices dictate most of what happens. They, not the person we're dating or married to, create fear in most cases. These are what convince us we found the wrong person, and we will all see "wrong person" projected onto the face of just about anyone we choose after a few years if we don't Assume Love when upset, Expect Love when disappointed, and Find Third Alternatives when we disagree.

If you share Guy's phobia, give these three tools a try for a few months and see if you can't get yourself through the next desire to run from someone you love.

February 15, 2010

Like Looking through the Eye of God

Nancy "Sunny" Bostrom, a volunteer deputy marriage commissioner in Alameda County, CA, has a beautiful take on performing weddings at the county courthouse:

"It's like looking through the eye of God. I get to be three feet away at a moment none of their descendants will see, that no parents get to see in the same way. You place yourself in the crossroads where people are making these huge commitments. This kind of love is where poetry and religion and science all converge."

Thanks to the San Jose Mercury News for the quote.

January 27, 2010

When You Get Married, You Stay Married

"My mother always said when you get married, you stay married, and she meant that." That's what Verbal Isenhower has to say on the occasion of the 81st anniversary of her marriage to Vern Isenhower.

They married on Jan. 26, 1929. Verbal was 16, Vern was 17, and the two of them had grown up on adjoining farms in Arkansas. Now they live in Louisburg, Kansas.

Happy anniversary, Vern and Verbal. And thanks, Fox 4 in Kansas City, for sharing their story with us.

July 25, 2009

Who Says a Wedding has to be Expensive?

Read how John and Sherry brought 75 of their family and friends together for a very classy and fun wedding for less than $4,000. It looks like everyone had a great time.

Keeping the budget low is a good way to avoid family battles or the sort of debt that seeps into every disagreement a new couple must get through in their first few years together. For those with the budget to afford more, imagine spending the difference on education or a more comfortable home or perhaps launching a business. Ten years down the road, the investment in the marriage instead of the wedding will have paid off handsomely.

Thanks to Smart Marriages for the heads-up on their wedding story.

June 27, 2008

Preparing for a Muslim Marriage -- or Any Other Sort

I will be attending a bridal shower tomorrow for an arranged marriage between two Muslims, and I wish both of them the very best, lifelong marriage.

So I was thrilled to receive a Google alert this morning about an excellent article in Pakistan Daily about preparing for a Muslim marriage.

For those of us who are not Muslims, it may seem remarkable that Muslim Americans, many or most of whom marry people they've never dated and didn't fall in love with before the wedding, and who don't consider staying marriage a religious requirement, have a lower than average divorce rate of 33%.

Whether you practice Islam or not, the article makes some very good points about preparing for marriage and not just the wedding.

I learned the divorce rate is slightly lower for Muslim Americans, but still a discouraging 33%. The author offers some good advice about preparing to remain in the other two-thirds.

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.

Continue reading "Doing What Your Spouse Doesn't Want You to Do" »

March 24, 2008

Being Married: The Value of Closing Off Options

Another upside to being married: It's the rational thing to do.

In MIT Professor Dan Ariely's new book, Predictably Irrational, he shows how irrationally we'll behave to keep our options open, whether it's TV surfing, paying extra for features we don't even know if we have any use for, or pursuing interesting opportunities that distract us from our goals.

Professor Ariely teaches behavioral economics. When he labels this irrational, he means we'll do things to keep our options open that cost us what we value. We'll hand over our money, squander our time, or damage our relationships just to keep a door open.

So what can be done? One answer, Dr. Ariely said, is to develop more social checks on overbooking. He points to marriage as an example: "In marriage, we create a situation where we promise ourselves not to keep options open. We close doors and announce to others we've closed doors."

Source: John Tierney, New York Times, February 26, 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.

Continue reading "Having Fun" »

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

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