Whether you just got married, or you’re on your way to your twentieth wedding anniversary, you don’t want to think about the possibility that one of you could cheat, right? You’re probably thinking: affairs happen to other couples, it won’t happen to us. You and your partner have probably even talked about it. Your conversation probably went something like this:
"Oh honey, infidelity only happens to unhappy couples who don’t talk, never have sex and aren’t as perfect as the two of us, right?"
Affairs happen because of opportunity. Some studies show that almost 45% of all spouses will cheat at some point in their marriage. Peggy Vaughan, author of “The Monogamy Myth,” agrees. She says that “conservative estimates are that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will have an extramarital affair” at some point in their marriage. The numbers today are assumed to be much higher. In fact, there is more opportunity for affairs than ever before due to the accessibility of social networking and the internet. Janis Abrahms Spring, author of “After the Affair”, says that infidelity now affects one out of every 2.7 couples.
Couples who manage to stay true to each other for the long run have a lot of things going for them. Here are my top three:
1. They have a commitment to the integrity of their monogamy agreement. They have discussed it, agreed on what it means and they revisit it every couple of years to make sure it still means the same thing. Does going to a friend’s bachelor party count? How about having lunch with friends of the opposite sex?
To prevent an affair, talk about your monogamy and what it means to each of you. You might be surprised at some of the ways you disagree.
2. Couples who manage to avoid cheating are also having lots of great sex. Not just lots of sex, but lots of really good, rewarding, connecting and fun sex. This means that you have to find new and innovative ways to stay erotic throughout your marriage. Sure, it’s fun now. But when you’re tired, cranky or frustrated with each other, you still have to get creative and find ways to please each other in bed.
One way to keep it fresh is to have one new fantasy with each other every couple of months. It’s less important that you act out the fantasy and more important that you learn the language of sexual empathy and sharing.
3. Couples who do things together and have an active investment in their busy lives together usually don’t have time to cheat. Find hobbies you can share, or places you enjoy going together. You don’t have to be attached at the hip to keep each other faithful. But you do have to work to find things that have meaning for the two of you, and build memories for a lifetime.
These memories and habits can shelter you in moments of doubt, and when those opportunities to cheat come up throughout your lifetime (and they will) you will have those thoughts of your spouse so close to you that there will be no room to let someone else in.
A relationship free of spats, scrapes, and squabbles? That’s a thing of fairy tales (though we’re willing to bet that even Cinderella and Prince Charming had their problems).
Real-life matrimony — that has its ups and down. And while it’s certainly not fun to clash with your sweetheart, disagreements don’t signal the demise of your relationship. “There are always ways to resolve issues, overcome obstacles, and build a stronger bond because of it,” says Lori Bizzoco, a relationship expert.
What’s more? Each relationship (even the best of the best) has room to grow. But not everyone can afford to see a professional marriage counselor — and some marriages simply need a quick tune-up. That’s why we went to top relationship experts to find out the best ways to resolve disagreements, keep things fun, and ensure an emotionally health partnership for the both of you.
Here’s your at-home guide to boosting your marriage or long-term partnership (you may be surprised how well these work!).
1. Fight. It may sound contradictory, but arguements between couples can actually be a sign that the relationship still has a good foundation. “Indifference to each other tells me a marriage is in big trouble,” says Susan Fletcher, PhD, a psychologist in the Dallas area. “Couples who care enough to fight still care about each other.” Next time you find yourself in a war of words with your partner, don’t give up and walk away: Use the disagreement as a jumping-off point for coming to a resolution — and then kiss and make up!
2. If you love her, let her grow. Most people develop and change as they get older — but according to Bizzoco, this often comes as a surprise to a spouse. “Often we get so wrapped up in the relationship and think we know someone so well that we don’t allow them the freedom to be anything more than the person they were when we met them,” Bizzoco says. But embracing these changes can be extremely beneficial to a relationship. So if your husband wants to take up golf or your wife wants to return to school for another degree, encourage them to follow these interests (your spouse will appreciate the support).
3. Be the A-Team. It may sound cheesy, but the phrase is an apt term for the “us first” attitude that couples should have when it comes to their relationship. “This means that they consult, discuss, and make decisions as a couple and do not put other relationships, children, or extended family before this primary relationship,” says Karol Ward, LCSW, a psychotherapist in New York. If you put your partner first, he will feel cherished and valued — an important emotion for your marriage.
4. Add some oomph to your “Hello!” When you’ve been separated from your spouse for some time (even if it was just for the work day), greeting him enthusiastically, rather than just glancing up, can be a great way to show you care. “It sounds silly, but think about the feeling that it creates when you give them just a few moments of attention,” Bizzoco says. Your special greeting can be anything from a simple hug to a sexy dance move. Coming home will be even sweeter than before.
5. Don’t forget your manners: Say “Thanks.” It’s easy to get wrapped up in what your partner does wrong — and too often, we lose sight of what they’re doing right. Every night, get in the habit of writing down three good things about your spouse — something nice he did (it really was sweet how he DVR’d The Notebook for you), a fond memory you have of her (remember that trip to the Caribbean?), or one of his many good qualities (that cute butt, of course). “This keeps you feeling more positive toward him, which will benefit your relationship,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a psychologist and therapist in Wexford, Pa. And it can benefit you, too: When you’re in the middle of a knock-down fight, think back to your list to remember the reasons you’re in the relationship.
6. Get good feedback. Even if your relationship is as old as the hills, it’s never too late to ask your partner this one simple question: “How do you know that I love you?” Listen carefully to the response. If nothing else, Ward says, you’ll discover which of your actions are the most appreciated and which behaviors to maintain moving forward.
Follow these relationship “musts” — and you may never need to call up a marriage counselor.
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You take yourself with you where ever you go and even if you’re leaving for someone hot and new, the new becomes old and so it goes. You are still stuck with you.
“The fantasy is that I could leave and be happier. The truth is I could leave and still be unhappy.”
One little mentioned reason for a dying marriage is boredom. It’s usually unlikely that one partner is wholly responsible. But it is easier to blame someone else and find excitement on the other side of the fence.
It used to be that boredom was expected, although no one said so — at least not openly. But it was generally conceded that married life was inevitably routine. Going to work everyday and coming home happily to the same woman was what a man was expected to do, while his memories of nights out with the boys grew brighter, more passionate and more unreal.
Having a baby was thrilling, but after the first few months it was a lot of work, less sleep and no play. Her majesty the baby took over the household. Moms were too tired for sex, and fathers had a diminishing role. Jokes about the sexual frustration of post-baby husbands are common. “Men get frisky while women have babies” was the folk saying in New England, along with the belief that sex after the honeymoon is on a downward path. In many divorces in my study there had been no sex for more than 5 years, or at least not in the marriage. And how many times can you go happily to the same neighborhood restaurants or how many fancy new dishes can the exemplary wife concoct? Plus do you really have to visit grandma every Friday night or play bridge or bowl every Tuesday with the same couples?
Of course what some folks consider boring, others crave. One happy husband, a bored stockbroker, could not wait to get home nightly. Sitting quietly in the kitchen at the end of each day, watching his wife cook or joining her by tasting some new dish and listening to her light, witty chatter about their friends and neighbors made his day worthwhile. He adored her for the pleasure she provided, and for the oasis she had created to protect him from the grim marketplace.
There are many ways to lighten the routines of family life. But they take imagination — try some. Some successful couples had dinner out weekly with no talk of the children allowed. Their children soon got the hang of it, and joined in dressing Mom for her heavy date — laughingly promising to “wait up.” Other couples took long weekends away. The rich rented a fancy hotel suite. Those on strapped budgets went camping. Some couples always took three short vacations a year: one with the kids, one together, and one separately. Others took up new interests ranging from yoga to art to a new language to kayaking.
A good marriage is not a hothouse. It has windows open for new vistas, for continued renewal, including meeting new people, visiting exotic places, and finding new interests. Keep your eyes open, hold on to your sense of humor, and avoid the terrible drag that you’ve “been there and done that”. You may soon be astonished at how good your marriage feels.
There were more than a few raised eyebrows when former astronaut Buzz Aldrin started dating a woman just months after his divorce from his wife of 23 years, Lois Driggs Cannon — his third wife.
For some, the question was, what is he doing with someone 30 years his junior? New girlfriend Michelle Sucillon, a former Borders event-marketing exec, is 51 and Aldrin is 81. As a society we tend to be skeptical whenever a couple’s ages are so far apart but I’m not sure why; there are certainly enough relationships in which the couples are about the same age that don’t last, either. If you’re wondering what they could possibly have in common, you might also want to question if that’s the only “proper” reason for a couple to be together.
The bigger question, however, is why do people rush into a relationship so soon after leaving one? And while both men and women are guilty of that, more men say “I do” again after divorce. and they’re quicker to say it, too, according to the recent Census report “Marital Events of Americans: 2009.” Perhaps not as quickly as actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar — he proposed to ad executive Catriona McGinn in August, just three months after his divorce from Lisa Ann Russell was finalized — but certainly fast enough for people to wonder, why in the world do you want to get into something you just got out of?
For Emily V. Gordon, a therapist and Huffington Post blogger, it may because men don’t have the sort of support women do post-divorce:
"In my experience as a therapist and as a friend, it seems that the majority of the breakup resources available are for women and not men. Women, who tend to be more vocal about their emotional struggles, are the squeaky wheel that gets the grease from friends, from online communities, from books, and from therapeutic approaches. Women are encouraged to go on an emotional journey of self-care after a divorce, while men are expected to need help learning how to cook and parent on their own. When you Google "how men handle divorce," many of the links advise women on what to do if their husbands become violent during the divorce process. Why is there so little focus on how men can heal after a divorce?"
It’s a valid question, considering that divorced men have twice the risk of suicide than married men.
Hugo Schwyzer, a professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College, has a different take on it. A working woman doesn’t necessarily want to “walk right back into the same sort of situation from which she just extricated herself,” he said, and the unequal distribution of household chores may have something to do with it. He also wonders about the marriageability of men:
"I’m convinced that one reason that so many divorced women are so reluctant to remarry (and so many women unwilling to marry in the first place) is that frankly, marriage doesn’t seem to be a very appealing deal for most women. And one of the reasons why marriage seems unappealing is that the sacrifices of marriage are many, and the benefits increasingly few — especially considering that an extraordinary number of men may not be worth marrying!"
I won’t speculate on how many men “may not be worth marrying” — I’d guess about as many women who aren’t. But, concerning marriage’s appeal — or lack thereof — studies indicate that women are often a lot happier after divorce, and since more middle-aged women seek divorce then men, Schwyzer may have a point — why walk back into the same situation indeed?
That may explain why of those age 45 or older, a third of men remarry and just a quarter of women do.
But even the women who would happily walk back into the same situation have a harder time; while having kids makes remarriage challenging for men and women, it’s worse for women. More men aren’t too keen on marrying a woman with kids and creating an instant family. Since more divorced moms have custody of their children, it can put them out of the dating loop — but not divorced dads.
But some men, obviously, are OK with blending families or even starting new families, which is surprising considering how many men complain — rightfully so — about paying alimony (often for life) and child support, often for children they can barely see. So then why are so many men eager to get hitched again — especially when second marriages have a 67 percent chance of divorce?
Lucy Cavendish, an author and columnist for the U.K.’s Telegraph wonders if men aren’t incurable romantics. Otherwise, she says, how can you explain why a man who has been badly burned in a divorce — think Paul McCartney, who is about to marry wife No. 3, Nancy Shevell, any day — would want to risk it all again?
Or maybe some men just don’t want to be alone while many midlife divorced women want to have an “Eat, Pray, Love” experience and rediscover and reinvent themselves, without having to take care of anyone other than themselves. And let’s face it; men typically find it a lot easier to attract a wider age range of women — just like Buzz Aldrin did.
But maybe, as Cavendish notes, men just like to be married
Last month I wrote an article for HuffPost Divorce about my research that revealed 30% of divorced women knew they were marrying the wrong guy on their wedding day. This statistic triggered much consternation and denial. After wading through hundreds of comments bashing the institution of marriage, doubts about my methodology, and nasty remarks about women, men and relationships in general, it appears everyone missed the point.
So let me put it another way: Have you ever talked yourself into a decision that you already knew was the wrong one? Of course you have. We all do. Have you ever taken a job that you knew in your gut wasn’t a good fit for you? (Totally ignored the weird vibes from your new boss? Assured yourself you could learn to be “detail oriented and good with numbers.”) What about buying that car that you really couldn’t afford? (A $600-a -month car payment on a thirty thousand dollar a year salary — yeah, right.) Or maybe you agreed to split the rent with your slovenly college friend in order to afford a nicer apartment. (Shut your eyes and hope she had magically changed into someone neat and tidy.) And what about the third donut you ate for breakfast this morning? (The little voice in your head promised: “I’ll go for a run after work.”)
We can rationalize anything. But when we talk ourselves into dating the wrong guy or girl — that’s where the potential for lifelong heartache begins. So after hearing one too many clients admit that had doubts about their relationship long before the wedding — the therapist in me wondered what I could do to change that. (And yes, men do it too — but I’ll get to that later.)
I want to clarify that the doubts were not the garden-variety nerves that typically accompany any life-changing decision. They weren’t just “cold feet” or “wedding day jitters.” Rather, the women in my study talked about issues, concerns, doubts and other red flags that existed throughout the course of their relationship. Not just on their wedding day. The problem was that they had brushed their concerns aside. Instead of facing up to the red flags or exploring their gut feelings — they squelched them and stayed in the relationship anyway.
My goal was to uncover the reasons why so many women make this mistake. If we understand why they stay in a relationship with the wrong guy, or go through with a doomed-from-the-start marriage, perhaps we can help them figure out what they are really searching for. Not to mention sidestep a miserable marriage and an eventual court date with the divorce attorney! Based on my research, here are the five most common reasons cited for marrying the wrong guy:
1. We’ve dated for so long I don’t want to waste all the time we have invested in the relationship.
2. I don’t want to be alone.
3. He’ll change after we get married.
4. It is too late, too embarrassing and/or too expensive to call off the wedding
5. He is a really nice guy; I don’t want to hurt his feelings.
I must elaborate on number five. It is really hard to break up with a nice guy. Unlike the enraged commenters who suggest women are “evil gold-diggers determined to destroy their fiancé’s lives,” most women I talked to did consider their betrothed and his feelings. It’s often easier to break up with cheater or a liar (although far too many women don’t do that when they should either!) But when it comes to nice guys, it can be hard to figure out why you aren’t happy together. The reality is, he may be a solid, good guy on his own. But as a couple, the equation does not add up. The idea of “two becoming one” should not equal instant discomfort. However, when the relationship is solid and true, there is very little doubt, internal conflict or questions. And for the naysayers, I said very little doubt; I did not say no doubt whatsoever. I encourage women (and men, too!) to be very specific about the source of their concerns. Write them down — articulate them. Consider how the relationship might look ten years in the future. And if none of that helps I share a favorite quote from the author Mignon McLaughlin: "When ‘Why not do it?’ barely outweighs ‘Why do it?’ — don’t do it. "
And the million dollar question — why no men in this study? I chose to focus my research on divorced women. But I did talk to a lot of men along the way, too. And yes, men do talk themselves into marrying the wrong girl. What was interesting is that the men’s reasons for saying “I do” when they wanted to shout “I don’t” tended to be more “other-centered” than many of the women. They overwhelmingly cited a sense of duty, obligation and concern for their fiancé’s feelings as their reason for walking down the aisle anyway.
I do want to point out that these findings also apply to people who have never married, yet choose to stay in long-term, unproductive, sometimes soul-crushing relationships. They cite many of the same reasons: “I don’t want to be alone.” Or “We’ve invested a lot of time.” Or “I don’t think anyone better is going to come along.” These reasons don’t make for happy relationships — married or not.
And finally, a caveat for our gay friends. Now that they have the right to legally marry in some states, I hope they take heed and make sure they are marrying the right guy or girl for the right reasons.
So let this be a lesson to you. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, straight or gay, young or old, divorced, never married or never-want-to-get married-again. Don’t talk yourself into any relationship. Especially not for any of these reasons. Your future happiness depends on it.
I’m just coming off 200 interviews and two years of listening to mature wives reflect on — or moan about — how they are managing to stick it out in long marriages. Scenes from their relationships that range from 15 to 70 years are woven together in my new book, The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What It Really Takes To Stay Married coming out in early October.
I’ve been married for 23 years during which my husband and I have raised four sons, and have had plenty of rocking and rolling in our relationship. From my own experiences, and from the dozens of sagas unloaded into my tape recorder, I am constantly reminded of the eggshell-thin line that separates loving from loathing. I know that staying married can mean plates flying across kitchens, tears soaking pillows and emailing old boyfriends at 3 a.m.
I thought nothing could shock me about what really goes on behind closed doors between two people working hard to make it “til death do us part” — without killing someone first. After all, I have heard every brand of twisted love story — swinging, adultery, spouses coming out as gay after 30 years together, threesomes, fist fights in restaurants, even the tale of a husband discovered to be having sex with a sheep, documented in a photograph discovered by his wife in his nightstand drawer.
But in piecing together this latest book I have been surprised at some of the revelations. I’m not as ruffled by the tawdry tales of farm animals or one I heard from a 55-year-old wife about screwing a perfectly sculpted landscaper while her doctor husband was lecturing on vein surgery in another country. My biggest shock is how many outwardly cheerful women who have been married forever think about divorce if not weekly, at least once a month.
How’s this for a statistic? Of the 200 plus women interviewed and woven into The Secret Lives of Wives, I can count on one hand those who have never considered splitting up. It was no surprise that Beth often considered leaving her husband. He routinely told her she was fat and ugly, and when they fought in the car he would pull over and shove her out the door. Who could blame Shauna for her many consults with a divorce lawyer? She’s the wife of the traveling doctor, a man who hasn’t initiated sex since their honeymoon 30 years ago. Her secret is that she has it both ways: an intact family and a ten-year affair with a hard-bodied lover, who does her landscaping for free.
The biggest shocker is the number of wives in stable unions who frequently contemplate fleeing their marriages. These are not abused wives; they are women with nice husbands who give them orgasms and jewelry and stability. Yet many of these settled midlife women admitted they were slightly jealous of Tipper Gore who gets to have a fresh start after 40 years of matrimony with the same guy. While many speculated about whether one of the Gores fell in love with someone else, my instincts without talking to either of them is that perhaps they are a lot like other couples portrayed in the book. Maybe they were simply sick of being around each other. And maybe one or both of them finally couldn’t take it any more.
Who stays married and who doesn’t is a question not always about commitment or deep abiding love — it’s about endurance.
I have found in my collection of wives who remain in long running marriages that the majority of them share these common traits: They have the guts and determination to stick it out, no matter what. And their laments about their marriages aren’t because of anything serious. It’s the subtle nuances of living with one person in one house for a very long time that grates at the soul, that causes a simmering malaise. It’s the grind of the ordinary that drives people into thinking, “Is this all there is? I want more. I want adventure. I want change.”
Who wouldn’t want changes with the current statistics on lifespan? Women in their 80s and 90s are the fastest growing segment of the aging population which means that many of us wives could easily hit our 50th wedding anniversaries and beyond. That’s a hell of a long time to sustain one love affair, particularly when empty nest hits and it’s only you and the husband with no cushion of kids as a buffer.
There are three strategies that have worked the best with the women I interviewed. The happiest wives have a sense of purpose and passion in work and causes outside of the home. Wives who counted on a spouse for fulfillment and sustenance were often angry and lonely. And the happiest wives don’t spend a whole lot of time with their husbands. My chapter called Separate Summers is filled with women who take their own vacations, take their own summers, take charge of their own lives. Couples who allow each other to grow separately are the ones with the best chance of growing together and staying together.
Finally, the wives with the highest marital satisfaction have a tight circle of wild women friends with whom to drink, travel and vent about their husbands.
Yes, my work on this book has been quite surprising and enlightening. I now know that acceptance of mediocrity in a marriage relationship is more prevalent that you would imagine. I know that sometimes the only reason women stay with a spouse is because they have divorced friends who may have more sex than they do with new husbands but they also have cranky step-kids who hate them. Other women stay in lackluster marriages because they don’t want to give up their swanky lifestyles, and divorce is expensive, really expensive. We know from our friends who are pushed to the edge and do call it quits that the grass isn’t always greener, there are parched patches on both sides of the fence.
But most women told me they stay married simply because they like their marriages more than they dislike them, even if much of the time it’s 51 percent “like” to 49 percent “dislike.”
Iris Krasnow is a bestselling author and an assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University. Connect with her on: www.iriskrasnow.com