Archive | Relationships

Friendship Etiquette At Midlife

dinner party

dinner partyI got an email from a friend a few weeks back. It read something like this:

Dear Delia: I wanted to let you know that I invited X and her husband over to dinner. I feel terribly as I realize that I did this without ever having you guys over first and I’ve known you longer than X. So I wanted to tell you myself in case you heard it from X. I realize that this may sound silly, but I just felt like I needed to tell you. [Husband] and I would love to have you guys over as well…”

I loved this note on so many levels. First, I loved my friend for being so honest and forthright about such a small – but (potentially) awkward – situation. Second, she even gave me (unsolicited) permission to go ahead and blog about it (suggesting that we really are quite compatible as friends.)

Finally, I loved the way that she put her finger on one of those intangible, and yet instantly recognizable, aspects of adulthood: the etiquette of friendship.

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50….

Image: Dinner Party 6 by Anoldent via Flickr

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways Sibling Relationships Affect Your Development

SiblingsI was watching a high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last month when I was suddenly overcome by a desire to leap out of my seat, jump on stage and start belting out “Any Dream Will Do” with the title character. 

And I suddenly thought: Who on this planet can possibly relate to this impulse to shed my middle aged composure and burst out in song?

And the answer was: my sister. She and I were raised on musical theater, have been to countless Broadway shows, and often communicate with one another via lyrics from our favorite show tunes. 

Sure enough, the next day – as soon as I told her (via email) where I’d been the night before – she responded with a choice lyric from Joseph…to which I replied in kind. 

We all know that sibling relationships are vitally important in shaping who we are and how we behave. Still, I find that I can’t read enough about the precise ways in which sibling dynamics (or the lack thereof) affect our development into adulthood.

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50:

Image: Siblings via Wikimedia Commons

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Improve A Long Term Relationship

two gannetsOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post goes to the heart of keeping a long-standing relationship going. If you’re in one – whether with a partner, a spouse or even a roommate – you know that over time, things can get a bit stale. You start having the same fights over and over. You start completing your partner’s sentences, in a way that breeds boredom rather than intimacy. You know – with agonizing specificity – exactly what the other person likes to eat for breakfast.

So it’s time to shake things up a bit. Change the routine. And also change the way you act towards the other person. You’ll be surprised how well it works. Here are five concrete suggestions for how to do this:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50….

Image: Northern Gannets by Al Wilson via Nature’s Pics Online 

Brangelina: Why We Rejoice In Other People’s Divorces

brangelina

brangelinaBack in what now seems a life time ago, before kids and mortgages and migraines set in, my husband and I were friendly with a couple we called, privately, “the beautiful people.”

They were, quite simply, gorgeous to look at. He was a tall, athletic and European and she was a lithe, exotic artiste of unknown ethnic origin. They were smart and successful and rich and beautiful and, seemingly…happy.

Until they weren’t.

One day they told us that they were separating and – just like that – the beautiful people were no longer. And with their split, the myth that you really could have it all – that you could be successful professionally while also throwing nice dinner parties having pitch perfect bodies *and* still be in love – disappeared.

While I liked them both, my first instinct was to feel smug.

This feeling resurfaced this week when I learned that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had split up after 12 years, six kids, two films and a joint production company (and a partridge in a pear tree…)

They, too, are beautiful people. And between their outrageous professional success, their large, blended family and the odd humanitarian ambassadorship for the UN thrown in, Brad and Angelina seemed to stretch the limits of what could be possible in coupledom. (Heck, Angelina is even a visiting professor at the London School of Economics this year…I mean, c’mon!, what *isn’t* that woman doing?)

It’s tempting, at first, to gloat at these failed marital projects. We can feel better about our own pathetically normal houses/children/relationships/fill in the blank. Or we write these couples off, saying (not unjustly), that it’s amazing how long it lasted in the first place…that it was only a matter of time until the whole thing imploded…and thank goodness that we ordinary mortals don’t have to co-star in films with Marion Cotillard and endure the temptations of the flesh that ensue…

That may all be true.

But I think we are lying if we don’t also admit that we’re all much more invested in other people’s marriages – and divorces – than we typically let on.

And that’s because all marriages – indeed, all long-term relationships – are inherently fragile. Even the strongest ones are rife with unresolved resentments, longings and deficits, and it is inherent in the marriage project itself to somehow learn to accept and endure those inherent blemishes. Indeed, some would say that  marriage is about learning to love your spouse very specifically, not despite – but because of  – his or her specific, individual flaws.

So when we see a famous marriage go bust – whether it’s Al Gore or Sandra Tsing Loh or Brangelina – we are reminded of the fragility of our own relationships. And that, quite simply, is terrifying. Their plight could, we know deep down, also be ours. But instead of owning that fear and feeling genuinely afraid, we mask that insecurity through sniggers and snarky comments.

If we’re going to be really honest with ourselves, we ought to acknowledge that when marriages split up – even, or perhaps especially, among the “beautiful people” – they are, in effect, breaking up for the rest of us.

That’s not something to gloat over. It’s something to thank them for. And be glad that it wasn’t us.

Image: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt via Public Domain Pictures.net

Getting Married? See ‘Amour’ First

If you’re already married, contemplating marriage or in a long-term, committed relationship and planning to remain there, I have one word for you during this Film Awards season: Amour.

Amour – nominated last week for a Best Picture Oscar – is a movie about an elderly, long-married couple in which the wife is dying. That’s not a spoiler; it’s the film’s premise. And it cuts right to the chase about what it’s like to grow old with someone.

Suffice it to say that if you thought On Golden Pond was depressing, fasten your seat belts. This is a refreshingly honest, unvarnished and difficult-to-watch film about love and aging.

There aren’t enough about those, if you ask me. Away From Her – a bittersweet 2006 meditation on a man losing his wife (played by an utterly ethereal Julie Christie) to Alzheimer’s Disease – certainly counts. As does – in my book at least – last year’s vastly under-appreciated Iron Lady, in which Meryl Streep depicts Margaret Thatcher in her twilight years not as ruthless and unstinting but as frightened, uncertain, and nostalgic for her dead husband.

In general, however, when we think about films that present us with the dark underbelly of marriage, we conjure up things like Judd Apatow’s new auto-biographic comedy, This is Forty. I haven’t seen that film yet, but I already know that when I do, I’ll be going primarily to share a laugh with my husband (and all of us who’ve grown up in the Age of Apatow) over what it’s like to be married and middle-aged.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog…

 

Image: Old Couple…in Amsterdam Tram by basheem via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Huma Abedin At Home

Was Michele Bachmann worried that Sarah Palin was stealing the GOP convention side-show? Bachmann wandered way off the reservation when she improbably accused Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin of trying to infiltrate the American government on behalf of the Muslim brotherhood.

Sen. John McCain and – oh, about half the country – have now leapt to Abedin’s defense.

But a tiny sliver of this publicity is Abedin’s own doing. ln a much-anticipated article that hits newsstands Friday, Abedin and her husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, invited People Magazine into their home to do a profile of their family life.

You remember Rep. Weiner. He’s the guy who sent money shots of himself in his tightie-whities to a selection of ladies who were not his wife, prematurely ending his congressional career last summer.

The article isn’t out yet but from the many leaked tidbits I’ve read so far, the one that really has me shaking my head is Abedin’s assertion that “We’re just a normal family.”

Huma, with all due respect, I beg to differ. You and your husband are many things but I’m afraid that  “normal” ain’t one of them.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: wednesday-metro by azipaybarah via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Samantha Cameron: Political Wife For 21st Century

In an election year in which much has been made about the star power of political wives, it’s worth pausing to contemplate an entirely different role model for this category: British Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, who’s traveling with her husband to Washington this week.

As David Cameron and President Obama come together to reaffirm the importance of the Special Relationship between the United States and Great Britain, Samantha Cameron will also make her official U.S. debut. But while there’s been a fair bit of buzz about her personal style, I’d be quite surprised if her contribution to this carefully orchestrated visit makes a huge splash on either side of the Atlantic.

It’s not that “Sam Cam” — as she’s known over here — isn’t seen as an asset by her husband’s handlers. During his election campaign two years ago, the prime minister referred to her as his “secret weapon.” She is often described as “elegant,” “down to earth” as well as “surprisingly normal,”   Samantha Cameron has helped remove a bit of the stuffy, Eton-to-Oxbridge air of privilege that has engulfed her husband at times. (The former art student sports a dolphin tattoo on her ankle.)

In this way, she’s not entirely unlike the political wives of the current GOP hopefuls, most notably Anne Romney, who have been praised – in the words of my colleague Patricia Murphy – for coming across as “trustworthy, relatable and aware that the 21st century started a while ago.”

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: David and Samantha backstage at Conference by conservativeparty

Tips For Adulthood: Five Smart Posts About Marriage

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Following the big splash around Jodi Kantor’s new book – The Obamas – where she provides an in-depth look into the First Family’s marriage, it seems like everyone has an opinion on Barack and Michelle’s relationship and what it has to say about the institution of marriage more broadly.

But apparently, not everyone’s on the marriage bandwagon.

According to a recent report from the Pew Research Institute, marriage is on the decline in the United States and elsewhere. Barely half of Americans over the age 18 are currently married, and the number of couples married in 2010 dropped five percent from 2009. This comes on the heels of a 20% drop in the overall number of married couples in the country since 1960.

These findings mirror those observed in the UK, where researchers found that only 48 percent of adults there were married.

So I thought it might be time – much as I did not so long ago with divorce – to pinpoint some smart posts out there being written about marriage:

1. All The Single Ladies – In addition to being the title of the runaway Beyoncé hit single, this is also the title of a provocative cover story in The Atlantic from November. In it, author Kate Bollick, traces the familiar evolution of marriage from an economic partnership (pre-20th century) to an idealized, romantic “coupledom”  in the 20th century. But she also points to a new trend – the rise of single, non-married women (the result, baldly stated, of an ever-shrinking pool of “marriageable” men.) Bollick makes an impassioned case for why this sociological trend may not actually be such a bad thing, and why it may suit women to seek out unconventional partnership arrangements that stray from the norm. As I watch friend after friend on the brink of separation and divorce, I’m having a hard time disagreeing with her, even as someone who tries very hard to stay married. Well worth a read, if you haven’t already.

2. Generosity is good for marriage – Or at least, so suggest the results of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, which recently studied the role of generosity in the marriages of 2,870 men and women. The survey found that men and women with the highest scores on the generosity scale were far more likely to report that they were “very happy” in their marriages. Apparently, even something as trivially small as making your partner coffee goes a long way towards keeping the flame alive. (For me it’s buttering his toast, as my husband would never dream of letting me near his coffee, but it’s the same idea.) And of course, that makes sense. Even when some of us may be inclined to give our partners the ‘death look’ when they fail to pick up after themselves (or in my case, profess not to remember how to turn on the dishwasher – yikes!), it’s important to remember that putting in that extra effort, even on something seemingly trivial, can make a difference.

3. Acceptance is also crucial. I remember when I was applying to my first set of jobs, straight out of graduate school, and one of my advisers sagely warned me: “All departments have their warts,”  which was his shorthand for “Nothing’s perfect.” He was referring to political science departments which might later employ me, but he may just as well have been speaking about future potential spouses. Elizabeth Weil has a great post on precisely this sort of acceptance in the most recent Modern Love column at The New York Times. Weil – for those who don’t remember – is the woman who went public on the cover of a New York Times Magazine a couple of years back about how she and her husband had undergone couples therapy to improve their marriage, even though nothing was really wrong. Now she’s back, explaining that what she learned from that experience is that the key to a successful long-term relationship is to accept that you will never entirely remove your partners warts (my term, not hers.) Yes, you’ll smooth some down, but they don’t go away. And for her, marriage is thus about learning to love your spouse very specifically, not despite – but because of  – his or her specific, individual flaws.

4. Nagging, however, is bad. There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal last week arguing that nagging is far more prevalent than adultery in modern marriages, and potentially at least as toxic. According to Howard Markman, a psychologist at The University of Denver, couples who became unhappy five years into their marriage had a roughly 20% increase in negative communication patterns consistent with nagging, and a 12% decrease in positive communication. Not surprisingly, nagging becomes particularly conducive to divorce when couples start fighting about the nagging itself. (Can’t imagine doing that. Ever.)

5. Silence can be golden. I was also quite taken with a post by Karin Kasdin on the New York Times Motherlode blog last summer about what it’s like when you grow old with someone and no longer have the multiple distractions at hand – especially with kids in tow – that force you to speak constantly to one another:  the day-to-day scheduling, the finances, the trip planning, etc. She remarked that one the surprising lessons of the empty-nest syndrome is that even while you might fear, as newlyweds, the day you no longer have something to say to one another, perhaps the best sign that your marriage is actually O.K. is when you can grow comfortable with the silence and realize that you won’t fall apart without the chatter.
Here’s to that.

 

Image: marriage by jcoterhals via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Secrets To A Happy Marriage

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood:

From time to time, I post about what makes for a happy, long-term marriage or partnership. In the past, I’ve written about the importance of sharing similar interests, having complementary skill sets and even how much you smiled in photographs when you were younger.

But lately, I’ve stumbled across some interesting new research on the topic which I thought I’d share.

Here are five things likely to improve the longevity of your marriage:

1. Thriftiness.  A recent study of 1,734 married couples revealed that couples who don’t value money very highly score 10 to 15 percent better on marriage stability and other measures of relationship quality than couples where one or both are materialistic. According to Jason Carroll, a professor at BYU, and the lead author of the study, materialistic couples exhibit “eroding communication, poor conflict resolution and low responsiveness to each other.”

2. Working Wives. Ironically enough, feminism has also been very good for marital health and stability. At least according to Stephanie Coontz, a scholar of history and family studies who has written extensively on marriage in the United States. In her book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, Coontz argues that the changes that Betty Friedan and other feminists of her time agitated for have actually been good for marriage. The divorce rate has fallen and actually tends “to be lowest in states where more than 70 percent of married women work outside the home,” Coontz reports. What’s more, “The specialization into separate gender roles that supposedly stabilized marriages in the 1950s and 1960s, actually raises the risk of divorce today.” Working outside the home, says Coontz, is also good for a couple’s sex life. The benefits to marriage from working wives is also supported by a recent study from the Pew Research Center. This study also showed that shifts within marriages — specifically, men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have contributed to lower divorce rates and happier unions. One couple found that just shifting their traditional gender roles each summer did a lot to strengthen their marriage.

3. Spending Time Apart. More counter-intuitive wisdom. I think that some couples make the mistake of thinking that the true sign of a happy couple is wanting to do every last thing together. Wrong. Yes, it’s important to have a lot of over-lapping interests. But, as I’ve noted before, you also need to keep a private space – a room of one’s own, as it were. This is the main message of Iris Krasnow’s new book, The Secret Lives of Wives, which is based on interviews with more than 200 women from different educational, social, and economic brackets, all of whom are in long-term marriages (15-plus years). In addition to sex (see below), many pointed to the importance of prolonged separations from their spouses. as crucial to making these partnerships last. The reasoning? Physical distance makes women more emotionally and physically self-reliant and also (surprisingly, perhaps) enhances communication between partners.

4. Sex. Just make that sure you don’t spend *too* much time apart. According to a recent article on The Huffington Post, there are more than 17,000 people who identify with “I Live In a Sexless Marriage” on the Experience Project. But if recent surveys are correct, the author speculates that this number doesn’t even come close to the actual figure, which she estimates as closer to 20 million married Americans. Moreover, couples who are dissatisfied with their sex life are more likely to consider divorce and/or term their marriage “unhappy.” D.A. Wolf certainly hit a nerve when she posted on the importance of sex within a long-term relationship on the Huffington Post’s Divorce vertical last weekend. Have a gander at the comments section. Wowza.

5. Small, recognizable actions matter a great deal. I was absolutely fascinated by this interview in Slate with New York Times health blogger Tara Parker-Pope about her book For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage. In it, Parker-Pope reveals that a lot of research shows that the main determinants of happy, sustained marriages are actually small, tangible things like having have at least five small positive interactions (touching, smiling, paying a compliment) for every negative one (sneering, eye rolling, withdrawal)…the presence/absence of sleep problems…how you treat your partner during the first three minutes of a fight…and my own personal favorite: how you recount your own “How We Met” narrative. Phew. At least I have that one covered.

 

Image: With this ring…by Tones Photos via Flicker under a Creative Commons license

Should Marriage Have A “Sell By” Date?

In the months leading up to our wedding some 13 years ago, my husband and I had a series of meetings with the priest and the rabbi who were to preside jointly over our ceremony. These weren’t exactly pre-cana classes – more like a series of “getting-to-know” you sessions – but they were thought-provoking all the same.

We got a lot of good advice from our respective officiants. The Rabbi leaned in and told us that the secret to a good wedding wasn’t the food, but the music. He then proceeded to recommend a band from the South Side of Chicago called The Gentlemen of Leisure which he assured us would rock the house. The priest, for his part, counseled us that we should never go to go to bed angry.

Both kernels of wisdom turned out to be true. But something else the priest said has also stuck with me through the years: “In my opinion, it’s far too easy to get married in this country and far too difficult to get divorced.”

That comment came back to me last week when I read that the major Left wing political party in Mexico has proposed a change to the civil code that would issue temporary marriage licenses. The minimum marriage contract would be for two years and could be renewed if the couple stayed happy. The contracts would also include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.

Having lived in Mexico for a bit of time, I’m fairly certain that this bill won’t pass muster in this heavily Catholic country. But it’s certainly an idea worth taking on board, in Mexico and elsewhere.

I consider myself to be a happily married person. But I also know that I’m a minority. Many of my close friends and family members have split from their partners, some bitterly so. And many of the couples I know who have stayed together clearly regret that decision.

As I’ve stated before, I’m not pro-divorce. But the statistics speak for themselves. While divorce rates have been dropping over the past 20 years in the U.S., it’s still the case that for the average couple marrying for the first time, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation remains between 40 and 50 percent. These days, researchers speak of a “three year  glitch” (as opposed to the “seven year itch”) in estimating the average  time before a couple begins to grow sick of one another.

And still – curiously, almost blindly – we continue to idealize marriage.

To be sure, some interesting alternatives to marriage are surfacing on the horizon. Co-habitation has doubled in the U.S. in the last 15 years among 30-44 year olds. In Canada, the new buzzword is LATS, which refers to people who live apart but remain in long-term, committed relationships. According to the 2001 census, one in twelve Canadians falls into this category.

Alongside these innovations – and for the old-fashioned amongst us – we could also  make marriage – like so many other contracts we enter into – fixed-term and renewable. In today’s world, that seems not only practical, but desirable.

Any takers?

Please respond with “I do.”

 

Image: Ring Shot by Corey Ann via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.