Tag Archives: marriage

The Secret Language of Long Term Marriages

marriage

marriageI once read an article about the underlying codes governing long-term relationships that really struck a chord.

It was an essay by writer Joan Wickersham about the ways in which, over time, couples develop their own private lexicons with which to communicate with one another.

Wickersham talks about this dynamic within the context of marriage, but her point applies to any long-term partnership. What’s crucial is that you’re together long enough to have a shared experience which then evolves into a catch phrase that only the two of you can understand.

By way of example, she recounts the story of how – right after she married her husband – Wickersham got a job in a bank which she hated. Even though her husband had a job that he liked, he convinced her to quit her job (and he his) so that they could move somewhere else and both be happy. From there on out, “It’s like the bank” became their stock way to describe any situation that was especially bleak and dismal. Wickersham has another great story about the phrase “We’re just not serrated knife people” and what it came to mean within the context of their marriage.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Marriage by Jo Christian Oterhals via Flickr

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 

The Private Language Of Marriage

I read an article in the International Herald Tribune last Friday that really struck a chord. It was an essay by writer Joan Wickersham about the ways in which longtime couples develop their own private lexicons with which to communicate with one another.

She talks about this dynamic within the rubric of marriage, but her point applies to any long-term partnership. What’s crucial is that you’re together long enough to have a shared experience that which then evolves into a catch phrase that only the two of you can understand.

By way of example, Wickersham recounts the story of how – right after she married her husband – she got a job in a bank which she hated. Even though her husband had a job that he liked, he convinced her to quit her job (and he his) so that they could move somewhere else and both be happy. From there on out, “It’s like the bank” became their stock way to describe any situation that was especially bleak and dismal. Wickersham has another great story about the phrase “We’re just not serrated knife people” and what it came to mean within the context of their marriage.

My husband and I have been together for nearly 17 years and I know exactly what she means. I’m one of those people who’s obsessed with schedules. Once – on a trip to visit my husband’s parents in Atlanta – I perseverated for hours over whether, upon landing at Hartsfield Airport, we ought to go directly to his parents’ home or stop by and visit a friend first and risk being late. To this day, whenever I begin obsessing about our travel schedule, my husband will look at me and say: “Should we just go home or should we stop at Douglas Jackson’s?” (Not his real name.) It’s code for: Are you really going to go on about this all night?

Similarly, we’ve also incorporated a phrase to describe that feeling you get when you anticipate that someone is going to disagree with you. My husband and I met in graduate school and one of our early bonding experiences was over our feelings about a mutual acquaintance (we’ll call him Simon Collins.) Simon Collins was the kind of person who – no matter what you said – instinctively responded with something negative. I haven’t seen or talked to Simon in years. Nor has my husband. But whenever one of us raises a topic that might possibly prompt criticism, we preface it by saying “No Simon Collins!”  to disarm the other person from any knee-jerk disapproval.

Neither of these phrases would mean anything to anyone but the two of us. And that’s the point.

I’ve written before about some of the things that make for a happy marriage/partnership: having shared interests; establishing a division of labor. But Wickersham’s column reminded me of one more crucial ingredient – feeling like a team. There are lots of ways to do this, but having a private language – a “civilization of two” as she puts it – is one of the principle ways that you can reinforce that bond.

How about you? What strange and impenetrable shorthands have you and your partner devised to communicate with one another?

I’d love to hear them…

Image: portrait of a happy couple – day 358 or Project 365 by purplemattfish via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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The Gores' Break-Up: Why I'm Not Sad

I think it’s best if I just come out and say this up front: I’m not really sad that Al and Tipper Gore split up.

Yes, I know. I’m an outlier. Nearly everyone I know — and certainly everyone I’m reading — is outright depressed by this separation.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a shame. And it’s a shame because — as my colleague Melinda Henneberger wrote recently — they seemed like a couple who were genuinely in love. Between the 40 years of marriage and the four beautiful kids and the whole high school sweetheart thing and, yes — the kisses — they really looked like they were in it for the long haul.

But somehow, I was much sadder when Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins split up. I was also sadder when — gulp — writer and public radio commentator Sandra Tsing Loh split with her man (and then went on an anti-marriage crusade.)

Why is this?

Read the rest of the article on www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: But It’s Over Now by Electronic Eye via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Why Women Shouldn't Settle For Unhappy Marriages

I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage lately. Or, more precisely: unhappy marriages. And I’m beginning to wonder if it isn’t time for more women to – as we say in politics – “throw the bums out.”

I got to thinking about this after my colleague, Melinda Henneberger, wrote a post last weekend about one of those marriages about which we know just a bit too much: Silda and Elliot Spitzer‘s. You may recall Spitzer as the former Governor of New York who resigned from his job when it was revealed that he’d been patronizing a prostitution service. And you will certainly recall his wife, Silda, who stood next to him as he resigned in what has to go down in history as one of the most painful “stand by your man” performances of all time.

What Melinda zeroes in on is a quote attributed to Silda Spitzer in Peter Elkind’s new book, Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer. Referring to her husband’s penchant for hookers, Mrs. Spitzer says: “The wife is supposed to take care of the sex. This is my failing. I wasn’t adequate.”

Take a moment to cringe. Please.

And when you’re done, do some reflection. Because we all know plenty of Sildas, don’t we ladies? Strong, confident, loving female friends who dissolve into a pool of self-doubt and self-loathing when their husbands stray or simply fail to live up to their expectations.

Read the rest of this article here

Image: Divorce by jcoterhals via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you to some worthwhile reading around the blogosphere:

1. As someone who blogs about adulthood, I really liked Jacob Weisberg’s analysis in Slate of what’s wrong with American politics right now. (Answer: The voters haven’t grown up.)

2. I absolutely adored Kate Harding’s paean to the LRB personals ads in Salon. Her own two ads are laugh-out-loud funny. And while I’m at it, allow me to plug my good friend Paul Reizin’s memoir of how he met his wife through a personals ad: Date Expectations: One Man’s Voyage Through The Lonely Hearts.

3. With all the gloomy talk of marriage lately (and the real-life implosion of several high profile marriages…I mention no names!), it was heartening to read this account of what makes for a successful long-term marriage in The Wall Street Journal. You gotta love an article that includes the Carters (as in Jimmy and Rosalyn) and the  Osbournes (as in Sharon and Ozzy) under one tent.

4. Here’s a thoughtful piece by author Dani Shapiro in The Los Angeles Times about how publishing has overtaken writing as a goal for writers these days.

5. Finally, I was delighted to discover (via Practicing Writing) this new (to me) blog about the adventures of an expatriate writer called Writer Abroad. For obvious reasons, I was particularly taken with this post on how one can become addicted to living abroad.

Oh yes. And please do follow me on Twitter!

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons We All Need A Wife

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

You know when you read something and it really doesn’t resonate right at the moment. But then – I don’t know – an hour later…maybe a day…maybe even a week later you think: “Ah yes! Precisely!”

I had one of those experiences the other day after reading Sandra Tsing Loh’s hilarious and spot-on reaction in the New York Times to the recent Pew Study about marriage, education and income.

Read about it here on PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Sasspony’s Pretty Bra by Hysterical Bertha via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Up In The Air Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

My husband and I went to see Up In The Air last weekend, which has just been released in the U.K. We really liked it (even if one of us didn’t think Vera Farmiga was all that hot…ahem.) And yet, when we came home and talked about the film with our 17 year-old sitter, I didn’t advise her to go see it. In fact, I’m not sure I’d advise anyone under the age of 30 to see this movie.

Why is this, you ask? It’s not the sex (of which there’s none, and only one shot of nudity) or the violence (ditto). It’s just that for my mind, this is a really grown-up movie that can’t be well appreciated by someone who’s not…well…middle-aged.

So despite the PG-15 rating, here are five reasons why I think this is a movie for grown-ups (Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t yet seen the movie yet, this post contains some revealing information!):

1. It’s about the economy. As my former colleague Michelle Brafman notes, this is a movie where the recession plays a starring role. It’s a movie about downsizing, lay-offs and the way in which technological advances affect office life. I’m not saying that someone in their 20s can’t appreciate those things, but they won’t have quite the bite that they do for people who’ve lived through a few economic booms and busts. Evidence in support of this theory: the most moving parts of the film are all shots of real-life middle-aged or older people whose entire lives have been turned upside down by getting fired.

2. It’s about feminism. This is also a movie about feminism – as I define it – by which I mean women making independent – and sometimes shocking – choices about their lives. In this case, that amounts to having an affair (not so shocking) and not wanting to ditch everything for your apparent soul-mate, even if he’s George Clooney (a bit more  shocking). There’s a point in the film where the 20-something, tightly wound, overly professional and overly idealistic colleague of the Clooney character thanks Farmiga’s character for “all her generation has done for feminism.” We’re meant to laugh, because there’s only about 10 years between them. But later on in the film – when Farmiga tells Clooney that she’s a grown-up and that he should call her when he’s ready to play with the big kids (i.e. to accept a sexual friendship with no strings attached) –  we understand that the last laugh’s on us. This lady *is* liberated.

3. It’s about commitment. As many people have already observed, this is also a film about loyalty and commitment. In my own view – and as I’ve written in this space many times before – it’s incredibly hard to stay committed to the same person over the long haul. And that’s just not something young people worry about. They’re off experimenting and having fun and aren’t terribly bothered by what’s coming next or how long anything lasts. And that’s just as it should be.

4. The romantic leads are middle-aged. At one point in the movie, the script (foolishly, IMHO) suggests that Farmiga’s character is 34. She looks more like 38 or 40 but whatever. The point is that while she’s no Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated – (and despite what my husband thinks, Vera Farmiga *is* hot) – nor is she the young, naïve 23 year-old who also co-stars in this film. At one point, I thought they’d write the ending so that Clooney ends up with the younger woman. Thank goodness they didn’t. The whole point of this film is that it’s about what it’s like to fall in love – or “in like” as the case may be – when you’ve already been around the block a few times.

5. It doesn’t have a happy ending. I’ll fess up to having a preference for dark movies and sad endings. This film has neither. But – other than for the 23 year old – nor do things end on a particularly tidy note. Which is – dare I say it – a tad more realistic. And also comforting for those of us who’ve also been around the block.

*****

For those who are interested, please do have a look at my post in PoliticsDaily.com yesterday on whether universities breed terror.

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Why The Whole "Bad Wife/Bad Mother" Thing Is Bad For Feminism

Two articles out this week are creating quite a storm of comments among lady bloggers. The first is an article by Sandra Tsing Loh in The Atlantic Monthly talking about why – in addition to being a bad wife – she’s now also a bad mother. The second is an article by Elizabeth Weil in The New York Times about her year-long experiment in trying to see if she could improve her not-so-bad marriage and the painful lessons learned along the way.

Yesterday, a bunch of us over on the Woman Up page of PoliticsDaily.com weighed in on these two treatises about contemporary parenthood/marriage. Here’s how mine begins:

*****

Well, ladies, I must say I’ve been having a jolly old time here in London reading your takes on the Loh and Weil articles. On a day when my combined maternal/spousal duties left me thoroughly winded and already jonesing for that third espresso before 9 a.m., I take comfort in the fact that:

a. Unlike Weil, I actually like French kissing and
b. Unlike Loh, I’m not trying to raise my children in a car.
But before I tell you what I found worrisome in both of these articles, let me tell you what I liked.
Read the rest at PoliticsDaily.com
Image: Wife and Mother by Michael Batfish via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Stay Monogamous

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. This week’s topic is Five Ways To Stay Monogamous.

I think we all know that this hasn’t exactly been the summer of matrimonial bliss. From Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to author/radio personality Sandra Tsing Loh to our about-to-possibly-be-impeached Senator Mark Sanford, marriage has taken a real kick to the groin. In all of these cases, infidelity was the alleged culprit.

Not everyone’s bothered by infidelity, of course. Newsweek recently ran a story about poly-amorous couples and how people make it work when there’s more than one partner involved.

And some people are more bothered by it than they arguably should be. In this month’s in Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan rants against the cultural trends leading to the likes of John Edwards’ mistress Rielle Hunter. (See also Amy Benfer’s deliciously scathing review in Salon.)

But assuming you count among those who are interested in sticking it out with one person, here are some tips for keeping it real – as opposed to Rielle (sorry, couldn’t resist):

1. Acknowledge That Monogamy is Totally Unnatural. Face it, it is. Which is probably why so many people have affairs. Polls show that although 90% of married people disapprove of extramarital relationships, 15% of wives and 25% of husbands have experienced extramarital intercourse. This doesn’t mean monogamy isn’t noble, enviable, worthwhile, efficient, healthy, and any other adjectival “good” you wish to throw at it. But it is not a natural state of affairs. So begin by acknowledging that with your partner and you’ll be way ahead of the game.

2. Choose a Partner With Whom You Share Many Interests. In my humble opinion, one of the main reasons people wander is that they don’t have enough in common with their partners/spouses to begin with. While you don’t need to have completely overlapping interests (see below), with so many things clamoring for your attention – work, children, aging parents – you do need to enjoy doing the same things in your free time.

3. Keep a Private Space. At the same time, don’t suffocate one another. It’s healthy to have your own space and to enjoy the freedom to pursue interests that your partner doesn’t share. My husband likes watching concert videos. He also enjoys eating sushi. I like pop-tarts and going to musical theatre (though not at the same time). We don’t try to do those things together. Thank God.

4. Develop an Adult Crush. This is perhaps the best recipe for staying faithful. Just as you had crushes in junior high, it’s OK to have them in adulthood as well. It’s a safe way to feel like you’re still alive outside of your main relationship. I used to have a crush on my son’s first pediatrician. These days, it’s a staffer at one of the local book stores. I only see him once every other month or so, but there’s always a small frisson when we exchange pleasantries (most recently, over his hatred – and my love – for The Sound Of Music.) And because I only see him every so often, and don’t even know his name, it’s no big deal. Plus, my husband knows all about him.

5. Avoid Situations That Allow for Infidelity. If you really don’t want to have an affair, don’t put yourself in a situation that allows one to occur. I have a good friend who developed a crush on a bartender. She found (per #4) that she was frequenting his bar more and more on her own to chat with him. Then one day she actually brought her laptop to the bar and started working there. And at that point she realized “What am I doing? I’m working in a bar!” She fled the scene never to return. Good for her.

Image: Rings/Yüzük by Caucus via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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