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Articles from March 2008

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 - www.nytimes.com/2008/02/26/science/26tier.html

March 21, 2008

Why Be Married? To Avoid a Stroke

The news from psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University yesterday, according to the Washington Post: Happily married people have lower blood pressure than unhappily married people or singles, even those with a supportive social network.

Better yet, blood pressure dips even lower at night in the happily married, reducing their risk of cardiovascular problems.

March 19, 2008

David and Michelle Paige Paterson: What We Can Learn from their Admissions

NY Governor David Paterson and his wife made some tough public admissions of infidelity as he starts his service as governor of the state where Eliot Spitzer just stepped down.

“I betrayed a commitment to my wife several years ago...both of us committed acts of infidelity.” It's an awful thing to confess to, and many cannot understand how a decent man or woman could be unfaithful or how a marriage survives such a violation.

I think Governor Paterson explains it pretty well: “The fact is for my own action, I was angry, I was jealous and I exercised poor judgment. One day I realized it and I just decided I would go to counseling.”

He's on the same page I was in my post on Eliot Spitzer:

We don't suddenly fail at the moment when we cheat on our spouses or hit them; we fail every time we choose to tolerate our own resentment, anger, or disappointment about our marriages, because this is when we create the conditions for monumentally bad judgment.

Resentment isn't the antithesis of love. In fact, we probably resent because we love. Paterson acknowledged this when he said, “I was in love with Michelle even when I knew the marriage was in grave danger.”

Eventually, though, resentment will snuff out love and leave us only with the commitment we made to the person, a tough spot for any man or woman of good character. Best not to go there, not to let resentment or anger simmer without coming back to love. Assume love and look for a different explanation, then a Third Alternative for getting what you both need, instead of aiming to get even for an unfair, hurtful action.

Some argue the high rates of infidelity in marriage--higher than the rate of divorce--argues against even aiming for monogamy. I see them instead as evidence we can and do learn from our mistakes and recognize the value of love and marriage in our lives.

Bravo to David and Michelle Paige Paterson for a good recovery from whatever resentment began their marriage problems and for revealing their past mistakes so we might see couples do recover from affairs and learn from them.

March 12, 2008

Eliot Spitzer: What Can We Learn from His Downfall?

Politicians can wield a great deal of public power, but it is often how they conduct their personal relationships that takes it all away in an instant.

People are human. They make really foolish mistakes, especially when it comes to feeding their very human desires for love, respect, intimacy, and sex, mistakes almost as shocking to them as to the rest of us.

The preventative medicine is not fear of consequences. Eliot Spitzer knew better than almost anyone the consequences, and he allegedly compounded his risk by engaging in felony crimes to cover his tracks to avoid those consequences. The real preventative medicine for these career- and family-crushing mistakes is a marriage we fully enjoy. And, except in extreme cases, such a marriage is available regardless of whom we married, as this blog tries to show.

We don't suddenly fail at the moment when we cheat on our spouses or hit them; we fail every time we choose to tolerate our own resentment, anger, or disappointment about our marriages, because this is when we create the conditions for monumentally bad judgment.

March 7, 2008

Marriage: What Should You Expect?

What's reasonable to expect from a husband? Or a wife? I had an interesting discussion recently with two single women. I told them I believe one of the keys to a great marriage is to expect only love.

Well, of course they both expect love. But only love? Shouldn't we expect fairness? If one cooks, the other cleans up? Unless there are kids at home to care for, both work? If she does the laundry, he mows the lawn -- before it's knee-deep?

Shouldn't we expect shared activities, shared hobbies, shared visits to the relatives, shared dinnertimes, a shared bedroom?

Shouldn't we expect date nights? Back rubs? Sex? Flowers? Jewelry? I love yous? Trust?

In my experience, the more expectations we can let go of, the more delightful marriage becomes. But they were skeptical. Is love enough?

I understood the question. After a failed relationship, it's very hard to imagine there's any point to marrying just for love.

But in my experience, love's the thing almost all of us crave. Even folks who enter arranged marriages enter them hoping to fall in love. These days, unlike the past, both men and women can put a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and money in the bank without a mate, even care for children on their own. But most keep looking for someone to love them.

Then they find someone and throw a heap of other expectations on the pile.

"I want him to love me and put his shoes and coat away."

"I want her to love me and go camping with me."

"I want him to love me and tell me so at least twice a day."

"How can she say she loves me when she doesn't think I earn enough?"

"Would someone who loves me leave me to clean up after him?"

And that's the heart of it. All of those expectations are really about assessing whether we're loved. The more we come up with, the less able we are to receive the love offered to us. It's not fair you should have fewer chores than you did living alone and love. It's a blessing. It's a blessing even if your spouse got more of this particular blessing than you did.

It's not right you should have a husband to join you for some of your family functions. It's a blessing. If he chooses to join you for all of them, it's more of a blessing.

It's not a given you'll get love and a partner for dinner. It's a blessing, a double delight.

You can buy yourself flowers or jewelry. Love is special. It must come from another person. It doesn't always come with flowers or jewelry, but it's a blessing with or without

The terrific thing about letting go of all the other expectations we got from watching our parents, our friends, or the movies is that we can then appreciate all these blessings. And, as almost always happens, when we appreciate blessings, lots more come our way.

My own second marriage isn't anything like I expected. I've had to remind myself a few times just how valuable and special love is, when I'm not getting something I always thought should come as a package deal with a husband. But when I remember to pay attention to the love, it comes in ways I never imagined. There's so much more fun in my life now, so much more playfulness. I'm encouraged to take risks to go after my dreams, and I know it's OK to try, because there's someone ready to catch me if I fall. I'm less afraid, because I'm married to someone so brave. And I'm learning new ways of approaching work from this man who treats even programming as a craft.

The more I welcome love the ways he shows it, the more love he shows. Instead of wasting any energy trying to change him to show me love and respect in the ways I expected them, I'm changing. It's like I'm a plant getting different nutrients, a different quality of light, and I'm growing in ways I never imagined.

It's not at all what I expected. It's so much better.

Expect love. Let the rest just happen.

The Author

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

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