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Articles from August 2009

August 13, 2009

How Compatible Do Couples Need to Be?

When you're upset about any other part of life with your husband, wife, or life partner, it's likely you will start noticing your differences, too. How compatible do you need to be to keep the relationship going?

Compatibility has two sides: propriety and enthusiasms. Marry someone whose ideas of what's proper and what's not differ wildly from yours and you'll probably end up divorced. But few people leaving a pedophile or suicide cult leader would describe the reason as incompatibility.

Most who use the term refer to different enthusiams. One likes golf and the other wants to go sailing. One enjoys eating out, the other eating home-cooked meals. One watches TV and the other is always reading. One wants to raise kids and the other does not.

On this last item: if you already have kids, any differences over how to raise them have nothing at all to do with your relationship with each other. Stay married or get divorced and you will still need to deal with your different ideas about what's important for them. It's about your relationship with your kids now, and you can be sure they want you to really, really make an effort to like their other parent.

So let's get back to those differing enthusiams. How many do you need to share? None. There is almost always a third alternative to any two you choose to compare.

Here's how you find that third alternative, which I define as an option that each of you likes at least as much as you like the option your mate rejects.

Question 1: If you did the thing you enjoy doing and your mate doesn't, did it alone or with friends, would there still be enough time in your week to spend time together delighted with each other? Yes? Then stop trying to drag your spouse along.

Question 2: Is there any aspect of what your mate enjoys that relates to something you truly enjoy? Can you watch sci fi to appreciate the editor's or sound effects person's talents, instead of the screenwriter's? Can you use your time on the dance floor, even though you don't much enjoy dancing, to strengthen your softball or skiing muscles or to get ideas for characters to include in your novel? Enthusiasm for the dreaded activity may actually sneak up on you if you manage to have a good time while engaging in it. It happened to me with country music.

Question 3: What are some of the themes in your enthusiasms? Do you tend to enjoy things that involve a risk or thrill? Things that get you moving? Things that are intensely beautiful? Things that let you be generous or kind to others? Things with order or repetition? With your mate, brainstorm other options that share these qualities. You might find some new ones you will both enjoy together.

Question 4: If you have enough income or assets or skills that neither of you would need a sugar daddy or a room in your parents' home to survive a divorce, what would you do differently on your own? Be honest. Can't you do them right now, with this person who loves you? Can't you have separate homes or at least separate rooms in the house? Can't one of you travel and the other stay home? Can't one of you cook for your friends and family without requiring the other to play host or hostess or clean the house? Sometimes our image of what married folks do gets in the way of picturing the great life we could be living as a couple.

Let me know what you two have done to become more compatible. Or ask us all to help you find your own third alternative.

August 8, 2009

I Don't Love You Anymore

"I don't love you anymore." Those are really tough words to hear. Laura A. Munson's response to them is must-read stuff for anyone whose once-great marriage has hit a rocky patch in the road.

Munson's article in the NY Times is a great read. While she came to it down a different path, what she did is assume love. She asked herself why her husband would say those words if he still loved her. It took a lot of the horrible sting out of the words and showed her what she needed to do next.

It saved their marriage.

August 6, 2009

Buggy Marriage?

Funniest marriage tip of the month award goes to Slashdot user dotancohen. It comes in reply to a self-reported gaming/Linux geek preparing to marry his literary geek girlfriend. They asked for some more helpful advice than the stuff written for "an alpha-male jock and a submissive cheerleader-style wife."

So dotancohen offers a geekier approach to a happy marriage:

"Set up a home bugzilla server. Every complaint she has she can log into bugzilla, from household repairs to you forgetting the anniversary."

Thanks to my wonderful and always funny husband Ed for sharing this.

August 4, 2009

Making a List and Thinking about Divorce

I heard today from yet another woman who found herself with a long list of unmet needs, divorced, and then found herself in the same position all over again after a few years with her next partner.

It would be very easy in this position to conclude men are to blame, and they're all alike. Some of the others I've known who reached this point decided after two rounds of this to live alone and keep from getting attached to any of the men they dated.

Lots of these women are following the same dumb path I was on unlike my husband's sudden death woke me up. They commit themselves to a man who meets a lot of their needs -- their current needs. Over time, they notice other needs go unmet. They ask (or nag) their man to meet these, too. He doesn't. He can't. She thinks he can, but his talents, his strengths, his motivations lie elsewhere, and he doesn't feel loving or loved doing these things for her.

So, she leaves. And the next guy she hooks up with is the one who can meet the items on her needs list that she felt so deprived of in the earlier relationship. She feels relief, until she starts noticing all those others on the list, including a lot her first husband or partner had been meeting. And this is where she concludes commitment to a single partner is worthless.

Commitment is not at all worthless. It's a source of some of the best feelings in life. Giving love makes us feel great about ourselves. Being cared for through a grave illness or a job layoff feels terrific. Getting our needs met feels great, if we focus on the ones getting met, instead of the others. And treating your children's other parent as the center of your universe puts you at the center of theirs.

So, what to do with that list of unmet needs? Start meeting them. And enlist your partner in brainstorming strategies for meeting them yourself, instead of demanding he meet them. Want more money? Start a business or take a job or ask for a raise instead of advising him to do any of these on your behalf. Living in his home and feeling like it's not really yours? Start saving up a down payment, because you'll need a place that's worth both the financial value of the current one and its sentimental value to his.

Want to travel and he won't go? Join (or start) a travel club. Want to ski and he hates the cold? Find some skiing buddies and hit the slopes. Don't want to get stuck with washing the dishes any longer? Switch to paper plates. Your anger and resentment over what he won't do is very likely leading him to want to do less for you, not more.

What you need has nothing to do with your marriage. Those needs go with you if you leave. And you could shop from now until your 64th birthday and never find a human being who could and would meet every one of them for you. So, unless he adds nothing to your life at all, pick one of those needs and get started taking it off your resentment list. You'll find your spouse looks a whole lot better without that list between you.

The Author

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

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