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Marriage Doesn't Work Anymore?

The challenges identified by divorced relationship columnist Anthony D'Ambrosio in The Asbury Park Press and reprinted in USA Today this week are really not very different from the challenges earlier generations have faced.

Learn to deal with them, and you can enjoy being married, even now.

Challenge #1: When we're bombarded with "half-naked" photos online and compare our spouse or ourselves to them, it's difficult to have a good sex life with the person you married.

When they were the new thing, pinup girls, Marilyn Monroe, Playboy bunnies, Chippendale dancers, rock 'n roll bands, Madonna, supermodels, and Fabio were just as ego-deflating and libido-crushing for those who paid more attention to these images than to the great number of overweight, short, gravel-voiced, and nerdy people having great sex lives with their spouses. On average, married people have always had more sex than singles do.

Solution: More real intimacy, the sort where you allow yourself to be vulnerable so you can be accepted for who you really are. Being accepted is a total turn-on and the only reason you care how your body compares to the ones in these photos. If you do not let yourself see the beautiful and erogenous aspects of your mate's body, face, and soul, you miss out on intimacy.

Challenge #2: We have too much college debt and too little income to buy a home, and it drives us apart. "Forget going to dinner, you have to pay the mortgage....Vacations? Not happening."

Uh huh. It's true. You're not going to be wealthy or even well-off when you start out. You might not live in half a bungalow like my parents did or in half a trailer home like a relative my age did, but that's only because one or both of you got college degrees, along with many years of loan payments unless you're in that small fraction who go to college on someone else's money.

Solution: Create traditions to mark special occasions and to take a break from your normal work. Couples with their own traditions actually last longer. You start by looking for Third Alternatives, and when you find one that suits you both, you savor it and repeat it and you create a tradition. If money becomes a point of contention, you might also check out http://www.moneyhabitudes.com.

Challenge #3: We have only the illusion of connection because 95% of our personal conversations take place through technology.

And in the past, married couples had only the illusion of connection if they worked such long hours at the office or in the mine or on a tractor that they came home only to sleep. Telecommuting? Home-based businesses that actually made money? Opportunities to connect that only became possible with technology. In the past, couples decried their lack of connection when one opened the newspaper in front of the other at the breakfast table.

Solution: Find yourself an app that reminds you to write your spouse a love note every night for the next 40 years. Or one that reminds you to take your spouse's hand and go out to look at the stars or take a walk in the park. A healthy marriage needs a ratio of at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction with your husband or wife. While you're tracking your steps or your calories on your smart watch, track that. And as the number of household, car maintenance, and parenting duties mounts, remember that the communications that count are the ones where you celebrate your spouse's wins and the ones where you share a smile, a belly laugh, an "oooooh ahhhhhhh," a drawn breath, or deep joy.

Challenge #4: Social media makes us all celebrities, and we put feeling loved in second place behind getting attention.

Social media may be the latest medium, but the problem is ages old. When I was growing up, it was called "keeping up with the Joneses" -- projecting a false image or buying what we don't need. Now that we can do it with a cell phone and some free photo editing software, at least it need not add to those financial challenges.

Solution: Choose your Joneses carefully. Share with people who will cheer a happy marriage, respect for each other, and joint effort toward your goals, and avoid those who play the "Tell Me My Spouse is Awful" game. And Expect Love, not any particular signs of it. Don't allow social media or anything else leave you expecting what others have instead of all that your spouse offers.

Challenge #5: Thanks to social media, we keep nothing private and step outside those shared special moments with our spouses to post a photo or text about it to a bunch of not-so-important friends and acquaintances.

Gossip has always been with us and has always included our wives and husbands. We've always invited outsiders into our relationships, telling our "how dare he" or "how dumb was that" stories to seatmates on a plane and those waiting on line at a store. And since the invention of photography, we've stepped outside the moment to capture it for others. Nothing new, but still harmful to a marriage.

Solution: Boundaries matter. When you share the negatives in your relationship, others care nothing for your relationship and usually know nothing of its happier times. They want your approval, so they agree with your initial version of what happened, instead of inviting you to Assume Love or encouraging you to let of expectations that make you resent your spouse. And if you forget this unhappy moment during the good ones that follow, these people will likely remind you the next time you complain. Share the positives. Those are what you need to be reminded of.

And remember the newly quantified importance of savoring good moments and being present in "micro-moments of shared positivity." When you're tempted to record the moment with a photo or a tweet, first savor it with your mate. Then take the photo that will let you savor it again with your wife or husband and personally savor the "micro-moment of shared positivity" with your beloved spouse as you share your photos with friends.

Hats off to you for being the sort of person who seeks to understand how to deal with the marriage stressors Anthony D'Ambrosio has once again noted. None of them means we can't enjoy being married.

Comments

Patty, brilliant advice as always! You always manage to come up with sensible, doable solutions to seemingly baffling problems.

Regarding #2, I would add this. If you don't already have a lot of debt, don't take any on.

Your wedding should be the wedding you can afford, not the one that will leave you crushed by credit card debt for the next 5 or 10 years.

Instead of buying a new car every two or three years and always having car payments, drive your car until it gets really old and actually needs to be replaced. In the meantime, save your money so you can pay cash for the next car.

And it is possible to go to college without incurring student loans or having someone else pay the bill. It may take a little longer, or you may have to go to the school that isn't your first choice. But that is much better than a lifetime of debt.

I know these suggestions work, because I've done them (and others). As a result, money has never been a source of tension or conflict in our marriage.

Thanks, Rosemary. Great additions!

Very thoughtful response, Patty. Well done!

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

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