How You Talk To Your Partner Matters

Halfway through the meal, Richard stopped. “I was writing down everything you said,” Richard confessed. “It was a homework assignment for school.” My first reaction was to PANIC.

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And How Are You Crazy?

Helen Fisher says that couples want to know everything about a potential life partner before they tie the knot. But when I first met my husband, I didn’t care if a closet door was left open. People change. And maybe that’s the point.

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Traveling With Friends

BLOG-CAVESWe play the Newlywed Game even though we are the opposite.We are four couples– all married close to three decades.

We travel Italy on a boat. Close quarters.

From the moment we step onboard, until the moment we get off eight days later, we are together—morning, noon and night.

We take turns, three years in a row, getting the Master Bedroom. This year was my turn.

For a week straight, we don’t wear shoes. Boat rules.

We dance on deck to Marvin Gaye. We laugh at shrewd one-liners.

Everything we eat is delicious: arugula, pasta pomodoro, figs. All different than in the United States.

One bright morning, Italian men in row boats paddle us inside the Blue Grotto singing, “Volare oh ohhhh, Cantaree, oh oh ohhh.” The light through the cave, glorious. We swim– the sea electric blue.

We know each other: The Control Freak, The Picky Eater, The Electronic Genius, The Bloody Mary Lover.

We share everything. We negotiate and compromise. For this week, we are married to each other.

Late one night, we journey from Ponza to Sardinia, a 16 hour, overnight, expedition.

We sit at the bow and stare at the stars looking for: Orion’s Belt, The Milky Way, The Big Dipper.

I am uneasy because we are alone in the middle of the sea, no land in sight. I think about Columbus, the bravery. No electricity, no radar, no knowledge of what lay ahead.

The night wind blows, the sea waves break against the boat.

Around us, darkness—the only light from the stars above— and the Shabbat candles, four sets, burning bright in the main cabin.

Let's Talk About Sex

BLOG-Let's Talk About ItI was never one to talk about my sex life. I thought discussing sex was distasteful. Where did I get that notion?

According to the New York Times article, Let’s Talk About Your Sex, I’m not alone. Even couples therapists don’t talk about sex.

Or at least, they didn’t until recently. And shockingly, couples therapists aren’t required to have any training in sex.

But there are provocative voices emerging in the field of couples therapy and the questions these therapists are asking and the ideas they are probing are gaining my attention.

A few months back, in a blog post titled, Your Brain and Love, I recommended Stan Tatkin’s book, Wired for Love. The premise of the book is that if you understand your partner's brain and attachment style, you can defuse conflict and build a secure relationship.

I am now reading Hold Me Tight, by Sue Johnson. She is the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy and believes we are emotionally attached to and dependent on our partners in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing and protection.

Both books emphasize safety, loyalty and attachment as the foundations for intimacy.

But the New York Times article also mentions therapist, Ester Perel, who I wrote about in a blog post called, Desire and Marriage: A Pardox? She believes that the current conversation around intimacy and sex are limiting, that while an affair can be an act of betrayal it can also be about expansion and growth.

Dr. Nelson, the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity, is also noted.

Both Ester Perel and Dr. Nelson believe that a marriage is not over after an affair. They are broadening the conversation, not speaking in absolutes, asking important questions. They are curious, studying.

In regards to an affair, Ester Perel speaks about being an investigator as opposed to a detective. A detective wants to know where and when and with who. An investigator wants to get to the meaning of the affair.

The New York Times article attempts to position Sue Johnson against Perel and Nelson and I’m wondering why we feel the need to turn their ideas into opposing ones, a battle of it’s either this or that.

Why can’t we look at their ideas as this and that?

All of the therapists mentioned above are adding to the conversation about what it means to partner with someone you love. They are changing the dialogue, challenging old rules and supporting new ways of being in relationship.  Some of their beliefs (like how an affair can draw a couple out of deadness or that your couple bubble comes first, even before your own children) can feel frightening or downright outrageous.

But they are talking, stretching our beliefs, and I admire that.

Not too long ago sex wasn’t taught in school. People feared that talking about sexuality would encourage kids to have sex prematurely. But some were having sex anyway so why not educate them, give them information that could prevent them from contracting a disease or getting pregnant.

Dr. Nelson trains therapists to ask a couple about sex in the first session. “If you’re not talking about sex, you’re perpetuating the idea that they shouldn’t be.”

So in an effort to move out of darkness and into possibility, I agree, Let’s talk about sex.

Gay Marriage

BLOG-Delcaration-760x760“Who’s happy?” one of my friends said over drinks this past weekend in regards to marriage. He wasn’t being facetious. He was really asking. Okay maybe he was being a bit tongue-in- cheek since he is actually happily married.

But as I looked around at my group of friends, I saw something I’d never really seen before:

A friend who was divorced and with her new husband. A friend who was there alone because she was in a fight with her spouse. A friend in the middle of a divorce. A friend who is widowed. And one married couple.

That same day the New York Times reported: 5-4 Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide.

So of course, this historic news came up in conversation with my friends.

“It will be the new normal,” one of my friends said, a bit concerned or at least unsure. “It’s all the children of today will know.”

“That’s okay,” another friend responded. “Fifty years ago Blacks and whites didn’t share the same public restrooms and then that became the new normal.”

How was that reality even possible?

I guess it’s a good thing that situation feels antiquated and, more to the point, it is evidence that in time we'll look back and wonder how we could've denied marriage rights to any particular group.

I must admit I stared for a long while at the twelve photos of the same-sex couples on the cover of the newspaper, wanting to know their stories, imagining their lives— what it was like for them before this vote and what life would be like for them now.

I took a hard look at these people, happy for them, feeling celebratory that they’d accomplished this goal—to be together, openly and legally.

And now they had what we had.

Marriage.

And yet here we were a handful of mostly married people: all living our own individual lives, all making different choices, at different turning points.

What did we all have in common?

Choice.

Maybe the divorced friend would remarry, maybe not. Maybe the married couple would stay together, maybe not.

I recently read that the word gay has become so prevalent in meaning homosexual that people hesitate to use the term in its original sense to mean happy or joyful.

I’d like to use the word in its original meaning here.

If it’s what you choose—Gay Marriage for all.

What My Father Gave Me

BLOG-pontchartrian beach exteriorWell, I did it again. Here I am posting a Father’s Day post two days after Father’s Day just as I posted my Mother’s Day post two days after Mother’s Day.

And that’s a good thing this time because (and I mean this in a loving way) my parents are competitive.

If I talk to one longer than the other on the phone, the one who gets less phone time feels slighted. If my sister’s call reaches them first on a birthday, I know about it.

It’s all done in good fun. A kind of game. With my dad, everything is a game.

Throughout my childhood, he played with my brother and me: pillow fights, Marco Polo, football.

He made long car rides fun because like a game show host, he’d ask us questions, and keep score, “How do you spell BOULEVARD?” “What were the names of the ships Columbus sailed to America on?”

He didn’t play board games like Monopoly or Life.

No, he played Hide and Go Seek and Cops and Robbers: anything that got our adrenalin going.

He took me to Pontchartrain Beach and we rode on the Zephyr.

He took me on a helicopter, a motorcycle and to a shooting range.

(I blame my father completely for my marriage to the kind of man who would take me hiking, without a guide, into backcountry Canada, where we were face- to- face with a  grizzly bear.)

How does that happen?

Okay, that’s a different blog post.

Back to my father.

When I was 4, my father took me to buy a pumpkin for Halloween. I chose a perfectly formed bright orange one. My father picked up a misshapen one and said, “What about this one? Nobody else is going to take this one home.”

And so we did.

I’d like to think that was a lesson learned, that showing sensitivity to a pumpkin shaped me somehow, the beginning of empathy.

Like many children, I was afraid at bedtime. Often, my father would snuggle with me in bed and tell me stories, the most dramatic, far-out stories imaginable.

That’s how he soothed me. Stories.

And that’s how I soothe myself today. Stories are an essential part of my life, listening to them and telling them and writing them.

They are my entertainment and my savior.

My dad is also the number one best back scratcher on the planet!

My mom—not so much.

She cups her hand on my back and keeps opening and closing it in the same spot until it feels like her fingers are going to draw blood.

Dad— That’s a way you’ve got mom beat—by a long shot!

BLOG- FATHER'S DAY

 

Are You Turning Into Your Mother?

BLOG- MOTHERI’m turning into my mother. That’s not a bad thing but it is curious. Mostly because I used to think we were nothing alike.

My mother is extremely organized.

I tend to be less so.

She would’ve never made the mistake I made, which is that this post is a Mother’s Day post and it should’ve been posted last Tuesday, a few days before Mother’s Day, not after; but I got confused, which I do sometimes, and that’s why the post is late, which is another way we differ because my mother is never late. And I mean never.

This is the kind of mishap that has driven my mother to call me flighty, which no one has ever called her.

My mother is disciplined and straightforward.

I am less disciplined and more artsy, which is to say emotional; or as she would say, all over the place.

So I’ve held the belief we were nothing alike.

But when we both showed up wearing the same thing on a number of occasions, I began to wonder.

In addition, I’ve begun to speak as she does, which is significant because she uses words like boondocks and expressions like…

A feather in my cap

and

The early bird catches the worm.

I start many a sentence, when I’m talking to my kids, with “As grandma would say," and then I say things like…

I’ll eat my hat

or

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

They tell me I can’t do that. They tell me if I continue to use those phrases, I can’t pretend I’m not really using them.

And I've come to realize my mother and I are alike in other ways as well. We both get nervous when we travel, don’t do well in traffic and are electronically challenged. We both love coffee and hate shopping.

But here’s the thing I’ve only recently realized about how we are much more alike than I ever before thought.

My mother was an avid tennis player, and a winner too. She played for hours in the brutal New Orleans heat throughout my childhood. And when we moved to New York in 1980, she and her mixed doubles partner were ranked (by the United States Tennis Association) number one in the east.

As a little girl, she hit tennis balls with me, teaching me the game. “It doesn’t have to be the best shot. But never give up. Just get the ball over the net one more time,” she’d say. “That’s how you win.”

What she taught me was perseverance. Yes, it takes talent and dedication to craft to be a writer but what it takes even more than those things is perseverance. I read that a number of years back, and it stuck with me; because I believe it to be true. I could’ve given up a long time ago; but I didn’t.

And that determination is paying off.

As my mother would say, the apple doesn’t fall from the tree.

Your Brain and Love

BLOG-BEATLES QUOTE 3What would it look like if you put your marriage (or love relationship) first? (Before work, before your friends, before yourself?)

What would it feel like if you could count on your spouse for security and safety?

(No matter what.)

What if your marriage/ partnership wasn’t about you?

What if it was about itself?

These are some of the questions presented in Stan Tatkin’s book, Wired for Love.

Tatkin, writes about “conscious partnership”, which is a commitment to the needs of the relationship rather than to the needs of the self.

He suggests couples create a Couple Bubble, a mutually constructed cocoon that holds a couple together and protects each partner. The Couple Bubble Agreement is, “We Come First”.

Tatkin discusses attachment theory, which focuses on the bonds between parent and child. Tatkin suggests that how individuals attach as children (securely attached, insecurely avoidant, ambivalently attached) has a direct correlation to how one will bond in a romantic long-term relationship. Those early experiences, where we get our sense of safety and security, are the blueprint for our relational wiring.

The bad news is that if your early experiences didn’t go well, your adult relationships might suffer.

The good news is that in this new paradigm for couplehood, which integrates recent brain research with ideas of attachment theory, you can rewire your brain; and realize a secure and healthy adult relationship.

Basically, it’s using science to make your love relationship work.

Wired for Love proposes ten guiding principles, which I found highly beneficial.

Ultimately your partnership has the potential to minimize each other’s stress and optimize each other’s health.

I wish I’d had this book early on in my relationship.

I might’ve done so many things differently.

But I have a bunch of weddings coming up and I can’t think of a better gift.

Friendship Matters

  BLOG- MAGIC 8 BALL

Once I was in a gigantic slump and my friend, Susan, came to my house to comfort me. We laugh now, looking back, that my child’s Magic 8 Ball was the only solution she could offer.

I held the ball in my hands, hopeful.

Q: Will everything work out? A: Hazy, try again later.

“Well, do it again,” Susan said. “Don’t give up.”

Q: Will this misery pass? A: Don’t count on it.

Q: No, I mean will it eventually pass? A: Very doubtful.

But Susan held strong. “Shake it up. Try again.”

Susan is not Kim. Kim is a psychotherapist, and other best friend. Kim believes in talk-therapy. She would’ve listened, less solution focused. Empathetic, she would’ve had tears in her eyes too, and begged for a turn with the 8- Ball. Susan is not Pam. Pam would’ve wanted to get my mind off things. She would’ve wanted me to stay busy. She would’ve suggested a trip into Manhattan, a couple of drinks, shopping.

I shook the ball again and prayed for a proper outcome.

Q: Will I feel better soon? A: Cannot predict now.

Susan sat next to me as I overturned the ball again and again until...

Q: Will I feel better? A: Most likely.

My friendships are dear to me. Essential. And so I was disheartened to read that friendships are fading.

In a Harvard Medical School study, researchers found that not having close friends leads to increased stress hormones and blood pressure; and it could be as detrimental to your health as smoking. Not having close friends leads to feelings of isolation, depression and emptiness.

So it is a shame that we don’t always have the time to nurture these relationships. Or we don’t make the time. (See this article from The New York Times: What My Friends Mean to Me.)

My friends tease me that when they call, I treat them like telemarketers, which of course, I think is totally untrue.

And this is because of what is true, which is that they mean the world to me.

These are friendships that go back decades and whether we are being as adventurous as Thelma and Louise or as kooky as Lucy and Ethel, we have been there for each other through all of life’s challenges: problems with our kids, marital discord, divorce, bouts of cancer, financial issues, and even losing a spouse.

These are things the Magic 8 Ball can’t fix. But a friend sitting next to you on your couch, as you cry, a Magic 8 Ball in your hands, while you make up outrageous questions to ask it—loony enough to make you laugh—even when it was the last thing you could imagine doing.

That could fix things.

Q: Will these friendships last forever? A: It is certain.

 

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.


“Yes, Piglet?”


“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

 -A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

BLOG- WINNIE THE POOH

Why Are So Many Marriage Essays Going Viral?

Oprah Winfrey I want my marriage essay to go viral.

Why You’re Not Married, written by Tracey McMillan went viral.

Marriage Isn’t For You, written by Seth Adam Smith went viral. It has over 30 million views!

Both Tracey and Seth have book deals, and Tracey was on Oprah!

At the time of his post, Seth had been married for only a year and a half. Tracey’s been married 3 times.

Okay, I’m happy for them. Really I am. And I’m not suggesting they don’t have anything to share or teach; but come on, I’ve been married for 32 years!

If staying together is the goal (which I guess is questionable as far as goals go) I’ve got the credentials. I’m the one who should have a marriage essay read by millions. I should be on Oprah.

I mean really, where are the people who’ve been in long-term marriages? They’re actually not on Oprah.

Exception: Harville Hendrix, author of Getting the Love You Want. He’s great, and his book is awesome, and he’s been on Oprah a number of times; but we need more role models. Good ones.

And fast.

Because marriage is getting a bad rap.

People are choosing not to get married at all, as in NEVER. Or they talk about first marriages like it’s a bachelor degree, something they will eventually move on from in order to pursue a second marriage, their graduate degree.

There are some misconceptions I’d like to clear up:

Long-term marriage doesn’t mean 10 years. Ten years is a phase, a bleep in a life, like adolescence. Long-term means you go through all the developmental stages together: playing house, raising children, growing old, facing health issues, dying. A lifetime.

A partner is not someone who stays home changing diapers and cooking you dinner while you pursue every dream you ever had.

Respecting each other’s differences doesn’t mean you’re awesome because you don’t change the music when The Carpenters are on and you prefer Eric Clapton. (Okay, full disclosure- that’s my house.)

And monogamy is a full-time job. If you do it part-time there’s less insurance and fewer benefits.

Look, I’m not judging. My philosophy is that everyone should be happy. And what would make me really happy is to have my marriage essay, or any of my essays for that matter, go viral!

But back to my initial question: If marriage is on the decline why are essays with marriage as a keyword wildly popular?

Why was Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus on the topseller list for 121 weeks?

Why is the book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts a hit?

Why are we watching Dr. Phil? Broken Nose, Broken Marriage. Dr. Phil, Save My Marriage, Save My Life.

Why when I saw a friend on Facebook had taken a test that told her who she was married to in her past life, I was intrigued? I shouldn’t have cared but she got Jim Morrison. I wanted Jim.

I thought about taking the test but worried I’d get Barry Manilow.

I had to know.

I took the test.

And I got John Lennon. I couldn’t have been happier. He’s a peace-loving artist. And he’s cool.

You’d think I had better things to do with my time like write a really great marriage essay. One that would go viral. But no. I needed to know who my fantasy husband from a different life might’ve been.

Here’s what I think. Even though marriage is on the decline, for many of us, a fascination exists. There are things we want to know about relationship: how to make it last, how to make it better, how to fix what’s broken. Aha! The “in” for my marriage essay- When Your Marriage Breaks.

Maybe it’s physiological or sociological or biological or historical but there is something in us that yearns to unlock the mystery of marriage. We want to get it right.

Granted, I’ve never been on Oprah but here’s my marriage advice: Relationships have their rough spots and you have to figure out how to navigate those moments like jujutsu.

For example: when your spouse stops listening to you when you talk, (which is inevitable, even if temporary) start writing.

And pray it goes viral.

Sisters, A Spa and the Sea

photo-31Wanting to spend time with my two daughters, I recently took them to Canyon Ranch in Miami. Even though they are 7 years apart, everywhere we went, people thought they were twins. They are becoming women. And I notice how they’ve grown.

Elaine, 16 years old, speaks up, her voice determined. She knows how to ask for what she wants and get it.

Rachel, 23, keeps reminding me she can take care of herself, which of course she can.

I watch them. And wonder about who they are as individuals, and who they are as sisters.

When I am around them I feel more my age. It’s striking.

I stare at their young bodies. Firm.

Often now, I can’t hear what they’re saying; and even when I can, I don’t always understand. They do a lot of explaining.

They share things with each other that they wouldn’t share with me.

I like that and I don’t.

We do spa-like things. We weigh ourselves. We talk about food. We try out the sauna. We relax on the beach and read books.

We laugh over little things like how Rachel fell asleep in the sun and tanned half her face.

They go to a Rock Climbing class and take Advanced Boxing, while I write. They have each other.

When they return, there are stories. There was an instructor. Adam. "He liked me," Elaine said. "The other guy liked me," Rachel added. "Okay," Elaine said. They both giggle. "No fair," Rachel said. "You’re guy was cuter."

Later, they do a couples massage. They come back to the room in spa robes. There are more stories. Two boys asked them out in the elevator.

“Every time I leave you two alone, you get picked up,” I say. And then I point out that they had an unfair advantage being naked under their spa robes.

They aren’t inhibited. That night at dinner, they go braless.

And then the next day, they are kids again frolicking in the ocean, splashing and shrieking when jellyfish swim by. I sit on my lounge chair and watch. Listen.

We play a game. Name 3 characteristics that describe each of us.

They say I’m unique, and as much as I’d like to believe this is a compliment, coming from them, it’s questionable.

They make fun of everything I do; but then, unexpectedly, and miraculously, they’ll come for a hug or sit next to me and put their head on my shoulder.

While sometimes, in my eyes, my daughters go from being my babies to young women in the world, for them, I think, I am always, simply their mother.

Masters of Sex

Sex QuoteWe all know them. Those women who fake a migraine or stay in the bathroom long enough for their husbands to fall asleep.

They are masters of sex all right, masters of getting out of it.

But why?

According to Denise A. Donnelly, an associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, who studies sexless marriage, an estimated 15% of married couples haven’t had sex with their spouse in the last 6 months to one year.

Isn’t that strange? We live in America, the land of the free, and of hot Hollywood sex. We are a sex-craved culture. So, what’s up?

It seems that even singles are affected wanting less from partners, preferring to hookup rather than to build a relationship. But interestingly, hooking up is on the decline as singles choose virtual relationships, flirting via phone or computer with no intention of meeting one another.

It’s true hearts are unreliable; but are humans going through a metamorphosis, evolving into beings that don’t need intimacy?

Can we really protect ourselves from the fact that someone could stop loving us, leave us (emotionally or physically) or they could die?

In the Showtime series Masters of Sex, and in actuality, Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson pioneer studies in human sexuality, devoting their lives to sex research. But their real life story feels like a cautionary tale. Virginia Johnson gave up her dream of getting an education to work with Masters. She submitted to a sexual relationship with him as part of her job; and ultimately, she married him. Only to be left years later when he fell in love with someone he knew from his youth.

The lesson to be learned seems evident: You can’t be left if you leave first, or if you abstain, and never show up in the first place.

Sure it’s scary to connect deeply with another person; but maybe then engaging becomes worth it.

Sex therapist, and author of Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch, helps partners maintain a connection during sex. Read an interview with Dr. Schnarch who says that good sex is not about elevating your heart rate; it’s about elevating your heart.

Quickies, sexting, hookups and sex with your eyes closed keep us from emotionally attaching and being vulnerable.

Now that’s what I call safe sex.