Saturday, December 29, 2007

Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

"Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right".
(Oprah Winfrey)

Although I'm a believer in self-improvement, I'm not always a big fan of New Year's resolutions. Like many people, I've tended to be overly ambitious in my resolutions, perhaps feeling that unless I set a big goal (e.g. , competing in a triathlon by summer) I would never be sufficiently motivated to do all the things needed to accomplish it (getting up at 4:45AM for an hour's run before work). But after a week of enduring January's icy sidewalks, my sleep and comfort start seeming much more important than a triathlon eight months from now.

Chances are, though, that if I had set a less grandiose goal (maybe a half-hour of hard exercise four days a week, followed by ten minutes of stretching), I would have stayed with the program, maybe even to the point where I could step up the training a bit and actually do a triathlon without killing myself.

With this in mind, I'd like to suggest that we make resolutions that are important but relatively easy to achieve, goals that, over time, will pave the way for achieving bigger goals. Since this blog is primarily about marital relationships, let me suggest a couple of modest resolutions that could make your marriage better in 2008.

If you're a man, probably the best resolution you can make is to start noticing your wife again. I can't tell you the number of times that women have told me that their husbands never notice that they've got a different hair style or hair color, or that they're wearing something new. Lack of notice is often interpreted as a lack of appreciation, which can lead to all sorts of problems, up to and including affairs and divorce.

The easiest way to start noticing your wife is to pretend that you're in a dating relationship rather than a marriage. Unless you're a self-possessed jerk, if you're dating a woman you want to make a good impression on her. You pay attention to her, you compliment her on how nice she looks, you do everything you can to make her feel special and to make her think of you as someone special. Because you've, presumably, done all this before, you don't even have to learn new skills. Just open your eyes, smile, and express your compliments and your appreciation.

Women tend to be better than men at noticing things, and are often more comfortable with giving compliments, but they're not always comfortable with receiving compliments. Too often, women react to compliments by brushing them off ("I like your haircut". "Oh God, she cut it way too short. It's going to take weeks to grow out...").

It's up to you if you want to talk like that to your girlfriends (I don't pretend to understand the "code" that seems to underlie woman-to-woman conversation), but I guarantee you it will turn your husband off and inhibit him from giving you more compliments in the future. A simple "thank you" is all that's needed, or expected.

And speaking of "thank you", maybe all of us---husbands and wives---can resolve in 2008 to express the little courtesies. "Please", "thank you", "may I...", and "would you like..." are expressions that somehow tend to disappear after the honeymoon is over. It's never too late, though, to start using them again. They're a symbol of respect for the other person, and respect, like appreciation, is one of the things that can hold a marriage together, in good times and bad.

Have a wonderful 2008!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Good Guy/ Bad Guy

"I've had bad luck with both my wives. The first one left me, and the second one didn't".
(Patrick Murray, British sitcom actor)

That's a funny line, but like all funny lines there's a lot of truth in it. In my book, I talk about men who have confessed that they wouldn't mind if their wives had an affair or simply walked out of the marriage. These men had clearly lost interest in their marriages, but were unwilling to be seen as the bad guy. So, instead of either putting more energy into the marriage or taking affirmative steps toward divorce, they just drift along, dying a little bit every day, hoping for some miracle to save them.

My guess is that there are a lot of people like that, people who hate being where they are but who lack the imagination or the courage to get to a different place. The saddest thing is that they're not only hurting themselves, they're hurting their spouses, too; people that unhappy are undoubtedly dragging down the people closest to them. (Maybe that's subconsciously part of their strategy: making things so miserable for their spouse that he or she will get fed up and leave).

And by not talking openly with their spouse about their marital issues or complaints, they deprive the spouse of a chance to try to improve the situation; or they deprive the spouse of a chance to get out while the getting's good, instead of wasting the best years of his or her life in a hopeless marriage.

None of us enjoys being the bad guy, but it's vital to recognize that if we're desperately unhappy in our marriage and refuse to do something about it, we're already being "bad" to ourself and to our spouse. It's never easy to have to tell our spouse that we're contemplating divorce, but the alternative is worse: year after year of lifeless communication, dreary arguments, diminishing sexual enjoyment, and mutual bitterness.

A comedian can get some laughs out of his (supposed) marital miseries, but most of us aren't so lucky. A marriage with no future---if that's truly the case---is anything but funny. If you're in that kind of marriage, don't wait for a miracle; create one. Sit down with your spouse and, for once, speak from your heart. Don't raise your voice, assign blame, or rehash old arguments, but at the same time, don't apologize for something that isn't your fault. Be gentle, but get to the point. But also listen to what your spouse has to say in response, especially if he or she is willing to try something new to address the problems. (By listening only to your own voice, you may have made your problems worse in your mind than they really are). You may also want to consider outside help, in the form of marriage counseling or couples' workshops.

Whatever you do, be brave, and honest, and respectful of your spouse. In other words, be the good guy.

Friday, December 7, 2007

When YOUR Kind of Love is not HIS Kind of Love

"The hardest lesson to accept is that people have only their kind of love to give, not our kind".
(Mignon McLaughlin, playwright and journalist)

Unless they're talking about genetically-determined skills like slam-dunking a basketball or throwing a baseball 100 miles an hour, I hate it when people say they "can't" do something. I hate it even more when they say they're too old or too set in their ways to change their attitudes or behaviors. I want to believe---I do believe---that people, if sufficiently aware and sufficiently motivated, can choose to become better communicators, better lovers, better spouses, better people.

And yet, I know that most people aren't particularly motivated to change. They are what they are, they say, and they're OK with that. Unfortunately, the people closest to them are not always OK with it. A wife is not likely to be happy when her husband has his eyes glued to the computer screen whenever she's talking to him; or if he never smiles, or initiates a pleasant conversation, or gives her little compliments; or when their sex life---such as it is---is always about his pleasure and convenience, not hers.

That kind of husband may honestly feel that he loves his his way. She understands that, doesn't she? Isn't marriage about accepting people for who they are, about accepting the kind of love they have to give?

Well, maybe that was the case in Mignon McLaughlin's day (she wrote the line I quoted in 1946), but these days people are less willing to accept laziness, selfishness, and bad behavior as the price of love. People have options. Divorce is one of them, as is having an affair or simply tuning out of the relationship. The sad thing is that, most of the time, people would rather not be exercising these kinds of options. They would much rather have attention, respect, gratitude, communication, and good sex within their marriage.

If you're tempted to look elsewhere or seek a divorce, you should first make sure that you've let your spouse know the extent of your frustrations, and given him a fair chance to do something about the problem. Of course, you shouldn't blame him for things that are truly out of his control, and you shouldn't expect miracles. Bad habits usually take a long time to develop and they rarely disappear overnight, so be satisfied with small-but-steady improvements

If he doesn't seem to care enough to even try to change, the next step is up to you. (Although you might want to hold off on taking a lover until you've read the "Thinking About Affairs" chapter in my book; affairs rarely deliver on their promise, and can be disastrous for all concerned). With any luck, though, his kind of love and your kind of love should eventually become more in sync, which, in the real world of marriage, is as good as most of us are going to get.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Voltairean Perspective on Dating

"The perfect is the enemy of the good".

Voltaire's famous dictum has been interpreted in different ways, but I take it to mean that people can be so focused on achieving perfection that they miss the opportunity to achieve something that may be a little short of perfect but is still good and definitely more within their reach.

I see this all the time in the dating world. The determination to meet the perfect person---or at least someone without certain perceived flaws---drastically shrinks the universe of potential dating partners. People often wind up with no one, when they could have easily improved their chances of meeting someone good.

People do this in different ways. After the unhappy breakup of a marriage or other committed relationship, a lot of us become determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. This certainly is understandable, but we often become so fixated on our "ex" that we automatically rule out anyone who even remotely resembles him. It's one thing to disqualify someone because he's an alcoholic or a degenerate gambler, but it's something else entirely to disqualify him because he enjoys a glass of wine with dinner, or stops off at the Indian casino once a month for a couple of hours. And yet personal ads frequently contain all-or-nothing pronouncements ("Don't reply if you're a drinker". "No gamblers, please"). Yes, someone could reply and try to make you understand that he's not a problem drinker or gambler, that he has all the other qualities you're looking for, but why bother? It's easier to move on to the next ad, and dismiss you as someone unduly hung up on that issue.

Other people are not so much fixated on the negatives as they are on the unrealistic positives. The profiles that they put up on the online dating sites are what I call wish-lists-to Santa. The man must be a good-looking, articulate, amusing, affectionate, high-achieving professional, who loves kids and cats, and is committed to social justice and vegan living. The woman must be slim, toned, sexy, smart but not intimidating, accomplished but not averse to cooking, entertaining, or keeping a clean house, and, of course, under 40.

Are there "perfect" people out there? Maybe, but how many of them need to be on dating sites? And even if someone truly is everything you say you want, he or she may well be turned off by what sounds like a lengthy list of non-negotiable demands.

The solution is to be open to possibility. Don't assume there is one---and only one---ideal "type" for you. Don't eliminate people because they remind you of your ex in some superficial way. When you write a dating profile, remember that every single thing you say about the person you hope to meet narrows the number of potential responses. Say more about yourself, and let people decide if they feel attracted enough to you to respond. And realize that even the best of us have our shortcomings and our faults. Perfection is something to aspire to in a spiritual or artistic sense, but it's not something to demand in other people.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Harmony Yes, Uniformity No!

"What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibilities".
(Leo Tolstoy)

I spoke last time about how conflict is an inevitable part of any marriage. So is incompatibility. If there are two married people out there somewhere who are perfectly compatible, I've never met them. But I have met plenty of couples who have done such a good job of minimizing their incompatibilities that everyone who knows them thinks they're perfectly compatible.

I'm speaking, though, of incompatibilities that do not involve values and life goals that are truly fundamental. For example, a person who intensely wants to have children would not be a good match for someone who is dead set against having them, no matter how compatible the couple may be in other ways. If such a couple did marry, whoever "gives in" would harbor so much resentment that any chance of a happy marriage would be doomed.

Religious beliefs are another area where the incompatibility can be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome, especially if there are sharp disagreements about which religion the kids should be brought up in. Incompatibilities in the bedroom can also be quite challenging. If one spouse wants sex nearly every day, and the other is happier with once a month, the likelihood of extramarital sex---or at least the temptation to look elsewhere---increases exponentially.

I think, though, that for most couples the incompatibilities are more lifestyle in nature. Over the years, people often find new interests and go off in different directions. One spouse develops a passion for wine, or amateur theater, or ballroom dancing, or yoga, or NASCAR, which the other spouse does not share or perhaps even understand. There's nothing inherently wrong with having different interests, but many people are threatened by differences, or by change; they feel they might lose their spouse unless they become more like him. Or someone becomes so blindly enthusiatic about his new passion that he insists on "converting" his spouse to it, no matter how clear the spouse's reluctance may be.

But dragging your wife to car races, or half-heartedly going along with her to the dance class, rarely works. If a person really doesn't want to be somewhere, they'll inevitably find a way to convey their boredom or even their hostility. Instead of one happy person doing some activity, you have two miserable ones, each engaging in a form of guerrilla warfare that no one will win.

The solution, I think, is to unapologetically pursue your own passions, while encouraging your spouse to pursue his. Try to understand and respect his enthusiasms, even if they don't excite you, and learn to express your own enthusiasm without feeling the need to proselytize. True compatibility involves respecting each other's differences, not artificially denying them. You may be a couple, but each of you is and always will be an individual person. What you should be trying to achieve is harmony, not uniformity. And, you never know, maybe you'll even come to like NASCAR if it's not shoved down your throat.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Right Way and the Wrong Way to Argue

"The number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict".
(Diane Sollee)

Unless you're active in the field of marriage education, you've probably never heard of Diane Sollee, but she's someone who deserves to be better known. I frequently turn to her website,, for updates on marriage research and divorce statistics, and for Diane's own unique insights.

Diane believes---and I agree with her---that it is not only unrealistic but dangerous to think that marriage can be conflict-free. It's unrealistic because conflict is going to arise in any relationship in which people share a home, a bed, a checkbook, a family and an extended family, a past, and (presumably) a future. Even when two people are well-matched and well-intentioned, there will always be words that are misunderstood, motives that are suspect, moods that are unpredictable, and subjects that inevitably lead to arguments. Like it or not, this is normal.

Because conflict is normal, it's dangerous to pretend that is isn't. Avoiding conflict does not make it go away; it only postpones it and ensures that a discussion will turn into an argument, or an argument into a mud-slinging match. Some people are so fearful of conflict that they avoid even pleasant subjects of conversation, for fear that they will somehow deteriorate into a nasty exchange. (Diane uses the example of a New Yorker cartoon of a man and wife at a marriage counselor's office, with the caption, "We never talk anymore. We figured out that that's when we have all our fights").

So, what's the answer? How can we disagree without being disagreeable? At the risk of oversimplifying, I would suggest that you and your spouse adhere to a few basic ground rules:

1. Keep the discussion focused on the issue at hand, not on what happened yesterday, last week, or last year. (As I say in my book, banish the phrases, "You never..." and "You always..." from your vocabulary).
2. Don't intimidate, belittle, insult, or humiliate your spouse, no matter what the offense, no matter how great the provocation. As my old parish priest used to say, "Hate the sin, love the sinner".
3. Don't blame your spouse for things that are largely out of his or her control (e.g., your wife's widowed mother who drives you crazy by calling three times a day because she's lonely).
4. Don't get into arguments after you've had a couple of drinks; they tend to turn ugly in a hurry.
5. Have a sense of proportion and a sense of humility. Write down a list of at least three things you do that your spouse has a legitimate right to complain about. Work on those things as best you can, but think about them before you open your mouth to criticize your spouse about one of his or her failings.
6. If things are still veering out of control, learn to stop and say, "This is stupid. Why are we doing this to each other?" And say it with a smile.

If you want to learn more advanced techniques, Diane's website has lists of workshops and courses all over the country that will help you to become, as she puts it, "relationship smart". But whatever you do, accept that fact that conflicts are normal even in the best of marriages.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Talking Your Way to a Better Relationship

"Ultimately the bond of companionship, whether in marriage or friendship, is conversation".
(Oscar Wilde)

Oscar Wilde was capable of simple profundities as well as outragious witticisms, no more so than in this quotation. Those of us who write about marriage and relationships often spend so much time stressing the need to work on our communication skills, that our readers may justifiably assume that communication equals work. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Communication---or at least some of our communications---should be fun. Every day of our lives, we should be having conversations that make us smile, draw on pleasant memories, put us in a better mood, or, with any luck, bring us closer to our truest self. If we're married, at least one of those daily conversations should be with our spouse.

I'm well aware that there are dozens of verbal exchanges between husband and wife that are necessary but mundane. Have you seen my keys? Did you put out the recycling bin? Have we paid the insurance bill? Do we need more beer before the weekend? Do we have a birthday card somewhere to send to your sister? These things all have to be dealt with, but they should never be the only things that spouses talk about. Nor should the sole alternative be heavy talks about "our relationship". If spouses had frequent and enjoyable "light" conversations, there would be little need for the heavy ones.

The key is to find conversational subjects that engage both spouses more-or-less equally. I'm lucky that my wife is a sports fan; I can go into a rant about Alex Rodriguez without boring her to tears. And she's lucky that (after some initial resistance) I've gotten hooked on "Dancing With the Stars"; we can, and do, debate endlessly who should stay and who should get voted off. Your interests may be different from ours, but there's got to be something that you and your spouse share, and that you'd have fun talking about.

Where the effort comes in is in forming the conversational habit in the first place. If you've had little more than perfunctory exchanges for months or even years, it may seem vaguely uncomfortable to both of you to be having a more extended chat. But don't get overly discouraged---and don't take it personally---if your spouse retreats to his newspaper or computer screen after a few minutes. You can try again tomorrow. At some point, conversation will start feeling normal again, and your marital bond will be just a little bit stronger.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A False and Foolish Pride

"How often could things be remedied by a word. How often it is left unspoken".
(Norman Douglas, British novelist)

In marriage, many of us are quick to say a thoughtless or hurtful thing but slow to apologize for it. It's understandable, of course, that when we're sufficiently provoked we're going to want to lash out at the person provoking us. But too often we go overboard. We punish a petty offense with a cruel remark ("I can't believe anyone could be so stupid to forget to pack sunscreen on a trip to Aruba"). Or we become obsessed with the need to prove that our spouse is wrong and we're right ("Will you ever admit that your parents have been manipulating you all these years?"). Or, instead of addressing the specific issue at hand, we dredge up vague but emotionally-laden complaints from the past ("You always put your needs first").

I'm not so naive to think that people will ever stop saying these kinds of things when they're angry, exasperated, or just plain tired. But hurtful words have conseqences---often far-reaching consequences---if they are not followed by a sincere and relatively swift apology. Plenty of divorces have their roots in insensitive remarks and bruised feelings.

You would think that it's no big deal to say, "I'm sorry about what I said. I'll do my best not to say that again". But some people would sooner walk barefoot on broken beer bottles than admit that they're wrong. In fact, they never even think they're wrong. They're not only "right", but they have to be acknowledged as being right. People like that have a stubbornness and false pride that can seriously threaten a marriage. A successful marriage requires compromise, and compromise requires a sense of proportion, a sense of humor, and a respect for the other person as an equal partner in life.

If you're someone who has always needed to be right, you've got to decide whether it's more important for you to be right or to be happily married. If you really care about your marriage, learn to relax a bit and not get hung up on every little thing that goes wrong. And learn to say you're sorry, and mean it. Otherwise, the day may come when you won't have anyone around to argue with, or feel superior to.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Fine Art of Shaking Things Up

"Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit".
(W. Somerset Maugham)

I'm normally a great believer in the ancient Greek dictum of moderation in all things. A day wouldn't seem complete to me if I didn't have a glass or two of wine with dinner, but my nights of binge-drinking are---thankfully---long in the past. It's the same with food: I have a big appetite, but my metabolism isn't what it was at twenty-five, so I've learned to eat---and actually enjoy---smaller portions. I'd rather cut back a bit on my food and drink today, than have my doctor tell me tomorrow that my habits are killing me.

That's all well and good, but sometimes we form habits of moderation in areas of life that call out for a little excess, or even just a little variety. This is particularly true when we're married. All too often, we do the same things together. We have a limited number of restaurants we go to, a limited number of other people---usually couples---we socialize with, a limited number of things we talk about. We have long since given up going to music or dance clubs, or picking up the phone and inviting someone over right now for a drink, or doing anything at all that's spontaneous or a little bit crazy.

After a while, moderation breeds a certain numbness. Our sense of possibility becomes, almost imperceptibly, narrowed, and our imagination dulled. We stop taking delight in things. We start thinking and acting like people who are old beyond our years, people stuck in a rut and half the time not even knowing we're stuck.

If this sounds even remotely like your marriage, I urge you to do something soon to shake things up. The good news is that the more boring things have become, the less it takes to make your life---and your marriage---a little more stimulating. You don't have to buy a Harley or a Porsche, or take up sky diving, or move to the Yucatan. It might be enough just to go out tomorrow night to a restaurant you've never been to, or drive this weekend to some bed-and-breakfast, sight-unseen, or invite an unmarried friend over for dinner instead of the same couple you always invite. It might be enough to go to some live jazz or blues club (and so what that you might be the oldest people there?). It might be enough to dust off that bottle of wine you've been saving for a special occasion, and make tonight that special occasion.

The reason I say all this is that I've seen too many marriages die a premature death from boredom. When there's not enough oxygen to breathe, not enough sunlight coming in, someone will eventually do something just to feel alive. Unfortunately, that "something" may be an affair or some other act of desperation. Before you're tempted to do something crazy outside your marriage, do something a little crazy within your marriage. Liven things up, one small step at a time. Pretend that you're still single, think of your nights out as dates, dress a little sharper, look at---and listen to---your spouse the way you used to, and break that cycle of boredom before it breaks your marriage.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The One That Got Away

"This could but have happened once,
And we missed it, lost it forever".
(Robert Browning)

Mid-life dating is, to say the least, challenging. You spend so many hours each day working, commuting, dealing with kids or elderly parents, doing the food shopping and all the other chores and errands, that you have little or no time to pursue romantic adventures. Yes, you may sign up for an online dating sevice, but before long you've allowed things to drift; you're too busy to even check your inbox. At work, everyone who's even remotely attractive is married. Even if you had the time for bars, your experiences in them have been dismal in recent years.

You seem to be waiting for lightning to strike, and sometimes it actually does---sort of. You see the person of your dreams in the produce aisle of the supermarket, or at an adjacent table at Starbuck's, or in your checkout line at Target. You want to say something, just can't. You're instinctively afraid of looking foolish, or being rejected. So you let the moment pass.

But oftentimes you torture yourself afterward, and, against all odds, desperately try to reach out to that person who exited your life as quickly as he or she entered it. The "Missed Connections" section of is full of sad stories of lost opportunities, along the lines of: "Yesterday at Trader Joe's. You asked me which wine would go best with chicken piccata. I talked your ear off about Chilean sauvignon blancs, but was too shy to ask for your number. Write to me please".

It IS hard to approach a stranger, or to turn a "neutral" conversation into something a little more personal. Aside from the rejection aspect, we may be short of time, or in a distracted mood, or aware of how sloppily we're dressed, or be otherwise unprepared to initiate a little flirtation. It's a common problem, but fortunately there is a fairly easy solution.

Have some cards printed. Not business cards (you don't want to divulge too much information to a total stranger, no matter how nice he or she appears), but simply cards with your name and either your e-mail address or your phone number. If you're feeling unbearably attracted to the person behind you in the checkout line, but also unbearably nervous and tongue-tied, just take one of your cards out as you're leaving, and give it to the person in question with a friendly but casual-sounding, "I'm in a rush but I'd love to talk to you more sometime. Here's my number. Give me a call".

If you don't hear back, you at least won't be kicking yourself about the one that got away, and you won't be writing needle-in-a-haystack messages on Craigslist. The person may be married, or engaged, or just not interested; whatever it is, you can accept it, and you can't blame yourself for not trying. But if you do get that call, you'll be on top of the world. You'll be proud of yourself for making it happen. And your new friend will be impressed with your initiative, creativity, and self-confidence.

Give it a try. You've got nothing to lose but your regrets.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

And You Thought YOUR Divorce Was Expensive?

"Not all my clients did badly in their divorce settlements. Some of them even wound up with small fortunes. Of course, they started out with large fortunes".
(Monroe Inker, Boston divorce lawyer)

Monroe Inker, who died last year at age 80, was probably the most successful divorce lawyer of his generation. He represented famous people like Norman Mailer, Joan Kennedy, and Boston Celtics star Rober Parish, along with less-famous---but often wealthier---corporate CEO's, real estate moguls, trust fund heirs, or their spouses. I thought of his remark today when I read about a decision in a lurid divorce case I had been following for the past several months---a case that generated a total of over 13 million dollars in attorney fees and expert witness costs.

The case involved travel-industry magnate Peter Tauck (Tauck World Discovery) and his wife, Nancy, of Westport, Connecticut. Prior to the divorce case, Peter Tauck had a net worth of about 55 million dollars. But after 86 trial days (believed to be a world record in a divorce case), during which nearly 100 witnesses testified, about a quarter of his net worth was wiped out by the attorney fees and costs alone. And although the judge's 132-page decision is by any standard a "victory" for Peter Tauck (Nancy got shot down on virtually every issue she raised, including custody of the four children), he is still required to pay her $33,333 per month in alimony for six years, $20, 833 a month for two years after that, plus lump-sum payments over five years totalling twelve million dollars!

While I doubt that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Tauck will ever have to apply for food stamps, their case illustrates the futility and absurdity of "battling it out" in divorce court. Even the winner loses, big-time. And most lawyers, despite the fees they earn, feel that cases like this are harmful to the parties and their kids, and a waste of judicial time and resources. Peter Tauck's lead attorney, Tom Colin, said that the best part of the ruling was on page 132: the judge's signature. "It means it's over...This was the most intense, contentious case I've been involved in, without a doubt".

It's interesting to note that Monroe Inker, the Boston lawyer I mentioned, gave up his thriving divorce litigation practice while he was still healthy and active, and for the rest of his life devoted his professional efforts to divorce mediation. As I explain in my book, mediation puts the decision-making in the hands of the husband and wife. With the help of a skilled mediator, the process forces the couple to come up with solutions that make sense for them and for their children. It creates an atmosphere of co-operation and respect, and, incidentally, may save the couple a lot of money and anguish.

I'm not saying that mediation works in every divorce case---from what I've read, the Taucks were so hostile to each other that they couldn't be in the same room together without an armed guard present---but if the parties have any degree of rationality at all they should give it a try. It is entirely possible, the Tauck case notwithstanding, to divorce with dignity.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Have You REALLY Kissed Your Spouse Lately?

"Kissing can be more intimate than intercourse"
(Dr. Sandra Scantling, certified sex therapist)

I'm a big fan of Dr. Sandra Scantling, who writes a popular column on sex and relationship issues for the Hartford Courant (which are archived on her website, But when I first read those words, I was a bit skeptical. After all, aren't intimacy and intercourse virtually synonymous? (You will still hear people say, "We were intimate", as a euphemism for "We had sex").

But when I thought about it more, I realized that Dr. Scantling was absolutely right. What can be more sensual, more expressive, more intimate than a kiss? In fact, shortly after I read Dr. Scantling's column on kissing, I read a Chicago Tribune interview with someone described as a "lifestyle coach for swingers" (interesting job title), who said that the number one ground rule for swingers' parties is No Kissing. "It's just too intimate" for even swingers to handle, the coach explained.

Actually, I might re-phrase Dr. Scantling's words to say, "Kissing should be more intimate than intercourse", because, unfortunately, in the typical mid-life marriage, kisses are anything but intimate. The long, wet, passionate kisses of our single days are quickly replaced by the perfunctory peck on the cheek. Why? Do we think that we don't "need" to kiss if we have sex? Do we think that kissing, like holding hands, is somehow unseemly if we've been together for years and years? Are we just plain thoughtless and lazy about showing affection?

Whatever the reason, we need to break the peck-on-the-cheek habit, or at least reserve it for those times when we'd be truly embarrassed to have other people see us kissing in a more passionate manner. (And even then, you're really setting a good example for the repressed married people of the world).

Because the best way to break a habit is to replace it with another one, start today. When your spouse comes home tonight, give him or her the kind of kiss you used to give. Do it again after dinner, and before you get into bed. As Dr. Scantling says, "Let's return kissing to its rightful place in lovemaking. Dare to be as intimate now as you were then...and never underestimate the power of a kiss".

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Off-Ramp to Adultery

"He claimed he was at a business meeting in Pennsylvania, but I have the E-ZPass records to show that he was in New Jersey that night".
(Lynne Gold-Bilkin, Pennsylvania divorce lawyer)

In the "Thinking About Affairs" chapter of my book, I discuss how technology can make extramarital sex easier to arrange but also easier to detect. You can, for example, send a furtive 2:00AM e-mail to your lover while your spouse is asleep, and then immediately delete it. But how do you know that your lover is as careful to delete the message on her end? And how do you know---until it's too late---that your spouse has not installed one of those programs on the computer that silently records every keystroke, including passwords?

Along the same lines, I recently read a rather chilling newspaper article about E-ZPass records being used as evidence of adultery in divorce cases. In case you're not familiar with them, E-ZPasses are used in many Northeast and Midwest states to allow drivers to bypass the usual toll booths on bridges and toll roads. Typically, the prepaid pass is attached to a car's visor or rearview mirror and sends an electronic signal to an antenna at a toll plaza. Once the driver cruises through the E-ZPass lane, he normally doesn't give it a moment's thought until the next time he's entering or exiting a toll road. However, whether he knows it or not, every time the pass is used a record is made of when it was used and where it was used. And, in most of the states that have E-ZPass, those records are "discoverable" in divorce cases.

People who choose to have affairs have always had to work hard to cover their tracks. But today, there's virtually no way to eliminate the risk of exposure. As with E-ZPasses, the most dangerous risks are the ones no one even thinks about. We take cell phones for granted, but cell calls can be intercepted and monitored, and someone can---intentionally or otherwise---use their cell phone to take a picture of you and someone you shouldn't be seen with. And just because you threw out the itemized call list as soon as the cell phone bill arrived, doesn't mean that it won't be reproduced and turned over to your spouse's divorce lawyer a year or two from now.

I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life, but I am saying that if you think you can conduct an affair for long without getting caught, think again. Big Brother is watching.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Key to the Jailhouse Door

"Caught between two worlds:
One dead, the other powerless to be born".
(Matthew Arnold, 19th century English poet)

Although Matthew Arnold was referring to the symbolic death of Western civilization, his words can just as easily describe the sense of despair that someone in a bad marriage can feel.

Readers of my book know that I don't believe that all marriages are worth saving. To be sure, many divorces are unnecessary and virtually every marriage could---with mutual and sustained effort---be improved. But sometimes one or both spouses have mentally thrown in the towel, have given up on sex, affection, and fun times, and are simply living out their remaining days like prisoners in a maximum-security cell.

But a lifeless marriage does not have to mean a future without sunlight or fresh air. No matter what your age, no matter how tight your finances, no matter what obstacles are in your way, you still have the power to make something happen; you have the key to unlock the jailhouse door. You may be afraid to exercise your power, but it's there inside you all the time, waiting to be called on.

There's no question that change is scary and that freedom comes with a price. But if you're wasting the only life you will ever have on this earth, you're paying a price already, a very big price. If your marriage is truly dead, don't perpetuate your suffering. Take some small step today to create a better future. And tomorrow, take another one. Before long, fear will be replaced by excitement, and you'll be ready to open that door to a new and better life.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Welcome to Jim Duzak's Quote & Comment!

"Age does not protect us from love, but love to some extent protects us from age".
(Jeanne Moreau)

I can't think of a better quote to inaugurate a blog dedicated to issues of mid-life marriage, mid-life divorce, and mid-life dating. If a person is open to love---and I'm referring now to romantic love---he or she is every bit as capable of falling in love (or staying in love) at 40, 50, 60 or beyond as at 20 or 30.

Of course, that's a big "if". People often become so jaded, so disillusioned, so fearful of being hurt and hurt again, that at some point they close their minds and hearts to even the possibility of love. They convince themselves that love is nothing more than a mutual misunderstanding, a gross lapse of judgment, a foolish thing that you experience when you're young and which you survive if you're lucky.

There's no question that love does involve risks, which is probably why Jeanne Moreau used the word "protect". (In fact, from what I know of her life, she's had her share of romantic ups and downs). But she knew that a life without risk is a life without adventure, a life without possibility, which is another way of saying no life at all.

She also knew that a person in love is young, no matter what the birth certificate says. We focus so much on the outward signs of aging---the sore knees, the sagging muscles, the facial lines---that we forget that the surest evidence of age is a loss of enthusiasm. If you still care passionately about something, if you have things you still want to accomplish in life, if you're still open to experience and pleasure, love will have a way of finding you.