Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gambling His Way to Self-Destruction

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DEAR JIM: My husband and I and our two kids (now 9 and 6) moved to Las Vegas in 2005 when things were booming, especially in the construction industry. Until early in 2008, he was making over $150,000 a year as a project manager for a big casino hotel that was going up, and I was adding to our income working occasional weekend shifts as an emergency room R.N. Then things came to a grinding halt. He got laid off from his job, found another one (at half the pay), and then got laid off from that job. He hasn't worked at all in 2009. I've increased my shifts at the hospital, but things are tight there too, and I can't get a full-time position. The worst part of all this is that I accidently learned recently that my husband hasn't been looking for work (as he claimed), but has been spending his time and what's left of our money at casinos. Instead of taking cash out of our bank account, where I would see any withdrawals, he liquidated his 401(k) account and opened a new bank account in his name to stash the 401(k) proceeds. In three months, he's blown through over half the 401(k) money, and what's left will probably have to go to taxes and penalties (if he hasn't gambled it away by April 15). I'm so angry with my husband I can barely stand to be in the same room with him. I really need some advice before I do something drastic. ("At Wit's End" in Henderson, Nevada).

DEAR "AT WIT'S END": Sometimes it takes a crisis to force people to admit there's a problem and to do something about it. If you and your husband can quickly get on the same page and come up with a step-by-step plan to address the multiple issues you're facing, there's still hope--- for your sanity, your marriage, and maybe even your finances.

The first thing that has to be addressed is your husband's gambling addiction. Although Las Vegas is about the worst place in the world for a gambling addict, at least there are plenty of Gamblers Anonymous-type programs there. Get him into one no later than next week and make sure he stays in it.

Unless your husband's gambling addiction pre-dated his job layoffs, his gambling may well be a symptom of depression. A guy like your husband, who was making a lot of money at something he was evidently very good at, will often become completely adrift if his job---his identity---is suddenly taken from him. He's undoubtedly anxious about his future in the construction industry, and fearful of being seen as a failure.

Most men, though, will not seek psychological help on their own, so if you think your husband may be depressed you'll have to gently but firmly get him to someone who can help.

Of course, you're not going to want to go out of your way to help him if you're angry at him, and believe me, you have reasons to be angry. He lied to you repeatedly, he did things behind your back, he jeopardized his family's financial future. But if you want to stay in your marriage---and at this point I think you should stay---you may need to get some counseling for yourself, apart from whatever help your husband gets. You may also want to consider marriage counseling, but I'd be cautious about overloading your husband and yourself with too many programs and counselors at the same time.

As for the purely financial issues, you're going to have to insist on taking complete control of the money that comes in and the money that goes out, at least until your husband has overcome the gambling addiction and dealt with the psychological problems underlying his addiction. No excuses, no exceptions, and zero tolerance for any further transgressions on your husband's part.

And with respect to money, I realize that the counseling I'm recommending will probably cost more than you feel you can afford, but I think it's worth it in the long run. Look at it this way: it's cheaper than a divorce!

I'm not qualified to give career advice, but once the current crisis is under control I think you and your husband should look hard at the career options you both have, and figure out whether Las Vegas is where you need to be. With your nursing degree and his construction industry expertise, your long-term prospects may be a lot better than you might think.

Good luck, and let me know what happens.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don't Be So Modest, Girl!

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DEAR JIM: I remember hearing you on a radio show a while back discussing online dating profiles. I think you said you didn't like it when someone says "My friends think I'm pretty", but I'm not sure why you think it's a bad idea. I'm in the process of writing my own profile for, and I feel funny about saying something that might make me sound conceited (like "I'm a very pretty woman"). Can you explain what you meant? ("Lori" in Indiana)

DEAR LORI: You're right: I did say that I dislike the "My friends say I'm..." type of statement. The reason I dislike it is that it makes the person (usually a woman) sound as if she doesn't quite believe what she's saying. I think the average man reading such a statement would interpret it to mean something like: "My friends do say I'm pretty, even though I've never really thought so myself. But maybe I should say it just in case they're right."

I agree with you 100% that you want to avoid sounding conceited. But there's a difference between being conceited and being confident. Confidence implies that you know who you are and that you're comfortable with who you are, whereas to be conceited implies an exaggerated opinion of yourelf and an attitude that you're better than everyone else. If you honestly believe you're pretty (or smart, or funny, or whatever), it's perfectly OK to say so---simply and straightforwardly.

The underlying point here is that people---both men and women---respond positively to someone who is quietly confident. Confidence is a desired trait in relationships, because confident people tend to be less needy, less "clingy", and less likely to suppress the personality traits that make them unique. As I say, confident people know who they are. They know they have something good to bring into a relationship, and they're not going to settle for less than they deserve. The only people who typically don't want a confident partner are people who have a need to dominate and control their relationships. My guess is that you're not looking for someone to control you.

Good luck, Lori, and let me know what happens with your online dating search.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Common Law Confusion

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DEAR JIM: I'm 63 years old and living with a 71 year old man on a ranch he inherited from his parents many years ago. He was widowed ten years ago and we've been living together nearly eight years. He's not in great health (he has emphysema and diabetes). I hate to sound selfish or greedy, but I worry about what would happen if he passes away. A couple of friends have told me that after seven years of living together I'm considered his common law wife. Is that true? And does that mean I'd inherit the ranch if he dies before me? He has two daughters, if that matters. ("Joanie" in Nevada)

DEAR JOANIE: Common law marriage is a very misunderstood subject, but the bottom line in your case is that it doesn't apply to you or your relationship. There are only nine states that currently recognize common law marriages, and Nevada is not one of them. And even in those nine states, living together does not automatically grant the couple common law marriage status, no matter how long the cohabitation has lasted.

So if the man you're living with were to die, you would not automatically be entitled to a share of his estate, the way you would if the two of you were married to each other. You could still inherit the ranch, as well as any or all other property he may own at the time of his death, but only if he leaves a valid will naming you as his beneficiary. Without a will, his daughters would inherit everything.

I know it may be awkward to bring up these matters with him, but you've really got to. You've invested eight years of your life in a relationship that could---for no fault of yours---end suddenly, and you'd have nothing to show for it. Even if, for whatever reason, he doesn't want to get married, he should at least have a will, and so should you. It would cost very little to have an attorney draw up "reciprocal" wills---wills that are the mirror images of each other, and that leave everything to the person who dies first.

The truth is, even though he may be in poor health, life sometimes throws a curveball: he may outlive you. The fact that you'd be willing to leave everything you have to him if he's willing to do the same, should make it easier to discuss the issue without your looking selfish in any way.

Good luck, Joanie, and please let me know what happens.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Get Mom to a Lawyer!

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DEAR JIM: My mother is a widow in her early 70's. Dad died five years ago and, fortunately, left her in good shape financially. But recently, she's taken up with a guy in his 60's who my sister and I feel is a slippery character. He's vague about his background. He's supposedly a "long-time widower", with kids "out of state", and lives off his "investments", but he never says what those investments are or how he made his money in the first place. Google searches on him turn up next to nothing. My mother told us that they're planning to get married on Valentine's Day, and will be going on a Caribbean cruise for their honeymoon. Mom has already put a deposit down on the cruise using her credit card---his funds are supposedly "tied up." When we try to talk sense to her, she gets angry with us, and tells us we don't know what it's like to be lonely (my sister and I are both married). Is there anything we can do legally to keep my mother from making a big mistake? ("Sally" in Dallas)

DEAR SALLY: I agree with you this all smells fishy, but I doubt that a court would intervene at this point. Although every state has guardianship and "conservatorship" laws that can, in extreme cases, transfer some or all of a person's decision-making powers to a relative or other person, there has to be a clear-cut case of incapacity proven. Bad judgment isn't enough. Unless it's combined with seriously-diminished physical and/or mental capacity---which, at the very least, would require a doctor's written opinion---courts will usually stay away from cases like this.

However, that doesn't mean a lawyer can't help you and your mother. In fact, I strongly recommend that she immediately consult a lawyer who specializes in domestic relations law. The reason is that, assuming you can't persuade your mother not to go ahead with the wedding, she absolutely needs a pre-nuptial agreement.

In a properly-drafted "pre-nup", both parties would fully disclose their respective finances and personal information prior to the wedding. The lawyer your mother hires would represent only her. If the boyfriend wants to be represented by a lawyer, he'd have to get his own (and some states require both parties to a pre-nup to have separate representation). Your mother's lawyer's job would be to make sure that her boyfriend is coming clean about his income, assets, debts, marital history, and all other relevant facts. An experienced lawyer could quickly tell if someone is being evasive or dishonest, and he would advise your mother accordingly.

A domestic relations lawyer would probably also have access to investigative tools that go beyond simple google searches. He might be able to uncover information about the boyfriend that could convince your mother to break off the relationship without even getting to the pre-nup stage.

I know your mother seems to be headstrong about this, but it's quite possible that she might listen to an "outside" professional more readily than to you and your sister. A lot of older people are resentful of what they see as power plays by their children. They resist giving up authority of any kind to their children, and will do almost anything---including making bad decisions---to assert their independence. A lawyer wouldn't normally present the same kind of threat to your mother.

I hope this helps, Sally. Please let me know what happens.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Going Broke in the Dating World

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DEAR JIM: I'm 46 years old and have been divorced a little over a year. I'm paying $950 a month in child support, and I'm still paying half the mortgage on the house my ex-wife and kids live in, plus the rent on my own apartment. I'm fortunate to have a decent job, but I have very little discretionary income at this point. I've met a few women through an online dating site, but every date I've gone on has been expensive and has lead to nothing. I hate to look cheap, but I can't afford to drop a hundred dollars or more on a first date with someone I may never see again. Is it OK to go Dutch on a date, or would it be the kiss of death to suggest it? ("Ron" in Connecticut)

DEAR RON: Before I answer your question, let me suggest an alternative. You don't have to spend a hundred dollars on a first date, regardless of who pays. In fact, even aside from the money involved, it's crazy to go to dinner at a nice restaurant with someone you barely know. If the chemistry isn't there, you'll both realize it before you've finished your first drink, and for the next hour or two you'll be making uncomfortable small talk while at the same time running up a substantial bill.

First dates should be in places that are inexpensive and where there is no automatic expectation of a lengthy time commitment. A coffee shop is an ideal venue for first dates; you'd have to buy a lot of lattes and pastries to drop $20 or $25, and you can make a graceful exit after thirty minutes if things aren't going well. On the other hand, if things are going well, you can usually linger as long as you'd like, or just leave together and take a nice stroll.

Another reason not to spend big bucks on first dates is that the woman may feel you're trying to buy her. This is one of those issues that cause a great deal of mutual misunderstanding and mutual resentment. The man feels that the woman is happy to let him lavish his money on her, and the woman feels that the guy is acting like he owns her. It's a common problem in the dating world.

Getting back to your question about going Dutch, I personally don't like the idea, unless the woman insists on it (there's nothing to be gained in arguing with a woman). If you're keeping your costs to a minimum and not obviously hinting at a "quid pro quo", you're more likely to come across as a man of sophistication if you pick up the tab. I may be old-fashioned in this regard, but I think that, when it comes to women, a little treat is never a bad idea. But keep the treats little, especially on first dates. You don't want to miss a child support payment because of too many fancy restaurant meals.

Good luck, Ron, and let me know how your next date goes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Cohabitation Blues

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DEAR JIM: I'm a 34 year old woman. I've been going with my boyfriend for about four years, and living with him for two years. When he moved in with me, I thought it would be the next step in our relationship, and that we'd soon be making plans to get married. Instead, it seems like we're farther from marriage now than we were before. Whenever I bring up the subject, my boyfriend says "Why should we rock the boat?" He feels we've got a nice thing going right now, and that marriage is just asking for trouble (he likes to cite the 50% divorce rate). My friends say he's stringing me along, but I'd like a man's perspective, which is why I'm writing to you. Thanks. ("Frustrated" in Portland, Oregon)

DEAR "FRUSTRATED": I agree with your friends: your boyfriend is stringing you along.

He may not be doing it intentionally, but he's perfectly happy with the current set-up and he has no motivation to change it. My guess is he has a nice place to live in and a nice woman to sleep with, cook for him, and keep him company. If you're not going to press him for a commitment, why should he offer one on his own?

The problem with cohabitation arrangements is that most women go into it with your attitude (that it's a step closer to marriage), and most guys go into it with your boyfriend's attitude (that's it's a great way to eat well, live in a clean house, and have sex regularly). Unless the woman gives the guy an ultimatum, things just drift along until one of the other of them takes up with someone new or finds some other reason to end the relationship.

And that's my advice to you: give him an ultimatum. But an ultimatum doesn't have to mean a threat, nor does it have to be delivered in an angry tone. In fact, it's a positive message. You'd be telling your boyfriend you love him enough to want to spend the rest of your life with him. You're willing to make a lifelong commitment to him, but only if he's willing to make one to you, and by "lifelong commitment" you mean marriage.

As for a timetable, I think it's reasonable to give him thirty days to make a decision, but I wouldn't give him more than that. And I wouldn't accept an answer that says he'll marry you "someday" or in "a couple of years." Unless he's willing to set a wedding date within a year, move on with your life.

By the way, the argument about the 50% divorce rate is, at best, very misleading. We know the divorce rates because every state keeps statistics on the number of marriages and the number of divorces each year. But there are no official statistics on the break-up of non-marriage cohabitations. My guess is, though, that 95% of such cohabitations fail within ten years, and probably only 25% of them last as long as five years. So, if you're looking for permanence, don't look at cohabitation.

Good luck, "Frustrated", and let me know what happens.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

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DEAR JIM: I heard you on a radio show talking about online dating, and I remember you said that long-distance relationships are not necessarily a waste of time, especially when one person is seriously thinking of moving close to where the other person lives. I live in the Tampa Bay area, and I met a great guy from Chicago through He says he's fed up with Midwestern winters, and wants to move to Florida before Thanksgiving. The only thing is, he won't have the money to buy a place here until he can sell his condo in Chicago. He says that if I let him move in with me temporarily, he'll pay me $1,000 a month rent. I do have an extra bedroom, and I could certainly use the money, but I feel a little funny about having someone move in that I don't really know (we've talked on the phone many times, but have never met in person). Any thoughts? ("Jennifer" from Clearwater)

DEAR JENNIFER: You're right to "feel funny" about all of this. In both a legal and a personal sense, this could turn into a disaster for you.

Legally, if your online friend moves in with you, you'd be creating a landlord-tenant relationship. I don't know the details of Florida law, but in general once a tenancy is created, a tenant has all sorts of protections. If he pays you the first month's rent and then suddenly stops paying, it may take you up to three months to evict him, during which time you'd be paying court costs and legal fees. Unless you're in the business of owning rental properties, you shouldn't become a landlord these days unless it's an absolute last resort.

In a personal sense, the situation could still be a disaster even if he pays the rent each month. What if, after you finally meet in person, it turns out that you really don't think of him as a romantic partner, but he thinks of you that way? It would be extremely uncomfortable, to say the least, to have to share a house with someone under those circumstances. You'd be spending all your time trying to avoid him, and you probably wouldn't feel comfortable bringing some new boyfriend over. There's even the possibility of a sexual assault. I just don't see any good coming of this.

If the guy really does have a sincere desire to move to Florida, and the money to do it, let him find his own place, or let someone else take him on as a roommate. That way, you can still see each other if you want, but without the legal complications, the financial risk, and the interpersonal and sexual tensions.

Good luck, Jennifer, and let me know how it turns out.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Married, But Living Separately?

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DEAR JIM: I'm 64 and have been a widow for ten years. About nine months ago, I met a wonderful man, "Carl", at a lunch club for widows and widowers. Carl is 66 and lost his wife three years ago. We fell in love almost immediately, and we're already talking marriage. The only thing that concerns me is that Carl doesn't want us to live together after we're married. We're both homeowners---in fact, we live only a mile from each other---and either one of our homes is big enough for two people to share. But Carl is perfectly happy with continuing the kind of relationship we have now after we're married: seeing each other for lunch and dinner almost every day, staying overnight together two or three times a week at one place or the other, going away on weekend trips every so often, etc. In some ways it sounds appealing; I've been living alone for so long I'm not sure how easy it would be to share a home again. But it also sounds a little crazy, like it wouldn't be a "real" marriage. And isn't it a waste of money to have two houses when one will do? What do you think? ("Karen" in South Florida)

DEAR KAREN: Financially speaking, it probably is a waste of money to have two houses when one will suffice. You would have twice the taxes, twice the insurance, twice the maintenance and utilities, and---if you don't own your homes outright---twice the mortgage payments.

But you would also have twice the space. And space, literally or figuratively, is what Carl seems to want. Like you, he's evidently comfortable with the daily routine he's developed since being on his own. It sounds as if he's successfully adapted that routine to allow for a significant amount of time with you, and it also sounds as if there is no other woman in his life or any other troubling reason for his not wanting to live with you full-time.

My personal feeling is that what Carl wants is unusual but not "crazy." In fact, it may be perfectly rational. He may fear that sharing a house full-time would destroy the romance you have now, or cause one or both of you to grow irritated with the other person's habits. He may like the idea of staying up late several nights a week to read or watch TV without keeping you up, or lingering over the morning paper without having to make conversation.

In my book, I discuss what I call "unconventional" marriages. In essence, I say that if a particular arrangement works for the two people involved, and there are no child-rearing issues to complicate things, it doesn't matter how strange it may appear to the rest of the world. In fact, the rest of the world may be jealous of a married couple who respect each other's need for alone-time, and see each other only when they really want to.

Of course, if you're truly uncomfortable with Carl's idea, you shouldn't get married to him. But if your main concern is how the arrangement would look to others, I wouldn't let that influence your decision. As for the money, it sounds like the two of you are doing pretty well right now, so your standard of living shouldn't be compromised if you were to get married.

Good luck, Karen, and please let me know what happens.

Monday, September 28, 2009

His Driving is Driving Her Crazy!

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DEAR JIM: My husband has always been a pretty aggressive driver, but over the past couple of years he's gotten worse. He can't drive across town without at least once leaning on the horn, giving someone the finger, following too closely, etc. I cringe when I'm with him, and I'm afraid that one of these days there will be a road rage incident like you read about in the newspaper. He knows I'm terrified of getting into an accident or some other incident, but if I say something he just gets angrier, accusing me of siding with the other driver over him. I try not to drive with him unless it's necessary, but we do go a lot of places together (restaurants, weekend trips, etc.), and he won't even consider letting me drive "his" truck. What can I do? ("Lynda" in Tennessee)

DEAR LYNDA: I'm hoping you have another vehicle you can drive, because I don't think you should even get in your husband's truck until he's gotten some psychological help. He's got major anger-management issues, and it's just a matter of time before---as you said---you'll be reading about him in the newspaper.

It may feel strange at first, but you're going to have to start going places in two separate vehicles. When he demands to know why, you'll want to stay calm and stay in control. Explain that it's been obvious for a long time that you're uncomfortable being in the truck with him, and that it's best for both of you that you go in separate vehicles for the time being.

If he asks what "the time being" means, tell him that it's entirely up to him; once he gets help and changes his driving habits for the better, you'll be happy to start going places together again. To give him some practical information, you might want to do a google search of defensive-driving programs in your area, most of which at least touch on road rage prevention. You might also want to find out if there are psychologists nearby who deal with anger-management issues regularly. Because judges will often require anger-management sessions for people convicted of aggressive driving offenses, your local traffic court may be an excellent source of information.

With guys like your husband, I would be careful not to provoke him even more by implying that he is totally at fault. Tell him that you know that there are a lot of idiots out there on the road, but that there's nothing he can do about them except keep his distance from them. Tell him you don't want to see him do something crazy, even if in theory he's in the right, nor do you want to see him wind up in jail, or in the hospital, or in the morgue.

But don't be so supportive that you back down; your safety and your sanity are at stake. And don't think about the monetary costs. Whatever extra money you'll have to spend on gas by taking two vehicles, or whatever the anger-management treatment will cost, is a pittance compared to the cost of car repairs, hospital bills, lawyer fees, insurance surcharges, and God-knows-what else.

Good luck, Lynda, and let me know how it turns out.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

High School Reunion Controversy

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DEAR JIM: My 30th high school reunion is coming up in a couple of months, and my wife has made it clear that she wants to go with me. I'm not wild about the idea. My wife doesn't know any of my old classmates (she and I grew up in different states, and none of my old friends were at our wedding three years ago), and I'm sure she'll be bored stiff. Also, I'm worried that it won't be fun for me if she's by my side the whole time. Don't get me wrong: I'm not looking to hook up with old girlfriends. (I went to a few previous reunions when I was married to my first wife, and believe me, nothing happened). But I don't want to be inhibited about what I say to people, or have people feel inhibited about saying things to me. Is there any way I can gently explain to her that it will be better for both of us if I go alone, without triggering suspicions on her part? ("Joe" on Long Island)

DEAR JOE: I agree with you that spouses and reunions are often a bad mix, especially when the spouse doesn't know anyone there. Unfortunately, though, spouses often insist on going anyway, and not only because they might be suspicious of old girlfriends or concerned that you might drink too much with your old buddies. There's actually a good reason your wife might want to go: she may want to know more about who you are.

Think about it: the two of you have only been married a relatively short time. I don't know your wife's age, but you were apparently in your mid-40's when you got married. Whether you realize it or not, she may be very curious about the kind of person you were in your younger days, and eager to see the reactions of your friends when they see you again.

I think you should talk to your wife and make sure she understands that the purpose of your reunion---of any class reunion---is to reconnect with old friends and rehash old stories. Make sure she understands that some of those friends may seem like total idiots to her, but they mean a lot to you. And make sure she understands that the stories you'll all tell will be funnier to you than they will be to her.

And I would also tell your wife exactly what you told me about the old girlfriends. If she's been to her own reunions, she should already know that, yes, some flirtation is bound to occur, but that flirtation doesn't have to lead to a hook-up. In fact, thirty years of aging (on everyone's part) will often provide a reality-check when it comes to romantic fantasies.

If, after hearing all that from you, your wife still wants to go, then you have no choice but to take her. But you'll both have to go there with the right attitudes: no expressions of boredom on her part, and no "I'm here with my chaperone" attitude on yours. Introduce her proudly to your friends, and don't forget to introduce her to your old girlfriends, too. And, if possible, try to introduce her to some other "lonely spouse"; it might be fun for your wife and it might take the pressure off of you to constantly entertain her. You never know: you may have a better time with your wife there than you would by yourself.

Good luck, Joe, and let me know what happens.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

End the Marriage After an Affair?

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DEAR JIM: I learned two weeks ago that my husband had an affair with a 23 year old intern at his marketing firm (he's 40). They apparently saw each other all summer until she returned to grad school in another state. I learned of the affair inadvertently after reading some e-mails that he sent to her in the middle of the night and failed to erase. He admitted that he had sex with her but insisted that it was she who came on to him. He also insists that it's the one and only time something like this has ever happened in our six years of marriage, and promised that it will never happen again. My friends all say that I'd be crazy to stay with him, and that it's probably not the first time it happened, only the first time he's been caught. I'm distraught and really torn. I don't want to throw out the good with the bad, but neither do I want to be a fool. Any advice? ("Tortured" in Chicago)

DEAR "TORTURED": A lot of people feel the way your friends do---that with adultery, it's one strike and you're out. And a lot of people believe that all adulterers become serial adulterers, and that even when they get caught they still can't be trusted. There's certainly plenty of real-world evidence to support their beliefs, but the problem with listening to friends is that it's your life, not theirs, that will change irrevocably if you terminate your marriage. You have to decide if divorce is really what you want.

Being tortured by indecision is no way to live, but neither is being tortured by regret later on. I think what both you and your husband need to do is to take a collective deep breath and start communicating again---simply, honestly, and without accusations, excuses, or meltdowns. You'll both need to understand why the affair happened. "She threw herself at me", even if true, doesn't tell the whole story. The real issue is why he was so receptive to her come-on.

It won't be easy to discuss these kinds of things without getting some help. You may want to consult a marriage counselor, particularly one who specializes in infidelity issues. You may also want to check out, a website and online support group created by a couple in Vancouver, Anne and Brian Bercht, whose marriage was ultimately strengthened after his affair forced them to confront some major issues in their marriage.

You may or may not eventually decide to stay with your husband, but you owe it to yourself---and to him, too---to make a sincere effort to figure out what went wrong and (if possible) what can still be done to make things right.

Good luck, "Tortured." I hope you'll let me know your decision once you've had time to recover from your pain.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

When Your Husband is a Porn Addict

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DEAR JIM: My husband and I have been married thirty years. We used to have a good sex life, but it's been nearly five years since we last made love. I'm not happy about that, but I could probably accept it if my husband was medically unable to perform. But he goes on porn sites all the time. I know this because he never deletes his Internet history, and I've seen days when he's been on over a dozen porn sites. Jim, I may not be as slim or pretty as I once was, but I think I still look pretty good for my age. Why would a man prefer pictures to a real-life woman? What can I do about it? ("Yvonne" in Colorado)

DEAR YVONNE: If it makes you feel any better, you're not alone. Pornography addiction among men is rampant these days. A sex therapist I know says that pornography's appeal can be explained by the "Three A's": it's accessible, affordable, and anonymous.

A guy who prefers porn to a real flesh-and-blood woman is saying, in effect, that he's not interested in foreplay, or seduction, or pleasing a woman. He's saying that he doesn't want to talk before or after sex, and that he doesn't want to deal with the imperfections of real-world bodies, or the demands made by real-world sex partners.

He may also be conscious of his waning sexual prowess. More than a few porn addicts need to look at literally hundreds of nude pictures before they can get fully erect or before they can achieve orgasm. Sitting in front of a computer screen can be less threatening than lying in bed naked next to a woman.

But all that is an explanation, not an excuse. Your husband is not doing either of you a favor by his actions, and he's eventually going to cause you to have an affair or to file for divorce (or both). What you have to do---right away---is to seek marriage counseling, particularly with someone skilled in dealing with sexual issues. A licensed sexual therapist might also be a good idea.

In making the case for therapy, you don't necessarily have to tell your husband that you know he visits porn sites; the mere fact that you haven't had sex in five years is proof that something is wrong. You can remind him of how much you---and presumably he---used to enjoy making love, and how badly you miss those days. Once you begin therapy, you can confidentially tell the therapist what you learned from the Internet history.

If he balks at the idea of any kind of therapy, please refer to the advice I gave "Roberta" on August 16. It's vital for both of you that you get help, and you should be aggressive in seeking it and in persuading your husband to participate willingly.

Good luck, Yvonne, and let me know what happens.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Battling the Summer Invasion

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I'm 55 years old and have been married for seven months to "Tony", a widower. When we got married, I sold my condo in the city and moved into Tony's house in a seaside town about forty miles away. It was great until Memorial Day weekend, when we started getting besieged by visits from his brothers and sisters and their families, plus his two grown daughters and their kids. There were literally five days all summer when no one was visiting. Some of these visits overlapped, and when they did we had as many as nine guests at a time. One sister and her teenage kids stayed two weeks, and practically no one stayed less than a week. Tony had given me the impression that his family's visits were pretty much a weekend thing. I have a home-based consulting business that's impossible to run with all these people around. I'm already dreading next summer. Tony's a wonderful guy but he just can't say no to his family, and he's off at work five days a week and doesn't have to deal with everything the way I do. Any suggestions, short of running away? ("Ann Marie" in the Carolinas)

DEAR ANN MARIE: The old saying is, unfortunately, true, that you don't marry a person, you marry his whole family. And when you come in late in the game, there's a well-established system in place that is not going to be easy to dismantle. But if you want to stay married and also stay sane, you---and Tony---are going to have to make some changes to the system.

The first thing the two of you need to do is to have a serious conversation. You can point out, correctly but calmly, that you were under the impression that the visits were mainly on the weekends. You were mentally prepared to deal with having houseguests two or three days a week, and (presumably) you'd be willing to live with that in the future. You can also explain, if he doesn't realize it already, that you can't run a business with up to nine people wandering in and out of the house all day.

But try not to criticize his relatives overtly, even if they deserve criticism; it will just make him defensive. Instead, make it clear that you need to work together to come up with a solution for next summer and beyond. What you'll probably have to do, prior to the end of this year, is to send out joint letters or e-mails to everyone who's visited and let them know that next summer you won't be able to accommodate guests other than on weekends, and even then only one group of guests at a time. Urge them to make their "reservations" as early as possible, and mention that you'll be happy to help people find hotels or rental properties if they want to stay longer.

Inevitably, you're going to be "blamed" for this. "Gee, Dad marries Ann Marie and all of a sudden she's running the place." And if he's the soft touch you say he is, he may be tempted to bend the rules if his relatives plead their case to him directly (and they will). But, for the sake of your marriage, it's vital that the two of you present a united front.

So, I hope you won't need to run away next summer. But maybe at the end of the summer you and Tony can go away somewhere for a week or so and enjoy some together-time, away from your jobs and other people. Knowing that you've got a nice "reward" ahead of you may make it easier to put up with the disruptions that even weekend visits can cause.

Good luck, Ann Marie, and let me know how it turns out.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"It Takes Two, Baby..."

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: In your last post [Tuesday, August 11] you advised "Stephanie" to seek marriage counseling and/or sex therapy. But what if her husband refuses to go with her? That's my problem. My husband and I have all kinds of issues but whenever I bring up counseling he says I can do what I want but he's not interested. Should I just go on my own? I'm sick of beating my head against the wall. ("Roberta" in upstate New York).

DEAR ROBERTA: You certainly can go to counseling on your own, but it wouldn't be marriage counseling. Marriage counseling (or "couples" counseling) by definition requires the active involvement of both parties to the relationship.

I don't know your husband, so I don't know the reason he's reluctant to participate in marriage counseling. However, there are several possibilities, the worst of which is that he's simply washed his hands of responsibility for maintaining the relationship. In this scenario, he's saying, in effect, "Hey, it's your problem (if you think there's a problem). Do something about it if you want, but don't bother me."

If that's truly his attitude, you should still seek counseling on your own, but the counseling will have to be focused on you: whether you should stay in the marriage or not, whether you can live a satisfying life knowing your husband is unwilling to participate in problem-solving, etc.

A second possibility is that your husband knows he's wrong, but is afraid of being told that by some outside person. He may feel that he's capable of changing, but that he'll do it his way. Of course, "his" way may mean doing nothing. But in this scenario, there's at least a glimmer of hope, in that your husband doesn't necessarily see the problem as yours alone.

A third possibility is that he may think that you and the marriage counselor are going to gang up on him, especially if the counselor is a woman. Or he may fear that he won't be able to express his feelings the way a woman can. In cases like this, one solution might be to find a male counselor, especially one who doesn't use a lot of intimidating jargon or "therapy talk." But even before you get that far, your husband might want to see a counselor on his own for a few sessions. It's possible that he's reluctant to express his feelings about your marriage in front of you, but he might open up to someone if you're not in the room. After a while, he might lose his inhibitions and be ready for a traditional "couples" approach.

Whatever your husband's reasons may be for avoiding counseling, you need to stress to him that a) you still love him; but b) your marital problems are not going to go away just because he chooses to avoid them. I wouldn't threaten him with divorce at this point, but I would say something like, "Our marriage means so much to me, and I would hate to see it end over something we can still work out."

None of this will be easy, but if you're persistent in a positive way there's a good chance your husband will come around.

Good luck, Roberta, and let me know what happens.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When "Honesty" Goes Too Far

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any question you may have to

DEAR JIM: I'm 49 and have been married nearly twenty years. I love my husband and would never want to leave him, but our sex life is the weak link in our relationship. I've probably always had a stronger sex drive than him, but the gap seems to be widening. He can still perform, but I always have to initiate everything, and even then he'll often find a way to put it off (too tired, etc.). That's the background. My immediate problem is that earlier this summer I had an affair. I met a very attractive man at a conference we were both attending, and we wound up having sex three times that week. I knew from the beginning there would be no future in it---he's married, too, and lives halfway across the country---but I did it anyway, and now I'm feeling terrible. I can't get rid of the guilt, but at the same time I know that I wouldn't have gotten into that situation if I was getting what I needed at home. Should I confess to my husband? At least then he would know how how frustrated I am, but also how much I want to stay married. ("Stephanie" in Canada)

DEAR STEPHANIE: Confessing to your husband would be a mistake, even if accompanied by a declaration of love and a plea for forgiveness.

I gather that there's no continuing communication between you and the other man---if there is, end it immediately---so there's little or no chance your husband would ever find out what happened on his own. What possible good would come of your telling him? Think about it. Do you really think his reaction would be that he's sorry he pushed you into the affair by ignoring your needs? Do you really think he'd be able to forgive, forget, and start trusting again?

Despite the lip service we all pay to "honesty", it's not always a virtue, especially when the person on the receiving end never asked for full disclosure and probably isn't prepared to deal with it. It's no fun bearing the burden of guilt, but you'll feel even guiltier if your confession backfires. A famous writer once said that we may hurt ourselves with our sins, but we only hurt others with our confessions. He's right.

But you can still turn your experience into something positive for your marriage. It's understandable that you're unhappy with your sex life at home, and if something isn't done to improve it you'll eventually be seeking sex outside your marriage again (temptation will often trump guilt, especially when you add self-justification to the mix). The two of you really need to see a marriage counselor and/or a qualified sex therapist as soon as possible. I'm not necessarily saying that your husband's sex drive will ever be the equal of yours, but with awareness and motivation he should be able to please you a lot more and keep you from looking elsewhere.

The only things you need to "confess" to your husband at this point are your desire to have a more satisfying sex life and marriage, and your interest in getting outside help. As long as you express your needs clearly but without overtly criticizing your husband or blaming him, he shouldn't be threatened by these legitimate requests.

I hope this helps, Stephanie. Let me know how it turns out.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Is There a "Right Time" to Remarry?

(NOTE: Beginning today, my blog will be devoted to relationship questions submitted by readers. If you have a question, please send it to

DEAR JIM: How soon after a divorce is it OK to get seriously involved with another person? I'm a 41 year old man, was married for nine years, have been divorced less than a year, and have three boys who live with my ex, but whom I see several times a week. A month after my divorce became final, I met a woman who seems ideal in every way. We've become enormously attracted to each other, and neither of us wants to date anyone else. She's beginning to talk about living together and possibly getting married. I do love her, but I'm a bit uneasy about that level of commitment. Am I being too cautious? I don't want to lose her, but I want to be sure I never go through another divorce again. ("Scott" in Texas)

DEAR SCOTT: You're right to be concerned. Men, in general, are far more likely than women to become involved with a new person soon after a divorce. There's nothing inherently wrong with forming a new relationship so quickly, but many men do it for the wrong reasons. Wrong reasons can include panic, depression, a need to restore self-esteem, revenge against the "ex", an inability to function without a woman around, or pressure from a new girlfriend to commit prematurely.

Because men like to define themselves by actions, in times of stress men are prone to "do something" rather than dwell on the causes of the stress. The problem is, what a man will often do is the same thing that brought about the stress in the first place; jumping, so to speak, from the frying pan into the fire. This is one of the reasons why second and third marriages have an even higher divorce rate than first marriages.

You actually have made a commitment to your new girlfriend, in that you love her and are not interested in seeing other women. What you need to do is to reassure her that your commitment is real, but that you need more time to reflect on what went wrong in your marriage and to get over the hurt of your divorce. You also need more time to see how your relationship with your kids evolves, and to see how her relationship with your kids evolves.

I think that if you just level with her, and emphasize that you're not stringing her along or seeing other women on the side, she'll understand. She may even respect you more for it. As for how long this will take, I don't think waiting another year is unreasonable. It wouldn't be the worst thing---for either of you---to hold off until you've had an argument or two, and seen each other in good times and bad.

Good luck, and let me know what happens.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Announcing a Contest!

Do you need relationship advice? Would you like to win a prize? Well, you came to the right place!

Beginning August 1, 2009, I'm going to be writing a weekly advice column. I'll be answering questions from readers struggling with issues concerning marriage, divorce, post-divorce dating, and men-women relationships in general. Time permitting, I will try to answer each question individually and privately, but I will publish the best question submitted each week, along with my response, in the column.

What constitutes the "best" question? Well, I guess I have to say I'll know it when I see it! In general, I'm looking for questions that a reader in the 35-to-65 age group would find interesting and relevant.

To jump-start the process, I'll be giving an autographed copy of my book, "Mid-Life Divorce and the Rebirth of Commitment", to the first ten people who submit questions that I use in the column.

All you need to do is to send an e-mail with your question to The more information you include, the easier it will be for me to understand your situation, but I may edit the published version for space considerations, as well as for spelling and grammar. I will not publish any identifying information about you but, if you want to be eligible for a prize, you will of course have to give me your complete mailing address, with zip code.

Initially, the questions and answers will be published in this blog space, but eventually I expect to have a separate site devoted to them.

So, if you've got an issue that's been bothering you, tell me about it. I may be able to help. And maybe reading my book will help you even more.

I look forward to hearing from you.

P.S.---Although I am an attorney (licensed in Massachusetts only), any advice I may give in connection with this column is NOT intended to be legal advice, and should not be relied on as such. If you have a specific legal question or problem, please consult a qualified attorney in your home state.

Friday, July 10, 2009

R.I.P.: Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi

"Never go to bed with a woman who has more problems than you do."
(Nelson Algren, American novelist)

"You play around, you lose your wife,
You play too long, you lose your life."
(From the country song, "Good Time Charley's Got the Blues")

The recent murder-suicide deaths of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair and his twenty-year old girlfriend, Sahel Kazemi, have put me in a pretty depressed mood the past week. I had followed McNair's career from the early '90's, when he was compiling sensational passing records at tiny Alcorn State University, to his retirement a couple of years ago from the Tennessee Titans. Like most football fans, I admired not only his skills but also his toughness. McNair would "play hurt", as they say, unlike so many players of today who will nurse an injury forever rather than jeopardize their future earning capacity. And, from what I had heard, he always gave back to the community in ways large and small.

McNair was also known as a great family man. He married his college sweetheart, Mechelle, who became a nurse and was by all accounts a wonderful wife to McNair and wonderful mother to their four kids. Even though injuries finally forced McNair to retire from football a bit prematurely at age 34, the family was financially set for life. As a player, McNair hadn't squandered his money on Ferraris or thirty-room mansions; he and Mechelle lived an upscale, but not flamboyant, lifestyle, and their kids' needs always seemed to come first.

Or so it seemed.

It turns out that, apparently unbeknownst to Mechelle, Steve McNair was living a double life. At some point, he and a buddy of his purchased a condo in Nashville to entertain women. One of those women was Sahel Kazemi. Ms. Kazemi's friends and family members say she was outgoing and fun in public, but subject to severe mood swings. Her mother was murdered when Kazemi was nine years old, after which she lived with a variety of relatives before setting out on her own in her late teens. At the time she met McNair, she was struggling to support herself as a waitress, and she was reportedly overwhelmed by the attention, the gifts, and the romance that soon followed.

For several months, McNair and Kazemi were seeing each other three or four times a week in Nashville, and sometimes flying off together for beach vacations. He bought her a Cadillac Escalade, although, inexplicably, he put the title in both of their names. According to her close friends, he told her he was going to get divorced and marry her. She wanted to believe him---she did believe him---until the night she arrived early at McNair's condo and saw another young woman hastily leaving.

We'll never know what, if anything, she and McNair said to each other after that, but within a day or so Kazemi had managed to buy a 9 mm. pistol for $100 from a guy in a parking lot, the same pistol she used to pump four bullets into McNair before she put one into her own brain.

So, is this yet another story of a guy with money who thinks he can play around and never get caught? Maybe. And is it yet another story of an emotionally-fragile young woman who will believe what she wants to believe, and then totally freak out when she learns the truth? Maybe. But it's also a story of a loving wife who, perhaps, trusted too much. And it's a story of four little kids who once had a father and now just have some memories.

It's all so sad, and so unnecessary.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Governor's Love Story

"Yeah, he's got it bad. It's obvious he has a head-over-heels crush on that woman."
(Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage: A History", referring to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and his Argentine lover, Maria Belen Chapur)

I've said several times over the years that this is not a political blog, but it seems that I'm always writing about politicians and their extramarital adventures. It would be hard not to say something about Governor Mark Sanford, whose rather amazing story has been front-page news for the past week, and which promises to drag on for some time. But I'm not interested in discussing his hypocrisy, or his irresponsibility (both to his family and to the citizens of his state), or his use of public funds to carry on the affair---I'll leave all that to the real political bloggers.

Instead, I want to comment on two aspects of the situation that distinguish it from other political sex scandals. The first is that the governor's wife has been quite vocal in expressing her displeasure with her husband's behavior, and has by no means indicated that she can or will forgive him or take him back. In my last blog entry, I mentioned that Nevada Senator John Ensign's wife was conspicuously absent when he publicly confessed his affair, but otherwise Mrs. Ensign has remained in the background. By contrast, Mrs. Sanford hasn't hesitated to speak to reporters and camera crews, even from the driver's seat of her minivan with her kids in the back seat listening to every word.

Could it be that the era of the loyal-to-a-fault political wife has finally (and mercifully) come to an end?

The other fascinating aspect of the Sanford case is that this was not a fling with a young or ambitious campaign aide, or a two-hour hotel room tryst with a prostitute. It was---and perhaps still is---a real love affair. A love affair that (supposedly) began as a long and genuine friendship, with a woman who, by all accounts, is a woman of intelligence, sophistication, and class. I'm not, by the way, implying that Mrs. Sanford doesn't have those same qualities---she definitely does, as far as I can tell, and she's good-looking, too. But when such qualities are combined with a charming foreign accent, and when the new woman seems to be on your wavelength in every way, common sense goes out the window and a man starts thinking, saying, and doing things he never dreamed possible.

To me, what makes Governor Sanford a fascinating figure is that he knew that he was risking everything---his wife, his kids, his career---when he flew down to Argentina the most recent time. He had to have known that his unexplained absence would spark widespread media coverage. He had to have known that the truth would come out quickly and relentlessly, and that the repercussions would be severe. It's as if he had a death wish. Most other straying politicians undoubtedly knew, at some level, that they were taking a big risk, but they were typically so arrogant that they never considered that they might get caught. Governor Sanford was not so much arrogant as he was fatalistic; he was determined to do what he needed to do, and let the chips fall as they may.

I'm not saying I admire the guy, but I am saying I find him interesting, complex, even tragic. Although he's a man, in one big respect he's like many of the tragic heroines of literature and film: he was willing to risk everything for an impossible love. It will be interesting to see how the story ends, but one thing is clear: the lives of everyone involved will never be the same again. But I guess that's always been the case with love.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas? Not This Time!

"Rattled, humbled, and alone at the podium, Sen. Ensign acknowledged to reporters an extramarital affair, the sort of moral failing he's criticized in the past."
(From a June 18 Associated Press story)

In a story that seems all-too-familiar, Nevada Senator John Ensign finds himself in a mess this week, his political future sinking faster than a drunk's bankroll in a Las Vegas casino.

I'll leave to others the condemnation of Senator Ensign's hypocrisy (apparently, he's been a critic of politically-prominent adulterers and a staunch defender of "family values"), but there are other aspects of this situation I find interesting. For one thing, his wife was not at his side when he faced the press. We've gotten so used to that loyal-wife-with-frozen-smile performance that we seem to have forgotten that political wives at least can be real people, not some prop for a staged press conference.

To the best of my knowledge, Mrs. Ensign has not publicly commented on the case, but her silence seems to say: "You can twist in the wind by yourself, Johnny Boy." Good for her! And good for all of us who have gotten tired of political wives being victimized a second time by being pressured to feign forgiveness and support when their world has just come undone.

I also find it intriguing that the woman Senator Ensign had the affair with, Cynthia Hampton, was the wife of his long-time top assistant, Doug Hampton, and that the two couples and their children had socialized together for years in their Las Vegas neighborhood. Obviously, familiarity can breed attraction as well as contempt, but how stupid can you be? If you're determined to have sex outside your marriage, don't do it right under the nose of your spouse. And even if you're willing to risk jeopardizing your marriage, don't also jeopardize your friendships and professional relationships.

Senator Ensign's stupidity continued even after the affair ended. Apparently, he used political campaign funds, which are closely regulated by Federal law, to try to keep Doug Hampton from going public about the affair once he found out. Whether Mr. Hampton had demanded a payout as a form of extortion is something that will undoubtedly be revealed in the weeks ahead. But the fact remains that Senator Ensign compounded his problems by inviting scrutiny of his campaign accounts, something that may lead to a criminal prosecution.

I said in my book that I'm a moral relativist when it comes to adultery, and what I mean by that is that I can sometimes sympathize with a person's temptation to have an affair, especially if he or she is in a truly unhappy marriage. I don't recommend giving in to the temptation, however, because an affair is not the best way to get what's missing in your marriage, and affairs tend to end badly. Sometimes very badly, as Senator Ensign is now finding out.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Breaking the Code

"Only about ten percent of the profiles contained out-and-out lies. But nearly ninety percent had exaggerations or evidence of delusional thinking."
(From an article in Online Dating News)

Although I encourage mid-life singles to give online dating a fair try, I stress that, on dating sites, what you read is not always what you get. In fact, even what you see is not always what you get, given the prevalence of photos showing someone when he or she was ten years younger or fifty pounds slimmer.

Most experienced online daters have developed a sixth sense about the veracity of claims made in member profiles, and are wary of vague-sounding terms like "attractive", "youthful-looking", and "height-weight proportionate." But for those who are just starting out in the world of online dating, I thought I'd offer my own take on what certain words or expressions might actually mean. We'll call it breaking the online code.

  • "Outgoing and fun" (Translation: Never shuts up)
  • "Intellectual interests and a quirky sense of humor" (Translation: Weird, neurotic, high maintenance)
  • "A young 55" (Translation: Might pass for 54 on a good day)
  • "Successful business owner" (Translation: Owns two taco stands, one of which is in foreclosure)
  • "Adventurous, will try anything once" (Translation: You'll be the third guy she takes to bed this week)
  • "Athletic build" (Translation: Yeah, if your sport is sumo wrestling)
  • "Attentive and Affectionate" (Translation: His hands will be all over you in the first five minutes)
  • "Let's meet for lunch" (Translation: Married)
  • "A few extra pounds" (Translation: A few extra pounds on top of many extra pounds)
  • "Seeking soulmate" (Translation: There's gotta be someone out there who can tolerate me)
  • "Commitment-minded" (Translation: Potential stalker)
  • "Friends first" (Translation: Hell will freeze over before I have sex with you)
  • "Will relocate for the right person" (Translation: Broke, unemployed, and facing eviction)
  • "Must love animals" (Translation: Known in her neighborhood as the crazy cat lady)
  • "Loves travel and fine dining" (Translation: If you're paying)
  • "Recently divorced" (Translation: Bitter and vindictive. All you'll talk about is the ex)
  • "Your pic gets mine" (Translation: I have a better chance if you don't know what I look like)
  • "New to online dating" (Translation: Just joined this site, but failed miserably on ten previous ones)
  • "Ready to finally settle down" (Translation: Can't get it up any more and nearly at death's door. Hoping someone will take him out of pity)

OK, I'm just kidding. But please do exercise a degree of skepticism when you browse the profiles. And try to meet a promising-sounding match in person at the earliest opportunity. There's nothing funny about wasting weeks or months corresponding with a person who's clearly wrong for you.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When $43,000,000 Just Won't Cut It

"I can't live on forty-three million dollars."
(Marie Douglas-David, testifying in her divorce trial in Hartford, Connecticut)

Described in the newspapers as a "36 year-old Swedish countess", Marie Douglas-Davis is in the process of getting a divorce from her husband, 67 year old George David, former CEO of United Technologies Corp. and (for now, anyway) a very wealthy man. How wealthy he'll be after the divorce, however, is very much up for grabs.

Although the couple has been married only since 2002, the marriage has reportedly been troubled since at least 2004, with each party accusing the other of multiple affairs. In 2005, after a series of separations and reconciliations, the couple signed a "postnuptial agreement", which provided that, should there be a divorce, Marie would get a lump-sum payment of forty-three million dollars from George, in lieu of alimony, real estate, or any other property.

Now, four years later, Marie wants the court to declare the agreement null and void. She claims she was coerced into signing it, and claims that the lump-sum amount is "embarrassingly small" in light of her husband's reported $329 million net worth. She now wants $100 million up front, plus $150,000 a month in alimony.

Although the case is in the news because of the outrageous financial statements that have been filed (among other things, Marie says she spends a minimum of $4,500 a week on clothing and $8,700 a week on travel expenses and limousine rides), I'm writing about it here because of the postnuptial agreement issue.

Postnuptial agreements are a lot less common than prenuptial agreements, and they're not recognized by statute everywhere, but they are coming into the mainstream of American family law. In essence, postnuptial agreements are prenuptial agreements entered-into after the wedding date, not before it. In the states where they are legally recognized, postnuptial agreements can address any and all of the issues that are addressed in prenuptial agreements, most notably property division and alimony in the event of divorce.

Like a prenuptial agreement, a postnuptial agreement allows a husband and wife to, in a sense, make their own law. For example, the agreement may specify that the wife shall receive alimony, even if she wouldn't normally qualify for it under her state's divorce laws. Or, the agreement may say that the parties will split their property or apportion their debts in a way that would not normally be ordered by the divorce court. The only exceptions are in the areas of child custody, support, and visitation, where the court will always consider the best interests of the child or children, and never rubber-stamp an agreement made in advance by the husband and wife. But, aside from issues involving the kids, just about everything else will be approved by the court in a state that recognizes postnuptial agreements.

So, how can Marie try to invalidate an agreement that she, herself, not only signed but had her own lawyer review? Her only hope---and, according to Connecticut legal experts, it's a very slim one---is to convince the judge that she signed it when she was "emotionally vulnerable" and not thinking straight. As she puts it, "What rational person would voluntarily accept a mere $43 million from a man worth over $300 million?"

Well, call me irrational, but I think $43 million after a seven year, childless marriage is not a bad deal. In fact, by trying to invalidate the agreement Marie is creating the possibility that the judge might invalidate the agreement and then award her less than the amount she would have gotten if the agreement had been enforced. It happens. I don't give legal advice in this column, but if I did it would be simple: take the money and run. And if you don't like to run, take a limo ride. $43 million will buy a lot of them.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Announcing "Relationship Radio"

Dear Friends:

Instead of my usual "Quote & Comment" article, I'd like to announce that "Relationship Radio with Jim Duzak" is about to debut on a computer near you.

The show will be broadcast live each Friday at 2:00PM Pacific time (5:00PM Eastern time), beginning March 6, 2009, on the Voice America Internet network ( Each show will be repeated twelve hours later, and will then be archived on the Voice America site within twenty-four hours, so you can listen to it at your convenience.

On each one-hour show, I'll be interviewing a guest with something interesting and important to say about marriage, divorce, midlife dating, widowhood, or men-women relationships in general. My first five guests, for example, are:
  • Frankie Picasso, the "Unstoppable Coach", who works with post-divorce singles and hosts the popular "Midlife Mojo" radio show.
  • Joanie Winberg, the founder and director of the National Association of Divorce for Women and Children, and also a long-time radio host.
  • Carole Brody Fleet, author of "Widows Wear Stilettos: a Practical and Emotional Guide for the Young Widow", and a frequent guest on national TV.
  • Lauren Bloom, lawyer and author of the groundbreaking book, "The Art of the Apology".
  • Kelly McDaniel, therapist, workshop leader, and author of "Ready to Heal: Women Facing Love, Sex, and Relationship Addiction".

My goal for each show is to have a conversation that's relaxed but stimulating, a conversation that will draw the listener in and provide pleasure as well as information. I'm hoping that the show will soon be "must" listening for anyone who cares about forming or enhancing committed relationships, or dealing with the challenges of widowhood, divorce recovery, or midlife dating.

If you're not already on my mailing list and would like to get a weekly reminder of upcoming shows, please write to me at

As always, thanks for your friendship and support, and please spread the word about "Relationship Radio".

Monday, February 9, 2009

Doing Ordinary Things Extraordinarily Well

"Small-but-frequent rewards are more effective than large one-time rewards."
(Joel Kotkin, M.D., author of "How to Change Your Spouse and Save Your Marriage")

Dr. Kotkin's observation about small-but-frequent rewards is something that has been demonstrated over and over in psychological experiments. In essence, people are happier when a lot of little things go well on a daily basis, than when one really good thing happens once in a great while, with nothing good in between.

This is true even when the big reward is greater, in totality, than the sum of all the small rewards. In playing a $1.00 lottery game, for example, most people would be happier winning $2.00 every day of the year, than winning nothing for 364 days and then $1,000 on a single day. In fact, if you win nothing too many times in a row, you'll probably stop playing entirely---a fact well known to the casino industry, which wants people to stay glued to their chairs at the slot machines hour after hour.

OK, but what does this have to do with relationships? Quite a bit, actually. To keep any relationship stimulating after the initial rush of emotions has subsided, we need to do a lot of little things on a regular basis. We need to pay more attention to the other person. We need to give little compliments; offer words of encouragement, sympathy, and appreciation; and promptly reward efforts or achievements---no matter how small those efforts or achievements may be. We need to smile more and complain less. We need to touch each other often, and let it be known that we're enjoying our life together, even when life is hard.

To be sure, we need to celebrate the once-a-year events: the birthdays, the anniversaries, the religious holidays, Valentine's Day. But we should try to extend these celebrations in little ways. We can, for example, give small gifts that say, "This made me think of you." Or we can take out picture albums that remind us of happy events we've shared, or look through travel brochures that stimulate our fantasies and help to reinforce the idea that we have a future---an enjoyable future---together. We don't have to go broke doing these things, nor do we have to disrupt our schedules to find the time to do them. We can work them into our life every day, seamlessly.

When you come right down to it, life consists of a lot of little things, a lot of ordinary things, along with a sprinkling of big things. If you concentrate on doing those ordinary things extraordinarily well, the big things will probably take care of themselves. And you'll always have a reason to celebrate, even when the calendar doesn't say it's a holiday.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Advertising Your Bitterness to the World

"PROVE to me there is a decent man SOMEWHERE on this planet"
(Headline in a "Women Seeking Men" ad in craigslist)

Craigslist ( is a popular place for trying to sell a car, sublet an apartment, dispose of an extra ticket to a basketball game, or barter a video game collection for a used mountain bike. It's also a place where people try to find romantic partners or sexual hook-ups. In fact, I read somewhere that the various "Personals" categories get more hits than all other categories combined, although---big surprise!---men are nearly twenty times more likely than women to be checking out "Casual Encounters", and much less likely to be perusing "Strictly Platonic".

According to craigslist's criteria, the "Men Seeking Women" and "Women Seeking Men" categories are supposed to be for people seeking "dating, romance, or long-term relationships". Thus, they constitute the middle ground between friends-only and no-strings sex. Although I'm a happily married man, I read these ads from time to time to get a sense of what people say and how they say it. Given that I met my wife through a personal ad, I think that ads and online profiles can, if done right, be a good way to meet people---not the only way and not necessarily the best way, but a good way.

Of course, not everyone does it right. There are an incredible number of ads that say absolutely nothing about the people who wrote them; or that are little more than wish-lists to Santa ("... seeking someone slim, sexy, beautiful, and under 25..."); or that are riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors.

And then there are the ads that say too much about the people who wrote them. Although some ads are simply way too long (a good ad should tell the reader just enough to make him want to know more), others are of manageable length but send an unintentionally toxic message. The woman whose headline I quoted, above, is a good example. Her ad said that she has met nothing but liars, losers, and assorted lowlifes, and that she's tempted to give up on men entirely. It concluded with a paragraph that began (in all caps) "DON'T WASTE MY TIME..." (...if you don't have a steady job, if you live with roommates, if you bet on football games, etc.).

I'm sure this woman had plenty of reason to be frustrated, even disgusted. There certainly are a lot of liars, losers, and assorted lowlifes out there, and the woman clearly has enough self-confidence and self-respect to know that she deserves better. But by emphasizing her disappointments, her bad experiences, and her non-negotiable demands, the ad probably scared off the very people that she was hoping to meet.

Why would a guy who has a good job and a place of his own, a guy who's not a gambler or an alcoholic or a jerk, a guy who's sincerely interested in forming a stable relationship, want to contact this woman? A guy like that has options. Why should he want to invest time and energy on someone who has a chip on her shoulder? Why should he go out of his way to "prove to her" that he's not a loser like all the others? Keep in mind: all he knows about this woman is what she said in her ad. It's a lot easier for him to move on to the next one, which may have been written by someone emanating more positive energy.

The really sad thing is that the woman will probably never know that she's scaring the good men off. The lack of positive responses will only reinforce her notion that there are no good men out there, creating a vicious cycle of bitterness. I'm not saying that people should simply forget all the bad things that have happened to them, but they don't need to emphasize them, especially in a personal ad.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Your Kidney or Your Life!

"He wants his pound of flesh. But he's not going to get it by way of the kidney."
(Lisa Bloom, CBS legal analyst)

I wish I could say I make these things up, but I don't. Every time I think I can say I've seen it all when it comes to divorce, someone comes along with a claim that trumps the others.

The lastest example of divorce litigants behaving badly is Dr. Richard Batista. The 49 year old graduate of Cornell Medical School, described in the press as a "prominent Long Island vascular surgeon", is mad at his wife. So much so that he wants her to do something that other doctors have said will literally kill her: he wants the kidney back that he donated to her in happier times. And if the divorce judge won't order that, he'll settle for $1.5 million as payment for the kidney.

Aside from the multitude of legal and ethical ethical reasons why Mrs. Batista should not have her kidney involuntarily ripped out, or have to pay big bucks for it---for starters, buying and selling organs is illegal in this country; and, clearly, the original kidney donation was...well...a donation, a gift, and the law never requires a gift to be returned---I have to wonder why the good doctor thought that such an outrageous demand would help his case, or enhance his career. He's reportedly fighting for increased visitation with his three kids---ages 14, 11, and 8. Well, he's certainly sending a hell of a message to them: "I hate your mom so much I'm willing to let her die on the operating table. But, I'll consider letting her live if she gives me a million and a half dollars."

And what about his reputation in the medical community? If you needed a surgeon, would go to him? If you were a colleague, would you refer patients to him? Ironically, his wife's attorney has described his demands as a publicity stunt. He's gotten plenty of publicity all right, but virtually all of it has been negative. What was he thinking?

And, for that matter, what was his own lawyer, Dominic Barbara, thinking? I practiced divorce law long enough to know that you can't always do everything your client wants you to do. Atty. Barbara should have said---sympathetically but firmly---"Doctor, I understand your feelings, but this is a terrible idea. At the very least, it will backfire. At worst, we could both be in trouble for ethical or even criminal violations." Of course, I'm assuming that Atty. Barbara didn't concoct this nutty scheme himself; if he did, he deserves to be disciplined by the state bar authorities.

There is something about divorce that turns otherwise reasonable, educated, accomplished people into maniacs. In almost every case I can think of, people on a mission of revenge have done far more harm to themselves than they hoped to do to their spouse. They wind up looking like fools, damaging their reputations, alienating their kids, spending a fortune on doomed-from-the-start legal battles...for what? The chance to make life miserable for their estranged spouse?

Trust me: it's not worth it. If the two spouses can't be civil enough to engage in divorce mediation or what's called collaborative divorce, they can at least be adult enough to recognize the reality that the marriage is over. They should turn their attention to their kids and to the future, and avoid saying things that will haunt them for years to come.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Five-Year-Old Spy

"An Omaha man has filed a lawsuit accusing his ex-wife of planting a recording device inside his daughter's teddy bear in order to spy on him."
(Associated Press story, 1/7/09)

I say in my book that, when it comes to marriage and divorce, I've either seen it all, heard it all, or done it all. But I have to admit that I had never imagined someone installing a recording device in a five-year-old girl's teddy bear that she brought to her father's house on weekend visits, in order to get evidence against him in a custody dispute. Several hundred hours of conversation were recorded over a six month period in 2007. It is unclear whether the little girl knew that she and her bear were acting as spies. My guess is that she had no idea.

To be sure, I know of quite a few cases where a divorced parent has tried to pump his or her kids for information about the other parent. Typically, the information sought has to do with the ex's boyfriend or girlfriend. "Did Daddy's new friend come over while you were there? Did she stay overnight? Was she nice to you or was she mean?" The questions can also arise over other issues. "Did Daddy bring you to Grandma's house Saturday? Did he stay there with you or did he just leave you there?" "Was Mommy drinking beer? Is she still smoking? Do you have to wake her up in the morning?"

Parents who do this kind of thing will always justify it. "I'm not going to send my child somewhere where it's not safe, or where he's being neglected." "That new girlfriend of his is nothing but a slut. I don't want my daughter exposed to someone like that." "Emily is always crying when she comes home on Sunday. I know something bad is happening there".

In these situations, the parent will not only pump the child for information, but will do it in a manipulative way. "Daddy's friend yelled at you, didn't she? She made you cry, didn't she? What else did she do? You don't want to ever go back there when she's there, do you?"

I'm not a child psychologist, but I do know that kids---especially pre-school kids---are easily manipulated. They want to please, and they don't want to see someone angry with them. They'll answer questions in a way that the questioner seems to want them answered, especially if the questionner is their mother or father.

It's all well and good that a parent is concerned for his or her child's welfare, but pumping a child for information about the other parent---or using the child as a spy---is about the worst thing a divorced parent can do. A child should never be put in that situation. Unless the situation is life-threatening (your child comes home from a visit with bruises, burn marks, or other visible signs of abuse), get your evidence some other way. If you think your child is being dumped off at the grandmother's most of the weekend, a private investigator can quickly confirm if that's true. If you think a particular person has caused emotional harm to your child, there are qualified child psychiatrists and psychologists who can interview your child in a non-threatening, non-manipulative way. If you think there's neglect or mistreatment going on, you can make a report to your state's child protection agency. If you want a judge to look at the matter and make changes to visitation orders, you always have that right, even if the divorce case is closed.

But never put the child in the middle. In almost every case, you'd be inflicting more damage than you're trying to prevent. And, if you put a recording device in your daughter's teddy bear, you'd not only be breaking the law, but killing your daughter's sense of innocence and trust. Nothing justifies that.