1. My marital relationship is not the only source of my personal happiness nor does it guarantee freedom from my own personal problems.
  2. I have a personal responsibility for the well-being of my marital relationship.
  3. My spouse has importance in the world over and above being married to me.
  4. No matter what I think and feel about what is happening between me and my spouse, she/he has his/her own view of what is happening.ID-10018131
  5. My actions are not explained by nor are they justified by what my partner does/does not do.  I am accountable for my actions.
  6. In marriage there is a difference between being unhappy and being angry, hurt, or afraid of what is happening between us.
  7. When I am angry with, hurt by, and or anxious about what is happening in my marriage, I am at risk to “blame” my spouse without finding out how he/she sees the situation.
  8. I will always be willing to examine my own personal motives for my actions in my marriage.
  9. Being a male or a female does not explain the reasons for my actions.
  10. I can feel sad (a sense of loss) about what I don’t get in my marriage.
  11. My spouse can feel sad (a sense of loss) about what he/she doesn’t get in the marriage.
  12. Following these principles will help us create and sustain our marriage.



MARCHE SQUALOR“The Case for Filth” is the fun title of a NYT opinion piece by Stephen Marche, writer for Esquire and author, who takes a look at the discrepancy between the amount of housework done among well-educated, egalitarian-minded husbands and wives.  Marche references a 2015 study done by the Council on Contemporary Families, which looks at housework, gender, and parenthood patterns between 1965 and 2012.  Here are some of their findings:

  • Gender is still the most influential determinant of who does housework and childcare today despite the increases in mothers’ employment and the expressed desire of the majority of women and men to share employment and caregiving responsibilities.
  • Data from 1965 to 2012 shows that women’s and men’s housework and child care are much more similar today achieved through
    • Steep reduction in women’s housework and modest increase in men’s housework
      • Men increased their core household tasks such as cooking and cleaning, not just fun tasks
      • Even women with time available are cutting down on domestic work; what sociologists term “disinvestment”Family in park
    • Both mothers and fathers have increased time caring for children
    • Still substantial gender differences in time and kind of activities spent in child care time and activities
  • Gender differences persist; why not more change?
    • Still have entrenched individual and cultural beliefs about the “essential” qualities of being a woman versus being a man. Do women spend more time cleaning and doing laundry because of gender expectations about appearance and femininity?  Do women get caught up in cult of domesticity?  For Marche being “fetish” about domestic life is the macho equivalent for women
    • Is it related to gender inequities in earnings? Some household activities can be outsourced by eating out and using dry cleaners.  Outsourcing may be more difficult for single women who earn about 80 cents for every dollar a single man earns.
    • An interesting finding is that in some countries, women who make more money than their husbands tend to do more housework. Sociologists say this can be an effort to reduce so called “gender deviance” created when men and women have gender atypical occupations and earnings.

Marriage should be equal.  And, there is lots of advice about splitting the housework to create equality, much of which is useless.  Advice about how to split up the housework relies too much on being “fair” requiring some kind of objective evaluation of who does what.  What this approach fails to appreciate is the perception of effort in doing such tasks.  Whatever task I am doing, I am aware of the actual work done and I am more aware of the effort it takes me to do the job.  Effort is perceptual, not objective.

In addition, trying to be objective about doing tasks propels you into an “exchange” approach to housework; you are in some kind of transaction with each other.  This doesn’t work because exchange transactions are based on maximizing one’s self-interest not about tending to your relationship.

The HIP Marriage

Mothers and fathers have a new cultural norm about marriage and parenting that Richard Reeves calls the HIP marriage, i.e. high investment parenting marriage.   Parenthood has become associated with a gendered division of housework even among couples who maintained relatively egalitarian patterns before the birth of a child.  When the first child is born:

  • Father’s increase their paid work time and decrease housework
  • Mothers decrease their paid work time and increase housework

While fathers today feel that children are entitled to men’s close attention and time, mothers are still held accountable to standards of intensive parenting more than father are.  All parents are working longer hours in paid work, housework, and child care; they are pulled between work and family.

Some suggestions:

  • As Stephen Marche says, do less and care less about tidiness: leave the stairs untidy, don’t make the beds, don’t repaint the peeling ceilings, dishes can wait, etc.Dirty dishes
  • Outsource what household tasks you can
  • Don’t let housework continue to be a feminist issue; remember house work is not something wives owe to husbands
  • Housework and taking care of children is the daily stuff of which the relationship is made. You are married to help each other; helping each other the marriage
  • Work toward changing workplaces that value long work hours and value work over family
  • Because paternal leave is so stigmatized, create your own “Daddy Quota”  (say on Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon) when Daddy is solo and in charge.

Achieving and maintaining gender equality in household tasks and child care is not going to be easy.  Most couples fall into unequal patterns without their conscious intention or awareness.  Successful egalitarian couples are vigilant and proactive in decision making BEFORE and AFTER the baby is born.  Keep in mind the kind of life you really want together.



Noah Berlatsky.  “Spouses Probably Shouldn’t Try to Split Household Tasks Exactly Evenly.” The Atlantic.  March 19. 2013. (http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/spouses-probably-shouldnt-try-to-split-household-tasks-exactly-evenly/274133/)

Stephen Marche.  “The Case for Filth.”  New York Times.  December 7, 2013.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/08/opinion/sunday/the-case-for-filth.html?_r=0)

Richard Reeves.  “How to Save Marriage in America.” the Atlantic.” February 13, 2014.  (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732/)

Llana Sayer.  “The Complexities of Interpreting Changing Household Patterns.” (https://contemporaryfamilies.org/complexities-brief-report/)

Brigid Schulte.  “After the Baby: Dads Do Less at Home.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2015/05/07/once-the-baby-comes-moms-do-more-dads-do-less-around-the-house/)








“Gonzo” Porn

You have to be brain dead to not know that the Internet is full of pornography, which is viewed predominantly by men.  Two tendencies of modern pornography are its greater reach via the Internet and its more explicit depictions.  This more explicit presentation of sex demonstrates the growing split between “erotic” and “gonzo” porn.

Conventional “erotic” porn mirrors Hollywood’s storytelling style, with clear plotlines with both characters and sex serving a “romantic” end, however, typically with a conventional a male focus (http://web.alternet.org/sex-amp-relationships/gonzo-porn).  “Gonzo” porn has pushed the traditional boundaries of pornography to new extremes.  “Gonzo” porn depicts sexual performances in which a male actor violates, appearing to harm, the female performer during sex acts that no actual woman would want to engage in.  “Gonzo” porn has no pretensions about plot and characters, sex acts are roughly enacted with more than one man involved and more explicitly degrading language (women are called sluts, whores, cunts, nasty bitches, etc.)    It has been suggested that a plausible reason for the popularity of this type of porn is women will not engage in such acts unless forced

Pornography and Your Relationship

Couples therapists hear women’s concern about their husband’s use of porn while husbands say it’s normal and that every guy does it.  Recent research is beginning to discover that the effect of watching pornography is more significant the people may think.

Here are some recent findings from a 2010 Scientific American review of relevant research (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sex-in-bits-and-bytes/)

  • An online study of more than 9,000 people, most of them men who were married or in a committed relationship, who used the Internet for sexual purposes reported the following results:
    • Slightly fewer than half used porn an hour or less a week
    • Forty-five percent reported engaging in online sexual activity between one and 10 hours a week
    • Eight percent used the Internet for such purposes for 11 or more hours weeklyID-10035090
    • A small but distinctive 0.5 percent reported more than 70 hours a week.
  • Even relatively light use may have a negative effect on one’s partner or spouse.
  • Frequent porn use and enthusiasm for porn was related to male dissatisfaction with a partner’s sexual performance and appearance, and doubts about the value of marriage.
  • 42% of women in one study said that their partner’s porn consumption made them feel insecure, 39 percent that the partner’s porn use had a negative effect on their relationship, and 32 percent that it adversely affected their lovemaking.

A recent (2014) study at the University of Tennessee conducted by Dawn M. Szymanski and Destin N. Stewart-Richardson (http://men.sagepub.com/content/22/1/64.full.pdf+html) found that pornography viewing was positively associated with lower relationship quality and decreased sexual satisfaction.

A Florida State University study (2012) (http://www.fincham.info/papers/2012-porn.pdf)  found that consumption of pornography  was related to lower commitment to one’s partner,  higher levels of flirting with a woman not their partner, and that, related to the lower levels of commitment, pornography was positively related to infidelity.

What Men Say About the Effect of Porn on Them

Men are reporting delayed ejaculation, a waning desire for their partners, having to play porno scenes in one’s mind in order to orgasm, faking orgasm, “sexual attention deficit disorder” from the habit of jumping quickly form porn clip to porn clip, getting home early from work to masturbate to porn, thinking one’s wife doesn’t measure up to the porn stars (they are younger, hotter, and wilder in the sack).  These comment are from “He’s Just Not that Into Anyone” published in the New York Magazine by Davy Rothbart.

Pornography and Morality

Is Pornography Adultery?

Ross Douthat is a conservative op-ed writer for the New York Times, published an article in 2008 in the Atlantic, “Is Pornography Adultery? (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/10/is-pornography-adultery/306989/).  His argument is that in the hard-core pornography in which two sexual acts are involved–the on-camera copulation, and the masturbation it enables, are interdependent (neither would happen with the other)–is “real” sex by definition.  His point is that this gets awfully close to moving from “fantasy” sexual activity to “real” sexual activity.  That’s getting close to what are adulterous actions.

Douthat, therefore, challenges the point of view that looking at pornography is a “perfectly normal” activity, that all men do it, and that women should stop whining and live with (in part because it is a low –risk alternative to “real” prostitution and “real” affairs).

What About the Women in These Films

Robert Jensen, a professor of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin is worried about the physical and emotional well-being of the women who perform the brutal sex acts depicted in “gonzo” porn.  He rejects the old shibboleths “to each his own” and “as long as they are consenting adults”.  To the contrary, Jensen wants us to extend the empathy we fell in sexual assault and domestic violence to the women in pornography and prostitution.  We have a moral responsibility to the woman who finds herself making a living by being filmed in “gonzo” porn films.

Secrecy not Privacy

Do not confuse having a right to privacy in marriage with keeping secrets.  Privacy has to do with keeping things to yourself that do not cause concern, harm, and injury to your wife.   Secrecy is keeping things, your engagement with pornography, from your spouse.  When you keep things secret, you deny your wife the information she needs to manage her own life successfully.

To Wives

Here are a few excuses that you do not have to accept as justification for accepting something that is unacceptable to you, namely your husband’s involvement with pornography:

  • It’s “normal”; that every guy does it
  • Can’t you see I need it (usually referring to some specific act likely picked up from watching porn)
  • I’ll never cheat as long as I have porn
  • It’s private

In Sum

Researchers have just begun to explore the possible downsides for intimate relationships of Internet pornography.  There is reason to be very cautious about the potential negative effects of watching (and masturbating to) pornography, particularly “gonzo” pornography on your marriage.

porno #1    porno #2  porno #3



The standard view of male and female desire, currently promoted by evolutionary psychologists, is that men are libidinous and promiscuous animals who are hard-wired for sex (a reproductive strategy designed to spread their genes as far as possible) and women as hard-wired for intimacy and babies, wanting to enforce marriage (monogamy) on men. Thank goodness there are a growing number of female scientists, a “gathering critical mass”, who are venturing into the field of female sexuality, a historically male-dominated field.

Daniel Bergner’s What Do women Want?” Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, reviews much of the recent scientific research, conducted primarily by women scientists, designed to challenge  traditional notions of female sexuality.   None of these scientists are claiming that women’s sexual desire, arousal, and orgasm are exactly like men’s.  Instead they are arguing that women have a stronger sex drive than commonly thought.  These researchers are challenging several long-held stereotypes of female sexuality:

  • That their sex drive is lower than men’s
  • That they’re aroused by love, not sex
  • That they’re not naturally sex agents but responders
  • That women are not as interested in new and different partners as men (both men and women struggle with being interested in sex in long-term marriage)
  • That women are not visual creatures (i.e. they don’t get aroused by visual images) when it comes to sex

One group of researchers at the University of Michigan lead by Terri Conley1 reviewed various theoretical and empirical approaches to gender differences in sexuality in order to shed light on the very prevalent misconceptions noted above.  Here are a selected few of their findings:ID-10043638

  • Do women desire and actually have fewer sexual partners than men? Bottom Line: No. When women thought that their true sexual history could be revealed by a polygraph (nonfunctional for purposes of the research), differences in reported sexual partners disappeared.
  • Do women orgasm less frequently than men? Bottom Line: Yes, but. The orgasm gap (men experience more orgasms than women) diminishes greatly when sex occurs in committed relationships; and it may disappear entirely when committed partners “are more generous in providing noncoital sexual attention (‘foreplay’)”.
  • Do men like casual sex more than do women? Bottom Line: Yes, but. A greater willingness to engage in casual sex is one of the largest documented sexuality gender differences.  Such previously documented discrepancies evaporate when female subjects considered sexual offers from very attractive or famous individuals.  Women were also equally as likely as men to accept offers of casual sex from close friends whom they perceived to have high sexual capabilities (would provide them with “a positive sexual experience”).  Conley concludes from her findings that the only consistently significant predictor that women, and men, will accept a proposal of casual sex is the perception that the one who is making the proposal is sexually capable (i.e., would be “good in bed”).  She also found indirect evidence in her work that women are less interested in casual sex because they perceive greater risk than men do in this kind of sexual encounter.

Considering the research they reviewed and their own research, Conley et.al. suggest that  gender differences in sexual behavior, which are the bread and butter of evolutionary psychologists, rather than being biologically rooted in our evolutionary past,  are rooted in much more mundane causes:

  • Stigma against women for expressing sexual desires
  • Women’s socialization to attend to other’s needs rather than their own
  • A double standard that dictates different sets of appropriate sexual behaviors for men and women

The Conley et.al. article is a well-presented, easy-to-read research report.  Bergner’s book covers some very interesting research.  In addition, he has a number of anecdotal stories from individuals, often pretty provocative.  He, like Esther Perel in Mating in Captivity have interesting discussions about dominance and submission in sexual activities.

ID-100246202One reviewer noted that Bergner’s book is a testament to the very existence and celebration of lust in women.  Bergner does acknowledges that people may marry not because it is the best possible arrangement for vibrant sex.  But it is the best way to have emotional stability and long-term companionship, which appear to be something both human males and females want.

Elaine Blair (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/books/review/what-do-women-want-by-daniel-bergner.html?_r=0) who reviewed the Bergner book, asks why is female lust getting such a big dose of scientific legitimacy at this time.  Is it because of women’s and men’s evolving social roles, because of women’s increasing economic and political power, feminism?  Many of the scientists are women which in itself is a novel situation.  As Blair notes, and I agree, the old story of the libidinous male and sexually indifferent female doesn’t make sense anymore. Don’t you, the reader, buy that old shibboleth either.  Claim your own sexual desire and fulfillment!

1Conley, Terri , Amy C. Moors, Jes L Matsick, Ali Ziegler, and Brandon A. Valentine.  (2011). “Women, Men and the Bedroom: Methodological and Conceptual Insights That Narrow, Reframe, and Eliminate Gender Differences in Sexuality.Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(5) 296-300.  (http://www.newsucanuse.org/wp-content/bedroom.pdf)

2Conley conducted several projects challenging a very famous paper published by Clark and Hatfield in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, “Gender Differences in Receptivity of Sexual Offers.”  The purpose of this 1989 study was to provide support for what is called the Sexual Strategies Theory, a mainstay of evolutionary psychology, that men would be more responsive to an offer of casual sex than would women.  Conley embarked upon a project of four studies designed to determine under what conditions women are willing to agree to a casual sexual encounter.  Her research has been widely covered in the media.  One good review of the work can be found in the blog Yes Means YES!.


ID-100157089What is and has been a most perplexing question about marriage that concerns millennials is how to reconcile sexuality with domesticity.  Ester Perel, a couple’s therapist in private practice, writes eloquently and in depth about maintaining a vibrant sexual relationship in long-term marriage in her book, “Mating in Captivity” (love the title).   Take a look at her 2013 TED talk, “Secret to Desire in a Long Term Relationship”.

One of the first thing she says in her book is that focusing on frequency and quantity of sex misses the point on the story of dwindling sexual desire and interest in modern-day marriages. Perel’s thesis is that a committed marriage is about the psychological feeling of safety and security we get from being together.  We foster this togetherness by creating rituals, habits, and pet names (for example), all of which bring the reassurance that we are loved and valued.

At the same time we want adventure and excitement in our lives which is a testament to our autonomy and independence.  It is the seeking of adventure and excitement that is expressed through our erotic experience, which is characteristic of romance.  We want the riskiness of sexual adventure and excitement while also wanting the safety and security inherent in a long-term commitment.

I like to show the tension that exists in us between the risk of eroticism and safety of commitment graphically.COMMITMENT AND SEXUAL EXCITEMENT

The graphic demonstrates the idea of the simultaneously desire for closeness and connection and the desire for risk of adventure.  What the graphic shows is that if either you or your spouse is drawn too much to the safety and security of closeness, the willingness to take risks with each other will be compromised, showing up as being less interested in the erotic. At the same, if either spouse is overly concerned and interested in the erotic, the closeness of commitment is frightening because of the fear that the familiarity of closeness will lead to boredom in the bedroom.

While sexuality thrives on excitement and risk, commitment thrives on comfort and stability.  As Parel says, the need for the adventure and excitement is hard to generate with the person you look to for comfort and stability.

Parel talks extensively about the pitfalls in marriage that will have a negative effect on maintaining an erotic sexual relationship in long-term, committed marriages.  Such pitfalls, which affect our ability to maintain our simultaneous interest in commitment and erotic excitement include:

  • Gender stereotypes of men and women in which women are cast as longing for love, essentially faithful, and domestically inclined and men are cast as biologically non-monogamous and fearful of intimacy
  • The residuals of our Puritan heritage, which is deeply suspicious of pleasure and moralizes about anything that strays from heterosexual, monogamous, marital, and reproductive sexuality. While today there is a blatant marketing of sexual images that seem so anti-Puritan, the central idea that sex is dirty still thrives in us.
  • A major thesis for Parel (and many others she cites) is that our difficulties in creating a wonderful sexual relationship that thrives in long-standing marriage is often grounded in our own personal issues or insecurities. Since both people have such insecurities, a negative dynamic between spouses will play out in the couples’ sexual relationships.

Perel’s book is worth taking a look at because she takes an in depth, psychological approach to understanding the how and why a rich, vibrant sexual relationship is at risk in a long-term commitment like marriage.  She presents a number of stories about couples with whom she has worked, eloquently explaining the societal and personal issues that prevent them from having the sexual relationship they want.  You can click on the thumbnails below to get a sample of the stories about couples with whom she has worked.  ID-100157105

Another good read is “How to Think More About Sex” by Allain de Botton.   This is a very readable book in which de Botton argues (like Parel) that 21c sex is a balancing act between love and desire and adventure and commitment.   de Botton is a Swiss philosopher, who founded The School of Life in London, England.  This is a ground-breaking enterprise that aims to make academic learning applicable to real life.  You can sign up for The School of Life Newsletter at (https://us-mg4.mail.yahoo.com/neo/launch?.rand=7r6p0cn3qhr29).


deBotton, Alain. (2012).  How to Think More About Sex.  New York: Picador.

Perel, Esther (2007) Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence.  New York: Harper.

Dominus, Susan.  “The Sexual Healter”. New York Times. Jan.25, 2014 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/26/fashion/Sex-Esther-Perel-Couples-Therapy.html?_r=0)

Sex in Marriage 1 Sex in Marriage 2 Sex in Marriage 3



As someone invested in gender equality and how this plays out in marriage, I was dismayed by a New York Times Magazine article entitled “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?”.   An excerpt from the abstract of the American Sociological Review (2013) on which the article is based follows:

Although research and theory support the expectation that egalitarian marriages are higher quality, other  studies underscore the ongoing importance of traditional gender behavior and gender display in marriage……this study investigates the links between men’s participation in core (traditionally female) and non-core (traditionally male) household tasks and sexual frequency.  Results show that both husbands and wives in couples with more traditional housework arrangements report higher sexual frequency, suggesting the importance of gender display1………for sex between heterosexual partners.

The authors note that they did not study either sexual satisfaction or marital satisfaction in this research. Thus, these findings do not mean following traditional gender roles in managing household tasks is associated with more satisfying sex or more fulfilled marriages.

An important limitation to this study is that they used data collected from 1992 to 1994 with the average age of the males being 46 while the average age of females was 44.  This is a significant flaw in trying to apply this research to young people today, i.e. millennials, who are less committed to such traditional sexual scripts (e.g. a woman finds a man fixing the car sexy but not a man doing dishes).

Reading further, the researchers do not suggest that couples should reject egalitarianism in marriage.  Instead, they suggest that increased egalitarianism in one area of marriage (household tasks) must be paired with comparable shifts away from traditional gender behaviors, attitudes and scripts in other areas of areas.  For example, if increasing husband’s participation in core housework increases their stress levels making them less likely to initiate sex, then supporting women’s view that it is legitimate for them to initiate sex could have an impact on the frequency of sexual relation.ID-100157089

In sum the study may not be showing that egalitarianism in household labor is incompatible with sexual activity itself, but rather that egalitarianism is incompatible with traditional sexual scripts.

Nowhere do scientific findings get more mangled by the popular media than when they’re about differences between men and women.

The next several posts on this blog will talk about sex in marriage taking off from a  list of myths about sex and relationships summarized from the findings of a 2011 book, “Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying” by Mark Regnerus (Department of Sociology, University of Texas) and Jeremy Uecker (Department of Sociology, Baylor University).


Here is a list of the upcoming posts:

TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #2: About Sex in Marriage.   This post will talk about myths about the sexual double standard between men and women; about establishing your own decisions about sex rather than following sexual scripts; and how to maintain satisfying sex in long-term marriages.

TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #3: “I’ll Have What She is Having.” This post will talk about myths about women’s sexuality, i.e. that women are naturally less libidinous than men, “hard-wired” to want babies and emotional connection, but not necessarily sex itself.

TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #4: Pornography and Sex in Marriage. This post will challenge the myth that porn won’t affect your relationship and some idea about a new kind of porn.

TIDBITS ABOUT SEX IN MARRIAGE #5: More on A Millennial Marriage.   This post will discuss additional myths about millennial ideas of marriage such as marriage can always wait, moving in together is a step toward marriage, and there is no hope for long-term marriage.

1Gender display refers to husbands and wives adhering to and demonstrating traditionally defined norms, e.g. women do the dishes and men cut the grass.


Gottlieb, Lori.  (Feb. 6, 2014) “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex? “ (http://nyti.ms/1kdOzQR)

Libby Anne (January 31, 2013) “More chores for Men=Less Sex?”(http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/01/more-chores-for-men-less-sex.html)

Smith, Jesse.  (June 16, 2015) “10 Sexual Myths Millennials Need to Know About.” (http://thoughtcatalog.com/jesse-smith/2015/06/10-sexual-myths-millennials-need-to-know-about/)




Being in conflict is not the same thing as having differences or disagreements.  Disagreements and differences happen all the time.    Couples can disagree when they want to go to the movies.  They can differ over how to discipline their children.  They can differ on when to have sexual relations.  They can disagree on where to get the car serviced.

Conflict is another matter.  Conflict occurs because of the way in which (how) you go about achieving what you want (e.g. seeing a movie, disciplining children, having sex, career choices).  The content is the what of the interaction between the two of you.   How you go about getting what you want in marriage is called process.   People often refer to process as communication but communication is an overused, imprecise term. The graphic CONTENT AND PROCESS IN MARITAL INTERACTION shows the difference between Content and Process.CONTENT AND PROCESS

The process that occurs between you and your spouse will be affected significantly by your own personal insecurities. We all suffer with feelings of insecurities of various kinds. Feeling insecure is not a sign of some psychological malady or impairment; it is a consequence of the cognitive and emotional limitations of childhood.

These insecurities show up in marriage as defensiveness (I prefer “self-protective strategies”) and overreactions to each other (“taking things personally”) instead of responding to each other. Taking something personally happens when you portray your spouse’s action only in terms of how you experience it.  How you experience your spouse’s actions, while important to you, is not the only way to describe his/her actions.  Accusing  your partner of “ignoring” you  when he/she is inattentive in a given situation is an example of characterizing an action rather than describing it.

The graphic ANATOMY OF A CONFLICT demonstrates a conflict between Jesse and Sarah over how she spent money on a new couch for their apartment.  In this situation, Sarah spent more than she and Jesse had agreed upon.  When she told Jesse about this, he immediately got angry at her, seeing her as acting “irresponsibly”.  He then verbally criticized her, calling her “irresponsible”, likely raising his voice at her.  Jesse may very well “make a case” about Sarah’s “irresponsibility” by highlighting past times she spent over budget, probably on minor things.

ANATOMY OF A CONFLICTSarah, in turn, thinks Jesse’s characterization of her as irresponsible is not justified, feels hurt and angry.  In her mind, she characterizes him as “insensitive” and “domineering”.  She is unwilling to “defend” herself because she does not believe her actions warrant this kind of reaction.  She makes no attempt to explain why she spent more than they had agreed upon.

Jesse and Sarah are now having a conflict, which goes unresolvedThey went their separate ways for the remainder of the day.  Later that evening, Jesse, feeling less angry, approaches Sarah amorously.  She still feels hurt and misunderstood and is not feeling responsive to him.  She still sees him as unkind and unfair.

Jesse’s reaction to Sarah spending more for the couch than they had agreed to is “taking it personally” because:

  • He characterized her action (she is “irresponsible”) rather than describing it (she spent more than agreed to)
  • He did not ask for an explanation for spending more than they had budgeted for the couch
  • His anger is “justified” because she is “irresponsible” not because of what she actually did (what she did is a problem to Jesse)
  • When you characterize someone’s action, you are going after him/her personally, not addressing what they did
  • When you react (because you take something personally) you increase the likelihood that your spouse will react too (as Sarah did in this case, characterizing Jesse’s action as “insensitive”, “domineering”)

Here is how this conflict could have been just a disagreement (even a big disagreement).

  • Jesse is aware that his initial reaction of being angry at Sarah is a personal reaction and he needs to step back for a moment to reflect
  • Once he is feeling less angry, he affirms that he is concerned that Sarah has spent over what they budgeted, he sees this as a problem (rather than a character trait of “irresponsibility”)
  • He asks what her thinking was in spending more than they had agreed upon on the couch (It turns out the couch was an expensive couch that was significantly reduced in price)
  • He talked with Sarah about his concern about spending over their agreed upon budget without “cross checking” (not asking permission) with him
  • Sarah made the case for the couch, letting him know that she had planned to use her discretionary money to pay partly for the extra cost of the couch and was willing to return it if needed
  • From this discussion they both agreed to keep the couch and set a limit on what they could each spend over budget in a given situation without talking to the other
  • Thus, they were able to reach a win-win solution to their disagreement over Sarah spending over budget on a new couch for their apartment

Conflict is not resolved through negotiation because when you are in conflict with each other, you are not capable of being collaborative, a prerequisite to negotiating.  You can only characterize and accuse.  If you don’t stop and reflect, you will end up arguing about the content which is impossible to address when either or both of you are reacting to each other.

To be self-reflective means being willing and able to take a hard look at your own personal motives when you interact with your partner, i.e. when you are “taking things personally“.  You can learn to be more aware of your own part in and more accountable for what goes on in your intimate day-to-day interactions.   As you become more aware of you “personal take” in an interaction, you can learn to manage it more effectively.


Simultanous Perspective in MarriageYou bring to your marital relationship the things you want or prefer to happen that allow you to flourish in life.  Much of marital advice, in contrast, is based on a view that we bring our needs to our relationship. This idea is captured very well in this quote.

Your have a right to ask for the things you need in a relationship.  In fact you have a responsibility to yourself and your partner to be clear about your needs (emphasis added). (www.theartofmanliness.com)

One of the most common ideas about how intimate relationships should work is that partners fulfill each other’s “needs”.  The idea of “needs-that-must-be-fulfilled” promotes a self-centered approach to relationships.  This view, widely accepted in our current culture, is an expression of the more general idea that we are all motivated primarily (or only) by self-interest.

A better way to begin a relationship is to know that you and your spouse are capable of being concerned about one another.   The schematic at the top left of the post represents the way in which you can be interested in yourself and your spouse simultaneously in marriage.

This schematic demonstrates the idea that you can each simultaneously see yourself as an individual with individual wants and desires and see your spouse as having individual wants and desires.  If either person sees him/herself only (primarily) as an individual (self-centered), the marital interaction will be distorted.  At the same, if either spouse is only (primarily) concerned and interested in the other (dependency), the marital interaction will be distorted.

Maintaining this simultaneous perspective in your marriage is basic to being willing and able to negotiate with each other the things that are important to both of you in order to flourish in life.  The schematic below on the right depicts the process of negotiation of individual wants and desires from the perspective of you both.SCHEMATIC NEGOTIATING COLLAB

  • Negotiating in marriage is first and foremost based on the ability to be interested in your spouse’s wants and desires in the same way that you are interested in your own desires.
  • Each of you describes your wants and desires and can provide a reason for why you prefer this or that (i.e. explore and understand the why’s of each other’s preferences)
  • Neither of you wants the other to do something that is too unattractive or violates some strongly held principle
  • Try out different ideas that reflect both your preferences so you can find a win-win solution
  • Or, if you choose one partner’s preference over the other’s, it is because you have decided it together thereby enhancing the relationship even if one partner does not get what he/she wants.
  • See how Jesse and Sara negotiated where she was to park the car

The ability to negotiate collaboratively in this manner assumes the following:

  • You have the capacity (including the courage) to identify and describe what you want
  • You can self-reflectively understand and describe the reasons and motives for you wants and preferences
  • You have the capacity to be empathic, i.e. you can understand that you spouse has wants and desires in the same way that you do
  • You can understand and value your spouse’s wants, even if they are different from your own

To have a want or preference is an expression of oneself, an expression of what you believe is important to living well.  As an expression of self, your wants and preferences must be acknowledge as standing on their own.  At the same time, they are not demands that must be catered to (they are not “needs”).  Wants and preferences are no more than an expression of self but they are no less than the expression of self.





MY VIEW MARRIAGEHow you interact with your spouse will determine the felt quality of your relationship.  That is, how you go about achieving the things you both want in life is more important to the felt quality of your relationship than having the specific things you want.

Marital Interaction is about the process going on interpersonally between you and your spouse as you talk about the everyday events, happenings, and activities in your life together.  For example, a wife approaches her husband to ask him to go to the movies with her one evening.  Interaction or process refers to how she approaches him (insecurely, demandingly, asserting a preference, etc.) and how he responds to the request (dismissively, with hostility, saying he prefers another night, etc.).

Here is the “short version” of how to achieve a good marital interaction or process:

  • You will bring all your “insecurities” into your marriage.
  • Your “insecurities” show up as defensiveness and overreactions to each other.
  • It is up to each of you to know and manage these insecurities through self-awareness and self-reflection.
  • Marriage will be affected by “doing gender”, i.e. carrying out socially prescribed roles of husband and wife because they are associated with feeling “masculine” and “feminine”.
  • How you manage these gender prescriptions will significantly affect whether or not and how you accomplish the “things” in life that you want.
  • Successful marital interaction between self-aware, self-reflective people is based on negotiating collaborative the ins and outs of the relationship.
  • Negotiating collaborative in marriage is an art that can be learned.MARITAL INTERACTION NEGOTIATION

The “long version” of my views is described in the posts in this blog, “a millennial marriage”.   I focus on the interpersonal interactions, which are the day-to-day encounters between you and your spouse.  I look at these interactions from both the perspective of you and your spouse as individuals and from the perspective of you as a pair.

Individually you both have to be aware of your own personal motives when you are interacting with each other.  This will require some effort on both your parts.  In addition, you will have to pay attention to how old ideas about gender can shape your interactions, often without your being aware of this influence.

My approach to marital interaction in marriage is different from what I often see in blogs offering marital advice.  Here are a few of my thoughts about these approaches.

  • Too often they are based the idea that there are inherent, biological differences between men and women (e.g. men are from Mars, women are from Venus).
    • This is too general an approach, we are each individuals, not categories of people.
    • This approach often assumes that we each have biologically-based “needs” which your partner must provide (e.g. men “need” sex).
    • You can’t negotiate needs, you can only bargain over them, i.e. do a “tit for tat”.
    • These ideas keep the status quo.
  • Marital advice that is religiously based often relies on establishing the husband as the head of the household and leader, to whom his wife must defer.
  • Marital interaction is primarily seen as a quid-pro-quo,  i.e., you provide what I “need” and I will in turn give you what you “need.” Historically in marital therapy that has come down to exchanging sex (male biological need) for conversation (female biological need for connection)

What all these approaches try to do is “prescribe” how you two should interact with each other according to some theorized principle.

The basic principles of my approach that are described in this blog are:

  • You wish to be together because of a strong felt love and affiliation toward each other.
  • You are both individual people with your own views on how to flourish in life.
  • You can learn to negotiate (rather than have prescribed) the activities, events, wishes, wants, etc. in your relationship in a collaborative manner.
  • It takes willingness to be self-aware and self-reflective to learn how to do this.
  • You will want to examine your old ideas about gender roles in marriage.







BALANCE FAM WORKHere are ten strategies used by real dual-earner couples in their effort to maintain family and work balance.  These strategies are not rules, rather they are guides couples use in meeting their various responsibilities in carrying out their life plans together.

Valuing Family.   Successful couples stress the importance of keeping family as their highest priority.   They proactively create opportunities for family time such as “pizza night” on Friday or bedtime stories every night.  It is not uncommon for these couples to limit work hours, sacrifice career advancement, make career changes, or accept less-prestigious positions to keep family as the number one priority.

…H*: Every night, one or both of us read with our son for about 20 min.

…W*: David was going to go to medical school…..creating 8-plus years of being an absentee father…..we said no….we needed to pursue something

Striving for Partnership.   Striving for equality in their marital relationship is critical to the success of these couples.

…H My job is both earning and caring, and so is hers.

…W: If I win and she loses, then we both lose.

…W: We continue to talk about career…where do we want to be?

Deriving Meaning from Work.   Successful couples experience enjoyment and purpose from their careers and jobs.

…W: We both really like our jobs…they’re stressful at times, but we…feel good about what we are doing.

…W: I get a great deal of satisfaction from my job.

Maintaining Work Boundaries.  Successful couples make a commitment to maintain control over work, not allowing careers to dictate the pace of their lives.ID-100259529

…W: We both like our jobs, but, when it’s quitting time, we’re out of there.

…W: When you’re at home, you’re at home; and when you’re at work, you’re at work.

…H: We’ve always said, “No,” to jobs that required long hours…weekends, lots of overtime.                

Focusing and Producing at Work.  Being productive at work is important to successful couples.  Setting limits on their careers, has not adversely affected their productivity.

…H We’re both pulling our weight at [our] jobs.  [No one] has ever felt that we’re slacking off or we’re getting off easy because we’ve got kids.

…W: I don’t mess around.  When I’m there, I’m working.

Prioritizing Family Fun.  Successful couples use play and family fun as a way of relaxing, enjoying life, staying emotionally connected, and creating balance in their lives.

…H: I think a lot of our family bonding revolves around these excursions, going on lots of hikes or bike trips…sometimes fishing, concerts…the three of us.

…W Once in a while, we’ll just try and do stuff off the cuff; one night we had a camp night in our living room with the fireplace.

Taking Pride in Dual Earning.  These couples believe dual earning is positive for all members of their family and do not accept negative societal message about their family arrangement.

…W:Of course [children] fulfill you, but they can only fulfill a certain part of you.

…H: One of the nicest gifts that Patty has every given me is to go to work and to bring home a good income.

Living Simply.  These couples consciously simplify their lives.

…W: He doesn’t go out to eat.  We don’t need cable.  We don’t need to sit in front of the TV anyway.

…W: We don’t use credit cards.  We can’t have fancy cars where the payments just eat you up.

Making Decisions Proactively.  Being proactive in decision making is most important.  Successful couples are vigilant in not allowing the pace of their lives control them.

…W: If you define success as what you do at work, then that is all you will do….if you define success as having a happy family and a happy marriage and [being] happy at work, then you make all those things happen.

…H: We talk a lot during the day…[about] anything from getting the oil changed in the Volvo to who is bringing plates over to mom’s house. There’s not much I don’t know about.

Valuing Time.  Successful couples try to remain aware of the value of time.

…W: I think you are almost forced to make better use of the time that you have together by nature of the fact that you work.

…H: We try to do a lot of our [house] work…during the week, so that the weekends are free.

*H=husband; W=wife


Reference: Haddock, S.A., Zimmerman, T.S., Ziemba, S.J., Current, L.R.  (2001). Ten adaptive strategies for family and work balance: Advice from successful families.  Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.  Vol. 27(4), 445-458.

Click on thumbnails for more info, fun, and provocative ideas about balance in family and work.

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