I grew up in a family of people with six-guns for tongues, and it wasn’t a great education. I certainly learned how to shout, rail and rant. I can slam a door with the best of them.
But…resolve conflict? Discuss an issue in a civil tone? Negotiate?
So when Jose and I recently finally had a fight, after wayyyyyy too many weeks of peaceful, loving cooperation, it actually felt a little more normal.
We both agreed it felt a bit more “us” than all the (lovely) sentimentality we’d been living for a while. Because, like many people, there are still some unresolved issues driving us both crazy that just get buried under the day-to-day stuff. They’re still there and, until we have the time or energy to unearth them, they fester.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not wild about arguing, or shouting, or angry words. But having survived a first marriage where we never seemed to resolve anything, (hence the words first marriage), at least in this one, 12 years in, we actually try to wrangle our demons, both shared and individual.
One of the toughest parts of an intimate relationship of any duration is figuring out how (when, if) to fight. What do you say and what’s taboo? Who apologizes first and who really means it? What happens if you just can’t find common ground or a compromise?
It took us several grim years for him to accept that you can love the hell out of someone and still be really angry at them. Our first fights were at least 30 percent worse because of the added catalyst of disbelief and dismay on his part that we even were fighting. In my family, it was pretty standard operating procedure.
Now, maybe because we’re been together for so long and have mellowed and/or matured and/or accepted some of the behaviors we once railed against in one another — or maybe we’re just pooped — we don’t fight much at all.
The conclusion, for those in a hurry, are that those with higher educations and incomes stand a better chance of marrying and staying married, partly because they’ve learned how to compromise and negotiate.
I was married for two miserable years, ages 35 to 37. I didn’t even get to my second anniversary because my ex-husband walked out and re-married a colleague from his office within a year. But, to be factual — and which echoes the statistics on who initiates most divorces — it was my unwillingness to limp along inside a dead shell of a relationship that also propelled him out the door and into her waiting arms.
I’ve been living with my fiance for 11 years, engaged for — can’t remember! — six or seven of those years. He is more eager to marry than I, partly because his first marriage ended a decade before mine started. I’m getting there, slowly.
How, if at all, would a legally recognized union change us? Not clear. We own a home together, have signed all our assets over to one another in case of death and have no kids.
Just because someone takes vows with you wearing fancy clothes in front of a lot of people doesn’t mean they will live them.
I think many people are hungry for love, for attention, for some sort of financial and emotional security. And marriage holds out that tantalizing promise.
But promises are broken every day, as the divorce rate makes clear. I wonder, truly, how well many couples know one another before booking a hall and cooing over dresses and cakes. After eleven years, I am still learning about my sweetie, and vice versa.
Despite our pretty clear and long-standing commitments to one another, we’re often asked: ” So, when are you getting married?”
Which I find odd and, however well-meant, intrusive.
“It seems like we’re even more resistant to thinking about getting help for our relationship than we are for depression or anxiety,” said Brian D. Doss, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Miami. “There’s a strong disincentive to think about your relationship as being in trouble — that’s almost admitting failure by admitting that something isn’t right.”
Marriage counseling does not always work, of course — perhaps because it is so often delayed past the point of no return. One recent study of two types of therapy found that only about half the couples reported long-lasting improvements in their marriages.
So researchers have begun looking for ways (some of them online) to reach couples before a marriage goes off the rails.
One federally financed study is tracking 217 couples taking part in an annual “marriage checkup” that essentially offers preventive care, like an annual physical or a dental exam.
“You don’t wait to see the dentist until something hurts — you go for checkups on a regular basis,” said James V. Córdova, an associate professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who wrote “The Marriage Checkup” (Jason Aronson, 2009). “That’s the model we’re testing. If people were to bring their marriages in for a checkup on an annual basis, would that provide the same sort of benefit that a physical health checkup would provide?”
I’m mixed on this one. Having watched my first brief marriage implode, I know it takes two committed people to make those vows worth anything, not merely the desperate attempts of one half.
But the sweetie and I did try counseling a few times, and it taught us some useful lessons. Our therapist, Marc, was just what we needed: funny, warm — and tough. Whatever problem is poisoning a marriage, he sternly told us, each of us owns 50 percent of it, not the comforting fiction of, say, 15 percent or five percent. It’s so easy to finger-point and blame. “If only he”, “She always…”
Much harder to acknowledge and name the individual demons we each bring to the most intimate relationship in life.
We haven’t seen Marc in years but his lessons have stayed with us. In the old days, our fights were crazy — we’re stubborn, stuck in our ways, used to getting what we want. It’s been a decade now, so we know each other’s trigger points and when we’ve hit them, or are about to. We’re a lot better at apologizing, and quickly.
It’s not easy to soften and change. You have to want it.
Have you tried couples counseling? How did it turn out for you?
Women know that losing a best friend can feel like the worst break-up ever, even more devastating than the loss of a spouse or boyfriend. We may think, hope, even assume that our best female friends are there for life. But they’re not.
I “lost” G a few years ago and I still mourn the loss of someone who once marked every event in my life with a hand-written card, whose apartment I helped re-decorate, with whom I shared adventures in Jamaica and Venezuela. I looked forward to many decades of good times-to-come, maybe even cackling over G & Ts in the nursing home. We’re both boarding-school veterans, world travelers, loudly laughing blonds who were frequently mistaken for sisters. We’re also sufficiently competitive we’d reply, joking: “Yeah, but I’m the smarter/prettier one!” She has a younger sister but I have none, so I especially treasured this aspect of our relationship.
Instead, she dumped me a few years back, and has since refused to answer any attempt to find out what I’ve done so wrong. While I have some lovely female friends, and have since made some new ones, I’ve not yet found another BF, so I was intrigued by this new book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend, written by a colleague, Irene S. Levine PhD, who is also a therapist.She’s also The Friendship Doctor on The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irene-s-levine.
What made you want to write the book?
I was always very curious how my own friendships compared to those of other women. I realized that many close and wonderful friendships, that I thought would last forever, had drifted apart over time. I was never really clear about why this happened to me—or if it happened all the time. As a psychologist, journalist, and woman, I jumped on the opportunity to learn more about these complicated relationships.
Why now? What new or different is there to say?
After I started doing research on the topic, I realized that there are still many taboos about female friendship that make young girls and women reluctant to talk about their friendship problems. For example, women are often judged by their ability to make and keep friends. People look askance when they see a woman sitting alone in a restaurant or a theater.
A spate of recent books, movies, and TV shows has romanticized the myth of “best friends forever.” While the acronym BFF is overused on greeting cards and t-shirts, in real life, friendships are far more nuanced and those that last forever are the exception rather than the rule. Yet women are made to feel guilty and ashamed if they are dumped or end a relationship because it no longer is satisfying.
Do you think women see friendships differently now than, say 10 or 20 or even 50 years ago?
Of course, all relationships are affected by their social context but the desire to be a best friend, the chosen one, and have close friendships hasn’t really changed. Every woman wants to have at least one best friend and be a best friend!
There have been changes, however. Fifty years ago, women (as well as men) were less mobile so their friendships tended to be closer at home. Also, women were less involved in the workplace so the majority of their close friendships were with schoolmates and neighbors—as opposed to colleagues. The growth of the Internet has enabled asynchronous communication among women 24/7 across the miles.
If you’re married and your husband/partner is your “best friend” what role does a female BF play?
By virtue of their common experiences, women can share things with each other that they can never share with a man. What husband wants to hear his wife ruminate about her frustration in finding a great bathing suit or hear about her bodily secretions, or can truly understand the acrimony between a mother and her adolescent daughter? Discussing marital problems with a girlfriend can help a women put these things in perspective and solve problems, and make her a better wife/partner/mother. Finally, it is unrealistic to think that any one person, male or female, can meet all of a woman’s needs for intimacy and affiliation.
When you lost your BF, which you refer to in the book, how did you feel and what, if anything helped you make sense of it?
Especially when it’s one-sided, losing a BF can be as painful as losing a husband or partner. When I lost mine, I was young and had no frame of reference. I don’t think the adults around me truly understood the loss and tended to minimize it. I felt sad and misunderstood until I found a replacement!