Give Marital Advice? Who – ME?

Is a divorced woman capable of offering marital advice?

Okay, okay. Let me rephrase. Is a divorced woman with a little life under her (cute, stylish) belt able to offer good marital advice?

Here’s why I pose the question. Yesterday, an article I wrote about soul mates and the damaging notion of “the one” was published on Huffington Post. An interesting discussion followed.

As I should have expected, conversation wandered into relationships in general, marital expectations, and increasingly heated he said-she said post-divorce war stories. (We all have them; sometimes airing them is therapeutic.) And yes, there was the usual gender-based tossing of barbs that gets no one anywhere. And yet…

A 30-year old woman commented:

I am now 30 and single. I have seen too many unhappy marriages and divorces around me in the past few years and I am scared to go down the married road. I know that eventually I’d like to be married. So, what suggestion­s do you have for those in their 20s and 30s who are hoping to avoid some of these problems down the line?

My immediate response?

Great question!

And then I thought – Am I qualified to answer?

Netting things out, my reply was this: Pay attention to warning signs before marriage; know yourself well; truly consider what the other person needs; and look beyond the surface to values and character.

Values and character. They bear repeating.

As for more, I knew I’d never be able to cover it there, so I thought this might be a good place to continue the discussion  on the notion of soul mates, of changes that occur during marriage, and suggestions we might consider sharing with each other.

Love? Soul mates? Reality?

So how do you feel about soul mates? Is believing in the one-and-only part of the problem when we enter into marriage? Are our expectations utterly askew, unless we’re done with the “starter marriage” and on to a second?

How do we school ourselves in marital skills and realities before walking down the aisle? And once we do, can we accept the change from an idealistic view of coupledom to more mundane life?

Rather than living out tedium, can we still keep married life spicy enough, varied enough, intimate enough for the core relationship to stay vibrant?

How do we fight our way through periods of low libido, lousy communication, or simply wanting different things?

Relationship references in pop culture

As I am want to do from time to time, in my article I referenced Sex and the City. A few gentlemen responded with lighthearted (and predictable) remarks – something like “no wonder I’m confused.” Yet aren’t those four characters great sources of discussion? Consider the roles they play, and how most women (when we’re being honest with ourselves) can identify in some measure with at least one of the characters.

Note, I said “in some measure.” And we have:

  • Charlotte, the romantic traditionalist. Determined to be a wife and mother. Married for love (and by checklist), faced unanticipated obstacles. Remarried her divorce attorney who was nothing like her “Ideal” – yet they flourish as a couple.
  • Carrie, our narrator and guide through contemporary moral relativism (who, incidentally, wants true love as much as anyone). She beds plenty, muses on all of it, learns her lessons, and ultimately marries her Big love. Her marriage? An adjustment.
  • Miranda, the tough career woman who nonetheless lets go of preconceived notions of relationship, motherhood and marriage, though not without a long path to the reality of a Truly Great Guy in her life.
  • Samantha – every man’s desire and/or fear (for some reason). Is it her insatiable sexual appetite? That she is unapologetic about any of it? Her autonomy? Or is she really every man – in woman’s clothing?

Women supporting each other through tough times

Add to that the fact that these women support each other through everything. The woman’s woman – each of them. And that is something to aspire to. At least for me. I consider myself a woman’s woman, a man’s woman, and very much my own woman.

Lovely Mature Woman with Blue EyesCan we, the women, support each other through our individual choices – and without so much rush to judgment? Can we emulate these four fictional characters in their genuine friendship and caring, though they make mistakes and take varying paths?

Why is it that Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte concern some men, rather than allowing them (as it allows some women) to explore the various faces of relationship, of womanhood, of sexual freedom and its consequences, as well as lifestyle choices?

Who is qualified to give marital advice?

Back to my original question. Am I in a position to offer advice? What do you think?

I’m a divorced woman; would I know anything of what makes a marriage work? And other than my quickie comments above, what advice would I offer, which is what the Huff Post reader requested?

Perhaps I’d better position my remarks as observations, and sharing my personal experience and lessons…

I’ve written about the subject of marriage in tongue-in-cheek manner (Marriage Minded Men), and tip-toed through it more gently in a variety of musings on gender roles and relationships. I imagine I will continue to do so.

Here are some thoughts. Take them or leave them.

Tips for a healthy (real world) marriage

In the real world? My marriage tool box includes the following items.

  • Sexuality is important to men and women, but libido needs to be in sync. If you’re a sexual mismatch, that spells trouble.
  • Talk, listen, talk, listen. If you run out of talk-listen cycles, try writing to each other. And before you reach a point where you can’t communicate without the intervention of a third party.
  • Kids add mega-stress. It’s inevitable. Find help! Other parents, friends, teachers, babysitters. No matter how tired you are, carve out a workable way to go out – together.
  • Marriage is a relationship just like friendship. Intimate friendship. If you aren’t treating your partner at least as well as you would treat your best friend, change your attitude and your habits. And you deserve the same.
  • Character and values. (See? Worthy of repeating.) Men go bald. They get paunchy. They snore. Women get stretch marks, PMS, and eventually, go through menopause. If you don’t pair up with someone of character and values when the skin is tight and the follicles are intact, what’s it going to be like 20 years down the line?

We change; marriage changes

As for change?

Sometimes people change in ways that are unacceptable to you. Sometimes they don’t. I believe we all change. I don’t believe we can make another person change.

We ALL make mistakes. And life bombards us with the unexpected. Again – character, common values, along with flexibility and a sense of humor will help.

Some marriages will end. But I’d like to think that fewer would fall apart if we took greater care and were more pragmatic up front.

Sure. Biological clocks may be ticking, but don’t you want a better shot of getting it mostly right, rather than wholly wrong?

My credentials? Your credentials?

Cute Couple Woman in Red LipstickI believe in storytellers. I believe in experience. I believe in a commitment to sharing the truth of our lessons – and our doubts.

I believe in your stories and experience as much as my own. We can all learn from each other.

I am a woman who has loved, been hurt, picked herself up and loved again. Like many of you, I’ve juggled raising children and trying to be an attentive partner.

It’s hard.

I consider myself realistic, moderately optimistic, with an overactive tendency toward introspection and reflection. I hope my willingness to examine and explore is accompanied by an ability to listen, and especially, to admit when I’m wrong.

I know I don’t have all the answers. I’m still working on the questions.

Regardless of age, stage, or relationship status, I’d like to see more of us feel less isolated in our turmoil, less defeated in our current struggles, and more content with where we are, however messy that may seem.

And not to worry. I’m not hanging out a shingle. I’m enjoying- and learning from this – our  dialog. It seems like a step in the right direction.


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    • BigLittleWolf says

      Oh, AofA! Too funny! (“Model Husband Warehouse???”) Thanks for pointing me here… as I let down my flowing locks from the high tower where I hear them calling my name… “Rapunzel, Rapunzel…” 😉

  1. says

    Any woman who has “been there, done that and lived to tell about it” is qualified. Whether she’s still married or not. There are lessons to be learned from everyone. The one thing I always reply with is the question of how well your core values are matched. I believe a marriage can survive when two people like different things, but only if there is a basic, core set of beliefs that is used as a strong foundation.

    Great post and thoughts.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      @Lisa – “… and lived to tell about it.” Ha! Yes, many lessons to be culled from all manner of sources.
      @Carol – oh, those bad choices we learn from. Thank goodness we learn.
      @Cathy – you said a mouthful, when it comes to people not really thinking about the vows, the significance of the words – and then living up to them.
      @Suzi – the “what didn’t work” list does teach a good deal, and I imagine there are other “what didn’t work” lists which have much to offer as well. I still believe that basics are often what we forget – respect, friendship, and yes – passion.

  2. says

    After making some bad choices in men for relationships, I finally decided I no longer cared if I had one, but if I ever did date again, first priority would be to develop a friendship. No sex until I could be sure I liked the man and he was a friend because lust gets in the way of clear thinking. I also decided if I spent the rest of my life alone, that would be okay too. And then I met my husband, and I stuck to my priorities and it worked.

  3. says

    I think you have a good list. I would add that it is absolutely necessary to set expectations – and to meet them.

    I just wrote about this and I don’t think that people think as deeply about their marriage vows as they should prior to saying “I do”. I know I didn’t.

  4. Ivan says

    As human beings we were not made to be solitary creatures – no one really wants to be alone. There rests the problem. In our pursuit, we tend to “settle’, often going against our inner voice. Our poor decisions are often influenced and compounded by our own self image, fulfilling the mantra of the “laws of attraction”.

    As you stated, “being more pragmatic up front” would decrease the divorce rate. I would add that this step would also decrease the incidences of entering into a doomed marriage.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Ivan – Thank you for joining the conversation, and welcome. I agree, we aren’t made to be solitary creatures. Contemporary life has a way of making a mockery of that fact. We all need community, and those special people for us to connect with.

      As for the divorce rate, it is disheartening. But our discussion needs to be not only about the divorce rate, but what happens before (strengthening marriage), and also what comes after (divorce aftermath, so it doesn’t further impact children and exes and cause so many problems – individual and societal).

      I hope you’ll stop back again and comment.

  5. says

    You are absolutely qualified…who better than someone who’s been there and can tell you from experience what didn’t work. Your list is reasonable and wise. I think it’s important to go in with your eyes open and both partners willing to give 100 percent to make it work…marriage is as much about work and compromise as it is about love and the rewards of going the distance.

  6. says

    Here’s the way I look at this question. If you’re questioning your credentials to answer this question, then you are the perfect person to answer. Why? Because you will speak from your heart and experiences, and you will tell your story. You won’t be dogmatic or judge. So answer away, my friend. I mean middle of life has to be good for something like giving people our opinions, right?

  7. says

    An argument could be made that the best person to talk to is the man/woman who has been down that road. I have friends who swear that their second marriages are a thousand times better because they know how to avoid the mistakes that they made the first time.

    As for soul mates, I absolutely believe in them. I am not convinced that there is only one.

  8. says

    I love this: “If you aren’t treating your partner at least as well as you would treat your best friend, change your attitude and your habits.” It’s going up on the bathroom mirror.

    Re: Soul mates. A friend once told me the ratio is 1:200. That is, about every 200th person you meet is a potential soul mate. I have no idea whether this is accurate, but it was a great relief to hear.

  9. Ivan says

    Marriage is only as good as the foundation it was built on. Often, people get married for the wrong reasons and begin the marriage on a shaky foundation. And the prevailing thought is that if it doesn’t work out – get a divorce.

    Marriage should not be taken lightly. It should not be a “test drive” whereby you can return the car at the first sign of trouble and ask for a refund. Individuals need to recognize that marriage is a serious matter and not a “crap shoot” with an easy out.

    And then there is staying in a marriage because of children. The husband, wife – more often the wife, elects to sacrifice their happiness for the children. But what message does that send to the children. The children are not blind – they witness the unhealthy relationship of their parents and are likely to tragically mimic the behavior.

    My mother died this past October, with over thirty years devoid of spousal love. She was in her second marriage – my father left her with twins after two years of marriage.

    Mommy remarried ten years later, with the expectation of providing a father for her twins. She gave her second husband two sons and elected to stay in an emotionally abusive marriage, even after they were grown. And for what? Her gentle soul died without the love of a spousal partner. How sad and tragic is that?

    So I say, life is too short. It is better to end a marriage devoid of love than to sacrifice for the children – as they may very well mimic your relationship and become what you detest.

  10. says

    Having been divorced (and consequently experiencing the shattering of a marriage and the illusion with which first timers enter it) qualifies you, and then some. if only we could learn those lessons without having to endure that, but like everything else in life, you learn from experience far better than from advice.

  11. says

    Best. Post. Ever. Everything resonates with me. I would underline honesty in the list – even though it’s in there with character and values; if you aren’t honest with yourself, and your partner, then the potential for the relationship to be what you hope, is just…. not there.

  12. says

    BLW, never doubt your credentials. You are qualified and insightful. You offer meaning to the marriage conversation. I believe in the spouse who can be my best friend, lover and go to person for anything. I have a deep friendship with my spouse and we share a mutual respect for our ideas and our conflicts. We try to communicate with one another and when we fight we refrain from name calling.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You are all quite lovely. And I think we need to continue the “marriage conversation” as you say, Rudri, because it helps us see the many ways relationships can work, and maybe, too, we can keep our perspective.

      I wonder – if some of us had communities like this, years ago, others with whom to discuss in this open way, if we might have been kinder to ourselves and to those we love, simply by virtue of not feeling so alone. And talking, and listening.

      (Meanwhile, I assure you – if I hang out a shingle, I will be dispensing advice on shoes, accompanied by milk and cookies. Okay, maybe French cheese and Louboutins.)

  13. says

    Giving advice is relatively easy and open to all; assessing it is more difficult and is the listener’s responsibility. Some people shy away from adivce, feeling that it is intended to compel them. Fortunately, I grew up in a family where everyone discussed things and proposed solutions; everyone was expected to listen and do exactly as they were individually led.

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