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Would You Prefer To Stay Married?

How To Stay Married By Changing The Rules

Traditional marriage models don’t work for everyone. But who says they have to?

One of the benefits of cleaning out my inbox was finding an email from a year ago I had totally forgotten about. It linked to a CNN article in which I was interviewed—“In January, ‘ex’ marks the spot.Two other divorce experts (a psychiatrist and an attorney) and I shared that January is one of our busiest times of the year (along with September).

Family law attorneys have called January “Divorce Month” for years. In fact, the first Monday of January—when the bulk of the calls from would-be divorcees come in—is even dubbed “Divorce Day,” or “D-Day” for short.

After the holiday season, when family obligations have been met, when both spouses have had enough pain and hurt, or when the one who’s contemplated divorce for a while wants to start the new year in a more authentic way (one that doesn’t include their spouse), January seems like the perfect time to put the dissolution wheels in motion. Thus, unhappy couples transition straight from the holiday season to the divorce season.

While it might make society feel better and more secure if fewer couples filed for divorce, it wouldn’t improve the quality of these troubled marriages: It would only prolong the agony and postpone the inevitable.

But there’s a third alternative that, until now, has not been well-explored and that just might provide the relief husbands and wives are looking for: Stay married but change the rules.

A Marriage of Independence

In our recently released book entitled, The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, my co-author, Vicki Larson, and I propose getting away from purely love-based marriages and revisiting purpose-driven marriages.

What we found in our research is that the couples that went from a tepid or unhappy love-based marriage to a Living Apart Together (LAT) Marriage; a Parenting Marriage; or even an Open Marriage fared quite well in many ways. Staying married, for example, protected these couples from the financial devastation that often accompanies divorce, and it was also a win for their children, other family members, and friends.

Let’s explore some of the facets of these alternatives:

  • Living Apart Together entails couples living in separate homes, so there will be more expenses, and more logistics to manage. But it also means that each spouse has a space to get away to. They can maintain a sense of independence, and even have down time from parental duties.
  • In a Parenting Marriage, couples simply change their job description from romantic partner to co-parent. Disentangling emotions and expectations in a more platonic relationship can be tricky, yet not having to fight over who keeps the house or how much time each parent gets with the kids, combined with keeping the household intact for something larger than yourself (your kids) can make the experience much more manageable than divorce.
  • The most radical, and definitely the trickiest, option is that of opening up your marriage to other people. I know that many of you reading this will recoil at this idea, but, in our research, we spoke with several couples that swear it was this radical step that saved their marriage. In some cases, the pairs kept their unions open for the duration; in other cases, the couple got what they needed and closed their nuptials back up. Either way, an Open Marriage is not for the faint of heart (or the jealous).

If you’re interested in creating a Living Apart Together relationship; a Parenting Marriage; or an Open Marriage, here are just 5 of the more than 50 qualities we’ve identified that you’d need to have in place in your relationship for it to work:

  1. You like and trust each other.
  2. You communicate well.
  3. You feel the benefits of this choice outweigh the costs.
  4. You make the choice together as a team.
  5. You don’t need others to like or agree with your choice.

We believe that marriage is trending away from a “traditional” model that isn’t working for far too many, toward creative solutions that don’t entail divorce. (We offer four additional alternatives in the book as well—Starter, Safety, Companionship, and Covenant.)

[Susan Pease Padua]

As a child of divorced parents, Susan knows first-hand how disruptive an unhappy marriage and subsequent marital dissolution can be. When her mother and father split in 1981 (on their 28th wedding anniversary), marriage counseling was unheard of and emotional divorce support virtually nonexistent. Her own experience, combined with years of working with couples in distress – both in striving to save their marriage or transition out of it – led Susan to become passionate about offering support to people at perhaps one of the most crucial junctures in their lives. In 2000, Susan founded the Transition Institute of Marin and began providing information and counseling to this underserved population. Books Eight years later, Susan wrote, Contemplating Divorce, A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go (New Harbinger Publishing, Inc. © 2008), a book that provides objective guidance to those struggling in a rocky marriage as well as invaluable information on how to navigate the divorce process. Contemplating Divorce became a San Francisco Chronicle best-seller its first week in publication. In 2010, Susan completed a meditation book for those challenged by difficult emotions during and after divorce entitled, Stronger Day by Day, Reflections for Healing and Rebuilding After Divorce. Susan’s latest book, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, is a collaboration with journalist Vicki Larson. You can learn more about this project by clicking on The New I Do page. Susan has helped hundreds of people gain clarity in their relationships. Her private therapy practice consists of couples, individuals (local and distance therapy clients) and the many relationship or divorce support groups she runs. Susan in the Media As an often-featured writer for the Huffington Post Divorce page, Susan also writes a regular column for PsychologyToday.com and Examiner.com. Susan has been a guest on the CBS Early Show as well as numerous radio shows across the U.S. and Canada and has also been featured in: The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Psychology Today Magazine, Divorce Magazine, The View From the Bay and more.

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