Want a Better Marriage? Act Like You’re Divorced
“You know, I like being married but living like I’m single,” my former husband said to my dear friend one day.
When she shared what he said with me, we both laughed. We were both mostly stay-at-home moms, working part time, and we thought, well, who wouldn’t want the best of both worlds — someone at home cooking, cleaning and watching the kids while you’re out having fun? It wasn’t until a few years later, when I discovered his affair, that I realized he actually was living like that!
Then I wasn’t so amused.
But now that I’ve been divorced for many years, I’m revisiting his comment. I think he might have been onto something.
While she brings up many good points, I’d tweak it ever so slightly.
It isn’t all that great to live like you’re single when you’re hitched: single people have a lot of expectations — typically unrealistic — about marriage, and that does more damage than good. I don’t blame them, though; you can’t truly grasp what something’s like unless you experience it.
That’s why married people should live like they’re divorced, with all the benefits of expectation-busting hindsight, but still be committed to each other.
It sounds weird, but here’s what it would look like:
Ask any person what’s the best part of being divorced and it pretty much boils down to this: Freedom. You can eat chips and salsa for dinner, wear sweatpants all day, leave the cap off the toothpaste tube and no one is going to give you crap about it. OK, you can’t quite do that in a marriage; marriage is about compromise. And no one is really saying that a chips-and-salsa dinner is more important than waking up next to someone we love, someone we know has our back. It’s just that we want some wiggle room in our relationships — the coveted “space” — so we don’t feel like we’re losing too much of ourselves, which is easy to do in the day-to-day marital grind. We want to do what we want without having to be called on it all the time.
Solution: Encourage and support each other in some unapologetic “me” time
Then there’s the odd thing that happens when a divorced person is ready to start dating again. Some Darwinian rules come into play. Gyms are joined, weight is lost, wardrobes are updated, new activities are found. We may not know how or where or even if we’ll meet someone, but we sure are glammed up just in case. Too bad we often don’t do that when we’re cozy in a relationship.
Many men complain about how their wives have packed on the pounds since their “I dos”; in fact, studies indicate both sexes gain weight after marriage but women tend to gain more.
Solution: If we’re willing to work hard to be the best we can be to attract a new mate, why don’t we do it to keep attracting the one we have?
Sometimes that weight is a barrier to intimacy and sex, which tend to suffer anyway just by the fact that you’re living together day in and day out with few mysteries left to discover. Throw kids into the mix and sex often seems like an afterthought or even a burden. Parents are tired, resentful, disappointed and stressed out, especially moms. Divorced people tend to think about sex; we’re either freaked out about how long it’s been since we had it or freaked out wondering if we’ll ever have it again. If you start thinking about sex as something you may never experience again, you might be more interested in slipping into something more comfortable and dimming the lights.
Few things reconnect a couple better than sex and touch. From a divorced person’s viewpoint, it’s distressing to think that all that potential intimacy is being wasted on married couples who’d rather watch The Outsider.
Solution: Have sex. Really.
Speaking of kids, divorce — if it’s done right, with mutual respect and shared custody — allows for a lot more equality in a relationship when it comes to parenting. Divorced dads often take on tasks they’ve never had to deal with before so they’re forced to become more hands-on. Some may not like it but at least they get to do things their way, which wives often don’t allow their husbands to do.
Many divorcees notice how their former husbands become much better dads once they’ve split; why not help make it happen before some other woman wonders how anyone could divorce such a loving, devoted father?
Solution: Guys, you need to do your fair share of child care. Gals, you need to let them do it their way. Draft a relationship contract to come to agreements and to hold each other, and yourself, accountable.
Of course, a good divorce means good communication even if you’d rather have him disappear in Antarctica, never to be heard from again. When you’re divorced and have kids, you still have to talk to each other. But communication — or lack of it — is what often sends people to divorce lawyers in the first place. It’s a cliche to say, “My wife doesn’t understand me”; I cringe to think that my former husband may have used that line or something like it on his lover. But I don’t doubt that by the time he uttered those words our conversations lacked honesty and meaning — unlike the talks we had when we were dating and newly married, when it was all about disclosure. However, if you’re going to throw out a line like that, you should probably ask yourself when was the last time you told your spouse something real and honest so that they could understand you.
Solution: Talk to each other. Be curious. Ask questions. Listen. And for goodness sake, gals, be vocal about your needs and wants.
All of which makes makes me think that we have things all wrong; we need to get divorced first and then get married — as long as we stay honest, committed and keep the mindset of a divorcee.
Like anything else, there’s no guarantee that the marriage will survive. But if it doesn’t, at least you’ll know you can survive divorce.
Want to learn how to individualize your marriage? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore (please do) or order it on Amazon. And we’re now on Audible.