The One Thing We Need That Will Either Make or Break Your Relationship

make-or-break-picThis is a special year for me and I’d like to share it with you. I’m 72 this year. My wife Carlin and I have been together for 36 years. She teaches a class called “The Perks of Aging” where she explores the upsides of getting older. I’m continually reminded of the challenges of aging. I’m just recovering from a leg injury that has kept me from enjoying my usual physical activities. I had a small cancer removed from my nose and I look a bit weird with a nose bandage. And there are more serious challenges. A number of friends our age are dealing with life-threatening illnesses.

One of the upsides of aging is having a successful, long-term relationship. As a marriage and family counselor I’ve always been disturbed by the statistics that tell us that around 50% of first marriages end in divorce. I was a part of that statistical group when my ten year marriage ended. Like most people I went through the grieving process, got back out there eventually, fell in love again, and re-married. That marriage lasted less than three years. I joined another discouraging statistical group. 66% of second marriages end in divorce.

Before giving it another try I decided there were some things I needed to learn. I was determined not to be one of the 73% of third marriages that failed. I read everything I could on what makes a successful marriage. I interviewed couples. More importantly I went back through my relationship history, all the way back to the family I grew up in, and began to see a pattern that I was subconsciously repeating.

My parents divorced when I was five years old. My father had been suffering from bipolar depression, which eventually lead to his attempted suicide. My mother suffered from constant worry and anxiety. Getting a better understanding of my relationship roots helped me heal some of the old wounds. Therapy was helpful, even for a therapist like me who thought he had all the answers.

After 36 years of learning and growing together, Carlin and I share what we learned in my new book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, and a new course, The Enlightened Marriage Master Class. It’s not easy to capture the core practices that can turn good marriages into great ones and get shaky ones back on track, but I’ve found that there are eight effective ways you can connect with your lover and fix problems in any relationship. Here they are: [Read more…]

How to Know if It’s Time to Go: 10 Signs You Should Leave Your Relationship

I’ve been helping men and women improve their love lives for more than 40 years. Most everyone I know wants a long-term committed relationship. But most everyone finds it difficult to achieve. We know that around 50% of first marriages end in divorce and 75-80% of men and women who have a failed first marriage will remarry, usually within five years. But 66% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.

Too many relationships fail when they could be saved. Most couples have a faulty love map and so get lost on their way to finding real, lasting love. In my book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, I describe five stages for having the joyful, intimate, juicy, sexy, comfortable, adventurous, relationship most people long to have:

  1. Falling in Love
  2. Deepening Love and Making a Life Together
  3. Disillusionment and Incompatibility
  4. Real, Lasting Love
  5. Finding Your Calling as a Couple

Stage 3 is the most misunderstood stage and without guidance too many relationships falter and go under at this time. I’ve developed an on-line program to help people get through to real, lasting love. I’ve learned that most marriages can be saved, but some are beyond repair. Here are the signs that your relationship is unlikely to be healed:

  1. Love has turned to hate.

Many couples will tell me there are times they feel like killing their spouse, but they still love them. Others say love has been lost, but they still care and want love to return. But if love has turned to hate, the relationship may need to end.

  1. Blame and shame rule the relationship.

Care and respect are key components of a good marriage. Troubled relationships often fall into blaming the other partner and putting them down or calling them names. [Read more…]

Love 4.0: Five Surprising Discoveries About Love That Can Save Your Relationship

3320409558_0b46b90f4c_zWe all know the feeling. When we least expect it, we fall in love. Our hearts pound and we only have eyes for that special someone. We’re ecstatic and alive in the presence of our loved one. When we’re apart we experience agonies of longing. We obsess about every detail of our time together and our nights are full of dreams of togetherness. This is love 1.0.

If we’re lucky, the one we fall in love with is “a keeper.” We hope its “love” we’re feeling and not “love addiction.” In my article “Is It Love or Love Addiction?” I offer twenty-one ways to distinguish the two. Love nourishes our lives, love addiction leaves us feeling depressed and can even cause our hearts to function improperly. If it’s love, not love addiction, we experience of comfort and joy of Love 2.0 as we build a life together.

But even the best relationships have trouble in Stage 3 when we go through disillusionments and wonder “Who is this person I’m with?” The things that used to be so endearing to us, now feel like irritations that drive us up the wall. We wonder where our loving partner went and why they’ve turned into Mr. Hyde or the Wicked Witch of the West. Many people bail out of relationships during this stage, but it’s really love 3.0, which I describe in my book The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Stages of Relationships Why the Best is Still to Come.

We want to believe that our love is real and everlasting when we fall in love in Stage 1 and we start a life together in Stage 2, but if we’re honest with ourselves we realize that we haven’t fallen in love with a real person, but with the hopes, desires, and illusions we project onto them. We aren’t seeing the whole person, but the ideal that captures all our dreams of that perfect mate that will love us like we’ve never been loved before and make up for the wounds we have experienced in our past love lives, going back to the family we grew up in. We’re, inevitably, disappointed and often feel betrayed. [Read more…]

7 Reasons Calling is Better Than Texting in Dating and Relationships

4151102238_5b5b5f4df2_oI’ve been a marriage and family counselor for more than 40 years. Though the times and technologies have changed, the basics of dating and mating haven’t. The new science of love demonstrates that there are 5 stages for having a great relationship that lasts through time:

  • Stage 1: Falling In Love
  • Stage 2: Becoming a Couple
  • Stage 3: Disillusionment
  • Stage 4: Creating Real, Lasting Love
  • Stage 5: Finding Your Calling as a Couple

All five stages work best when we communicate with all parts of ourselves. There is an old saying, going back to biblical times, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” In our fast-paced, hyper-kinetic world, we increasingly use technologies to help us save time and be more efficient. Texting is one of those technologies. When we’re in a hurry we can communicate with a few quick strokes and get a message through.

Texting may be more efficient, and there are times when efficiency serves our purpose, but in the area of dating, mating, sex, and love, too much texting and too little direct contact can undermine our deepest desires. The reason is simple and straight forward, but we often fail to understand these facts of life:

  • Human connection requires that we use all our senses. We need to see each other, hear each other, touch each other, taste each other, and yes, smell each other.
  • Our conscious mind may think we’re connecting when we text our feelings in words, but our bodies, spirits, and souls know we’re missing vital elements.

In her book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D., says “You use the phone, email, and increasingly texts or Facebook, and it’s important to do so. Yet your body, sculpted by the forces of natural selection over millennia, was not designed for the abstractions of long distance love, the XOXs and LOLs. Your body hungers for more. It hungers for moments of oneness.”

Without real connection we feel lonely and disconnected. We often become more anxious and depressed. As I say in my book, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, “Without real connections we get hooked on love addiction rather than real love. Healthy love creates life. Addictive love creates melodramas.” So here are the reasons I believe calling is better than texting at all stages of relationship: [Read more…]

The Birth of The Enlightened Marriage: Would You Like to Be a God-Parent?

Book CoverI have 17 children and a new one is on the way. Well, not exactly. Let me explain. When my first wife and I were in college we decided that when we got married we would have one child and then adopt a child. Even back in 1964 we knew the world was getting crowded and we wanted to do our part by fulfilling our dream to have our own biological child, but to take a child to love that needed a home. Ten years later the marriage was on the rocks and I became a single parent. When I met and married Carlin, she had three children. We ended up raising her son and my daughter together, but together we count five children. So where did the other twelve come from?

They are my literary children. As a writer I dream about the next conception. The gestation period can be many years and the birth is just the first in a series of steps as the child makes its way in the world. My first literary child was born on June 22, 1983. His name is Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man (I know, not your typical child’s name) and he turned thirty-three a few days ago.

Each of these literary children has multiple God-parents. These are people who feel a great love for this child, give guidance, and help them find their place in the world. Here’s what a few of the Inside Out God-parents had to say:

“We know the personal is political—feminists have proved that point—yet few, (if any) men have had the courage to be as vulnerable as Jed Diamond.” Natalie Rogers, author of Emerging Woman.

  “Through his own vividly revealed experiences Jed shows us just where the sexual revolution took a wrong turn toward the unexamined doctrine of obligatory ‘openness.’” George Leonard, author of The End of Sex: Erotic Love After the Sexual Revolution.

[Read more…]

Confessions of a Twice Divorced Marriage Counselor

6734544555_9389e751a6_zI became a marriage counselor to help families stay together through difficult times, to keep love alive during times of stress. I wanted to help men and women avoid what I experienced growing up in a family obsessed with death.

When my mother got pregnant she told stories about her anxiety and worry. “I would walk down the streets of Greenwich village terrified I would lose the child. I tiptoed everywhere. I was afraid I’d lose you, even before you were born.” After my birth she was afraid to let my father hold me, believing he was clumsy and might drop me. She was also convinced she would die before I was out of high school and bought a life insurance policy she couldn’t afford so I’d have money after she was gone. She also got a life insurance policy for me when I turned five, insisting you could never start too soon to take care of your family after you’re gone. When I started nursery school she was already preparing for my life after she was dead and for the life of my wife and family after I died.

My father struggled to make a living as a playwright and actor in New York. After moving to California to try his luck in the emerging television industry, he became increasingly overwhelmed and depressed. The last entry in his journal which I found later as an adult read:

“November 8th:

A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out.  Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried.  All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education. 

I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying.  Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.”

[Read more…]

Why Women Are Saying “No” to Marriage and Men Are Becoming Angry, Depressed, and Lonely

Hannah K. LeeThere are two intersecting trends that are changing the ways men and women live and love. I see these changes in my friends and family and in the clients who come to me for marriage and family counseling. These changes have taken place, for the most part, under the radar of our awareness but they are changing everything from how we deal with our health to who we elect as our next president.

A recent book review in the New York Times, from which the above picture was taken, begins:

“Throughout America’s history, the start of adult life for women — whatever else it might have been destined to include — had been typically marked by marriage,” Rebecca Traister writes in her new book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. “Since the late 19th century, the median age of first marriage for women had fluctuated between 20 and 22. This had been the shape, pattern and definition of female life.”

But the times are changing, big time. An article in New York Magazine quotes Ms. Traister’s research:

“In 2009, the proportion of American women who were married dropped below 50 percent. In other words, for the first time in American history, single women (including those who were never married, widowed, divorced, or separated) outnumbered married women. Perhaps even more strikingly, the number of adults younger than 34 who had never married was up to 46 percent, rising 12 percentage points in less than a decade. For women under 30, the likelihood of being married has become astonishingly small: Today, only around 20 percent of Americans ages 18–29 are wed, compared to nearly 60 percent in 1960.”

“It is a radical upheaval, a national reckoning with massive social and political implications,” says Traister. “Across classes, and races, we are seeing a wholesale revision of what female life might entail. We are living through the invention of independent female adulthood as a norm, not an aberration, and the creation of an entirely new population: adult women who are no longer economically, socially, sexually, or reproductively dependent on or defined by the men they marry.”

So, we might summarize one trend as: “Independent Single Ladies on the Rise.”
[Read more…]

The Power of Two: How Couples Can Change the World

16487947022_80e55c666d_zI’ve been looking for real, lasting love all my life. I’ve also been on a mission to change the world. Recently those two desires have come together and I’d like to share the story. The impetus to write this article came from a recent post I read by the editors of The Good Men Project.

“We started The Good Men Project six years ago to have an ongoing worldwide conversation about the changing roles of men in the 21st century. We didn’t realize that conversation would be so difficult—nor did we realize the tremendous influence we could have on our culture by opening up that conversation. The conversation about men is the conversation about everything. And about co-creating the type of world we want to live in together. We at The Good Men Project want to connect with other individuals and groups who are out there creating positive change in the world. We want to hear the stories about what you are doing and what you see working.”

My story began in conflict following my birth. Both my father and mother believed that their first child would be a girl. I’m not sure to this day why they were so convinced, but they had multiple girls names picked out and no boys’ names. When I came along my father quickly chose the name Elliott Diamond, to honor his nephew who had recently died. The story is that my mother cried for two days until he agreed to change my name to John to honor my mother’s dead father.

It wasn’t until I went off to college that I decided I didn’t like either name and picked the name Jed. I thought it had a manly ring and seemed to balance the feminine upbringing I had starting with, having all the girls dolls and toys my parents had bought in anticipation of the birth of their “little girl.”

When my father tried to commit suicide when I was five years old and was sent to a mental hospital I came to believe there was something sinister, dark, and destructive about being male. I associated depression and later bipolar disorder, the labels my father was given, with the “craziness” I felt were part of the male experience. I gravitated even more strongly to my mother and more feminine pursuits like reading and playing house with the three little girls who lived next door. [Read more…]

The 7 Secrets of Real Lasting Love

2591958811_6cb1d05d8b_zI’ve been a sex, love, and relationship counselor for more than 40 years. I’ll admit that I’ve been following the advice to “teach what you want to learn.” Like most everyone I know, we’ve all got a lot to learn about love. Our love maps are ingrained in our psyches based on our parent’s experiences with sex, love, and relationships. If our parent’s love lives were wonderful, every cell in our body will resonate to healthy love messages. However, if our parent’s love lives were less than wonderful, we will grow up with a distorted love map that will often lead us astray.

My parent’s love lives were not all that great. My mother married my Dad on the rebound when her true love was called away to war (he was a correspondent for the New York Times). My parents thought that having a child would bring them closer together. Instead it put more pressure on their already shaky marriage. My mother became increasingly anxious and worried that I would die. My father became increasingly depressed when he couldn’t find a job to support the family.

Since our love maps are generally subconscious, most of us are not aware that they can lead us astray or that our family’s love lives can have such a profound influence on our own. I married my college girlfriend, sure we would “live happily ever after.” We lasted less than ten years. After a short time of grieving the loss, I was sure I had simply married the wrong person. I fell in love again to a woman who seemed very different, but was in fact very similar to my first wife (and yes, similar to my mother emotionally). My new love slept with a gun under her pillow to “protect her from men.” We lasted less than three years.

I didn’t want to make a third mistake, so I decided to take a break, do some serious therapy and find a love map that would bring me real, lasting love. The new map led me to Carlin. We have been together now for 36 years. Here are some of the important secrets we learned. [Read more…]

Sex Talk: The Secret to Male & Female Communication

235051813_dfb4d27274_bI had an “aha” experience when I recognized that I talk very differently when I interact with my wife than when I’m talking to close male friends. When Carlin and I talk there’s a certain tension. Although we’ve learned to communicate better and better through the years, I feel like our interaction is more like speaking a second language, rather than what is natural to me. I sense the same is true for her as well.

When I overhear her talking with female friends on the phone, they seem to easily go back and forth talking, talking, talking. It seems to go on forever and doesn’t seem to have a point. When I talk to my friend Lanny and plan our next racquetball game it sounds like this:

Me: Hey, Lanny, we on for Tuesday.

Lanny: Yeah. Got it.

Me: See you then.

Lanny: Gonna kick your butt, my friend.

Me: Not a chance.

That’s it. Clean clear, quick and easy.

When I’m talking with a group of my buddies, we often joke, compete, and put each other down in playful ways. We can talk seriously, but there’s also a lot of playful competition as we let each other know…“I’m top dog. No, I’m top dog!”

I never really understood the difference until I read a book called Duels and Duets: Why Men and Women Talk So Differently by John L. Locke, a linguistics professor at City University of New York. Although we often focus on difficulties in communicating between men and women, much less focus has been placed on same sex communication. Locke has found that the way we talk is not just driven by various cultural norms, but by deep seated, evolutionary-based, sex differences. “In birds and mammals, including the other primates,” says Locke, “sexually mature males are prone to contend with each other in highly public vocal displays that are aggressive or ‘agonistic’ in nature.”

He describes these male type communications as “duels.”
[Read more…]