This famous Italian proverb about love may seem obvious. But many of us try to control love and the whims of our heart. It’s more difficult to navigate than we ever imagine. Yet, we keep trying. This saying, “L’amore domina senza regole,” is a reminder of our impotence. Love is greater than our instinct to rule. There’s no getting around it, in fact. Whatever is in our heart holds the most power. It’s useless for any of us to fight those feelings. We are better off accepting them. Of course, we have to realize that without rules, anything can happen.
Italian wedding vows are classic. If you marry in the Catholic Church in Italy – like I did nearly 9 years ago – then you say the same stuff. You just say it in Italian instead of English or whatever your native language. But now that I’m a veteran Italian wife, I decided the vows should be longer and more specific. Most of all, they should be honest. Don’t let these newlyweds go into marriage thinking it’s always going to be cannoliand prosecco.
What Italians Should Promise to Their Beloved
I,___, take you,____, for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold…But first we must make a few promises. Say them out loud, get them in writing, and never risk divorce.
The Mother-in-Law Guarantee in Italian Wedding Vows
I promise to remain your husband/wife despite your mom’s constant criticism of my
I also promise to stay with you no matter how many times your mom tries to have me taken out. No matter how many times. (It bears repeating.)
I promise to have you, hold you, and feed you prosciutto on a regular basis. We will always choose fresh mozzarella over that cheese that passes for mozzarella. It’s the real Reggiano-Parmigiano in our house. May the tomatoes always be fresh, and the lemons ever growing on our tree of life. By the power vested in Nonna, we will never ever eat sauce from a can or jar. Never. We must linger over our meal at least once a week. Sundays will be for pasta forever. Every now and then, we’ll get spicy in the kitchen, too. And there’s always room for gelato.
Our love will always come before my job. The kids will come before everything else for a little while, but you get it. I will never come between you and your family. You will do the same for me. (Again, this is how it will be no matter what crazy our mothers display. The crazy is pretty much guaranteed, and I accept that.)
How to Argue Like an Italian Couple
We recognize our passion might be overkill in an argument. So, we promise to take a time out from fighting when the hand gestures start getting nasty and the normally loud voice gets even louder. Certainly, we will compromise and apologize to each other first. But we also promise to apologize to our neighbors for whatever they end up hearing. Let’s face it, they’re gonna hear us. Of course, no one makes up like an Italian. And we promise to keep making up like that for the rest of our days. We can apologize to the neighbors for that noise, too.
As we grow old and get fat together (after the foodie promises that’s a given), I will still find you sexy. I will continue to compliment you. Your mind will always attract me. Of course, I will grab your ass every chance I get. Yes, oh, yes, we will always have sex, and I’ll be a generous lover. This I promise you from now until death do we part.
My biggest challenge as a mother is to teach my son to be a good person. I look around me, and I see cheaters and liars running the world, bullies running the Internet, and soul-sucking institutions paying lip service to good behavior but demonstrating something else entirely. The hypocrisy is maddening. And it weighs on my heart. I don’t know how to save this sweet boy’s kindness for posterity.
But does it really have to be this complicated? Being a good person is simple when you think about it. You just have to do the right thing and black out the badness in the outer world. Etch what you believe on your kids’ hearts before you set them out into the world to face the wolves. The journey begins with you and the behavior you model. Discover how to be a good person in practice, not just in name:
Follow the Golden Rule
The Golden Rule has people treating others the way they would like to be treated. I think of it as the simplest explanation of how to show respect for those around you. If you don’t want someone calling you names, you don’t call him names. This rule expresses the very thing I am seeking to do – model the right kind of behavior.
Help Those in Need
My son had delayed speech as many of you know. He goes to school with other children, who have all sorts of delays and abilities. Some of them have a harder time than others at school. So, once my son started speaking and seemed to be understanding me, we talked about what to do if one of his friends is crying or does not want to participate. Lo and behold, his speech therapist introduced similar discussion in some of her lessons, too. My son got the message because when a boy, who didn’t yet speak, cried hysterically on his first day of school, I watched my son hand him a pinecone he found on the ground and give him a hug. The boy stopped crying. Now, my son says you have to give someone a pinecone when he’s crying. Sounds good to me.
To Be a Good Person, Have a Good Heart
This tip is a bit more opaque than the others. Sometimes, we let anger fester, and it can bring us down. It colors how we see the world until all we see is gray. We lose optimism and experience paranoia. We become grouches. And we treat others poorly – or ignore them all together – with the excuse that the world is a miserable place. Becoming an angry bird in the face of opposition is not the answer. You have to make the effort to seek out the good among the bad, so that your heart remains. This is a much harder lesson to teach. The good news is that kids bounce back from hardship more easily than grown ups, and they have an unmatched innocence. So, it’s easier to keep their heart in check.
Love Your Neighbor
I hate to borrow from the 10 Commandments because being a good person should not have to be a religious pursuit. But this one is important. Many of us don’t even know our neighbors anymore. It’s amazing really. Much of today’s technology was meant to help people connect with those near and far with ease, and yet it has driven us further apart. You don’t have to be best friends with your neighbors but say, “Hi,” to them when you see them. Learn their names. Ask them how they are doing. Of course, respect their property. Talking to people promotes understanding and creates a sense of community. When you’re part of a community, you want to contribute to it.
Suffer A Little
You’re probably thinking this sounds out of sorts on this list. But many parents rush to solve every little problem their child faces. They never allow them to cry or experience a challenge. Believe me, I know how tough it is to watch your child suffer; my first instinct is always to run to his aid. But it does more harm than good. It’s a shot in the arm for the moment at hand. But later on, what will he do in the face of real adversity? When children grow up unable to cope with the hard times, they come to feel entitled to perfection, which of course does not exist. They may come to be arrogant or have unreal expectations about the relationships they have with real people. When you suffer a little, you become more empathetic to those around you, and you have a grasp on how to deal with those sour lemons that come your way.
Tell people the truth. Be transparent and open. When you have nothing to hide, you are more relaxed and more receptive to those around you. Honesty also helps your kids know where you stand, and they might be more likely to shun lying to you. If you’re never caught in a lie and show up when you say you will, you also will build trust, which is a great foundation for any relationship.
Work hard at whatever you do. Persevere. Pay your taxes. Volunteer for causes about which you care. Do right by your family. Spread the love. Be a responsible adult in your community, and your child will see what it means to give back and help the whole village grow. Granted, these lessons won’t be understood overnight. But being a good person takes a lifetime of effort, so you have plenty of time.
We stop hugging our children, especially our sons, after they grow up just a little bit. But we should hug them well into adulthood. Hugs are soothing, they bring everyone a little peace, and they have the power to make time stand still even if it’s just for a few seconds. Hugs are a way to demonstrate love. And love breeds love.
More than a decade ago I wrote a story about why women love Italian men. Since the 1990s, my work has been getting published in magazines, newspapers, and Websites. I wrote an entire book myself, and I’ve written parts of other people’s books. I’ve literally written hundreds of published works. Still, my story on Italian men is probably the most popular ever. It remains among the top five stories in search for the keyword phrase “Italian men.” And I get e-mails from readers who want to date Italian men or want help dealing with the Italian man they already have. For a long while, it was a daily conversation, in fact.
Long-time readers of mine know that I myself dated and married an Italian native of Ischia, the island of my father and ancestors on both sides of my family. So, I know of what I’m writing. I get it. Italian men are charming, and many of them have this way of making a woman feel as though she’s the only one in a room full of people, not to mention the sexiest person on the planet. They don’t call ’em Latin lovers for nothing. They tend to be devoted to their mothers, which has its pros and cons for the women dating them, but guarantees they put women on a pedestal. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that a great many of them are hot to boot.
So, in honor of #NationalBoyfriendDay, I figured I’d share my revelations about how to win over an Italian man. Obviously, this might not work with every Italian man, and I’m making sweeping generalizations to come up with this list. But it will give you an idea, and it draws upon my own firsthand observations and experiences.
1. Find your swagger.
Italian men are confident. Some may even come off as arrogant. There’s a fine line. You have to be their match. They are not going to chase a wallflower. They want a woman who is sure of herself, who can stand up to them when necessary, and who is as decisive and to the point as mamma. Like anyone else, he will walk all over you if you let him, and you’ll never have a healthy, committed relationship. Hold your head high, walk like you know your bottom looks delicious in those jeans, and tell him off if the moment calls for it (even if you think he’s a cross between George Clooney and Brad Pitt, actually especially if you think he is a cross between George Clooney and Brad Pitt).
2. Look the part.
Before there was Facebook, there was the Italian piazza. As a result, Italians are the masters of telling the story of who they are based solely on their looks and clothing. It might be superficial, but the idea of the “bella figura,” which means making a good impression and judging a book on its cover, is very real in the Boot. As an American, I often want to fight this one, but it’s a cultural norm that I’ll never change and neither will you. Therefore, you have to learn to use it to your advantage. Do your hair. Wear make-up (if that makes you feel more confident), and dress nicely. At least, you have to look neat and composed. Be unafraid to stand out. Italians like to make fashion statements since this is one of the world’s fashion capitals. Wear a bold necklace or a bright color. The idea is to feel good about yourself and make a lasting impression. To be honest, I’ve only worn make-up once at my vow renewal ceremony in the United States. I don’t even know how to put it on. Someone else did it for me, and I’m pretty unrecognizable in the pictures. Indeed, I’ve broken all the rules of bella figura; I’ve worn sweatpants to the supermarket in Ischia, regularly sport plastic flip-flops in the streets of Italy, and gone a few days without brushing my hair while there. Still, my husband was blind to it because I knew I was a good catch for the rest of the package. What I’m trying to tell you is to be you and be happy about it.
3. Flaunt your dignity.
Of course, Italian men want women to flirt with them. It’s part of their DNA, and it’s how they know you’re interested. Recognize the difference between flirting – with a coy smile or a play on words – as opposed to popping the buttons of your blouse and falling all over the guy. While some Italian men will go home from the nightclub with a drunk girl throwing herself at him (this happens the world over and many women do the same with a drunk guy), they are looking for a woman who is measured and dignified for the long term. The half naked girl who can’t walk in a straight line might have some fun with the guy in the backseat of his car (with all those guys living with mamma and papa in Italy, this is where sex often happens), she is never going home to meet mamma. Respect yourself and your body. If he doesn’t respect that, then he’s no good – Italian or not. The good ones will notice your seriousness and respectability, and they will admire your character.
4. Be one with the famiglia.
Most Italian men, especially in the south, spend a lot of time with mamma and their families. They are looking for women who want to do the same. Trust me, this may be the toughest obstacle to winning over an Italian man. Any indication that you’re not on board with mamma (and you’ll definitely have your doubts, which will be justified), and the whole relationship can be torn a part. As much as you can, be diplomatic. Never talk badly of his mother or others in the family. If you have a problem with them, then calmly and rationally state your concerns, ask him what he thinks, and discuss the ways you can resolve this without losing your temper. It’s a dance you’ll be performing for years to come if you’re in this for the long haul.
5. Work like a “ciuccio.”
Ciuccio, known to American Italians as chooch, is literally translated to jackass. In many instances, it refers to an idiot who does all the work for someone else. But Italians also usurp the pejorative word and use it to mean someone who works really hard. Italian women are the hardest working people on the planet. They do everything inside the home – down to washing floors daily, making five course meals daily, and even ironing underwear on a regular basis – and then go make some bacon outside the home. When we wed, my husband told the videographer that the reason he was marrying me was because I was a “ciuccio di fatica,” a jackass of work. It’s on videotape for eternity. And he’s right. I’m a first-born, American daughter of an immigrant. I clean the house, do my research, write stories, and now I’m mother to our son, which is a 24/7 job. If anything, I’m even more of a chooch now than when we married. I once was offended by his less-than-romantic reason for choosing me, but now I wear it as a badge of honor. I am a chooch, just how my mamma and papa raised me, thankyouverymuch. And it clearly helped me win over my husband, so I guess it counts for something even nowadays. If you do your thing, find personal success, and wear it proudly, the right Italian man will appreciate it.
I always thought I was a great communicator. After all, I had been the MVP of my debate team in high school and an editor at the student newspaper in college. Then, I started covering love and relationships as a reporter and realized I knew pretty much nothing about one-on-one talking, the kind you need to make your personal relationships work. In the many years I covered relationships for publications and Websites, such as Ladies’ Home Journal, About.com and iVillage, I learned a lot about building communication skills. And I’m still learning. We all are.
For starters, however, I recognized that communication is the foundation of any committed relationship – romantic, professional, parental, friendship, all of them. As a result, we should all have great motivation to get it right. Here is the best advice I have received from the professionals over the years:
Walk away from a fight. An argument – when both of you are sharing your opinions and seeking resolution – is healthy. A fight – when both of you are losing your tempers and talking over one another – is not. Back in the day, my conversations with my then boyfriend (now my husband) Antonio would escalate to a fight. I was insecure and believed we should talk everything out right then and there. He would get furious and give me the cold shoulder, and I would insist on continuing to talk. I have learned to go for a walk to cool off. Sometimes, we might even put off the argument for a few days after its initial start. We eventually get to the matter, and we avoid saying stuff we don’t mean. Since this has become the pattern with us, I no longer feel like we’re going to break up if we don’t sit and work out an agreement in the very moment that we’re boiling. This also has taught me that the age-old advice about not going to bed angry is horse feathers. Ignore it. Taking a time out helps you keep from losing your temper, which aids in the build up of resentment.
Become a better listener. I always associated communication with what I had to say. I thought improving communication was learning how to better explain myself to others. I only had it half right. A big part of being a great communicator is listening – really listening – to people. That means shutting your pie hole and paying attention. What many experts have told me is to repeat what my husband says and have him confirm that I understood. You’d be amazed at how many times I repeat something exactly as I remember it from a few seconds earlier and get it wrong. But since I’ve become aware of this, I have been training my ear to listen and my mouth to stay zipped. Slowly, I’m becoming a better listener, which helps my relationships and not just my marriage.
Stay connected. This is one of those tips that is really just for your family members, especially your spouse or romantic partner. As you are having disagreements and the tension rises, you should continue looking in your spouse’s eyes. You should also put a gentle hand on his or her shoulder. One expert suggested couples hold hands during arguments. They say it’s a way to keep you grounded and feeling close to your spouse, even if you disagree. My husband has sometimes been turned off by this. When he’s angry, he’s not always thrilled with me touching him or even being near him. He asks for space. Yet, sometimes an impromptu hug in the middle of an argument, however, can defuse the intense situation. I always suggest using common sense and being respectful of your spouse’s feelings. If your spouse is not open to touching or staying connected in that moment, then implement the walk away rule previously mentioned. When you return after you’ve both had a chance to reflect and calm down, go in for that hug. It could be the difference between boiling in rage and simmering in love.
Most newlyweds are going to find this shocking. Right now, they are in the honeymoon phase, when life is all sex and lollipops. Those of us who are veteran married people realize that this phase, though very sweet, is very short. Eventually, in every marriage, there comes a time when you look at your husband and wonder, “What the eff was I thinking?” Even if you have the best marriage in the world, you will still have at least one of these moments (more likely 2 or 10 or, if we’re being completely honest, 1,000).
You will hate your husband. You will think about getting out of your marriage (even if not completely seriously). That passing thought about running off to Tahiti with the hot guy who carries your groceries to the car counts. If you’re in an otherwise happy marriage, these feelings will pass, especially after you and your spouse talk things out (a must in any relationship), compromise, and make up. If you’re not in a good relationship, you might have to do a little extra work to make amends or you really will run off with that guy. This story is not about the latter. This is about when you hate your husband but for a moment.
My occasional hate first surfaced about nine months into our first year of marriage. It was like I was birthing our full-fledged union after the glow of pregnancy. My husband was livid because I brought rocks that we had picked up on our honeymoon to give to a friend of ours; this friend has a collection and we purposely brought them home to give to this guy. So, when I went to visit the couple and their newborn baby, I gave them the rocks. I mostly just wanted to get them out of the way because they had been cluttering our dresser for months. Well, my husband flipped out because he wasn’t there when I gave it to him. He felt as though he’d get no credit for the gift, but I had already taken to the belief that any gift from one of us was from both of us. Well, that evening, I felt as though my husband was being absolutely ridiculous and had overreacted. He huffed and puffed. And I felt the hatred simmering in my belly. I think I may have even slept on the couch because I didn’t want to even see his face.
After a good night’s sleep, the anger subsided a bit. I thought, “This guy can’t seriously be this upset over rocks.” Next, I thought, “If he is this upset over rocks and can’t get over it, I am out because that is just nuts.” I don’t remember exactly how it went down. But we eventually made up and the hatred was replaced by the love that was always right at the surface anyway. For the most part, we have a good relationship. This was a small beef, so it was easy to move on. But I can’t lie; before the love rose again, I had visions of throwing his clothes on the front lawn.
There have been many moments like that one in the nearly eight years since then. Most of the time, the hate is fleeting. It is literally a moment of rage that rises from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. When you explode like Vesuvius, all seems lost. Then, the love replaces the hate again just as quickly.
Every now and then, a lengthier battle sets the hate in like a chocolate stain on a white T-shirt. You get stuck in the hate. It happened to us, I’m not ashamed to say. We were locked in an argument about where to live, his native Italy or my native United States, when our son was still a toddler. We both had our reasons for wanting to stay in our native lands. At first, we were calm about it. But soon we both started losing our tempers, every time the issue came up. We ended up living in Italy for nine months. During that time, I resented my husband, and he hated me for not loving our life there. Things got ugly. We argued, avoided much conversation, and hung out basically just for the sake of our son. At one point, we decided to divorce. I was waiting for the clock to strike noon in Italy, so it would be 6 o’clock in the morning where my parents live to call them to help me organize plane tickets home for my son and me and to find a lawyer. That’s when my mother-in-law stepped in.
She forced us to talk to each other and come to a compromise. My husband was beginning to realize that his country and home life in Italy wasn’t conducive to raising our son, who was already showing signs of having delayed speech. He also recognized that I needed more help than I could get in Italy. So, he agreed that we would only spend four months in his country and after that it would be limited to our son’s summer vacations from school. That worked for me. A week later we celebrated our anniversary with a cake my mother-in-law had bought for us and the rest of my husband’s family. On that day, I remember feeling the hate slip out of me as I took a bite of that cake. Still, it had lasted for a year, and it would take another year to completely get back that loving feeling. One of our salvations was my willingness to replace every negative thought about my husband with a positive one about him. I started kissing him whenever I had the desire to slap him. I started to remember all the reasons I married him in the first place. He started turning back toward me again, too.
It was then that I realized that marriage really does have its ups and downs. To make it through a lifetime together, you have to accept that bit of hatred that comes along sometimes. It’s hard. In fact, sometimes it breaks a couple. If you can stick with each other during that hateful period, then you’ll come out the other end stronger. Usually, you’ll get back to the love.
Wedding season has arrived, which means everyone and their mother (literally) will be doling out advice to young newlyweds. Chances are you will be among the advisors or advisees. After years of covering love and sex for various publications, I feel compelled to save married people from those who are supposed to love them most. Well-meaning people provide tips that seriously could ruin you. Here’s the worst marriage advice given out time and time again:
Never go to bed angry. In fact, you will often go to bed angry. Maybe you already have. But you are actually helping your relationship. Pressing pause on an argument and giving yourselves time to cool off and collect your thoughts is actually a good thing. Some people go for a walk and then can come back to the discussion. Others want a good night’s sleep. You might even need a few night’s sleep before revisiting the conversation. That’s okay, as long as you don’t make your love conditional on an outcome or treat each other badly. Cold shoulders are never the answer. You should still be kind and loving in the middle of disagreements, even when you’re taking a break.
Keep dating each other. This one is confusing. On the surface, it seems like perfectly wonderful advice. Of course, you have to woo each other. Romance helps you maintain passion. Spending quality time together is a goal you should always have. But telling people they have to date implies they have to go out of their home and do something. You might be able to do this at first. But real life takes over. If you have kids, these date nights will likely become less frequent. That doesn’t mean you have to slip away from one another. You just have to get creative. There’s no shame in holding hands while picking up groceries or calling a night in (when you’re both in pajamas and pigging out on popcorn and pizza) a date. Take the pressure off yourselves and just make a commitment to staying connected.
Don’t worry about sex so much or worry about it a lot. Lots of people are going to bring up sex. Some will say pay no attention to it, and others will tell you that the amount of sex you’re having and whether it’s vanilla or a more exotic flavor (whatever that means) is the barometer by which you should measure your entire relationship. Both sides are wrong. Of course, sex matters. It’s how you’re intimate with one another, and it keeps you from being mere roommates. Over time, however, things are going to get in the way of your sex life. You’ll both be stressed at times. You might have illnesses or injuries. If you have kids, they will be built in cockblockers for a while. Seriously. There will, of course, be ups and downs in your emotional states that will either have you rarin’ to go or not. No need to lose sleep over not “sleeping” together every now and then. Be prepared for ebbs and flows. But don’t stress out about it. The caveat is that you should be proactive if either or both of you is feeling dissatisfied, or there is a pattern of behavior that is lasting a long time. Asking for help when you need it is always good advice.
Never complain. Ok, this isn’t all wrong. If you’re just going to be Pessimistic Polly, you will get on your spouse’s nerves and accomplish nothing. You’ll probably be a Gloomy Gus yourself. But you can’t just ignore stuff that is getting to you. You will build resentment, and it could affect your relationship, not to mention your health. Plus, if you never share what’s on your mind, you will never grow closer or find solutions to your problems. Choosing your battles will help you prioritize what to resolve first. You both have to be open and listen to each other’s gripes and concerns. Then, you have to tackle them together.
I always have words. Cheating spouses take away my words. That’s been problematic for me because I’ve covered relationships for publications and Websites, including iVillage and About.com, for more than a decade now. So, I’ve encountered many, many, many, many cheating spouses. I’m never quite sure what to say. My writing and reporting has been focused on keeping marriages and commitments intact, and I just don’t know how to do that when there’s been such a tear in trust.
Often, I default to the therapists and counselors I’ve interviewed over the years. Many of them take a practical approach to the issue. They listen to both sides of the story, try to get each person to take responsibility for his or her part, and then come up with a plan for moving on either together or separately. If the couple is staying together, the plan always includes the cheating spouse completely breaking ties with the fellow cheater and building up trust by being reliable to a tee and never lying again. It’s the only way, they say. I agree. I’ve even written about the possibility of a marriage becoming stronger after one of the partners has had an affair.
Still, while I understand why therapists ask the victims of cheating to assess their role in the affair, I don’t think it’s right for every couple, maybe not even most couples. Quit blaming victims. In recent days, Hillary Clinton has been criticized by Donald Trump and others for things she said 20 years ago about women who cheated on her with her spouse. Much of what she had said was part of a private conversation with her best friend, who died and whose correspondence was then made public. But I digress. Some pundits have compared Clinton to Beyonce, whose recent Lemonadespecial addressed the rumors that her husband has cheated on her. Beyonce’s lyrics, dances, and use of poetry condemned the cheating spouse – and the cheating women – in no uncertain terms.
One woman, who claims to have had relations with Jay-Z, Beyonce’s husband, before he was married composed a well-written piece about how each woman is part victimized wife and part “Becky with the Good Hair” (Beyonce’s reference to one of the other women). I say that is total B.S. and something the other woman says to belie her own guilt. Speak for yourself, lady. I have never been Becky with the Good Hair. Never. And I don’t plan on it either. There are plenty of others like me.
Clinton might be running for president and could be the first woman to get the job. Beyonce might be a pop superstar, the likes of which we have never seen. But they are also mere mothers and wives. They are us. It’s not their fault that their husbands cheated (or allegedly cheated in the case of Jay-Z). It has nothing to do with whether they weren’t pretty enough or available enough for sex or easy going enough. No matter what kind of blame people want to give them, their husbands are adults who broke their promises. Period.
The reasons people give for cheating on their spouses (or boyfriends or girlfriends) are endless and mostly ridiculous if you ask me. With Jay-Z and President Clinton, if the success of their women was too much for them to handle or emasculated them, then that’s on them. Screwing some other random woman was never going to make their penises any bigger. If their woman was too demanding or mean or neglectful, they should have raised that issue and tried to resolve it, rather than going and creating a new problem. There was a breakdown of communication? Start talking.
Finally, if you have fallen out of love or you’re no longer attracted to your spouse (and you don’t think that will ever change again) or your partner betrayed you and you can’t get over it, leave him or her. Then, pursue whatever relationships you want. There are a million alternatives to breaking your vows or promises whether you’re married or in a long-term, committed relationship.
Yes, if you go to counseling to keep the marriage or relationship together despite the affair, you’re both going to be asked to take responsibility for what happened. But I don’t buy that. And I think that belief system is legitimizing affairs to an extent and making it all right for pundits to blame Hillary Clinton and Beyonce for the sins of their husbands. Now, I’m not saying that those who cheat are terrible people who can never be redeemed. I am just saying that they made a mistake (or more than one) and they need to own it. I’m calling for a real revolution here. Let’s bring back integrity, accountability, respect, and faithfulness. Let’s stop blaming the cheated on and start demanding better from the cheaters. You cheaters, quit pointing fingers and redeem yourselves.
I never once doubted my desire to have children. The husband, on the other hand, I wasn’t so sure about. For some reason, I always imagined being a mom but not being a wife. I was a feminist. I minored in women’s studies, and I wanted an equal partnership with a man. Actually, if I’m really honest with myself, I wanted to be the one with all the power. So, I resigned myself to the fact that I would stay single. Then, I went to college and went through having crushes of the week and a few flirtations. I never dated anyone, however. I guess you could say the power hungry me won out, until I vacationed in Italy and met my now husband in 2004.
He was so forward, so Italian, so hot, and so unlike any other man. He asked me when we’d get engaged the first night we met – at dinner with my cousin. I realized then that there are fewer things sexier than a man who is genuinely into you. After I left Italy, he sent me the most romantic texts, and we’d chat online into the wee hours of the morning. Not a day went by that we didn’t connect. Then, he sent me roses in my favorite shade of pink for my name day and announced he’d be coming to America with my cousin to visit me for Thanksgiving. He asked me to date him exclusively over gnocchi on our first date in New York’s Little Italy.
Suddenly, the idea of marriage seemed like Heaven, and I didn’t even think about the power struggle. I would get to keep this man all to myself in my heart and in my arms. And it didn’t hurt that my lifelong dream of having a baby of my own would be much easier to achieve. Plus, I’d have someone to share it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Before I got pregnant for the first time (a pregnancy that resulted in miscarriage), my husband expressed his concern that I would start ignoring him when a baby came along.
The discussion got me wondering about who should come first. Children or spouse? And I feared that if I chose children, then my marriage would suffer. After all, my husband was already feeling pangs of jealousy and we hadn’t even had kids yet. The answer to this epic dilemma came naturally and unexpectedly. In fact, my husband and I didn’t even realize it had come to us until we reflected on the early days of pregnancy and parenthood.
During that first pregnancy, I became ill almost immediately. I was bleeding from the start, and we knew the baby only had a 50/50 chance of survival. In the eight weeks of pregnancy, I basically confined myself to bed and gave up just about everything but work (which I was already doing from home anyway) in the hopes our baby would live. My husband supported that decision and prayed with me for the best outcome. Our baby didn’t make it. But during that time, we had chosen together to put our child before us. We didn’t do it consciously, but that is what we did. When we did our best to put the tragedy behind us, we rediscovered each other, took a vacation, and threw ourselves into each other’s arms. It was all about our love again.
Then, we were blessed in January of the following year, when we learned I was pregnant again. This time, things went significantly better. Still, we both put my health and the health of our child above all else. When our son was born, our whole world became about him. We changed our lives to help him when we recognized he had delayed speech. We stopped speaking Italian and turned to my native English, began spending hours each week on therapy, sometimes on our own and sometimes with a therapist. We went through all the necessary testing and had him placed in special education pre-school, where he is now thriving.
When these challenges present themselves, you just take charge and start doing whatever needs to be done to problem solve. You don’t even think about whether this is going to hurt your relationship. While my husband and I experienced some big lows during that time and our marriage nearly fell apart, we never completely forgot about each other. Standing on the other side right now, I can say we became stronger as a result of the difficulties. Even the arguing we did back then aided in strengthening our bond and uniting us. I’m certain more challenges will come. They always do.
In the end, I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer to the question, “Should your kids come before your spouse?” The fact is that circumstance decides for you. Each moment, the answer might be different. That said, you both have to be willing to make sacrifices for your kids and be patient. When you do get the chance to dote on each other – whether it be a make-out session on the couch after the kids go to bed or a date night thanks to the grandparents – take advantage.
My husband and I often say that food and sex have kept us together through those times when our kid had to come first. Even when we were most at odds, we always broke bread together, and we always had sex, even if it was angry sex. We can’t resist good food or each other, and that’s the glue keeping us intact. Someday, well into the future, we’re going to have the time and capacity to get back to putting each other first. But for right now, we only get to do that once in a long while, and that’s perfectly all right with the both of us.
Resentment is poison to any relationship. If you let it simmer inside you, it will eventually boil over and you will explode like Vesuvio. And your relationship may not survive. At best, it will get buried in the rubble, and you’ll have to dig it out and nurse it back to health, which could take a lot of time and energy. What would be better is to keep the volcano in check by ridding of resentment from the start. Here are a few strategies:
Unleash your anger. Don’t get me wrong. You can’t act like an animal by getting violent (which is illegal and simply wrong) or even yell or shout at your partner. But when you’re upset about something, you need to let it out. Stay calm and communicate what is bothering you and why. You may end up having an argument, but your feelings will be out in the open. It means the two of you can try to tackle the problem together. And there won’t be something festering inside you.
Get better at communication. If you’re going to share what is making you angry, then you have to do it in the right way. Like I mentioned, you can’t just yell and scream or act out. If you do, you’ll have more in common with a 3-year-old than your own partner. Instead, you should practice good communication skills that have you calmly and collectively describing what you’re going through and how you arrived at this point while also giving your partner a chance to respond. Then, you must also be a great listener, which means actually hearing and understanding what the other person is saying. Repeat it back to make sure. It takes lots of practice, but you’ll eventually get there if you’re committed to it. Good communication skills will help you with all your relationships and not just the romantic ones.
Know when to walk away. Sometimes, you need a time out when you are angry or resentment is building inside you. Otherwise, you will explode and those communication skills – no matter how great – will get thrown out the window. So, go for a walk. Work out your feelings. Figure out what you’re going to say before addressing the anger with your partner. Don’t wait until you are so mad that you can’t remember what set off the anger in the first place. But give yourself a pause and walk away from the situation. It will not only give you a chance to cool off, but it can distract you for a bit. It gives your brain a break, too.
Cut out the negativity. When you’re really upset about something, you start to have dark thoughts. Then, you hang out with friends and their dark thoughts become yours, too. One hot tip from many a couples therapist is to replace any negative thought you have about your partner with a positive one. It takes time to train your brain, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be glad you did. Trust me. I did it myself. My husband innocently forgot to bring home paper towels, which were on the grocery list, and I started thinking, “He’s always ignoring my needs. He is leaving stuff off the list to toy with me and chip away at our already shaken relationship.” You’d think I was exaggerating, but those are the kinds of leaps you make when you’re harboring resentment for your spouse. After you catch yourself having such thoughts and starting to get steamed, take a deep breath and shift your brain toward the time when you were dating and your now spouse showed up at your door with chicken soup and a smile because you had the flu. Try to always remind yourself about what brought you to this life with this person.
Ask for help. If you can’t handle your anger and can’t get back to the positivity, you should seek professional help from a therapist. Frankly, even if your relationship is hopeless, you must deal with your anger. Otherwise, it will eat away at you until your unrecognizable.