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.
Mob marriage has been a subject of analysis for years now. At first, viewers might not have noticed love as a subplot in Gomorrah. But episode 9 throws it in your face. Anyone who thought this was going to be about the other deadly sin, lust, should think again. Once you see the storyline in episode 9, you realize that this conversation about love and marriage has been going on all along.
A Look Back, A Look Forward
What has been fascinating to me is that the Sopranos showed how most of the mobsters had a wife and a girlfriend. People are always assuming Europeans and particularly Italians have affairs. But none of the mob bosses in Gomorrah are cheating on spouses or longtime girlfriends. I’m not sure if that’s the reality in the real-life Camorra. But that’s the depiction.
Our first encounter with mob marriage is Don Pietro and his wife Imma. They are clearly in love. She wholeheartedly supports her husband’s criminal lifestyle. She takes over when he goes to jail. She does everything to turn their son Gennaro into a hardened criminal. Then, she makes the ultimate sacrifice. She gives her life to the cause. She knows full well Ciro is going to have her killed. She lets it happen to protect her son and support her husband. When Don Pietro breaks out of jail, we see him visit her gravesite. He is moved. And he wants their son to have Ciro eliminated as revenge. There’s a rift between them when Gennaro refuses.
Gennaro and His Baby Mamma
Gennaro and his girlfriend, with whom he lives, seem to be mirroring Imma and Don Pietro. She too is a child of a mob boss, but they are in Rome. Her father approves of Gennaro; he considers him the future of the family business, in fact. Now, Gennaro and this woman are expecting a baby. Gennaro seems committed to her and the baby.
She is from a different culture, though. This was brought up in an episode in which she throws him a birthday party in Rome. His friends from Naples come and rob someone there. It doesn’t go over well. But it depicted the distinct division between those from the south and those from further north, beginning with Rome.
The most profound moment was when Gennaro needed to go home to Naples. His girlfriend did not want him to go. He held her close and said:
You are my life. But never come between my family and me.
Ciro Kills Love
One of the most profoundly disturbing parts of season 2 was when Ciro killed his wife Debora. We learn in later episodes that they were childhood sweethearts. He cries as he is strangling her on the beach, what should have been a romantic setting. He is emotional when he cares for their mourning daughter. And he tells Gennaro to kill him because he murdered the mother of his child.
The point of this was to show that no one is immune in this sick world. Death is all around these people. And ambition in this business could literally kill you or your loved ones. It drove Ciro to murder his only love, after all.
Marinela Sets the Record Straight on Love
Early in season 2 we get to know Marinela. She is female mob boss Scianel’s daughter-in-law. Her husband, Scianel’s son Lelluccio, is in jail. While he’s away Marinela is her mother-in-law’s slave. The relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in southern Italy has long been an issue. Men live at home for far longer than they do in the United States. Their mothers can be overbearing. They never think young women are good enough for their sons. They also always believe the women have ulterior motives. Some of this goes on in every culture. But it’s exaggerated because many extended families live together in southern Italy.
Often, MILs mistreat their daughter-in-law. They might slight them. They criticize their housework and cooking. They might suggest they are unattractive or don’t dress well. Well, Scianel takes this abuse to a whole new level. She literally keeps her daughter-in-law under lock and key. She also “teaches” her how to cook. She tells her to be more like Patrizia, Marinela’s friend who no one knows is Don Pietro’s informant. Those are little snubs. She is also threatening and makes Marinela serve her constantly. She rarely leaves her alone.
A Passionate Affair
Marinela only really gets to see one other person on a regular basis. Mario, Scianel’s driver, is also with them often. A few episodes ago, viewers saw Mario and Marinela making love in the backseat of the car. Scianel was off on one of her nefarious errands. They express their love for one another. End scene. Scianel doesn’t appear to suspect.
In episode 9, however, she catches on. She overhears Marinela on the phone with Mario and realizes her daughter-in-law is cheating. She starts to notice the way the two look at each other. Scianel purposely gets another driver to take her to see Ciro and tells Mario to take Marinela home. Then, she follows them and sees them making love in the car. Marinela tells Mario that it’s over because Lelluccio is getting out of jail. But it’s too late.
The Stench of Death Lingers
Scianel has Mario killed. She has the killer shoot him in the privates while Scianel looks on. She makes sure Marinela finds out. Lelluccio returns and is furious to learn about his cheating wife. He puts his hands on Marinela’s throat and threatens her. Meanwhile, Scianel and the others celebrate his return. Marinela tells him what seems to be true for everyone in this show:
You want to kill me? Kill me. Go ahead. I’m already dead.
In fact, she also tells him that making love to Mario was the only beautiful thing she did in her life. Lelluccio has sex with a stranger, whose legs viewers see as she gets dressed. He calls Marinela and tells her that sex with someone else wasn’t good. He wants to see her. Scianel wants to kill her. But Lelluccio tells her to mind her business.
Now that the prince is dead, everyone wants to take over the building where he was selling drugs. Scianel goes to Ciro and bids for her son. Ciro agrees Lelluccio will get the building. Trak and the “Alley kids” are angry. They beat up Lelluccio on the night he gets out of jail. The police stop them and take in Lelluccio for the night, which saves his life. It also enrages Scianel. She brutally murders Trak by having someone repeatedly dunk his head in a pool of his own blood and dirty water.
Marinela is trapped. Her mother-in-law wants her dead. Her husband wants her sex. She is in a cycle of abuse and sees no way of getting out. Patrizia is still working at the clothing store, where Scianel shops. She and Marinela remain friends. Patrizia sees an opportunity to get Marinela out of this life and help Don Pietro. He is still trying to make those in Ciro’s alliance turn against one another. So far, it’s working.
So, Patrizia tells Marinela to call this phone number to gain her freedom. Marinela eats dinner with Scianel. Scianel tells her,
Women can’t have freedom unless they never marry…Once I got used to the beating, I gave in. I became a good wife and a good mother.
Then, Lelluccio calls his mother. He tells her he is coming over. He wants to see Marinela. That’s when Marinela calls the number Patrizia slipped her. The men tell Marinela to bring Lelluccio downstairs. Just as she is taking him out for a walk, she says she forgot her purse and to meet her downstairs. She takes two steps and they hear gunshots. She runs down and sees someone else is dead. She flees for her own life. Scianel tells her son they have to lay low until they figure out what this “disgusting whore” is up to. Marinela walks into the police station.
The End Is the Beginning
The end of episode 9 brings viewers back to the start of the series. Back then, Ciro and Gennaro were not at war. Ciro was Gennaro’s mentor. They seemed to genuinely care for one another. Or at least as much as anyone in the mob could care for anyone else. Ciro shows up at the airport where Gennaro is arriving to see his family – the girlfriend and her father. Ciro tells Gennaro that he knows about his deal with the prince, who is now dead. He also reminds him that they were once friends. He says, “Together, we could have turned this world upside down.” He points out that if they get Gennaro’s father out of their way, they still can. He asks Gennaro to think about it. I think we’ll all be thinking about it until the next episode.
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.
Pundits and journalists often bring up the battles between stay-at-home and working mothers. We all know about all the resentment and judgement those different realities bring to the schoolyard (mostly at pick-up time). More and more, we are calling for women to unite regardless of their employment (or lack thereof). Seriously, can’t we all just get along?
About 40 years ago, as more women headed into the workforce full time, we spoke of the challenges of couples in which both partners worked outside the home. There were arguments about who would do the household chores and what happens if – God forbid – the woman outearned the man. Sounds like something out of the dark ages now, doesn’t it? Or maybe not? We have done a lot of navel gazing about this fundamental change in both home and office. We’re still waxing philosophical about it today (especially as we approach the real possibility of having a woman as President), and more people are rightly demanding equal pay for equal work.
But what we speak of more rarely is the divide between stay-at-home moms and their own husbands. Part of this has to do with our sense of decorum. One of my girlfriends once said that we’re always asking our friends how things are going in their relationships when they are dating, but once they are married we act as though the topic is off limits. We’ve placed a certain sanctity on what happens between a husband and wife (or married same-sex partners for that matter). We feel like we’re prying if we ask the same kinds of questions that seemed fine before we said, “I do.” Sure, some things are private. But in this day and age we talk about everything…on social media no less…for all the world to see. So, let’s delve into this subject and fully dissect it (or at least begin to).
I myself am a work-at-home mom, which has me experiencing a little bit of both worlds, the sensations of both working moms and stay-at-home moms. Still, what motivated me to write this is not actually my own story. Recently, I have been observing many of my friends, most of whom have been laid off from the publishing industry, and have become reluctant stay-at-home moms as a result. In many ways, that is even harder on a marriage. Here are the challenges:
The stay-at-home mom questions her own value. There’s an undeniable loss of self-worth. You feel badly about yourself because there’s this sense that you’re not bringing anything to the table. For too long, society has set this standard that unless you’re bringing home a paycheck, you’re not of value, even if you’re raising children, arguably the most difficult task set before any of us. As a result of this accepted belief on the part of greater society, the partner in the workforce might not value or appreciate you staying at home. Even if this sentiment remains unspoken, your working husband might deflate your self-esteem by rejecting or ignoring your opinions, condescending to you, or putting greater emphasis on the role he plays in the marriage. The way to fix this is for all of society to wake up to the fact that parenting our children – guiding them to the future, educating them about everything from letters and numbers to morality, and making sure they know how much we love them – is the most important work anyone can do. We realize the value of strangers watching our children, and often pay them big bucks to do it, but we take for granted what the child’s mother or father do if they make parenting their full-time job.
The stay-at-home mom feels like a burden who owes her family. Without a paycheck in hand, you feel like you have to do everything – change diapers, teach your toddler the alphabet, organize the garage, whip up fancy dinners, and look like a million bucks with no money (not to mention sleep). There’s this nagging guilt that makes you feel like you have to be Superwoman. Often, unwittingly, your husband takes advantage of this sensation because who doesn’t want perfectly roasted fingerling potatoes and filet mignon for dinner, kids who say please and thank you, and a house clean enough for eating off the floor? Even if mom can pull this off every so often, she is exhausted and unhappy most of the time. We all need to snap out of it and realize real life isn’t a bunch of pins on Pinterest.
The working spouse has unfair expectations of the stay-at-home spouse. Many a husband has complained to me about their stay-at-home wife failing to get dinner on the table or pick up toys or do laundry despite being home all day. It makes me want to scream loud enough to crack their face. Why you ask? Well, it’s simple. I know how that all goes down. It’s not like you were lying on the couch eating bonbons all day, a stereotype that was never an accurate depiction of anyone’s life. The children these men helped produce might be cranky or sick and that interrupts you for starters. There are five million other things to which you must tend, including paying bills, letting in the plumber to fix the toilet your husband stopped up, or cleaning up unexpected messes (such as children who decided to paint without permission or someone’s pee pee accident while napping in bed). Men, you know how wrong you are about this and you must stop it now. Or risk the earthquake brought on by my loud Italian voice. Don’t dare me.
The resentment builds the great wall of China between you. Both parties start to resent each other. Your husband takes you for granted and doesn’t value your work. Instead, he gripes to anyone who’ll listen about all the stuff you don’t do. You start arguing. You don’t have sex because you’re mad at each other. You lose respect for each other. Next thing you know you are both full of resentment, poison to a marriage. The romance, of course, dies when you’re full of venom. You don’t talk to each other. You don’t date each other. That wall between you grows and grows until you’re living separate lives even if you’re under the same roof.
I wish I could give you solutions. But if I could, I’d probably be a billionaire. What I can say is that we as a society have to shift our way of thinking about people who choose to stay home with their kids. This actually goes for stay-at-home moms and dads. Put yourself in their shoes. Make a reality show of it if you must. See just what a day in their life is like to understand what they must be feeling and going through. We must put more value on their work, which raises the next generation and the one after that. It is divine, priceless work. Truly.
Many of you know that I have covered love, dating, and marriage for numerous well-known publications, including Ladies’ Home Journal, iVillage, and About.com. For the last 15 years, I have often interviewed marriage counselors, psychologists, and veteran married folks about how to keep relationships strong. What I’ve realized is that love doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it. We really overthink it, ladies! And some of you guys have gotten in on the act lately, too. Here’s all we really need to know to keep our love blooming:
Keep your promises. Trust is earned, and it is the bedrock of your relationship. Once trust is lost, it’s hard to get back. The good news is that gaining and keeping one’s trust couldn’t be simpler. Do what you say you’re going to do. Stay faithful, show up, and make your spouse feel secure in your all-around dependability. It requires commitment, but it’s not all that hard to do.
Be kind. At some point, the world lost its manners. Many of us never say hello to our neighbors, we can be short with our loved ones, and we shun people online without thought. There’s a culture of bullying that has infected the way we conduct our personal relationships. We all need to STOP right now! Instead of snapping at your spouse, stop and think for a moment. Don’t do anything to your spouse that you wouldn’t want done to you. Follow the golden rule and your relationship should be golden.
Dwell on the positives. Relationships ebb and flow. There are going to be challenging times, a result of all sorts of life’s happenings. Sometimes, there’s a toll on your relationship. You might argue more or lose touch with each other. As a result, you start to think negatively about your spouse. Sometimes, the negative thoughts become the norm. They start to wear away at your bond. Marriage counselor after marriage counselor has told me that people must replace the negative thoughts with positive ones repeatedly and often until the negative thoughts cease to exist. You must string together the beautiful memories and happy thoughts that led you to fall in love in the first place as though you are making a string of pearls that is uniquely yours.
Talk to each other. Silence isn’t always a bad thing. But too much of it can kill your relationship. You must talk to each other and communicate what’s happening in your world. You have to share thoughts, dreams, grievances, and fears as much as you do the grocery list and Junior’s soccer schedule. Learning to make yourself vulnerable and better able to listen to your partner are skills you must constantly improve. It is arguably the single most important tool in the relationship kit.