What divorce can teach about marriage

Couples should fight more and not compromise

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Dana Adam Shapiro would like to meet his true love, his muse, his collaborator. Shapiro is the Oscar-nominated director of the documentary Murderball and author of the acclaimed novel The Every Boy. He’s 39, handsome, single, and has never been married, though he’s been in love with plenty of women and had five three-year relationships.

He wonders if there is something wrong with him. Is he too cynical about marriage to make a long-term commitment? A buddy once told him that “getting married is like breaking into prison to serve a life sentence.”

For answers, Shapiro began interviewing divorced men and women until he’d spoken to 300 people. “I set out to vicariously live through the tragedies of others, hoping to glean some wisdom from the wreckage and to ultimately become so fluent in such failure that I would be able to avoid it in my own love life,” he explains in his new book, You Can Be Right or You Can Be Married.

The more unconventional the lessons he heard, the more impressed he was. “Somebody said to me, ‘Don’t paint the red flags white,’ and that’s something I’ll keep in mind a lot now,” he said on the phone from Berkeley, Calif. Shapiro believes most couples tend to avoid conflict. “But I think the idea of positive conflict, and how to fight fairly, is the key to a good relationship. Don’t surrender. Don’t pick fights but don’t avoid them. Admit if something bothers you.”

He cites the case of a 40-year-old divorced woman who regrets bottling up her jealousy. Her post-divorce behaviour is akin to having “truth Tourette’s,” she told Shapiro. “Now, when I feel jealous, I just say it right away. I’ll just announce it to the person I’m with. I’m through with being a ‘cool’ girl. I’m going to show it all, and I want to be with someone who’s going to be that real with me.”

“Accelerating the inevitable” is Shapiro’s term for it. “So much of the dating process is, let’s face it, faking it, because you really are putting your best foot forward. You want so badly to be liked. You might feign interest in something you’re not interested in. Why don’t we be ourselves as quickly as possible and then we can really see if we have the stuff to make a life together?”

One divorced 30-year-old whose ex-husband was violent suggests that couples seek out “uncomfortable experiences” before their wedding day. She told Shapiro, “Go camping. It might rain and you might get grumpy. Or, you’re on a plane and there’s a baby next to you screaming the entire time. How’s that guy going to handle it? Is he going to be like, ‘Shut that f–king baby up?’ If so, there you go. That’s not the guy you want to marry.”

Stating your needs at the beginning of the next relationship is another good idea, says Shapiro. “I think that people feel that having a need is synonymous with being needy, so they really hold that back.”

In the book, a 42-year-old divorced mom tells Shapiro about arguing with friends over the difference between a need and a want. “My closest girlfriend was there and she’s the strongest woman I’ve ever known, and she said, ‘I’m not ashamed to say that I need my husband. And I will call him and say, ‘I need you now.’ And I know that he’s gonna come and sit there like a nodding dog and listen to me.’ And all the men around the table went pale at the word ‘need.’ We said, ‘What’s wrong with need?’ And they said, ‘We don’t like the word need.’ We like the word want.’ ”

Shapiro says he plans to inform his next girlfriend that he needs to travel a lot and needs to talk about work at home.

He also believes too much compromise is dangerous. “A lot of people said they’d compromised themselves into oblivion. They became a shadow of who they really were. This isn’t the most traditional advice,” he laughs. “ ‘You should fight more, don’t compromise.’ But those are some of the take-aways for me.”

If he does get married, he won’t pledge his love forever. “It’s a silly promise to say, ‘I will love you forever.’ No one can say that. It’s just not true. I don’t care. No one can say it and no one should be loved unconditionally.”




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What divorce can teach about marriage

  1. I agree – you can’t say or make silly promises of loving someone forever…I’ve said those words and I regret it and feel even sillier when I replay myself saying them

    • Hmmm….I think the truth of the matter is that the quality and type of the love might change but obviously some people do end up loving each forever. My parents have been married since 1949….63 years…they are happy together…how much longer is forever?

  2. I thought this article was interesting, although I have read all of these same points in other books.
    One thing I disagree with – and in all honesty bothered me a bit – is the last paragraph. I believe you can love someone forever, but most people do not put in the effort to do so and make it about themselves rather than their partner. You can also love someone unconditionally, but this is going to be difficult. No one said marriage is a walk in the park, but I am sure you have heard that marriage is a challenge. So make it a positive challenge! Be honest with each other, and definitely fight fairly!

    • Exactly right. So many people these days seem to equate selfish desires and a good time with love that it makes me sad for them.

  3. “…If he does get married, he won’t pledge his love forever. “It’s a silly promise to say, ‘I will love you forever.’ No one can say that. It’s just not true. I don’t care. No one can say it and no one should be loved unconditionally.”…”

    This statment just makes me sad for him. To believe such things is to court the inevitable.
    Of course you can and should love unconditionally. That doesn’t mean things will always be rosey or that you’ll always be together, it just means you see fundamental value in the other person, as a person, even when they tick you off.

    Where’s the virtue in being cynical and copping out before you even begin?

    If you can’t say you’ll love someone forever, then frankly, you don’t know what love is, but rather, you’ve confused it with a good time and hormones and therefore shouldn’t be getting married in the first place.

    It really is that simple.

    • When you get married you do not only get a lover, you get a family member. The key to staying married is to recognize that your wife is as much a member of your family as your mother is. If you have that attitude, you are more likely to stick it out and continue to love that person through the rough times.

      • Agreed.

  4. I love the title of your book and your premise. I used to believe that I had to compromise about most things with my ex. As a result, I gave in too much because he was brilliant and better at negotiating. I’ve come to realize that I’m better off standing my ground when something is important but that I don’t have to be “right” to be happy. For me, it’s a matter of letting my second husband know the deal breakers – those things that really matter and/or I need to have to be satisfied most of the time. There are plenty of things I can let go of and he needs to feel a sense of control as well. So far, our relationship has been successful even though we have disagreements and things aren’t always calm in our home.

  5. There is no such thing as “true love”, it’s a fantasy.
    Accept the fact that there is a good chance of divorce and for men there is very little benefit to getting married and a lot of risk.

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