TIME psychology

Recipe For A Happy Marriage: The 7 Scientific Secrets

Secrets to a happy marriage
Rekha Garton—Getty Images/Flickr RF

New York Times writer Tara Parker-Pope pulled together the science behind nuptial bliss in her book For Better.

Here’s the seven point recipe for a happy marriage that she spells out:

1) Celebrate Good News

Turns out divorce isn’t as much about increased negative things as it is about decreased positive things.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

“We’ve found that the positives are more and more important,” says Howard Markman, codirector of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver and one of the nation’s leading marriage researchers. “It turns out that the amount of fun couples have and the strength of their friendships are a strong predictor of their future.”

What to do? Celebrate the good moments more.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

Research shows that couples who regularly celebrate the good times have higher levels of commitment, intimacy, trust, and relationship satisfaction… It’s not enough that your partner knows that you take pride in his or her accomplishments. You have to show it. Making a fuss over the small, good things that happen every day can boost the health of your marriage.

(Here’s the best way to react to your spouse’s good news.)

2) Five To One

How many good moments do you need to make up for the bad ones? Research has a ratio for you: 5 to 1.

You don’t need to count every single positive and negative but if they’re nearly equal, your chance of divorce shoots way up.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

As University of Washington researchers reviewed the data, a striking pattern emerged. In stable marriages, there are at least five times more positive interactions than negative ones. When the ratio starts to drop, the marriage is at high risk for divorce. In real life, no couple can keep a running tally of positive and negative displays. There are hundreds of them that happen in any given day. But in a practical sense, the lesson is that a single “I’m sorry” after bad behavior isn’t enough. For every snide comment or negative outburst in a marriage, a person needs to ramp up the positives so the good-to-bad ratio doesn’t fall to a risky level.

(Here’s more about 5 to 1.)

3) Keep Your Standards High

More and more people are told their expectations for marriage are too high. Research says the reverse: people who expect more, get more.

Don’t settle for a second-rate marriage.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

Dr. Baucom found that people who have idealistic standards, who really want to be treated well and who want romance and passion from their marriage, end up getting that kind of marriage. Men and women with low standards, who don’t expect good treatment, communication, or romance, end up in relationships that don’t offer those things… Husbands and wives who hold their partners to a reasonably high standard have better marriages. If you expect a better, more satisfying relationship, you improve your chances of having one.

4) Stay Close To Family And Friends

Today marriage has become a two person cocoon that we expect to get all our support and intimacy from. That’s not healthy or realistic.

Keep friends and family in the loop. Your marriage should be your primary relationship — not your only one.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

Dr. Coontz thinks all this togetherness is not necessarily good for couples. The way to strengthen a marriage, she argues, is to put fewer emotional demands on spouses. This doesn’t mean losing emotional intimacy with your husband or wife. It just means that married couples have a lot to gain by fostering their relationships with family members and friends. The happiest couples, she says, are those who have interests and support “beyond the twosome.”

(Here’s how to improve your friendships.)

5) Don’t Expect Your Spouse To Make You Happy

Research shows most people’s happiness eventually returns to their natural baseline, even after very positive events like a wedding.

Happiness lies within the individual and expecting a spouse to change that forever is unrealistic and unfair.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

What is surprising is that research shows happiness is relatively stable. A major life event (like marriage or the birth of a child) may offer a short-term happiness boost, but studies suggest most people return to their own personal happiness “set point.” If you ranked your level of happiness as a 7.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, research shows that most of the time, the events of your life won’t change that. You’ll pretty much be a 7.5 happy person all your life.

(You can rise above your baseline — but most people don’t do it right. Here’s how to get happier.)

6) Have More Sex

Over the course of a marriage, desire can lessen. Despite this, sex is healthy and has all kinds of biological and emotional benefits that should not be ignored.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

Over time, regular sex can improve your mood, make you more patient, damp down anger, and lead to a better, more contented relationship.

She doesn’t mince words about the best course of action here.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

Put down this book and go have sex with your husband or wife.

(Looking to heat it up? Here’s how to be a good kisser.)

7) Excitement!

Couples don’t need more “pleasant” activities — they need more exciting activities to hold on to the rush they felt when they first fell in love.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

After ten weeks, the couples again took tests to gauge the quality of their relationships. Those who had undertaken the “exciting” date nights showed a significantly greater increase in marital satisfaction than the “pleasant” date night group… Protect your marriage by regularly trying new things and sharing new experiences with your spouse. Make a list of the favorite things you and your spouse do together, and then make a list of the fun things you’d like to try. Avoid old habits and make plans to do something fresh and different once a week.

What’s Next?

Other posts you should read on improving marriage, love and romance:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Career Strategies

Leaning In Won’t Fix the Gender Gap (Yet)

woman before interview
Getty Images

High-pressure job interviews favor the most competitive candidates – usually men – over the best ones. Until more women lean in, companies need to change how they recruit.

A former colleague described her initial job interview like this: “I had 15 minutes to complete each task and he stood over my shoulder the entire time watching for mistakes.” She had endured what was commonly referred to as the “Tom” interview, named after an executive who, despite his pleasant disposition in the office, was notorious for his hard-core interviewing style.

Then there’s Liz, a highly qualified candidate applying for a position as the creative head for a large marketing company. Liz made it through a long, competitive interview process to the last round, which pitted the final candidates against each other in a timed design task.

Such high-pressure interviews are becoming increasingly common across many industries. They make sense for some jobs—if you are fighter pilot, for instance, the skills to compete and perform under intense pressure are necessary. But in Liz’s case, the time-based design challenge she experienced in her interview was a far cry from how a similar design would be done in the real world, where the creative process takes time and resources. What about the time-based, high-pressure interview our former colleague (a software engineer) experienced? Has she ever completed work under a similar environment while on the job? She laughed when we asked her: “No way; I would hate that kind of job.”

Surviving the “Tom” interview immediately gave a new employee a bit of credibility in the office, but do these types of interviews predict success on the job? And more importantly, do competitive, high-pressure interviews contribute to the gender gap we see in fields such as software engineering (only 20% female)?

Research we conducted with Muriel Niederle and Aldo Rustichini shows that men tend to up their game when facing competitive pressure; women typically don’t. We see this difference in spite of equal performances outside the competitive environment.

In using a high-pressure, competitive interview environment even for jobs that don’t require these skills for success, employers may be inadvertently tipping the scales to favor the more competitive gender—men.

The same is true for more than just job interviews. Consider the 2013 SAT results showing the large gender gap that still persists in math. Boys consistently score higher (32 points on average last year) than girls despite the fact that girls are academically superior in math in several other measures, including GPA. Boys improve their performance in the test environment; girls don’t.

If an employer wanted to hire the person with the best math skills, which candidate should she choose: the one who consistently performs well academically or the one who performs better on the SAT?

In essence, this is the choice employers face when they structure their interview process.

Similarly to many of the brainteaser interviews that are popular with companies as a way to test analytical skills, high-pressure interviews are being touted as a good way to test the ability to work under pressure. The problem? As Google recently admitted, brainteaser interviews are “a complete waste of time … they don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.” We think something similar is going on in many of these high-pressure, competitive interviews—they make the interviewer feel powerful, but don’t actually serve the purpose of identifying good candidates.

At this point, you may be thinking, “But wait, there are plenty of examples of women who thrive in high-pressure environments.” You’re right. And we don’t think girls are born with less competitive drive than boys. In the research we (together with Ken Leonard and John List) conducted in the matrilineal society of Khasi in north east India, where women hold the majority of the power, we found women to be just as competitive as men, indicating the gender differences we see in competitiveness are at least in part due to nurture rather than nature. But changing the culture is hard in the short run, particularly with regard to gender relations.

Since the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, there’s been a renewed effort to encourage young women and girls to be more competitive in the workplace, and our research with the matrilineal society suggests this approach may work over time. But changing our society to embrace the competitiveness in young girls takes time. And recent findings showing that parents are still more concerned about their daughters’ looks than their brains may mean we are in for a long, uphill battle.

So although we agree with Sheryl Sandberg’s argument that women should be encouraged to “lean in,” we argue for a faster fix to much of the gender gap in the labor market. We encourage companies to structure their recruiting and interviewing processes to select the best candidates rather than the most competitive ones. Although the “Tom approach” to interviews may select the best fighter pilots, it may not select the best software engineers. Taking away time pressure and other competitive elements from the selection process can simultaneously help companies find the best candidates and reduce the gender gap.

Don’t make the job interview more competitive than the job itself!

Uri Gneezy is the Epstein/Atkinson Endowed Chair in Behavioral Economics and professor of economics and strategy at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. He is the co-author, with John List, of The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life.

Katie Baca-Motes is a Senior Researcher and Writer at the Rady School of Management, University of California, San Diego.

TIME relationships

When Not to Arrest an Abuser in a Domestic Violence Case

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The current approach to dealing with domestic violence may be bad for victims' health.

Almost half the the states in America have mandatory arrest provisions in domestic violence cases, and it’s widely accepted as an important step in protecting the mostly female victims of spousal or partner violence. Just last month, the legislature in Madison County, Alabama, passed a bill that would strengthen police’s ability to make such arrests.

But a new research paper raises some questions about whether mandatory arrests in every case is the right approach. It’s possible arresting an alleged abuser may be really bad for some victims’ long-term health.

A follow-up of a study done 23 years ago found that that domestic violence victims whose partners were arrested on misdemeanor charges (when no injuries resulted) were more likely to have died than those whose partners were merely warned by police. These were not the people who died because of an attack, but rather those who died years later of health-related reasons, including heart disease, cancer or other internal disorders. Somehow, the study suggests, the emotional toll of having a partner arrested messed up their health in the years afterwards.

Interestingly, the study was conducted by the same guy whose research was largely responsible for the introduction of the mandatory arrest provisions in the first place, Lawrence Sherman, now the Director of the Institute of Criminology of the University of Cambridge. “Changing your position in democracies has gotten very difficult,” says Sherman. “But as John Maynard Keynes said: when my information changes, I alter my conclusions.” Sherman has got some support from law enforcement circles.

What Sherman originally found, in a study done in Minneapolis, was that mandatory arrests in misdemeanor cases lowered future domestic violence rates. Those who were arrested were less likely to abuse again. At the time, the late 70s, intimate partner violence was largely considered a domestic issue and not an area for police intervention. Sherman’s study, which got enormous publicity, was part of turning that understanding around.

The problem was, Sherman was never able to replicate the results. In fact, in Milwaukee and other cities that had a high concentration of poor minorities living in segregated neighborhoods, the results were in fact the opposite. Now, having followed up on Milwaukee a quarter of a century later with the help of Heather Harris, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland, he believes mandatory arrests do less then no good, they do actual harm to the victims’ long term health.

READ Fan Rage: How Home Team Losses Contribute to Domestic Violence

For African-Americans, who were in the majority of victims in the original study, the figures were particularly stark. Black women whose partners were arrested on domestic violence charges were nearly twice as likely to have died of ill-health by 2013 than women whose husbands/partners were accused of domestic violence but were not arrested. (In white victims, the difference was only 9%). Even more puzzlingly, the research found that black victims who were employed when their partners were arrested, suffered a death rate more than four times higher than those whose partners were just warned. For white victims, employment status made no difference.

It’s not clear what biological mechanism is causing the early death in these victims. Mostly, those who were arrested were held overnight, so it’s not the strain of a long-incarcerated spouse that loused up their health. And many of those arrested were not employed, so it’s not the loss of income, either. These were misdemeanor arrests, meaning the abuser had probably not physically injured the victim. The main distinction between the victims who had died by the time of the second study and those who didn’t, was that they saw their partners get cuffed.

“We are now sure that the difference in death was not due to homicide, which was our original research question,” says Sherman. The authors believe similar mechanisms to those in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) might be at fault. “The racial difference suggests that the best explanation must be bio-social,” says Sherman. “There must be something about witnessing a partner’s arrest that triggers a physiological response leading to higher rates of death from heart disease and other internal maladies, but far more so for victims who are African-American than for whites.”

READ: Many abused women view partners as “dependable”

Sherman believes that because Milwaukee was (and still is) a very segregated city, and white women tended to live in more affluent areas, the partner arrest was less traumatic for them. Usually, if the white women were employed, they were not the primary breadwinners. Somehow, observing the arrest of their spouse or partner had a less negative impact on their identities. “The social world of concentrated and segregated poverty areas, where most of the African-American victims lived, was very different from the social world of the white victims,” says Sherman. “Something about that difference appears to have combined with arrest to double the death rate for Blacks. That combination was even more deadly if the black victims had a job, and perhaps had much more fear about losing respect as a result of the partner’s arrest.”

The analysis involved a records search on the 1125 participants in the original Milwaukee Domestic Violence Experiment, which took place between 1987 and 1988. During that study, police randomly arrested two thirds of the suspects of domestic violence and merely warned one third. Fewer than 5% of them were ever prosecuted. The records indicated that 91 victims had subsequently died; 70 of them were in the arrest group and 21 in the warning-only group.

The findings were released on March 3 and will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Criminology. If they can be repeated and hold true, they raise very real questions about how to balance the need to protect people from intimate partner violence in the short term, while keeping an eye on their longer term health. Other studies have also called the mandatory arrest policy into question. For his part, Sherman is in favor of fewer arrests. “We need to look at many other alternatives to arrest that may better ensure the immediate goal of protecting the safety of victims, but without the heavy hand (and potential stigma) of the criminal justice system,” he says.

READ: Why Teen Victims of Dating Violence Can’t Break the Cycle

Police could be given more discretion to discern whether a situation calls for an arrest or another approach, although similar situations have sometime led to victims being murdered. Alcohol abuse treatments might be more beneficial to the accused abuser’s families. Sherman points to the work of New York University academic and domestic violence victim Linda Mills on restorative justice conferences for victims, families and offenders’ families.

The findings have been criticized by Domestic Victims’ advocates, who say it’s not appropriate to apply old data to the situation today. “Thankfully for victims of domestic violence, we don’t live in the 1980s anymore,” representatives with End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin said in a written statement. “Twenty-five-year-old data cannot be used to conclude that domestic violence arrests are dangerous to victims.”

But Milwaukee police chief Edward Flynn thinks it might be time to try a new approach, only in the case of misdemeanors, noting that awareness of the gravity of domestic violence is now much greater. “We have to ask: Is the criminal justice system the best place to deal with domestic violence misdemeanors?” he says. “It might be time for a thoughtful dispassionate reassessment of these procedures.” Sherman added that in most cases the arrests do not result in an indictment because the victim rarely shows up in court, but that the arrests stay on the record.

“The well-intentioned efforts to help victims must be judged by their results, not our intentions,” says Sherman. “Thus what we need to do is to treat domestic violence as a subject for relentless research, testing a wide range of solutions, rather than simply assuming that punishment “works.””

TIME psychology

Leaning Out: Men Like to Be the Boss More Than Women Do, Study Says

Group of office workers in a boardroom presentation
Chris Ryan—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

A new study shows why women need to mentor younger women

A new study suggests that men prefer being in charge, whereas women are better at working with their peers. While the study only confirms what many office dwellers already know, the findings may bolster Sheryl Sandberg’s quest to get women to lean in more and to be better mentors.

To see how much men cooperated with other men, researchers at Harvard’s Department of Evolutionary Biology looked at co-authored publications to see how likely it was that two professors of the same rank would work together. After examining studies co-authored by professors at 50 North American universities, the researchers calculated the likelihood of co-authorship in relation to the number of professors in that school’s department.

They found that male professors were more likely than female professors to co-author publication with a same-gendered assistant professor — i.e., someone below their own rank. Female professors were more likely to work with equally ranked colleagues.

The results itself aren’t that groundbreaking. Studies have shown that women enjoy working in groups with peers and that men enjoy being the boss. It’s true across primate species, and humans are no exception.

Though women’s ability to work together to accomplish a goal may benefit them in the workplace, there’s also a downside. The researchers write, “Female superiors may also be less willing than male superiors to invest in lower-ranked same-sex individuals.” This finding is consistent with a 2011 LinkedIn study that found that only one in five women have had a professional mentor, and only half of those women were mentored by a woman.

The study didn’t determine whether the professor-assistant professor relationship favored by the male professors was one of mentorship, but it seems yet again that we have evidence that women need to make a concerted effort to help one another out. Or, as Madeleine Albright said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

TIME Love & Relationships

How Being Good Parents Can Make You a Lousy Couple

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The author recounts how she almost lost her solid, happy marriage to neglect—and what she did about it

Twenty-two years into our marriage, my husband and I hit a rough patch. There were no knockdown, drag-out fights; it was more of a slow withering.

When it started, or how long it had gone on before we noticed, neither of us could say. We just looked up one day and realized that our solid, happy, even enviable marriage was in trouble.

Like countless long-married couples before us, we had somehow let our day-to-day routine—managing the business and boredom of running our household; juggling careers; parenting two kids with their own over-scheduled lives—suck us dry. With our son and daughter, we were still a great family, a great four. As a husband and wife, we’d become a lousy pair.

I was recently reminded of all this—of the pain and sadness that came with recognizing that we’d fallen into such a hole, and the pleasure and happiness that have come from climbing back out again—after reading Love Illuminated, the new book by Daniel Jones.

After 10 years as the editor of the popular New York Times column “Modern Love,” and sifting through some 50,000 submissions, Jones says that two questions about the vagaries of love surface most often: “First, from the young: ‘How do I find love?’ And second, from those struggling through the marital malaise of midlife: ‘How do I get it back?’”

Of course, after my own yearlong journey to find the answer to that second question, I was more than a little curious to see what wisdom Jones had to offer. But I was more than a little disappointed at what he concludes in this particular area.

He suggests that there are really only three choices for long-married parents who don’t what to see their unions end in divorce: quashing, sneaking or restoring.

Quashing one’s desires, he says, is for those who’ve decided to accept their marriage for what it is, though he allows that this “runs the gamut from the bitterly resigned to the appreciatively so.” And while Jones shows little tolerance for those on the bitter end of the spectrum, he deems the “appreciatively resigned . . . among the healthiest and happiest married people alive.”

Those who sneak, meanwhile, are not content to suppress their unfulfilled desires, but try instead to figure out how to get them met elsewhere. They are not cheaters, but rather those who “redirect their passion away from their marriage, into pursuits and distractions and flirtations that entertain and titillate but fall short of all-out betrayal.” Think Facebook dalliances with old flames or Internet porn.

It is, however, with Jones’ third option, the restorers—the category in which my husband and I undoubtedly belong—that I take issue.

Jones argues that in marriages where passion and love have waned due to “the deadening weight of its routines,” restorers eagerly pile on even more routine: “date nights, couples counseling, dance classes, scheduled sex . . . Fresh Flower Fridays. . . required kisses on parting, lunchtime exchanges of erotic texts or e-mails, and possibly some creative midday play at the local Holiday Inn involving nipple clamps, silk scarves and an eye patch.”

He cheekily dismisses such efforts at reconnection as merely checking off a series of boxes until “overachieving” restorer couples “eventually pull back on all the improvement techniques and join the ranks of the appreciatively resigned”—an idea my husband and I had explicitly rejected

While nipple clamps and eye patches were not our thing (or required kisses or scheduled sex or mandatory fresh flowers, for that matter), we were lost and eager to find our way back to each other. We sought counseling as a way to begin the process and were grateful to have the seasoned guidance of someone who could help show us the way.

We took long afternoon hikes in the canyons—in fact, we still do—and made time to go out for dinner, just the two of us, rather than our usual Saturday night out with friends. Instead of always splitting chores, we made a point of doing some of them together, like shopping at the Sunday morning farmers market or taking the dog for a long evening walk.

For us, these have not been merely check-the-box activities but, rather, a conscious effort to reconnect and remember why we were drawn together in the first place.

Like many couples after they’ve had children, we’d found ourselves spending less and less time together. Some of this was practical, a matter of convenience—one of us running our son to basketball practice while the other took our daughter to a friend’s. By the time we’d gotten done with our respective household tasks, we’d often vie for a little “me” time—a trip to the gym for my husband or a quiet spell with a book for me. At that point, conversations had a way of feeling like interruptions.

It wasn’t “work” that our marriage needed so much as attention, and we made a pointed decision to tend to it, to care for it, to nurture it back to health and keep it healthy.

Alone time doesn’t guarantee a great marriage. But, according to a 2012 study from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, couples who spend more one-on-one time together are less prone to divorce and report higher levels of sexual satisfaction, communication and commitment. “Husbands and wives who engaged in couple time with their mates at least once a week were approximately 3.5 times more likely to report being ‘very happy’ in their marriages,” the study added.

I am not so naïve as to misunderstand why Jones celebrates the “appreciatively resigned.” Sometimes, it’s tempting to feel like “good enough” in a long marriage is actually pretty great. But I believe that deliberately not settling, and actively wanting more from each other and from one’s marriage, is what keeps it truly great.

At the beginning and end of his book, Jones asks a seemingly simple question: “Is love a feeling or a choice?” My answer is that it’s both.

Love is the heart-stopping, passionate, adrenalin-producing feeling that makes people want to rip off each other’s clothes when they first meet. But nearly a quarter of a century in—and two kids and a mortgage later—it’s clear to me that love is also a choice you have to make every single day.

TIME relationships

How an Insensitive Jerk Saved My Marriage

Troels Graugaard—Getty Images

Never ask a woman if she's pregnant—or forget to tell your wife she's beautiful.

“Oh, you’re pregnant again!?” one of my wife’s colleagues (who does not work with her on a daily basis) asked. Upon seeing her reaction, he tried to backtrack. But the damage was done. Allie hid in her office for most of the day and refused to eat even one of the delectable Munchkins sitting, so temptingly, in the kitchen down the hall.

Someone called my wife fat. It made her upset. That makes me upset. When she told me, I wanted to kick that dude’s ass!

Everyone knows: You don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant! EVER!!! Not unless you’re her gynecologist and you see her crowning. And, even then… try to get her to mention it first.

Allie is not fat. Maybe she didn’t lose all of the baby weight from our second child, but she is not fat. She is, however, self-conscious about her weight.

She works long hours, and would rather spend her time off with our kids than at the gym. She did not grow up with the healthiest or most diverse diet, but she tries to eat right. Easier said than done, since she usually just takes a quick lunch at her desk. Allie doesn’t drink alcohol. So when she’s stressed or depressed, she has a tendency to turn to food. (We all have our vices.)

Believe it or not, Allie wanted me to write this article. Not for her, but for our children, especially our little girl and the body-image issues she may have to face as she grows up. Penny is undeniably beautiful, which she hears all the time from strangers and relatives alike. Allie and I are not immune from letting her know pretty she looks, but we also tell her how funny and intelligent she is. We make sure to heap on the praise when she tries something new or really puts effort into accomplishing a goal (especially after she has suffered setbacks). Penny has so many amazing attributes.

I want her to be aware of, appreciate, and improve on everything that makes her unique. I want so many things for her! I want her to have high self-esteem and know that she can get things done when she sticks to them… I want her to feel beautiful all the time, no matter what other people think… I want her to know her jokes are funny, even if no one else is laughing… I want her to be kind, even when no one notices… I would rather she be healthy than thin… I want her to know she is awesome.

As I write this list, I am no longer sure if I’m talking about my daughter or my wife. For Penny, I want these things in the future. For Allie, I want them right now.

This article is probably not the one my wife expected. It is not about our children, it’s about her. And it’s about me.

If Allie’s self-esteem were higher, she would not have given a second thought to what that jerk said. Truth is, he wasn’t trying to be mean. He just said something really, really stupid.

My wife is awesome. (Where do you think our kids get it from?) If she were looking from the outside, she would see it with undeniable clarity. She always finds the best in people, including me. I’ve suffered my own bouts of low self-esteem and depression, and she helped me (continues to help me) battle my demons. It can be difficult to see the best in ourselves, especially when the fog of depression clouds our vision. We all need a little reminding, sometimes.

As her husband and best friend, I was failing my wife. I wasn’t reminding her enough. I wasn’t making her feel special. She was vulnerable (in addition to the weight, she has also had some hair loss), and I wasn’t providing the support she required.

She is still beautiful. But I forgot to tell her, when that is what she needed to hear.

I never said anything to actively insult my wife, but my passivity was more detrimental to her self-esteem than anything anyone could say. It became a downward spiral. Allie would feel bad about her weight or her hair, and I would shrink further from my husbandly responsibilities. I just didn’t feel like dealing with. It was too much for me. I was stressed, too. I wanted my cool, fun wife back! I’m the one with issues. I’m supposed to be able to lean on her… she’s the strong one!

That guy who made the dumb comment about Allie didn’t need a kick in the ass. I did.

Like the Stones said, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes…you get what you need.” I didn’t want to get into a big fight with Allie. I didn’t even understand how it happened or really what it was about, not at the time anyway. She was upset because I was ignoring her. I had excuses and tried to pretend that her accusations weren’t true. But I knew she was right. I was being inconsiderate, in that I was literally not considering her feelings and needs.

I’m trying to be better.

I’ve seen the changes in her. She’s been smiling more lately. She started exercising. Hell, even her hair has been growing back. I feel like I have my wife again. It’s fantastic! She still gets into occasional funks, but I’m there for her.

All of us could use a little help sometimes. My wife needed me to be there for her, like I’ve needed her so often in the past.

We focus so much of our attention on our children, guiding them to become the people we know they can be. Their personalities and self-esteem, however, are formed in those moments when we’re not looking and they are. Children see, hear, and sense much more than we realize. Our kids need us, and more specifically, need us to be there for each other.

And that dude who asked if my wife was pregnant? Maybe I should thank him for making me understand that I was being an insensitive jerk. But what he needs is to just shut up for a while.

TIME relationships

Studies Show Male Behavior Is Totally Explainable

man being weird
Claus Christensen—Getty Images

Men don't like to have doors opened for them. So what?

It seems that every week a new study makes headlines by presenting meticulously collected data on how men’s behavior deviates from the norm, is stuck in some neanderthal pattern out of keeping with progress and evolution, or is just plain odd. But how strange are men really? When the studies are read more closely, much of the mystery of male conduct disappears.

You may have read one of those depressing reports about how men whose wives or life-partners earned more were more inclined to cheat. This seems counter-intuitive and odd, since the men would be jeopardizing not only their relationship, but their ability to eat three meals a day and live in a house. (Plus, the ingrates!) But the study also found that the men most likely to cheat were completely unemployed and, moreover, that there weren’t actually that many cheaters in general. In one study it was only 3.8%. So some guys who don’t have anything to do and are depressed and have no money indulge their less noble impulses. That’s not really such a long bow to draw.

This week, new research suggests that, shockingly, men feel bad about themselves if somebody else opens the door for them. Women don’t. (Apparently this is worth researching.) This is not, by the way, the walk through the door and leave it open so the dude behind you doesn’t have it slam in his face type of opening. This is the jump in front of the guy and let him pass before you. Men are uncomfortable with this. To be honest, a lot of women don’t love it either, since it seems to suggest that we are too fragile to do as puny task as pushing a door. Even my colleague Matt Sterling, who has been in a wheelchair all his life, says he’s not nuts about someone opening the door for him; he prefers the push button self-opening version. (“As I’ve gotten older, it bothers me less when people help me,” he says, “as you understand it makes them feel better.”) It’s not too surprising then that men, for whom physical prowess is a defining characteristic, might be appalled that somebody thinks they cannot cross a threshhold without help.


TIME relationships

Wives Are Now More Educated than Husbands In the U.S.

Pew Research

More women are "marrying down," at least academically.

For the first time in 50 years, the educational balance among married couples has tipped towards women. Wives are more likely to be the better educated partner than the other way around. The trend is particularly sharp among newlyweds; in 2012 almost 40% of college educated women were married to a guy without a degree.

This is a big reversal from the 30 year trend between 1960 and 1990, when it was the men who were marrying down, educationally speaking. The difference is not yet huge; Pew researchers, using data from the American Community Survey and the Decennial Census, found that in 2012, 21% of wives had advanced further academically than their spouses, while 20% of husbands were the more educated ones. But it appears to be growing; counting just newlyweds (those married in the 12 months before the survey), more than a quarter of the women had chosen a partner with less education, while 15% of men did the same.

The trend is not necessarily due to the fact that women are smarter than men. More women than men have been graduating from college at all levels—bachelors, masters and doctoral—for several years, so it was simply a matter of time until the marriage pool reflected that.

Read More: Extreme Marriage Experiment Suggests It’s Better to Be Right Than Happy

While most married couples still have similar education levels, that percentage too is dropping. In 1960, 80% of couples were equally educated. Five decades later that figure has fallen to 60%. This is despite the increasing tendency of college graduates to marry each other.

“Adults with high school or less education are much less likely to marry,” writes Pew researcher Wendy Wang, who authored the new report. “The marriage rate among this group plummeted—from 72% in 1960 to 46% in 2012.” Three quarters of American wives in 1960 were married to guys who, like them, had a high school education or less. Sometime during the 80s, the share of married folks who both didn’t go to college slipped below 50%. And so it has continued, so that in 2012, almost as many marriages are made up of two spouses with college degrees (22.4%) as two spouses who only went to high school (24.2%). About 12% of marriages are made up of couples with some college education.

Read More: Why a Little Less Marriage May Be a Good Thing

Many experts have weighed in on why why marriage has fallen out of favor among the less educated. One of the reasons seems to be that marriage, which used to be like the draft—more or less mandatory—is now more like voting: people aren’t quite sure what’s in it for them. With advances in birth control and women’s earning power, the need for a permanent legal union seems less obvious.

The high divorce rate in the 80s may also have rattled some who grew up in that era. Other researchers, notably Andy Cherlin, have suggested that because marriage is still popular among the better educated—and weddings are more lavish than ever—it has taken on the qualities of a status symbol or a merit badge that you earn as you get your life/career/finances in order.

It’s a trend that worries some sociologists, who note that the bearing of children has not slowed at the same pace as weddings have. More than 40% of all children are now born to single mothers. Married people are much less likely to live in poverty than unmarried people, and the children of families with two parents tend to fare better across a series of measures than those of single parent families.

Read more: Are Single Moms Better Off Single?

What has not yet been conclusively proved is which is the the predicating factor, the lack of money or the lack of a wedding ring. It may be that people with less money are less likely to get married. And government programs that encourage marriage have not yet yielded overwhelming improvements in the poverty statistics.

Sociologists have also suggested that the tendency of college graduates to marry one another has exacerbated income inequality, as two high earners, male and female, form a home, rather than two high earners, both male, providing for two households. If women start to marry less educated and lower earning males in bigger numbers, it’s possible that may be partially reversed. This however, would require a serious rethinking of expectations on the part of both genders.

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