Hollywood endings and the effects of divorce on children

Ever notice how Hollywood movies always end in divorce reconciliation? Two recent releases, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and “Stupid Crazy Love,” have this as their underlying theme. In both movies, estranged spouses reunite after they work out their differences and realize they’re still in love. No relationship problem seems too big for Hollywood to overcome. On Tuesday abcNews.com brought up an interesting conversation of the pros and cons of the fairy-tale happy ending and the effects of divorce on children.

So called “comedies of remarriage” have been around since the 1930s, but the most famous and influential is The Parent Trap (1961), which has been remade several times. Interestingly, most of these movies cater to children and perhaps reflect the growing normalcy of divorce in children’s live. The effects of divorce on children are difficult, and many often long for parents to get back together. According to psychology professor Christy Buchanan of Wakeforest University, this type of fantasy wish fulfillment can be dangerous. “It’s not unusual for kids to have fantasies of reconciliation,” she says, ”So to the extent that Hollywood perpetuates the notion that this can happen for kids who are experiencing this type of longing, that could be difficult for families.”

In other words, it creates false hope and false expectations that can make the experience of divorce even harder on children. Remarriage after divorce is extremely rare and often ends in another divorce. By focusing on nostalgia, these stories worsen the effects of divorce on children by preventing kids and families from moving on and accepting change as a potentially good thing.

At the same time, other psychologists and experts disagree. “Hollywood is about fantasy and happy endings, and the downside of disappointment is more than offset by the uplift of hope,” says psychologist and author Dr. Robert Epstein. There’s nothing wrong with a little escape into a fairy-tale ending, he argues. Children are smart, and can separate reality from fantasy.

So what’s the alternative to reconciliation fantasies? Some movies have gotten it right. “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), for example, shows a divorced couple negotiating their new situation and a father (Robbin Williams) making a concerted—and hilarious—effort to remain a part of his children’s lives. This more accurately reflects the possible positive outcome of a divorce situation.

Power of Two strives to prevent divorce in marriages that can be saved with a little be bit of TLC, lots of dedication, and skill building. We believe a healthy marriage is a positive and beneficial thing for everyone.  At the same time, whether or not a divorce has occurred, what’s important is to show parents treating each other respectfully and lovingly. (Best of all, treating everyone with love and respect). Movies that show couples working through their differences and setting a positive example for their children–whatever their relationship–are good! Knowing that mom and dad still like each other despite their reasons for divorce, and are happy to be part of their kids’ lives, will help lessen the negative effects of divorce on children.

Media Mondays-Fainting Grooms video

Every couple is bound to feel a little jittery on their wedding day. For some grooms, the stress proves too much. For today’s video, an oldie and a goodie: the fainting grooms montage. Perhaps it’s the gravity of the occasion; perhaps he just isn’t quite…ready for marriage; perhaps it’s all those hundreds of people all staring at HIM! Under stress the automatic response is to shut down and lights out…sometimes we have no control over our bodies.

Fainting grooms is one of our graphic designer Clay’s favorite funny wedding videos and “made him fall in love with youtube” back in the day. I think the best thing is the soundtrack; the background music really makes it. And it’s a good reminder: you wedding may be a disaster, but it’s the marriage that happens after that counts.

Enjoy the fainting grooms! Hopefully your wedding ceremony wasn’t as stress-inducing as these couples’ were. And hopefully no grooms were injured in the making of this video.


Stay tuned for more funny wedding videos and other treats next monday!

Media Mondays

Hey all! I’m trying out using Mondays to post videos, pictures and other media in addition to the two weekly writing posts. These will be funny, moving, surprising…interesting short media-essays about a different theme each week. I’m starting out with this sweet marriage proposal video. What a touching amount of effort! Remember to add love, creativity, adventure, and silliness to your marriage at all points in your relationship!


Name that baby!

What did you call me??!

So you’re having a baby (or thinking about having a baby)! Now you’ve got nine months to figure out what it’s going to be called for the rest of its life. Yikes!!

As Shakespeare’s Juliet famously asked, “what’s in a name?” Well, a lot actually. A name can denote family history, cultural identity, values, expectations…in fact, names have even been linked to predicting people’s behavior in all sorts of ways.

Psychological studies propose that it is how others react to our names that leads to behavior trends. For example, a child with a more unusual name might be teased often as a child, leading him or her to develop low self esteem which effects their life course later on. One UCLA study showed that adults with “unattractive names” faced more challenges in their social and work life than others. However, this shouldn’t prevent you from giving your baby a unique name. As baby names researcher Neil Street says, “It is not clear which is more influential – a really strange name, or the parents who gave that name to the child.” In some cases, giving a child and very damaging or offensive name can be considered a form of child-abuse and lead to legal action.

The popularity of certain names fluctuates wildly over time, and is especially influenced by celebrity names (e.g. Jennifer, Brittany, Tom, etc.) On the whole, parents seem to be getting more and more creative with baby names, most often changing common spellings, but sometimes going off the deep end. There’s a child in China named “@” and a little girl in New Zealand named “Talula does the Hula in Hawaii.” For more examples, check out these celebrity’s baby names below. And you want some geeky fun, check out the graphs and charts at http://nametrends.net.

In the end, as you think carefully about a name, make sure know how to communicate with your spouse. Have thorough conversations about the underlying concerns and desires you both have about baby names. Be aware of naming traditions in your respective families and cultures. For instance, naming a child after a relative is a huge sign of respect in some cultures. But among Ashkenazi Jews, naming a child after a living relative is considered akin to a death wish for the relative. Only one person in a family can have a certain name at one time. And if you get stuck on different ideas, consider some win-win strategies such as picking one for the first name and another for a middle name.

In the end, the name is less important than how it is used—called out with love, respect, and joy. No matter what their name, if they have a pair of loving partners in a great marriage to raise them, they’ll probably turn out ok.


Unusual celebrity baby names

1. Apple(Gwyneth Paltrow)

2. Maddox and Knox ( Angelina Joli and Brad Pitt)

3. Sunday Rose Kidman ( Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban)

4. Ocean, Sonnet and True (Forest Whitaker)

5. Pilot Inspektor (Jason Earl from My Name Is Earl)

6.Scout, Tallulah and Rumer. (Bruce Willis and Demi Moore)

7.Brooklyn, cruz and Romeo ( The Beckhams )

8.Rocco (Madonna and Guy Ritchie)

10. Fuchsia (Sting)

11. Kal-El Coppola (Nicholas Cage)

12. Moxie Crimefighter and Zolten ( Penn Jilette )

13. Moon Unit, Dweezil, and Diva Muffin (Frank Zappa)

14. Racer, Rogue Rocket and Rebel ( belong to Director Robert Rodriguez)

15. Memphis Eve (U2 Lead Singer Bono)

16. Coco (Courtney Cox and David Arquette)

17. Sage Moonblood ( Sylvester Stallone)

18. Magnus ( Will Ferrell)

19. Calico and Sonora Rose ( Alice Cooper)

20. Nevis ( Nelly Furtado )

When humor hurts

While looking for a video to post yesterday, I came across a two-minute clip of a little boy becoming hysterical when a little girl proclaims she is going to marry him. His mother captures the whole thing on film, encouraging the battle of wills. At first, his overreaction is pretty darn cute. And yes, it’s a funny metaphor for some adult behavior. But watching the entire thing a few times left all the PO2 staff with a sour taste in our mouths and led to an interesting discussion. It brought up a very serious topic in dealing with other people’s emotions.

We very rarely set out to consciously hurt or anger someone, especially the people we love. However, many of our patterns of speech and behavior can have unexpected impact on other people. This is why it is so important to be aware of and monitor your responses to your spouse. One example for communication in marriage in the Power of Two curriculum is the use of “but…” When you’re having a conversation, using this little word actually negates what your partner just said and sets you up in opposition. We often use “but” without realizing that it can hurt our spouse’s self-esteem and lead to arguments!

This video brings up another unexpected shark lurking in the waters of your relationship: humor. Specifically, misplaced light-heartedness– not taking other people’s emotions, desires, and needs seriously. A great sense of humor is a wonderful thing, and having little in-jokes with your spouse is part of a healthy relationship. At the same time, humor can be really hurtful and a big setback in how to communicate with your spouse. When your partner makes a serious personal statement such as “I want” or “I don’t want,” or shares an emotion with you, don’t laugh at them, tease them, or disregard their feelings. When you do, you imply that what they are feeling is mistaken, misplaced or crazy, and denies the validity of the things they care about.

Respect the power of their feelings. Be serious when your partner is serious. You don’t have to feel the same way (you are two different people after all!), but you should respect and try to understand the reasoning and concerns behind your partner’s position. This shows your spouse that you recognizing her or him as an independent, valuable human being.

This is especially important for children, who are in the midst of developing their sense of self. Your child might get upset over things your believe are completely ridiculous, but remember that to them, the pain is very, very real. Denying it can be very hurtful and confusing. Comfort your child, try to see the world from his or her point of view, and acknowledge his emotions. Try using this great phrase from our conflict resolution section:

“Yes, I understand why your are upset (elaborate)…and, at the same time (find a comforting solution).”

Treating your child with compassion and seriousness with raise compassionate, confident adult.

Granted, knowing when and when not to be light-hearted is a very tricky skill! And everyone disagrees on what is funny. What do you think? Is the video funny or not? How would you have dealt with the situation?

What should I do if my spouse is spying on me?

Phone hacking has been all over the news lately due to Rupert Murdoch’s “News of the World” scandal. While the public is quick to condemn the newspaper’s actions, reading other’s personal information is something that can seem morally blurry when it comes to your spouse. Aren’t you supposed to share everything? This is the topic brought up by the writers over at Jezebel.com on a controversy surrounding a response in the popular advice column “Ask Amy.” Here is the question that was sent to the column, edited for brevity:

My husband very strongly dislikes my best friend. He feels that she is a “bad influence” on me, as she is still dating and hasn’t settled down in her late 20s, goes to a gym that offers “pole fitness” classes, and had an abortion a year ago.

He is always angry when I am talking to her on the phone and has gone so far as to hack into my e-mail account and read our e-mails to one another.

Heaven forbid the e-mail contain a reference to an acquaintance of ours we find attractive or a (justified or not) complaint about a habit of his.

Amy Dickinson published this reply:

 Your husband is being unreasonable. But then, so are you.

The problem here is that you are putting your friendship with your girlfriend in the middle of your relationship with your husband. You also need to learn how to dole out information like a grown-up. [She shouldn’t have told her husband about the friend’s abortion or told her friend about her marriage complaints.]

You three need a do-over. You should be able to chat privately with your friend, but you should also welcome your husband into the circle from time to time. And he needs to grow up, too.

Amy is right to point out that there are always things that both parties (wife and husband) can do to solve marriage problems. At the same time, as Jezebel quickly notes, Amy completely misses the disturbing center of the asker’s situation: the controlling, manipulative and angry behavior of the husband. The Jezebel writer hits the issue right on with this quote: “when you get married… you don’t surrender your right to have private conversations with your friends…You don’t surrender your right to privacy or to correspond with people without worrying about being monitored. This is marriage- a lifelong partnership of love, respect, and trust.”

In fact, controlling or isolating behavior is among our top 5 reasons for divorce. If your partner habitually restricts your social life, cuts you off from loved ones, and insists that you only spend time doing his/her pre-approved activities, please, talk to someone about this. How to deal with jealousy and other problems can be learned with counseling, while controlling behavior is a sign of a serious and potentially dangerous situation in your marriage that requires immediate action and perhaps separation.

It is generally a bad sign if you feel that you need to check  your spouse’s email or cell phone without permission.  It may be a sign that you’re being too controlling.  Almost always, it’s a sign that something is seriously awry in the kind of healthy open communication, trustworthy behaviors, and loving consideration that are the foundations of healthy marriages.

At the same time, it’s also a bad sign if there’s anything in your “private” communications that you wouldn’t be 100% proud to share with your spouse.  Like Amy says, airing your husband’s dirty laundry to the girls isn’t fair–it’s a breach of the trust you share by having such intimately connected lives. Hey, would you want him joking about your love-handles to the guys?  

So, on the one hand foster independence in you marriage and stand up for your independence.  And at the same time, be very careful how you use that independence!
What do you think, dear readers? Do you agree or disagree? Can you think of a time when it would be ok to check your spouse’s email?

When it comes to intimacy in marriage, Men need cuddling, and lots of it!

Last week we talked about some surprising findings about sexual satisfaction in long-married couples. Today is part two of this post series.

Last week Dr. Susan Heitler was interviewed by abcNews.com for an article on a new study by the Kinsey Institute. In addition to sexual satisfaction, this study covered intimacy in marriage and relationship satisfaction in couples who were in decades-long marriages.

The results? It still just keeps getter better.

Rather than growing bored and frustrated with their spouses after decades of marriage, men and women around their 25th anniversary showed just the opposite. Couples reported being incredibly happy!

Unhappiness in marriage is often not due to irreconcilable differences, says Dr. Heilter, and one shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the marriage should end just because it’s not smooth sailing. “If too many interactions are frustrating or irritating, it’s best for couples to clean up their act with a skills upgrade rather than invite a goodbye from their partner.” Relationship traits such as: knowing how to communicate with your spouse, how to deal with jealousy, being able to have interesting conversations together, keeping the emotional tone in the household calm, being supportive and positive… are all skills you can learn!

A big part of this is keeping the relationship loving, and that’s where intimacy in marriage comes in. According to the study, non-sexual physical intimacy such as kissing, cuddling, and caressing became more important over time for men than for women. Men look to this behavior as a sign of a great relationship. Women valued intimacy highly, too, more so because it led to a greater enjoyment and frequency of sex.

Prior research has shown that as people age, men focus more on general relationship satisfaction and women … increasingly value the sexual aspects of the relationship,” Dr. Heitler says. This may be because women tend to hit their sexual peak later than men, especially after the stress of child-rearing is over. “Men may become less concerned about sex because they are feeling spontaneously aroused less frequently with age. They still like sex, but they feel less desperate for it than in their younger years.”

Affection and intimacy in marriage–sexual and non-sexual–are what makes couples in decades long relationships more satisfied and happy than common stereotypes would have us believe.

In my clinical practice I see at all ages that couples who touch and hug with more frequency tend to feel more loved and loving.  It’s a circular relationship.  More touching yields more feelings of love, that in turn create more touching, and more loving feelings…..  That’s how in relationships, “the rich get richer.”  More positive interactions–both physical touch, smiles, listening, “I agree…”, appreciation– beget more loving.

So grow your intimacy in marriage–go ahead and be all lovey-dovey! Little unique ways of showing love can bond you two, like a special way you hold hands, or a certain pat on the cheek. How do you tend to express affection in your relationship?

Older marriage? Better sex!

A new study from the Kinsey Institute has some surprising findings about sex and intimacy as relationships age. The researchers interviewed 1,000 mid-life or older couples from across the U.S. who had been together for an average of 25 years. Dr. Susan Heitler was asked to weigh in on the findings for abcNews.com (Read that article here here).

Good news: sex just keeps getting better!

One myth busted by the study is that partners grow bored after years of sex with the same person. “In fact, satisfaction with their sexual lives seemed to grow over the years, particularly for women, but overall for both genders,” Dr, Heitler says. “Turns out that long-term monogamy seems to be good for enjoying ever-more-gratifying sex.”

Women’s satisfaction tends to dip during the stressful years of raising children. However, once children have moved out, their enjoyment of sex rockets even above men’s in multiple decade relationships. “My clinical experience corroborates this–it’s as if women in their fifties are especially delighted to discover how fun and gratifying sex can be–a discovery that men are more likely to have discovered with delight when they are younger.”

Sexual intimacy is crucial to a healthy relationship. “Good sex won’t make a great marriage, but insufficient sexual gratification can create problems,” Dr. Susan cautions. If sex becomes too infrequent, it can build irritability and frustration in one or both partners. If a couple does not seek sexless marriage help, the relationship will become distant and the risk of an affair increases. Unfortunately, sexual functioning usually takes a hit as we age. Difficulties with sexual desire, erections/arousal, and orgasm seem to discourage men the worst, whereas women take the blow a little easier. Some of these problems can be the result of procedures such as elective prostate surgery. This is especially difficult as a woman may be hitting the peak of her sexual enjoyment right around the time a man’s sexual performance may be suffering from age or surgery.

At the same time, Dr. Susan is confident that you can have a great sex life no matter what by simply knowing how to communicate with your spouse.

In my clinical experience, the key is how well the couple can talk over these problems. If sexual functioning problems develop and the partners clam up instead of talking with each other about the changes and how they each are adapting to them, that can spell trouble ahead.

In other words, keep your dialogue and minds open to ways to adapt to the changes.

Again, sex isn’t the end-all of a relationship. Our next post will continue this series with surprising insights into relationship satisfaction and non-sexual intimacy. Check back soon!

(If you want more on attitudes towards sex and aging, I suggest this great article.)

Using Power of Two outside of the home

Hello Power-of-Two-verse! I’m Naomi, the new intern here in our Berkeley, CA office. You’ll be hearing a lot from me during the next few months as I take over the Power of Two blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’ll be covering reviews, interviews, opinion pieces, marriage news, and Power of Two relationship tips. If there’s a topic you’d like to hear about, send your suggestion my way at naomi@poweroftwomarriage.com.

So what’s it like being a Po2 intern? Pretty awesome. Part of my job is to go through the entire Power of Two curriculum for editing and immersion. After even briefly being exposed to the program I’ve noticed a significant change in my relationships. I find myself thinking about things like “but” statements and positivity in my own interactions as well as others’. In short, Po2 doesn’t just teach you how to save a marriage; while this program is geared towards married and long-term committed pairs, it’s useful in your interactions with all sorts of relationships, from business to friendship. Really, any 1-on-1 situation in which you are dedicated to working together, making decisions and fostering a partnership.

You can see it first hand around the office here. Running a business takes a lot of great communication skills. It’s kind of like running a household with seven husbands and wives instead of two! And like a bad marriage, it can be really unpleasant. But unlike previous workplaces I’ve been a part of, at Po2 there is no passive aggressive commenting, disparaging dismissal of others’ comments, or sense that the employees are reluctant to talk to each other. Everyone actively listens to the person speaking and is supportive of their opinions, even when offering critiques (I hear a lot “yes…and…”). And when an upset happens, they are quick to apologize. The team really feels like a big, amazingly functional marriage. This really helps when things get stressful!

So why not try using the Power of Two skills outside the home? Next time your boss bugs you about that report for the 10 billionth time, cool down with emotion regulation, then use some I statements and win-win decision making to state your concerns and improve your professional relationship. I just wouldn’t give him a kiss and a squeeze to make things all better…not everything that works with your spouse will work in the office!

Why do men cheat?

Anthony Weiner: rich, confident, powerful, newly married…and, of course, he’s having an affair! Weiner seems to have it all, but like so many other men, still engages in infidelity. Why do men cheat? A new study sheds light on the surprising reasons, and differences, in why men and women cheat.

Researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington recently conducted a study of 900 men and women to find out what leads people into affairs. Older studies pointed to marital status, income or employment as key elements of infidelity, but the new study found other characteristics, such as sexual excitability and unhappiness in relationships, and other marriage problems are significantly more important. And despite the multitude of public scandals involving men, it turns out that women and men are cheating at roughly the same rates. Back in the 1990s a study showed that only 10-15% of women reported being unfaithful. The latest survey reported 19% of women and 23% of men cheated at some point in a relationship. The question is no longer just “why do men cheat,” but “why do people cheat?”

A common reason for infidelity in both sexes was concerns over sexual performance. The researchers suggested that cheaters might feel less inhibited with someone who does not know them well. A new partner may have fewer expectations and be a relief from the tensions that have been building over time with a husband or wife. Beyond that, the answer to why do men cheat is slightly different that why women cheat. “Women who reported not being happy in a relationship and feeling that their partner didn’t hold similar sexual beliefs were more likely to be unfaithful. For men, one of the biggest factors that led to cheating was sexual excitability,” read the abcNews.com article.

So why are women cheating so much more than they used to? Part of it may be how the question was asked. In the news study, researchers did not define infidelity, leaving it up to the interviewees to decide what was cheating in their personal circumstances. The previous study may have been worded differently, perhaps with more narrow categories, which lead to a lower response rate.

It all comes down to proximity — who you’re interacting with and how often —  says Power of Two founder Dr. Susan Heitler, who is quoted in the article.  Dr. Heitler mentioned that the growing number of women in the workforce allows them to make more male social connections outside of the family:

[There’s] too much time working closely together, in private spaces, taking a break and talking about personal matters, and also travel which makes too much time away from the spouse and from the restraints of normal family routines.

The internet and text messaging also allow previously isolated wives from making friendly social connections with other men and contacting old flames. Unfortunately, many of these casual social relationships can turn into something more….


Why do men cheat? For the same reasons women do… Read the abcNews.com article here.