divorce

Money-smart, marriage-smart.

money-smart-Cost-of-Marriage

My husband and I left the room after two hours, spent, hungry and light-headed. Had we been arguing, engaging in “afternoon delight,” or working out? Nope. Just talking about money. We joked that we were “divorce-proofing” our marriage

I wasn’t always money-smart. My family didn’t buy lottery tickets, but somehow believed money would magically appear. Budgeting was for the bourgeoisie. My father spent as he wished, while my mother fretted, saved and arranged deck chairs as their ship slowly sank. Though they recovered financially, I was imprinted by their mixed messages.

Additionally, I was a math-phobic child. Multiplication tables caused me to white out with fear. I failed math every year of high school, barely passing it in summer school. My math illiteracy led to an avoidance of anything financial.

In my first marriage I was frugal, but like my parents, mostly ignorant or in denial about the state of our finances. My then-husband would tell me cash was low and not to spend until a check cleared. Instead, I’d hear “The apocalypse is coming. Buy cereal, toiletries and paper towels,” and overdraw our account.

I regularly engaged in financial infidelity — hiding purchases and misrepresenting my income. Yet, we rarely argued. Discussions about money were off-limits. Clearly, I had baggage I wasn’t ready to unpack. Money avoidance was only one of our issues, but a metaphor for lack of intimacy and transparency in other areas. For 25 years we arranged deck chairs on our own sinking barge. In 2006, I jumped ship to a new life.

My first act of financial transformation was preparing a budget for the divorce lawyers. I was terrified to find out my true fiscal state, and wrangled a girlfriend to walk me through this basic skill. I felt like that kid who kept failing math.

As we plugged in the numbers, I was stunned to find that a modest apartment, saving for both retirement and a down payment for a house were actually affordable. Expenses that didn’t matter anymore were gleefully slashed, like cable TV or a new car — making room for such luxuries as hair foiling, eating out and vacations. This math was fun!

As I started dating, I developed a checklist of desired attributes. At 46 years-old I got to pick. He didn’t have to be rich, but his finances couldn’t be a hot mess either — that was my old life.

My new boyfriend Dave and I had many wonderful things in common, but some not so lovely. We shared a fear of money and a checkered financial history. Aside from a small car loan, I had strangled the debt goose, but Dave still had money troubles; a good deal of debt and an upside-down mortgage. Though most of the debt was due to his late wife’s illness, his balance sheet was a yellow flag to me.

It wasn’t romantic, but some of our early discussions were about finances. Turns out, my new love was naturally frugal, but didn’t like to say no to his significant other — a recipe for money problems. I, on the other hand, was a spender, and splurged when fearing scarcity — often on useless items or impulse buys.

Instead of pre-marital counseling, we took a budgeting class together. We unearthed our inner money nerds and worked on changing bad habits — excruciating at first. The angriest we ever got with each other was in structuring our debt repayment. Having hit a wall, we hired a financial coach with Solomon-like wisdom to referee. Resolved and secure we were on the same page financially, we became one in the eyes of God, the law, and our bank account.

By tightening our belts, living in a cheap apartment and driving beater cars, we were debt-free in three years. Five years later, we are now on our way to paying off our simple home and securing a bright financial future. We still make mistakes, “forget” to mention purchases and impulse-buy on occasion, but quickly right the vessel.

Dave and I trust each other and don’t have secrets; it’s the basis of intimacy. Full-disclosure financially has also required us both to put our oars in the water and pull in the same direction — good for any couple. And that’s a ship neither of us are likely to jump.

 

Getting naked. My road to emotional and physical intimacy.

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I’m going to get naked with you, sharing the one secret that gave me a life of emotional and physical intimacy. Getting there was the scariest thing I ever did, and you won’t believe how simple it was.

First, some background.
I had three older brothers and two younger sisters in a lively Irish-Catholic family on Grand Island, New York. My parents loved each other, but bickered all the time. If Dad said the couch was red, Mom corrected, that no, it was rust. They could bicker over anything.

Mom’s world consisted of emotions, beauty, family and charity. Dad’s was reason, ideas, facts, perfection and competence. Logic and force of personality won out and my father frequently had the upper hand, unless memory was involved. Then my mother won.

Our family dinners were fun and energizing, but sometimes resembled a blood sport — eat or be eaten, wit being the coin of the realm. Mom stayed on the sidelines, not suited for battle — rarely a participant. Like a baby mouse imprinted with her mother’s scent, I adopted their style; it was more important to be right than happy.

At 20, I married a man much like my father, blazingly intelligent, quick, cutting and defensive. We reenacted my parent’s dynamic in many ways, but I vowed not to be vulnerable like my mother. I dressed in Levi’s and plaid shirts, cut my hair short, gained weight and hid any sign of femininity. I appeared asexual, but more important, learned to cover sadness, concerns and anger, acting like one of the boys. Being tough and invulnerable, I couldn’t be hurt.

Once, five months pregnant with our second child I camped for a week in Algonquin, Canada, with my husband and our church young couples group. I carried a heavy pack, portaged through the woods and slept on a thin foam pad. It was only after days of trying to sleep on tangled roots and rocks that I discovered all the other couples had air mattresses. Such amenities were for sissies.

My androgyny affected our sex life; very little of it and not good. I joked that there was only three subjects my husband and I could not discuss: sex, money and chores. I needed more.

Just as blocked arteries develop other pathways to deliver blood to the heart, I developed alternate routes to receive love — I built up a collection of friends who loved me, mostly female, occasionally male — all platonic. I would have said I was happy, justifying the creative financing of my love bank.

But deep inside, was a woman wanting out — a soft-hearted, tender creature who wanted to be cherished by one man. Eventually, through the magic of therapy, good friends and re-discovering musical gifts, I reclaimed much of my femininity, but it was too late for us. After 25 years, we divorced.

At 46, I faced a brand new future, a future I could choose.

I created a vision statement for my new life. It described the house I’d live in, kind of music on the stereo, paintings on the wall and, of course, the man who would share it with me: he would be smart, funny, hospitable, sensuous, and above all, kind. And we would be intimate, whatever that meant.

I dated 18 men in one crazy year, then, took a sabbatical. At the end of it, there was Dave. He matched the man I’d pictured in all the key ways, but —closest to my heart — was kind.
I’d found my ideal mate and I was terrified. So terrified, a latent case of colitis kicked into high gear. I was touching on deep fears and my body was objecting. I had not seen intimacy between my parents, had not experienced it with my ex, yet that is what I desperately wanted in my new life. How could we create this?

We started with one basic rule, we would be kind to each other — literally, a zero-tolerance for unkindness, and it had to start with me.

How did this play out?

We didn’t allow blaming. For anything. Ever. Especially when driving or discussing money. No criticism was permitted. If we had a beef, we either sat on it or discussed it as a thing we might solve together. Sarcasm was also barred at the door — including that ominous fourth horseman of divorce: eye-rolling behind each other’s backs. We argued and sometimes heatedly, but never hit below the belt. Public putdowns were forbidden too.

We were patient with each other, listening without jumping in, even when a story took so long, you could picture cows wandering in and out of the pauses. We created an environment where we could be ourselves without criticism or judgment.Most frightening for me, we admitted fears, cried in front of each other, shared hopes, budding dreams, and let down our guard. Slowly, I reprogrammed that baby mouse for a life of love instead of one of conflict and competition.

Do you know what happens in a relationship where both people can be vulnerable and truly themselves? When you know your tender bodies and souls will be cherished and not ridiculed?

You feel safe, relax, and have a lot of really great sex.

Dave and I will be married for five years this October, and they have been the happiest years of my life. Over time, I learned to be OK with both emotional and physical intimacy and my colitis went away, but we’ve had our hard times too. It’s then that kindness kick in — the touchstone we always return to when we’ve lost our way.

Ultimately, intimacy had to begin with me. I had to let go of a lifetime of defensive tactics, unconscious behaviors and a pathological need to be right. I could expect kindness in my life and marriage when that’s what I gave. And I discovered that when you remove arguing, anger, blame, bickering, sarcasm, insults, criticism, pickiness and fault finding from a marriage ... all that’s left is love.

 

Be kind. Start with you.

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The contrast between the women in the two videos could not have been more stark.

The first woman kept her head down, talking lovingly to a baby in her lap, not looking up until addressed directly by the cameraman. And then, she looked pained, as if she found showing her face excruciating — for good reason. She was heavy — lumpish, her face shiny with oil and beet red with acne. Her hair was short, manly and dishwater blonde. Her glasses were thick, large and unfashionable, as were her clothes. After awkwardly facing the camera, the woman’s head dropped back down to the baby in her lap — closed again to scrutiny, trying to hide on a front porch in the mid-day sun.

The second woman is seen from a distance, singing to a crowded, buzzing concert hall. She’s wearing a low cut, body-hugging, cherry red dress revealing a shapely, lean figure. Her arms are flung wide to the well-dressed audience, face open and happy as she moves smoothly to the music on glittery black stilettos, accentuating muscled legs. Her fashionably cut, shoulder-length blond hair swings to the music — The Way You Look Tonight.

Both women are me. The first video was shot 23 years ago, when I was a mom in my twenties, the second, from a concert I recently performed while visiting relatives in Minnesota. Not long after that event, those same relatives and I viewed that first video of our kids … and a much different version of myself at 29 years of age.

It was fun to see our now-grown children as babies and toddlers, but I had not reckoned how viewing my younger, tortured self would feel. I had all but forgotten that girl, destroyed old pictures, and expunged my mental palette of her sadness, agony and ugliness. Viewing her, I felt the old shame and revulsion, but something more — deep compassion.

I wanted to reach into the screen and pull her away from that peeling porch, that ramshackle house and take her to a place of love and gentleness. I longed to undo the ridicule she received in middle school, free her from the cage of apparent security that conservative religion had provided, enlighten her to her latent musical talent, but most of all, show her the inherent beauty her body possessed, the tenderness in her blue-green eyes, uncover the radiant smile hidden for so long.

I yearned to tell her that she deserved kindness and respect from everyone around her. I needed to let her know that as long as she hated her body and waged war on her face she would mistreat it and feed herself poorly. I wished to reveal that most women know tricks — magic tricks to play up their beauty and minimize flaws to stunning effect. I could teach those tricks to her!

I felt desperate to rewind time and save her, but realized, with a jolt, that I already had. The massive changes which began shortly after that first video, had transformed me and culminated with a powerful metamorphosis; I finally accepted myself — no exceptions. I embraced flaws and fears, then parted with an old self-image that thought unkindness was OK, that not being loved was my lot. I learned that the most important person to impart that love was me.

Secure in that love, I left a marriage that was long dead, built a new life, and created an exterior as beautiful as the interior I had always possessed. And, in a surreal reversal of fate, now publicly performed with exuberance, power, and femininity — about as far from that 29 year-old as a housefly is from a phoenix.

My reaction to the first video made me wonder if I’d accepted my shadow side: what Carl Jung described as the “aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself” — in this case, vulnerability, weakness, fear of abandonment and self-hatred. But, it turns out, the aversion to the video was a merely a vestige of an old self.

I am not the insecure and critical girl I once was. The gentleness and patience I now grant to myself is given to everyone in my life. I can walk into the burning buildings of people’s misery and troubles, with warmth and empathy. The alchemy is complete.

But sooner or later, age brings deterioration and illness. Looks are lost and talents may fade. Careers end, fortunes evaporate, loved ones die. What then? In making true peace with the awkward, unattractive girl I once was, I will return to that same bedrock of love and acceptance for the aged, diminished woman I will surely become.

I deserve it — we all do. Then, now and forever.

 

In praise of cracking up.

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I was a happy but nervous child. Either hardwired or nurtured that way, I remember plucking out all my eyelashes at the age of seven, just to handle the anxiety — jumpy as a flea on a drowning dog.

Our home was loving, but chaotic and alcohol-influenced. Christmas was the worst. My understaffed mother was overwhelmed with choosing, purchasing, affording and wrapping gifts for six kids. It did her in every year with a torrent of tears and drama. Though my father was a structural engineer and made a lot of money (buying plenty of expensive cars, toys and alcohol) there never seemed to be much for clothing or gifts.

As the first-born girl in an Irish-Catholic family I felt accountable for, well, just about everything. The house was a mess? Clean it up. No money for clothes? Get a job at 12 and buy my own. I was hyper-responsible, taking on the emotional burdens of everyone around me, including trying to raise my two younger sisters and joining an oppressive, controlling Pentecostal church to provide the parenting backup I felt we needed. Mine was a short and serious childhood.

As a teen, I never dated, but married at twenty, short-circuiting a normal social life, and having no fun in college. I only wanted to work and become an advertising star, make my family proud and support my husband through his education. However, having two children by the age of 27 sidelined any desire to be a famous art director.

Becoming the next female Darrin Stephens was not to be, but I would excel as a volunteer in a lot of activities: elder in the Presbyterian Church, Bible study teacher, program creator in an advertising club and as a Rotarian. Trying to be everything to everyone, I freelanced to stay at home with the kids, make money and be Supermom.

As a life-long singer, music was an outlet at first, but at mid-life became a compulsion. I was recording my second CD under an impossible deadline with a bi-polar producer who kept losing everything — including much of the work we did. Money was running out and my husband’s patience was fraying. I could almost hear the thin cloth of my marriage ripping apart.

A combination of willpower and terrifying obligation got me though my CD release party, but afterward, the wheels really came off the wagon.

It started with muscle twitches and then I couldn’t sleep or eat — visibly trembling. An emergency room visit determined my problems were probably psychological, not physical. A visit to a neurologist confirmed it. I was sick, but it was all in my head.

The nervous tremors were now accompanied by agoraphobia and cluster panic attacks. Previously extroverted, now I couldn't even bear to leave the house. My first anxiety attack occurred in a grocery store. The bright lights and noise became unbearable. My body felt as though jolts of electricity were shooting through it. I thought everyone could see it. After that, all I wanted to do was stay home, but home was not a sanctuary. Unable to sleep other than for minutes at a time, when it did come, slumber was jagged and filled with nightmares.

While accepting that my illness was mental and not Parkinson’s, MS or Lou Gehrig’s disease was a relief, imagining everyone losing respect for me was horrific. The self-perception as a world-beater was quickly deflating. Making my life an admirable and unassailable structure had failed.

One morning, I laid on my bed, limbs stretched out to the edges like a starfish and thought ”I’ve lost my marriage, the respect of my kids, most of my clients and any idea of who I am. I am nothing.”  After 42 years, I gave up on being the perfect wife, mother, volunteer, daughter, artist. I finally surrendered and it felt … unbelievably good.

Breathing was easy and my body felt as weightless as a dry leaf. The sun shone bright through the bedroom windows, creating warm patches on the down comforter. Everything was perfect and complete. I was perfect and complete! That moment set me free.

A friend had once asked who I was without my accomplishments. There was no answer. Doing nothing meant being nothing. It was unthinkable. It was stunning to now realize I loved and respected myself in spite of cracking up and letting everything fall apart — fulfilling no one’s expectations, not even my own.

Healing was slow. A psychiatrist prescribed an anti-depressant and a tranquilizer, and while useful at first, meditation, dietary changes and a measured life soon replaced them. In a few months I was calm, mindful and definitely not back to normal.

Many changes resulted from that breakdown. Though I did lose my marriage, my career picked up where it left off, and the respect of my kids, family and friends were still there for me. The biggest changes besides peace and sanity were a new understanding of and compassion for mental illness, its causes, and the part balance plays in healing.

Though occasionally trapped by someone else's expectations, or volunteering reflexively for something that “must be saved,” I am no longer swept along in a slipstream of real or imagined expectations of others, setting my own course.

I had been on a mindless, relentless path to redeem my childhood and family legacy and finally got off. Life never looked so good or free.

Rockin’ this nose. The one I was born with.

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He meant well. “Have you ever considered a nose job?” He said it with great delicacy and care, feeling it would improve my chances of succeeding in bigger market cities as a jazz singer. My response was measured, “I hadn’t considered it, but wouldn’t rule it out.” He went on to share the long list of performers he knew that had, including himself. “Why do you think I look so young?" I had to admit, for his age, he did look good.

I have my beloved father’s nose — a German-Irish nose, a not-small nose that shows no sign of shrinking with age. It never bothered me. Or, hadn’t — until now.

I am 51 years old. Many of those years were spent in self-loathing and holding myself up to unattainable, model-like standards. I had a love-hate relationship with my body and it held me hostage from doing the thing I loved the most — singing jazz, instead, spending 12 years as a folk singer, a safe place where an ugly duckling like myself could hide. It was only after a painful divorce that I learned to embrace and love my form in all its glory, with all its flaws. And three years ago, I switched from singing original folk music to jazz — finally feeling sexy and confident enough to get out from behind the guitar and sing the music I was born to sing.

Last January I quit my pleasant, secure day job to become a full-time singer. In addition to the loss of a respectable income and benefits, I have paid a very high price to make this change; I take voice lessons from two coaches, work weekly with a pianist/arranger to build my repertoire, read books on music, study classic recordings and sing for hours in the basement, car and bathroom. Each and every gig is widely promoted with e-mail, Facebook, posters and press releases. On some gigs I compensate my musicians from my own pocket — just for the exposure. Maybe this nose suggestion could be filed in the “price I have to pay” column.

The doctor was highly regarded. He answered every question with intelligence and thoughtfulness. By his reckoning, he had performed more rhinoplasties than anyone in the area. I knew one of his patients, and his work was subtle and attractive. He did not overpromise. This was the guy.

I recently attended a benefit that featured a number of vocal acts from New York City. All of them were smooth and polished — most were beautiful, svelte and dewy-fresh. They had stage presence and some had great patter, astounding ranges and vocal clarity. And, while I enjoyed their performances and derived many good tips, the biggest treat of the night came from an outlyer.

He was the opening act bandleader — a well-known, local horn player. This man is not conventionally attractive. He weighs well over 300 lbs. and is around 60 years old. As a lark, he presented a song. He moved slowly and painfully, and got up. Then he sang Little Girl Blue
with pathos — his voice soaring to a glorious falsetto, in turn brassy and bold, then dropping to an intimate, paper-thin whisper. “Why won't somebody send a tender blue boy to cheer up little girl blue." I was stunned. I could not close my mouth or stop smiling. That night, he was the sexiest man on the stage and it was his performance that stayed with me the most.

As I lay in bed that night reviewing the performances, I began to think of why I loved my favorite vocalists: Jeri Southern, an obscure singer from the 50’s, touches me with intimate vocals and vulnerability; Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn impresses with truth and musicianship; Holly Cole, a jazz singer from Toronto, amazes with originality and focus; Alison Krauss draws with silvery timbre and musicality; Ella exudes warmth, precision and tone; kd lang explodes with power and dynamic range; Mel Tormé seduces with smooth style and phrasing; Jane Monheit commands respect by overall mastery, song selection and interpretation.

Compiling the list, I realized not one of them was a conventional beauty. More important, as a fan, their looks were something I never once considered, loving them instead for their artistry, humanity and talent. I respect their work ethic, dogged attention to detail and professionalism and admire their bravery and creativity.

I do not think about their noses.

If I don’t succeed as a jazz singer, I suspect it will be because I got tired from the immense amount of work it takes to be great with so little initial return. Or, it will be the drain of preparing books and setting up sound equipment, or lack of venues for serious jazz. Possibly it will be the ridiculous amount of work it takes to promote a gig and get a crowd, or living in a small market city. Or, a creative block, beyond which I can’t go.

I don’t think it will be about my nose.

Monday morning, I’ll call the good nose doctor and cancel my pre-op appointment. And then, like most days, I’ll go down to the basement, open my book of tunes, and start working — hard.

 

On being loved fully and outrageously, like I deserve.

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First, a confession. For the first 40 years of my life, I did not feel worthy to be loved romantically. I projected an aura of superiority and self-confidence, but inside felt unlovable and undesirable. A lot of women do. We internalize slights from middle and high school and hold ourselves to impossibly high standards. We find ourselves lacking.

What cured me of self-loathing? At first it was becoming a musician and singing out publicly — finding a passion and that audiences liked me, they really liked me, as Sally Field once said. This flew in the face of my old story about being unattractive. Secondly, it was going through a painful, unwanted divorce.

To heal I needed to fully love myself, faults and all. Early in the separation a memorable moment occurred in front of a full-length mirror. I assessed my body and finally embraced its beauty, uniqueness and flaws. I loved it — and me, completely.

Loving myself was an important step to being loved, but before dating, I also needed to map out what a successful relationship would look like, so I created a vision statement for my new life. It painted a verbal picture of my new home; the atmosphere, art and music that would live there — the social life, vacations and spirituality I’d pursue.

I also envisioned the man in my life. He would be kind, hospitable, generous and fit. I imagined a mutually loving relationship with a lot of sex and affection. I wanted a man who adored me, would lay it all down for me, put me first and powerfully desire me. I shot not only for the stars but the whole dazzling Milky Way before even setting a foot in the dating swamp. This became the road map for my future.

A friend who had been single for many years warned about the lack of prospects in our hometown. “There are no good men. They are all taken. The only ones left are losers. Trust me — I’ve dated them.” I envisioned better for myself. I reckoned it was only a matter of time before Mr. Right came into my life. The key was to not be entangled with Mr. Wrong when he finally appeared. The more I loved myself, the easier it was to lose the Mr. Wrongs. And while setting the bar high might result in singlehood, alone and happy was better than coupled and miserable. The bar stayed high.

It didn't drop with that first man I dated who noted I was “loving and feminine onstage, but vulgar and boorish offstage.” Bye. It remained high with the wealthy but incurious man with only one thing on his mind and it wasn't quantum physics. He was stopped at the second date. Significantly, the bar didn’t lower when dating the well-off, fit and sexy plumber who had anger and jealousy problems. It was sad, but I ended it and was alone again.

Dave was not an obvious choice. He was a recent widower of a dear family friend. He was an artist like I was and quiet, probing, funny and smart. We started out as supportive friends with no thought of dating while I kept looking for Mr. Right. To our surprise, over time our friendship became romantic. We were remarkably compatible, sharing interests in museums, theater and music. We both loved to read, travel, entertain and wanted to create a house filled with love, respect and generosity. Most important, Dave wanted me — was willing to do anything to get me. Nothing came before me. The more he loved me, the lower my defenses became and the more I loved him back.

Newly single, I'd been told that “statistic” that a middle-aged woman had as much chance of remarrying as getting struck by lightning. But, that was a mindset of scarcity and desperation. Instead, I determined there would be abundance and love in my new life, if not specifically a new man. However, it turned out that accepting myself fully, envisioning an ideal life and keeping high standards became the magic path to the love of my life.

 

12 tips for being an epic wife.

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Have you ever wondered what makes a good, or even great wife? How about an epic wife? One that Dictionary.com describes as being “heroic; majestic; and “impessively great.” How did I learn to be one? First, by leaving my husband.

We had been married 22 years and I was temping in a retail tile shop. It led to an unexpected revelation; all the couples that came into the store had better marriages than we did — more respectful, kind and polite. They consulted each other; were partners and friends — so unlike the adversarial, chilly roommates my husband and I had become. I wanted what they had. I knew then my marriage needed to change or be over.

But it was too late for us. In time we divorced and I found a new husband — taking the first (and most important) step to becoming an epic wife:

  1. Pick right: Unfortunately, for some, this might be like closing the barn door after the horse got out, but it bears saying; choose a man who is worthy of you: kind, hard-working, free of addictions and is devoted. Trying to be an epic wife to a cad, an addict, or a man who doesn’t really love you is a losing prospect.
  2. Enjoy sex: If you don’t like sex, it's difficult to be an epic wife. Epic wives realize that most men are very sexual beings, and while a lot of woman require wining, dining and flowers to be in the mood, most men just want you to show up naked. For God's sake, give him regular sex and enjoy it while you’re at it. And, how about actually thinking about sex (not about the grocery list) while you’re having it?
  3. Look fabulous: Did I say skinny? Nope. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new Mom and feel like a sack of potatoes. Take the body you have right now and find clothes that are flattering and inspire confidence. Men do not notice those extra pounds, so long as you are well-groomed, working at fitness and feel good about yourself.
  4. Get well: Are you miserable? Don’t dump it on your man. Got issues? See a shrink. Grew up in an alcoholic home? Attend Al-Anon. Too fat? Weight Watchers. Drink too much? Get thee to AA. PMS? They have drugs for that. Men are natural problem solvers — women mull things over. And over. We might circle around our issues for decades before getting help. Do him a favor and fix yourself. It’s not his job.
  5. Look at him with love: Smile at him at him like when you were first dating, with admiration, fascination, passion and desire. Forget the dirty socks on the floor and the oil change he forgot to schedule. Forget his flaws and discard old history. The world can be a soul-crushing place. Your genuine smile may be the only one your husband sees all day. showering him with warmth and acceptance. It makes you feel better, too.
  6. Ditch the backup plan: It’s been said, if you want to take the island, burn the boats. If you have no alternative for escaping your marriage, you will find a way to make it work. So, say goodbye to old loves, social groups that don’t support you being a couple, or friends that don’t like him. As they say in poker, go “all in.”
  7. Listen to him: Turn off the TV, your cell phone, get off Facebook, put the kids to bed and listen. Ask how his day was and really hear what he has to say. Don’t jump in on the pauses – wait. Listen uncritically and don’t offer commentary. Silently empathize. We give our mates a rare gift when we give them our ear without advice.
  8. Shake it up: A friend of mine tells her children “If you’re bored, it’s because you’re boring.” Don’t be dull! Own your part in making your love life spicy and interesting. Try new positions, with interesting scenarios and outfits. Invite pizazz into other parts of your life, too. Suggest a new restaurant. Invite different friends over for dinner. Come up with an adventuresome vacation plan.
  9. Be a tightwad: Your frugality and money smarts take pressure off him to provide, and believe me, men feel that pressure. Whether or not you work, it’s likely you set the pace for spending, especially on household goods, clothing and your children’s needs. Women can be great economizers — so rock the budget and rock your marriage. An acquaintance of mine, due to his wife’s epic frugality, retired from his job at 50. He is the envy of other husbands — and in awe of his epic wife.
  10. Promote and praise him: Talk about your husband in a kindly light. Don’t roll your eyes when speaking about him or ever berate him publicly or privately. Praise him for the things he does right. A woman I knew routinely made fun of and criticized her husband openly while we all cringed. They were divorced within the year. Treat your husband with at least the regard you would accord a good friend.
  11. Let him be the man: Maybe you have a college degree and can negotiate the hell out of a car dealer. So what? It’s still good to let him take the lead and shine. Men like to feel useful and that you need them for something. It’s acceptable to lean on your husband and even feign a little helplessness at times. Because, really, you can’t do it all, can you?
  12. Make him #1: Put your husband before your children, friends, elderly parents, job and volunteer activities. Consult him on anything that impacts the two of you. In my old life, I was guilty of over-volunteering. My ex-husband never complained, but I robbed him of my time and passion. You belong to each other first. Everyone else comes second.

What’s the payoff to being an epic wife? Having a fulfilling, dynamic marriage and getting his devotion back 100 fold. If you have chosen the right man, he will more than likely rise to the level of excellence you have set. He’ll adore you and want to serve you — just like you do him.

As for the epic husband list? I’ll leave that to him to compile.