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Transcript: Monday, February 7, 1 p.m. ET

Relationship Advice

Diane Rehm
NPR talk show host and author
Monday, February 7, 2005; 1:00 PM

Diane Rehm is a native Washingtonian who's hosted "The Diane Rehm Show," on National Public Radio for more than 25 years. Together with her husband John, she co-authored "Toward Commitment: A Dialogue about Marriage" (Knopf). The book focuses on the many ways to help build and maintain a strong relationship.

During this discussion, Diane offered advice on how to keep the love alive in your relationship.



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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Leesburg, Va.: This may sound like an ethnically biased question, but I have a Chinese girlfriend who grew up in China, and I know that cultural differences can affect relationships. I am told that Asian people are more trustworthy in relationships compared to Americans (as evidenced by a lower divorce rate, at least in China). I also have been told that they are less likely to show affection in public, and my girlfriend, although she acts very close and affectionate to me in private, does not say "I love you" very much. Do you agree with these propositions as general statements? Thank you.

Diane Rehm: Frankly, I don't agree with ANY generalizations when it comes to relationships. While there may be tendencies toward behaving in certain ways, if there is a genuine effort to understand one's own needs, as well as the needs of the other, and then to find a way to compromise, then whatever the tendencies may have been to begin with, there is a way through to an honest and genuine collaboration for both.

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Bowie, Md.: What is the most serious conflict you and your husband have faced in your marriage? How did you handle it? Would you say it is resolved?

Diane Rehm: I would say the most serious conflict we've faced is his need for aloneness and my need for company. John doesn't talk very much, and I tend to be more loquacious. But now, as we've gotten older, I've realized he doesn't have to be my only source of togetherness. I can pick up the phone, I can go to a neighbor's, or I can play with my dog! And, as a result, I've probably become less needy for company! It took years to resolve, however...just one of those differences that I loved to begin with and had troubles farther along.

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Westchester, New York: Hi Diane. I have been in a relationship for 4 years now, and I feel like I am the one struggling and trying so hard to keep the love, passion and intimacy strong. It has been dying down the past year, and I have addressed it plenty of times but nothing seems to change. He says he does love me (though I hear those words once in a blue moon) but how come he can't show me affection, love, or passion? I am so sick and tired of feeling so alone and unfulfilled when it comes to being loved but I love him so much I don't want to leave him. I know there is no quick fix but I am at my last straw. I am hurting and need to do something, other then telling him what he's not doing or I need to leave him, which I rather not do. Are we just at the end of our time together or can this be fixed? What would you suggest I do?

Diane Rehm: After a relationship has gone on for four years, and one of you is struggling as much as you seem to be to keep it going, that says to me that your friend wants to keep you in line using passivity. It's tough to deal with. My suggestion would be that you seek a therapist who will deal with the relationship between you. If your partner refuses to go, you should go alone. You are the only one who can change your life and your attitude toward what's happening to you. You've got to believe in yourself, and know that this behavior is not what you deserve. Good luck.

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Alexandria, Va. : I have been married to my husband for almost 7 years. We have 2 great kids, a great family life, home, job and everything is good. We are extremely "comfortable" with each other, and I find that I am questioning comfort for bored. How can you be comfortable but still have excitement?

Diane Rehm: I'm so glad for you that you and your husband have managed to create a 'comfortable' life for yourselves and your children. Maybe it's time for you to shake things up a bit. Do you have a job? Do you do volunteer work? To what extent are you involved with activities outside the home, which could bring YOU some excitement? I think too often we depend on our spouses for too much in life -- not only love and security, but all of our pleasure! It doesn't happen that way. If it's not there, don't blame him. Find other ways to nurture yourself and your life.

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St. Louis, Missouri: Help! I have been married for 4 years and I'm having a cyber affair of sorts that I can't seem to want to stop... or control. Last October I met this guy in a sports chat room and things have strayed off from just discussing baseball. We have never met and we don't ever plan to but he has become a regular part of my day and my daydreams. The truth is: I like what this has brought into my life and it has spiced up things in my marriage also... and it is interesting to have a stranger’s perspective.
But... how terrible is this for my marriage? Seriously? Aside from the lies... yikes!

Diane Rehm: I don't know whether a cyber affair is the problem. The problem is SECRETS! Once you start keeping secrets from your spouse, the relationship is affected, in both small and large ways. You have to backtrack with almost every thought and motion you have. Examine why this chat room friend is getting to you, in ways that make you want to keep secrets from your partner. You may realize some pretty interesting things about yourself in the long run.

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Washington, D.C.: Diane,
I have been married for 5 years and have been blessed with 2 beautiful children that mean everything to me. I seem, however, to have fallen out of love with my wife. We bicker constantly, disagree on decisions, and do not enjoy the time we spend together. We have no sex life at all. I still love her as a person, and want to do the best for the children. We tried counseling briefly, but that was a bust. What is your strongest remedy for people in our situation... who want to somehow make it work for our children, but just are not happy together?

Diane Rehm: Sometimes there are periods in a marriage when things just go downhill, and, when you're in those periods, nothing good seems to happen. Believe me, we've been through them. There were times when we hardly spoke to each other, and our kids were certainly aware of the stone cold silence in the house. If you're truly committed to your children, you'll find a way to just 'get through it.' This too, shall end, even though you don't know when. Make a gesture... a simple rose for Valentine's Day, or a kind (rather then sweet) card. Just something, to begin to break the ice. If one person tries, things can change, but somebody has to make the first move.

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Bethesda, Md.: Another thing Westchester might want to think about is that different people show love differently. My husband told me he loves me last week by getting my car washed and putting on my new license plates. Romantic? Maybe not. But it shows that he's thinking of me and watching out for me. Love isn't just flowers and saying "I love you."

Diane Rehm: I love your response. And it makes such sense to me. John will go out to buy a book for me, or do an errand to save me the time. I know that's one of the ways he shows his love for me, and I know how much I appreciate it. I let him know that, too.

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Bowie, Md.: Diane, I want to fulfill my husband’s needs (all of them) but I just don't like kissing!
I know this might sound crazy but this is something I have never enjoyed. I have offered to fulfill all of his fantasies but this little thing -- kissing -- is always the root of arguments. Do I have a problem?

Diane Rehm: Kissing is an extraordinarily intimate gesture. Some women prefer kissing to actual lovemaking. I wonder whether you might find out why you don't like kissing, rather than just declaring your dislike for it. Fantasies are one thing. Kissing might be seen as the prelude (for him) to those fantasies. On the other hand, maybe you don't like HIS way of kissing? If not, could you talk about that with him? Why argue? Just listen for a while, and maybe you'll have a better understanding of why he feels so deprived.

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Arlington, Va.: With two young kids and each of us working fulltime, there doesn't seem to be any time to get the romance back in our marriage. Any tips for how we can stop feeling less like roommates/parents and more like a married couple?

Diane Rehm: When the kids were very young, John was working terribly long hours -- he'd get up early and be out of the house before dawn, and come home very late at night. It was very rough on the marriage. Finally, when things calmed down a bit, and his career was more in his own hands, we settled on once-a-week early-movie dinner dates. We'd go to a five p.m. showing, have a 7 pm dinner, and be home by nine. Baby sitter required. Gave us a chance to talk (and sometimes fight) without the kids around. Really important time. Make it your own!

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Detroit, Mich.: Diane, thank you for your time.

My husband and I have been sweethearts since junior high. We've been together for 15 years and married for 7. We are the best of friends and simply adore each other. While we each have our own friends, at the end of the day I can't think of anybody else I'd rather spend time with. We've just decided to try to have children and I am so afraid of the way in which parenthood might affect our marriage. I guess I just would like reassurance/tips/what-have-you about maintaining the marriage during parenthood.

Diane Rehm: I can tell you without hesitation that our children helped us to grow into adulthood. Their needs, their yearnings, their desires, their struggles, their rebellion, helped us to learn about ourselves while we moved through parenthood. Our son, soon-to-be 45, is such a caring human being. Sometimes I can't believe he is our creation (God's creation, of course). Our daughter, now 41, is equally majestic in her attitudes and behavior. I've learned more from them -- and from parenting them -- than I could ever have learned in 20 graduate courses on marriage. As you can tell, we're very proud of them. The decision to have children is a very individual one, and no one can advise you. But the experience itself is terrific (certainly not without its problems -- but that's part of the growth). Good luck to you.

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RE: Kissing: Thank you Diane. His final response to me one day was "kissing is the one thing that separates our romantic gestures from animals."
Animals can make love but they can't kiss.
I don't know if this is true but I just gave in and kissed him.

Diane Rehm: How terrific! I read somewhere recently that, in a healthy relationship, a couple expresses physical affection at least six times a day. That doesn't ALWAYS have to be in the form of a kiss, but it sure helps! Try once, try again, experiment, and HAVE FUN!!!

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Washington, D.C.: Perhaps you (or some other readers) could give me some perspective on the following problem. I am a relative newlywed (8 months), though my husband & I have been together for 10 years. We had a very satisfying & exciting sex life for the first 8 years, and then it started slowing down, as I would imagine is the case with most long-term relationships. But for the past year, I seem to be the only one interested in sex. I know my husband finds me sexually attractive and does not want to be with anyone else, but he seems to have lost his interest in sex almost completely, and I feel like he does it for me as a favor (about once every 1-2 weeks). He thinks this is what happens when people get married. Even if that's the case, I don't want us to be resigned to an unfulfilling sex life, and for me, it is more emotional than physical. As you can imagine, it's very hard to talk about, and focusing on it basically "ruins the mood" for a while. Any help or thoughts?

Diane Rehm: You know, I do think an active sex life ebbs and flows. For some reason, the more one partner begins to demonstrate interest -- quite frequently -- the other partner begins to back away. I'm glad your early sex life was rich and satisfying. Perhaps it's time for you to think about the other things in life that are also rich and satisfying. One thing I do know from experience: the more one partner presses and complains, the less interested the other partner will be. Instead, go the other way and find some new and exciting interests (I don't mean sexual) for yourself. At the risk of being risque, don't discount self-stimulation. It's kept many marriages alive for years!

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RE: Westchester advice: Diane,
I am going to be honest. I thought your advice to Westchester was just plain wrong. Obviously, the guy is not crazy about her and is getting what he needs but doesn't care enough to break it off and look for someone new. I would know this because I wasted years with a guy like this. Drop him and move on. Sometimes it is that simple.

Diane Rehm: You could be right, but until she knows that for herself, it isn't the right time. She's got to figure out whether it's a temporary or permanent problem. If she walks without really knowing, she could be losing a chance at long-lasting happiness.

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Arlington, Va.: For the guy who's been married for 5 years, has two kids, and is wondering if he's fallen out of love with his wife, I wonder if the two young children are part of the problem. My husband and I went through a similar difficult stage when our two children were very young. We adore our kids, and while as babies and toddlers, they brought us great joy; they also brought on extreme exhaustion, which translated into perpetually frayed nerves. But, please, hang in there! The rewards are worth it! Life does get easier as your children become less needy 24 hours a day. Our kids are now 9 and 11. Life is great, and our marriage is strong.

Diane Rehm: I do agree. Those early years can be tough, especially if both parents are working -- or even if one is at home full time, as I was for 13 years. I found myself feeling very resentful that practically the entire child-rearing burden was falling on me. But as you say, later on, it becomes much more satisfying, interesting, and enjoyable.

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Mrs. Rehm,

I am 27, and my boyfriend is 32. My parents say that he is too old for me, and that by the time we have kids he won't have any energy (I'm currently in medical school and probably won't be ready for kids for another 3 years at least). Do you think this may be true? I know every person ages differently, but I wonder if you have any comments on age disparities. Thanks!

Diane Rehm: I do indeed. My father was 13 years older than my mother. They adored each other. She died when she was 49. He died eleven months later of a broken heart. He was 62. My husband is six years older than I. Perfect by my standards. Methinks there may be some other reason your parents aren't totally happy with your chosen one.

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Annapolis, Md.: Hi Diane, I am huge fan and listen to you everyday. I have an autographed copy of your book as a result of a contribution to WAMU. I met my partner when we were 22. We've changed -- me more than him over the past 12 years. He's a good person but I don't love him anymore. The characteristics I ignored about him when we were young (i.e. irresponsibility, devil-may-care attitude) now aggravate me to no end. I don't know if there is a resolution for our troubles but was hoping for suggestions. Thank you.

Diane Rehm: Everybody changes in the course of a relationship. Sometimes one person changes more than the other. The issue becomes: How committed are you to this person? The very things I loved about John in the beginning of our now-45-year-marriage -- his willingness to make decisions, his strength and silence, his leadership -- became the very issues from which I found myself rebelling the most the more time went on. But I was committed to our relationship. Remember, it's you, it's your partner, and it's the relationship -- three elements that have to be carefully considered. Good luck.

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McLean, Va.: Why should I buy your book? We all know that only right-wing, Christian conservative religious nut-jobs can maintain a happy marriage. Was there a ghost writer?

Diane Rehm: You've gotta be kidding! Happy marriages (or satisfactory relationships) come in ALL political stripes, liberal, conservative, progressive -- you name it, they're out there. No, there was no ghostwriter. Never has been. Never will be.

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Maryland: This question seems silly, but it is something that has been debated among a few couples in our acquaintance:

How long should a husband (or wife, though in my experience it is always husbands getting shot down) go without being allowed sex before they are "allowed" to cheat?

I have a friend whose wife hasn't slept with him in over a year. They are otherwise happy -- they will never divorce (kids) but this eats away at him and it takes a way a part of his life that he is too young to be missing out on forever.

And she will NOT go to therapy for it. She doesn't think it is a problem. She just doesn't want to do it.

This is one extreme example, but I know others who go months without. That doesn't seem right to me. Most end up cheating on their wives when they go to Vegas or on other business trips. Although the wives don't "know" about it, they must have some idea, since the guy who used to want it 5 times a week rarely asks for it at all anymore.

What do you think?

Diane Rehm: First, I think a guy who wants it five times a week better find a partner who feels the same way before tying the knot. Second, cheating means secrets, and secrets are the abrasive that can destroy a relationship, even if, as you suggest, one partner wants to keep it secret and the other partner knows what's going on but is also keeping it secret. It's not a foundation for a long-lasting relationship. But, in this case, it doesn't sound as though either partner is really interested in that.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Diane-
I'm getting married in less than four months. We're both really lucky in that we both come from families where the parents are still happily married -- so we have great examples. I've heard all my life from the media about how half of all marriages end in divorce. We're both very concerned with building a strong foundation for a lasting marriage. We will likely launch into trying to start a family soon after the wedding. Any advice for us?

Diane Rehm: You've got history on your side. But you're right: Half of all marriages taking place today will end in divorce. And in second marriages, the percentage of divorce is even higher. So, what's my advice? First, respect each other. Ask each other questions -- really hard questions -- about expectations, about in-laws, about work sharing, about food, about sickness, about dying. Learn about the other. And second, DON'T KEEP SECRETS!!!

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Washington, D.C.: My husband and I have no sex life. It was great when we were dating. When I moved to this area and moved in with him the year before we got married, it dropped to once a year, and only when I begged.

Three years after that, I stopped trying to initiate and we didn't have sex at all for 3 and a half years.

We started having sex again about 14 months ago, after I told him I was attracted to another man who seemed attracted back. I eventually told my husband he had a choice between him having sex with me, us getting a divorce, or me having an affair. Now we have uninspired sex once every six weeks or so.

This is such a big problem in our 7-year marriage. I've been in therapy since the first year of our marriage. I've seriously considered divorcing him (but don't want to because I love him) and seriously considered an affair (but don't want to because I don't want to go there).

He says he's just not that interested in sex. He won't see a counselor and he isn't willing to discuss it. Is there any hope for this situation? If so, what do I/we do?

Diane Rehm: You seem to be crying wolf a lot. Doesn't seem to be doing very much good. If the lack of satisfying sexual relationship is at the center of your frustration, and you've tried therapy, you'll have to decided whether the relationship is important enough to live with -- as is -- or walk away from it. Since your husband refuses therapy, find a good cognitive behavioral therapist for yourself, and then make your decision. Good luck.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Is flirting OK?? Can it even enhance your current relationship?

Diane Rehm: Depends on what you mean by flirting, and how far you're taking it, and how your partner reacts. If you're trying to make him/her jealous, you may have a problem.

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Frederick, Md.: Diane - Your show is fantastic and I admire your work. Writing a book about your relationship is one thing, but I don't think it prudent for you to be giving relationship advise to others. How do you respond to this? Thanks, Rhonda.

Diane Rehm: Glad you like the show. If somebody's asking, I'm responding. The only relationship about which I have first-hand information is my own, and it's on that basis that I'm responding to questions.

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Diane Rehm: Thanks so much to all of you for sending in your thoughts and questions. It's been great fun for a non-expert to freely exchange ideas with you.

Take care.

Diane

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