PHILADELPHIA, April 3, 2017 – Last Tuesday the Washington Post ran a profile on Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence. A quick read of it may have left some hopeless romantics teary eyed, from passages such as the following:
“Later, after dating Mike Pence for eight months, Karen engraved a small gold cross with the word “Yes” and slipped it into her purse to give him when he popped the question.”
“He did, just a month later, as the two were feeding the ducks at a local canal. He hollowed out two loaves of bread, placing a small bottle of champagne in one and the ring box in the other for her to discover as she tore off pieces, according to local news reports. (They later got the bread shellacked, as a keepsake, a local paper noted).”
However, it appears not everyone found the couple’s relations so endearing.
Nestled within the center of the piece was a passage that stirred ire amongst members of the mainstream media:
“In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”
Women’s Health claimed this type of marital practice reinforces negative gender stereotypes; The Atlantic argued these policies impede women’s progress; the Editor In Chief of Mother Jones tweeted it “means he won’t hire women in key spots.”, and on and on.
However, what would the rebuttal to the Pences’ marital practices look like if we instead consulted experts on marriage and prioritized the health of the family unit over the cultural gender war.
To that end we can fill in the blanks with some feedback from experts:
Dr. Fran Walfish, a leading relationship psychologist and author in Beverly Hills, CA:
“Based on my extensive experience with 90210 couples, a lot of cheating episodes occur when boundaries have not been clearly set and specifically when alcohol and drugs are involved or there is an opportunity to develop an emotional connection with another woman over breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks or anything else has occurred. I think it’s excellent that VP and Mrs. Pence have taken the time and care to clearly delineate boundary lines that are mutually comfortable.”
“It is important for couples to remember that their first priority is to protect ‘The Marriage’. As a couples counselor, I often tell couples that they should form a two-handed circle. The two- handed circle is the boundary between them and the outside world. During premarital counseling I talk to couples about the importance of designing their marriage, meaning this is the time to talk about issues like having friends of the opposite sex.”
John Paul Garrison, Psy.D., Clinical and Forensic Psychologist
“Mike Pence’s recent assertion that he does not attend dinners without his wife or go to parties with alcohol when she is not there should not be considered an assertion of patriarchal values, nor does it suggest he does not trust himself. Frankly, it is good practice.The risk of infidelity is significantly higher when an individual’s self-control is compromised which is an undeniable function of alcohol. Maintaining a healthy relationship is often about sharing values and maintaining defined boundaries.”
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC, Certified Imago Therapist, The Marriage Restoration Project
“Any behavior that one is doing in part to avoid their spouse helps suck out energy from the marriage, and opens up for the possibility of looking elsewhere. There are behaviors that should be avoided as they have the potential to be a slippery slope, especially if the marriage is fragile. Going out to bars and clubs where the goal is often to meet members of the opposite sex is not a good idea. In general, spending alone time or socializing with members of the opposite sex in-person or via social media is not advisable.”
Dr. George James, Council For Relationships, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
“I think that every relationship should have boundaries, it’s a way to protect your relationship. I have clients that have all kinds of boundaries. Sometimes a boundary like the Pences have set can help them to avoid destroying their marriage early on. The important thing to remember is that you may need to negotiate boundaries as things change, the relationship evolves and the two individuals evolve.”
Ashley King, licensed psychotherapist
“It is vital to set clear parameters in a relationship. For so many couples, boundaries are assumed rather than negotiated. And then all of a sudden one partner finds out the other partner is commenting on a high school crush’s Facebook post and all hell breaks loose. But the ‘rules’ as it were, were never discussed because those conversations are hard or awkward, or they make us confront uncomfortable issues that we’d rather not entertain. One thing I can tell you is that what doesn’t get expressed above the radar will often get expressed below it. Shying away from upfront clarity about boundaries out of fear is not the answer if you value honesty and integrity in your relationship.”
Jennifer Ortiz-Correa, MS, LMHC, NCC, CHHC
“Married people who socialize without their partners while engaging in behaviors like consuming alcohol are more at risk of committing infidelity. Their judgment is impaired under the influence, and if they are experiencing any issues at home they may seek attention from someone else in the moment.”
And what about those in the silver category who have been married, just like the Pences have, for more than 25 years:
Deborah Nejelski, married 30 years
“VP Pence is a prince. A true gentleman. I believe he’s acting in such a way to keep his marriage out of the brutal media. How to have a successful marriage? Choose the right one! Take your vows seriously.”
Joe Blair, married 51 years
“Pence is a very public political figure so this rule makes sense. In the short and long run of things it is probably best for a married man not to be having dinner with a woman other than his wife; although there are exceptions. My wife and I have followed similar practices although it was never a rule we had thought about or set down for ourselves. All individuals are unique and therefore what marital practices they have need to fight those two unique individuals.”
Marion Kauffman, married 48 years
“I think it is wonderful for VP pence and his wife to have these rituals; to have dinner together, go out together, live like a real married couple.I can understand that VP Pence may not want to be seen alone with another female during lunch or dinner, especially in today’s gossiping environment. Evidently, the way VP Pence and his wife conduct their marriage has allowed it to last for over 30 years. Since the hectic times of child rearing are over my husband and I have breakfast together every morning, dinner together every night and we also go out together all the time.”
The concept of marriage is as old as civilization itself and it can be found in one form or another in virtually every culture. In terms of American families, The Institute for American Values concludes in its, “Why Marriage Matters: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences” that marriage is both a social and public good; that it positively impacts the health of our nation’s children and the economic well-being and safety of our communities; and that we must find answers to preventing divorce and the damage it causes.