Heartbeat: How Corvin Saved My Marriage

There are many ways to further your own happiness

By Dr. Pepper Schwartz September 22, 2022


This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Seattle magazine.

Well, of course the headline is an overstatement, but really, this column is all about finding a way to cope with differences about things you love to do that are deeply satisfying to you but will not, or cannot, be shared with your partner. So how does Corvin fit in here?

Corvin is this great gizmo that helps keep a bottle of wine from turning into a disgusting vinegar-like substance if you don’t drink the bottle in a day or two. The device slips a CO2 cartridge into a mechanism that uses a needle-like appendage to slip into a cork. This tiny extractor allows you to drink a few ounces of wine at a time over quite a long period. You can sip smaller amounts of wine without sabotaging the rest of the bottle.

The reason this gadget was so important to me is that I love wine, and while my husband never relished it the way I do, he used to have a glass with me over dinner or we’d pour ourselves a glass of a fine Cabernet as a prelude to winding down an evening. This cozy ritual was dear to me. I was able to share wines that I was proud to purchase, and we would mellow out in a way that enhanced conversation and other forms of intimacy.

But then his heart turned frumpy on him, wine made it race, and wine became forbidden. End of ritual.

For a while, I just didn’t have wine at home. I didn’t want to open a bottle of fine wine for just a glass or two. I knew it wasn’t the biggest loss in the world, but it was something I missed. So, when I found a device that would allow me to have a few ounces and still pay respect to preserving the rest of the wine, I really felt so much better about our “situation.”

OK, so our marriage wasn’t truly in trouble over our loss of mutual wine drinking, but it did get me to thinking how important it is during a life cycle to get creative about the things that your relationship can no longer support without getting pouty or, more seriously, resentful. Relationships require getting over loss, or expectations that were reasonable or desirable but didn’t get fulfilled (or did once and can’t happen anymore). 

My husband has had to deal with the fact that I don’t ski downhill anymore, and I don’t want to go on long bicycle rides. So, he has found a great group of fellow travelers for those sports that are important to him. Sure, he will occasionally say something snarky about my current lack of enthusiasm for those activities, but he has also found a way to cope and be happy. It’s not giving up what you want. It’s finding a new way to get it.

In my work, I see the goodwill that long-term couples generally use when age or circumstance take away what used to be shared joys or hopes that didn’t materialize. And I wonder, is the same mature stance incapable of being exercised earlier in life? And if it is used, would a lot of fractured relationships still be intact?

I think so, although of course there are some losses that are worth breaking up over (think loss of safety, loss of respect, loss of trust). Still, gross betrayals are not the most common reason relationships end. For an answer to the “why doesn’t my partner do what I want or what we used to do” question I would suggest there are many ways to further your own happiness and not diminish your partner’s. 

I have been dating a man for five months who never wants to go out on weekends. He does call, but when I suggest we go out on a Saturday night or want to plan a weekend away, he says that’s when he sees his adult kids and grandchildren. I feel left out and suspicious. Should I be?

Well, I am not going to tell you how to feel. If you feel left out and suspicious, those are your feelings, and we should investigate if they are necessary or not. Ordinarily, I would be suspicious, too, if the man I was dating was always unavailable every weekend. I might suspect he had another life I didn’t know about, perhaps with another woman. But even if that was farfetched given whom I believed this man to be, I would still start to feel shut out of an important part of his life. If he does spend time with his adult kids, why aren’t you ever invited?

Now, there may be good reasons. Is he recently divorced? Is he widowed? Are his kids protective of their mother’s memory or feelings? That might make him want to wait because his kids might not be ready to see him with another woman and make it very unpleasant for him and possibly for you. Given that you haven’t been dating for all that long, he might not be willing to take all that on until he knows this relationship is very important or permanent. And of course, there can be other reasonable explanations as well.

But, at some point, if he hasn’t included you in these visits, you need to know why. And if he won’t give a satisfying explanation, is vague, or says including you can’t happen in the foreseeable future, that’s a powerful statement about either how he feels about you, or how unwilling he is to change his life. Either way, is this something you have the time or heart to deal with?

You haven’t said you love him, but if you do, then I suppose you can just be patient and get more information as time goes on. But, if you are lonely and want more emotional companionship than you are getting, you should think about getting it elsewhere.  

I am having a great sexual relationship with a man I love very much. But while he is a very good lover, he doesn’t like oral sex and I miss it a lot. My first reaction was just not to give it to him and hoped that might motivate him to get into giving it to me more. But he doesn’t seem to miss it. When I ask him about it, he just says he doesn’t like it. Our relationship is getting serious but I wonder if I want to do without oral sex for the rest of my life! 

I understand what you are saying. There are some sexual acts you can do for yourself (for example, masturbate to orgasm), but oral sex is not one of them. Some women report that it is the only way they can have an orgasm. And some men love to pleasure their partner that way. But, sadly for you, not all men feel comfortable with, or enjoy, oral sex. So, the question is, can love conquer an absence of oral sex?

I hope so. Granted, this is an enormously pleasurable sexual behavior, and not one to be easily dismissed, but still, you have a great guy, and it sounds like a good sex life. And let’s be serious: It’s not easy to drop a good relationship and handily replace that person with someone else who has all the fantastic qualities your partner has plus a desire to go down on you. 

And it’s not as if he can’t deliver a good sexual experience. You’ve indicated he can. He’s just not going with the program in one important area of sexual pleasure. I don’t dismiss how big a loss it is for you, but I do think that having a great relationship with a partner who is a good lover is worth some sacrifice.

I am guessing you have already made some accommodations since you described your guy as a good lover and not a great one. But unless he has a total failing grade, I believe that you can survive without oral sex if you care enough for this guy. I’m thinking the glass is still more than half full here.

But I have one caveat: If you are going to feel resentful about not getting oral sex for the next 40 years, then maybe it is worth breaking up over. Resentment is corrosive to a relationship. So, you either have to accept the fact that in all probability oral sex is not going to be part of your sex life together, or end the relationship. I would suggest the former, but if you can’t accept his decision, then don’t punish him or yourself. Move on.

About the Heartbeat: Ask Dr. Pepper Schwartz Column

Welcome to my world!

I spend a lot of time thinking about intimate relationships.

If you’ve read any of my previous work as a professor at the University of Washington, or watched me on television, you know that I care about what keeps people together, what drives them apart and what gives them pleasure. I am curious about trends, but also unique behaviors. I look at people above the clavicle and below the waist. It’s all interesting and important to me.

I know it is to you, too. I want to hear what you’re thinking. Please ask me questions or give your point of view at Pepper@seattlemag.com and I will respond, if appropriate, online and perhaps in print.

Let’s have some meaningful conversations – and some fun while we’re at it!

So, what’s on my mind today?


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