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'Honey, let's become nudists'

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  • Extreme lifestyle makeovers by one spouse can challenge other
  • Big changes can lead to new identities
  • Expert: Drastic changes can destroy relationship

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By Sarah Jio
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(LifeWire) -- In 1989, Nancy Tiemann was 36 and living in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Tom. "We were both desperately in need of a getaway," says the one-time banking officer. When Tom suggested they join a boat trip to Belize chartered by a group of nudists, Nancy was horrified.

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Tom, 66, a former lawyer, handed her a brochure on nudism and told her he thought the trip could be a lot of fun. After many discussions, she reluctantly agreed to give the experience a try -- under one condition: "I won't tell a soul; no one ever needs to know!"

Your marriage vows may have spoken of hanging in through sickness and health but what about stomaching extreme life makeovers?

"The prevailing message of our time is that you can be whoever you want to be," says Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor in Brown University's department of psychiatry and human behavior. "The problem in relationships is that some partners change in ways their mates wouldn't have chosen for them. They begin to form new likes and dislikes, new tastes and ultimately new identities."

For Nancy, something unexpected happened in Belize.

"It was so refreshing to find out how wrong I had been with my preconceived ideas on nudity and being nude with others," she says. "A nudist was born."

Had it not been for her husband's dramatic suggestion, Nancy, 53, says she might never have discovered nudism, which is now a source of joy in her life -- and career. Shortly after their trip, the couple launched Bare Necessities Tour and Travel, a travel agency devoted to the nudist vacationer. It has since chartered more than 40 cruise ships carrying more than 25,000 nudist travelers.

'I'm quitting my six-figure job'

But sometimes one partner's need for change can be more destructive to a relationship.

Mick Quinn was the vice president of a high-tech company on Wall Street with a significant salary, plenty of options and an adoring fiancée. "We lived a few doors down from Jackie O's old place on Fifth Avenue," he says.

Despite all that, Quinn, 45, was yearning to start his own company -- a move that would take him from six figures to zero, at least in the interim.

"This did not sit well with my fiancée," says Quinn. She "saw my wish to leave such a safe job, to start my own venture, as a weakness. I was delivered an ultimatum: 'Leave the job, lose me.' On the day I quit, she ended our relationship."

Haltzman has seen it before. "When people choose to make drastic alteration in their lives and proceed despite the objections of their partner," he says, "changes have the potential to destroy a relationship."

Psychotherapist and relationship expert Gilda Carle, Ph.D., contends that it's common for women to intertwine their respect for the man they love with his wealth. Right or wrong, Carle says, "money is often tied into how a woman perceives her man as powerful, and sometimes, when he loses his power, he loses his appeal."

Quinn said his technology company was successful enough that he was able to retire when he sold it, and he's now happily married to another woman.

Toe the line or draw the line?

Before you pack up and move out, Haltzman says, drop all assumptions and figure out where your partner is coming from. "Couples often can weather seemingly outrageous shifts in roles and identities, and still grow closer in the course of this life transition," says Haltzman, author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Women: How to Get More Out of Your Relationship by Doing Less."

And sometimes bigger issues are at work. Haltzman says a dramatic change could represent something serious, like a psychotic break or a depressive or manic illness that needs to be addressed.

However, even with a lot of effort, experts say, some relationships just can't be saved. Carle describes a situation where a client's husband came home and announced he had become a cross-dresser. The spouse on the receiving end of such a major change, she says, has to be up front about both feelings and personal boundaries.

"Listen to that voice in your head and that feeling in your gut," Carle says. "Don't say 'yes' out of fear when you should say 'no' out of love." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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