Assume Love (TM): How to have a happier marriage without waiting for your spouse to change (daisy logo)

October 1, 2015


Imagine a really unpleasant smell. Notice what your eyebrows do, how your eyes squint, how your nostrils close, and how your lips close or make that shape they make when you're saying, "Ick."

Imagine stepping in something gross feeling on the bathroom floor in your socks. Check your eyebrows, your eyes, your nostrils, and your lips again.

Imagine hearing an unfunny joke, the sort that offends you down to your toes. Similar face contortions?

This is disgust. Every one of those slight facial movements, together or separately, conveys a lack of respect, love, kindness, generosity, or gratitude to your spouse. Most of us are quite astute at noticing even the briefest signs of disgust. People with Borderline Personality Disorder are especially astute and even more distressed by them than the rest of us.

Notice your face as you imagine walking into the kitchen to find your husband following through on his promise to you to try some more adventurous cooking. He's get a recipe from the internet by his side and he's stepping outside his comfort zone to try something new. Is your face relaxed, happy? This is the one he was hoping for, the one he wants to kiss, the one he wants to bask in, the one that makes cooking for you fun.

As the next ingredient goes in, the smell from the stove becomes awful. Feel that pull on your face? Switch your attention from your sense of smell to what you're seeing and feel it melt.

Your wife is sick. Vertigo. The room is spinning. She walks unsteadily or she crawls to the bathroom. You go to her side, feeling protective and caring. Check your face. It's soft and open.

As you reach for a wash cloth to wipe her face, your socked foot steps in something squishy. Feel your disgust face coming on? Switch your attention to how her head feels instead of your foot and feel it go soft and gentle again.

You're at a party, having a good time. You hear that unfunny, offensive joke. In your spouse's voice. Your brows, eyes, nostrils, and lips begin to assume the position. Disgust. Look around the room for something to smile at. You can discuss morals later, in private. Right now, you are partying.

I don't deal in ways to become a better spouse. I'm concerned with how to enjoy being married. I don't really care that even the hint of disgust on your face will generate shame or anger on your spouse's face. I care what the look of disgust on your face does to all your other values: your love, your respect, your caring, your generosity, your gratitude. You cannot feel them with that expression on your face.

Regardless of what your mate does, you have control over your thoughts and therefore your expressions. Don't play victim and accept unhappiness. Take control and enjoy being your best self.

September 11, 2015

A Chronically Ill Spouse

When your spouse is chronically ill, it affects you, too, in so many ways. Most of us notice this spillover effect. Your life gets harder -- running more errands, doing more chores, coordinating health care, insuring a steady income, and limitations on travel and the strenuousness of what you can do together.

It's not an easy life, but it feels awful to complain, because no matter how bad it gets, you know yours is easier than your spouse's.

But there is a spillover effect in the other direction, too. Make sure you don't lose it by spending all your time and money on making life easier for your ill spouse. Dedicate some to doing things that bring you the joy of wellness. It spills over, too.

September 6, 2015

Interesting News about Birth Control Pills for Married Women

The tiny amygdala buried deep in each half of our brains has a lot to do with our emotions and our emotional memories. And sex hormone levels drive a lot of the amygdala's responses, as you may have noticed when a dirty athletic sock on the kitchen table set off bottle rockets just before your period.

Nicole Petersen (UCLA and UC Irvine) and Larry Cahill (UC Irvine) wondered what happens when we dramatically lower circulating sex hormone levels by replacing them with their analogs in birth control pills. So they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the favorite tool of today's behavioral neuroscientists, to compare what happens to women who cycle naturally or under the control of a daily pill as the researchers sadden, anger, or disgust them.

(Don't you wish you could get paid to do such things?)

Here's the takeaway: while you're on the pill, you are harder to upset. Very likely, given what else scientists know about the amygdala, you are also likely to remember less about the upsetting event.

To which I would add: warn your spouse not to take personally what happens when you first quit the Pill. And maybe consider in this new light your can't-let-go-of-it memory of something crummy your husband did while you were pregnant. Maybe the comparative intensity of the memory has little to do with the actual event.

Here's the abstract for the report in the September 2015 issue of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience:

August 31, 2015

What You Give Up When You Marry

One common thread I notice in the stories of those who have initiated divorces is what they gave up while married. They usually return to it with some glee after the divorce.

Many of these things are creative: painting, photography, poetry, pottery. Others are risk-taking: helicopter skiing, small plane flying, bungee jumping, unescorted travel in third world or less safe countries. Some are group or couples hobbies: bird watching, salsa dancing, Steam Punk gatherings, sci-fi gatherings.

Marriage does not require you to give these up. And if doing without them creates any resentment or sense of loss in you, giving them up is harming your marriage.

You may need a Third Alternative to keep them in your life.

A Third Alternative is the answer to almost every disagreement. You want to paint, your spouse objects: uses too much of our together time or can't stand the smell of your paints or we can't afford it. So, instead of debating those claims, you look for a way to remove them from the decision to paint or not.

Free paints? Offer to run a weekly painting session in an assisted living place or a community center if they will provide the materials. This would work to remove the paint smell from the house, too. So would plein air painting.

More time together? Paint while your spouse listens to music in the same room. Paint while he or she runs out to the hardware store or the gym. Paint on your lunch hour at work. Paint each other's bodies.

But paint! Because your spouse cannot predict the real effects on your marriage of not painting or not bungee jumping or not being around other Steam Punk fans. And you cannot be a better spouse without the things that make you float on air. And it's silly to think you have to choose between marriage and the things you love to do.

July 21, 2015

When You Stop Loving Your Husband or Wife

Is it over? Is it worth repairing? Can things get better? Here is how to tell.

Are you married to someone who keeps you afraid to step out of line? Do you fear getting hit, bullied, locked up, or torn down with words designed to hit your most vulnerable spots? Or are you aware your spouse has cheated on you repeatedly? If so, only your spouse can save this marriage, and it's going to take a big shakeup in his or her belief system. Abuse training or compassion training are the best bet for this.

Are you married to someone who uses a lot more alcohol or drugs than you do and suffers health, financial, and relationship problems as a result? Your prospects are good if the alcohol or drug use stops. Check out Al Anon (for you, not your spouse) or talk to a psychologist about an intervention.

Are you carrying a grudge over something that happened more than 6 months ago? The resentment eats at your relationship. It prevents you from accepting love that's offered to you and from experiencing the emotion of love that comes when you're feeling good together. But you hold all the power to change things and start feeling loved and loving again. Take a look at some of the posts on this blog about how to Assume Love to shift your thinking about that past event so you can start receiving love again. The more you gratefully receive, the more your spouse will likely offer.

Are you disappointed by your spouse? Unhappy with his or her income or effort on household chores or changes in personal appearance? Falling back in love may be as simple as recognizing that not loving your spouse won't in any way fix any of these things. Perhaps you'll find a replacement someday who does better at whatever is bothering you, but perhaps not. Divorcing or choosing to be unhappily married ("for the kids") won't get you money, help around the house, or a better looking housemate. If you take care of those problems the way you would on your own or while living with someone you've made equally resentful, you might find the two of you can fall back in love again.

Are you having a hard time making big decisions together because of your very different expectations? This is a great reason to see a marriage counselor, and there is no need to wait until you've actually lost all feelings for your spouse first. There are many techniques for understanding how the differences came about and how they feed into each other. Finding Third Alternatives, discussed in this blog, is a method to resolve them in ways that make you both a lot happier than compromise can.

Are you newly shocked and angry over something that recently happened? Don't say a thing. Take some time to Assume Love, to check whether you Expect Love or some particular action that some people use to show love but others don't, and to plan how you will Find Third Alternatives to your disagreements. You will find lots about these topics here in this blog. Don't escalate the anger by lashing out before you have a full understanding of what just happened and what you want instead. Marriages recover fairly easily if you get clear before you get furious.

The Author

Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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