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

April 14, 2014

Good Sex After 15 Years Together?

I just read an interview of Ashley Madison's founder. It's a website for those who decide to cheat on their spouses but can't find a partner on their own. I had long wondered about the brand name, which seems aimed at women, not men.

Indeed, it is. The UK version of the site has more than 825,000 members, mainly married women aged between 38 and 42.

"Our brand really resonates well with a married woman, 15 plus years into her marriage who doesn't feel that celibacy should slip into the marriage at this time."
- Noel Biderman, quoted by Danielle Demetriou in The Daily Telegraph

Celibacy is no fun, but arranged infidelity requires deceit, lying, breaking a vow, a health risk, a personal safety risk, a pregnancy risk, and the possibility of making one's spouse and children truly miserable and self-doubting.

Surely there are simpler, less soul-crushing ways to avoid a sexless marriage after the 15th anniversary.

I thought I would ask all of you who read this blog to suggest a few in the comments here. Put a dent in Ashley Madison's and divorce lawyers' profits by sharing your experiences or creative ideas. This blog gets a lot of search engine traffic, so whatever you can offer will be read by thousands of hurting people just when they need it most.

April 12, 2014

Can We Overdo Loving?

Many loving acts can also be dangerous acts. Give too much help and your spouse may become lazy or begin to feel helpless. Give too much food and your mate may become dangerously overweight. Give too many compliments and your partner may become dependent on external approval, lose self-confidence and stop trying anything new. Give too much together time and your husband or wife may start to feel anxious when left alone. Give too much sex and you might feed an addiction that backfires on you. Forgive too many harsh words and your spouse may become someone no one, not even your spouse, likes.

How much is too much depends on your spouse's feelings about each of these loving acts, not yours. It also depends on how you give them.

Each of us develops our feelings about all of these loving acts before we can even talk. Some feel good, but we could feel loved without them. One or two are essential to feeling loved. Being denied the essential ones is painful, and we can handle a lot more of them without negative effects than someone else could. When deciding how much to give, pay attention to this difference.

If you feel you are in danger of giving too much, change it up instead of cutting it out. For example, if your spouse feels loved with words and fishes too often for compliments on appearance or ideas, switch to gratitude for his or her character strengths or kind actions, or switch to expressions of love and commitment. If it's together time, take some time for yourself and send a text to share a thought, or come home ready to share some of what you did. If it's food, serve smaller portions and make them look really appetizing, or turn some of your meals into events that take time to eat and enjoy. If you've been forgiving harsh words, speak up when you feel attacked and switch to forgiving crumbs on the floor or ill-timed farts.

March 30, 2014

If Your Husband is Oblivious to How Unhappy You Are

When you're unhappy, it hurts even more to realize your husband does not notice. Eventually, you may begin withdrawing from the relationship, hoping for a response or perhaps just some time to think. Eventually, you might start thinking about separation or divorce.

You may think you're headed for an amicable divorce. By the time you tell him you're ready for one, he's likely to surprise you by crying that he's loves you more than anything, can't believe you're leaving, and does not want you to go.

While this might have been exactly what you wanted at the beginning of this awful downhill slide, it comes as totally unexpected and quite possibly unwelcome once your heart is done mourning the death of your relationship and ready to move on.

If any of this very common story sounds familiar, here are some things you ought to know to handle it a little better.

First, men generally don't monitor the health of a relationship as often as women do once a woman has said, "I do." If you don't mention your unhappiness, it's likely to go unnoticed.

Second, beyond any leftover childhood attachment issues, your husband has a body in which testosterone pushes and oxytocin pulls. When you cut back on physical contact, he releases less oxytocin, weakening the bond between you, the trust, and the ease of communicating.

Third, you probably measure how much you are loved by how much you get of your particular one of Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. But there is no guarantee you and your husband share the same Love Language. If you cut back on the things that signal love to you as a way to clue him into your disappointment, he might not notice.

So, speak up about your unhappiness. But before you conclude your unhappiness has anything to do with your husband, try this:

  • Ask yourself what it is you want him to do differently.

  • Ask yourself why you want this, what do you need or want. Often it's a neater home, more money, a companion for branching out into a new sport or hobby, or fewer responsibilities.

  • Ask yourself how else you might get this if your husband won't or can't provide it -- or if you were to divorce.

  • In a calm moment when you have his attention, tell your husband what you need or want, without accusing him of failing you. Instead, ask his help in thinking of ways to get it or to get around the obstacles to your ideas for getting it without his help.

This way, you sidestep the natural human instinct to defend oneself and tap into the natural human instincts to solve problems and help those you love.

March 26, 2014

Assume Love and Save the Day

Yesterday was one of those days for me. Nothing seemed to go right. I lost all my self-confidence. I couldn't think of anything to write about for you. And, as usually happens when I lose my self-confidence, I invented things my husband ought to do to save me from my misery. (At least now I deal with them right away before sharing them or letting them rot into resentment.)

So it was pretty neat to get not one but two emails last night from others whose bad days were turned around when they Assumed Love.

One learned about a business expense her husband had committed them to, even though money's been really tight lately. She was livid! How could he do this? Was he stupid? Careless? But she stopped herself and asked what might possibly lead this caring, wise man to not only do this but keep it from her until now. She quickly deduced not telling her meant he was embarrassed by it, so he already recognized it was foolish. No need to announce it.

The calendar trick did the rest. When did this happen and what else was happening at the same time (or at the same time in some prior, important year)? Bingo! He made the decision on the day their bank account hit bottom. And he didn't make it to spend money but to bring in money, which it had done, although not as much as he had hoped. He made an embarrassing snap decision while his wife was unavailable. And since the move wasn't in his personal best interests, it was clear to her he did it to protect his family.

Because she Assumed Love and looked for the rest of the story, she was able to come across as thankful and forgiving instead of angry. And you can guess how big a difference that makes to the quality of their otherwise pretty great marriage.

The email from the second gal really nailed the value of Assuming Love. She was at the doctor's office, horribly sick. She was so sick, in fact, that she had to grab the doctor's waiting room wastebasket and vomit in it. They had been waiting so long. Her patience was worn thin. And then, for some inexplicable reason, her husband, seated beside her, yelled at her over some little thing.

Yelling is not something he does much of, which is good, because she's had enough earlier experience with yelling escalating to abuse to have a hair-trigger reaction to it.

But once before, when he yelled at her and she Assumed Love, she connected it to a great worry on his part. So when he did it in the doctor's waiting room and she Assumed Love again, the connection between her condition and his voice was pretty darn clear. And nothing to worry about.

Maybe even comforting.

I'll bet her lizard brain (where all our hair-trigger reactions reside) is scratching its little lizard head.

Her husband has no clue just how bad his day could have gotten. And she did not lose her support through a really dreadful wait for relief.

It's still amazing to me a little technique like Assume Love can save the day (and maybe even the marriage). It's powerful. If you haven't tried it yet, your next opportunity will probably show up soon. Let me know how it works for you.

March 12, 2014

Why Be Married? For the Stress Relief

Some very surprising research results were reported last month. They offered some pretty strong evidence of a real difference between marriage and living together. And it doesn't come from the marriage license or the religious ceremony. It comes from thinking of yourselves as married.

The research was reported at the 2014 annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Austin, Texas. Psychologist Jim Coan of the University of Virginia headed up the study.

This was a follow-up to replicate and expand on earlier findings that holding a husband's hand during a stressful experiment kept a woman's hypothalamus (the brain structure that regulates many of the symptoms of stress) calmer than holding a stranger's hand or no hand does.

A changing signal displayed inside the fMRI scanner indicated no threat of a shock or a 20% chance of a shock to create the stress.

The follow-up included a lot more couples, both married and living together, including 26 same-sex couples. In Virginia, same-sex marriage is illegal, so they were asked whether they thought of themselves as married or living together. And this time both males and females got a chance at being threatened while holding their partner's hand, a stranger's hand, or no one's hand.

The finding that completely surprised Jim Doan? Holding the hand of someone a person is married to or thinks of as their spouse has a stress-reducing effect on the hypothalamus not available to those who hold a cohabiting partner's or stranger's hand as they face a stressful situation.

The hypothalamus is tiny. It produces the hormones that tell the pituitary gland what hormones to release. Among its many wonders, the hypothalamus controls your body temperature, your sleep cycles, your thirst and hunger, your blood pressure, and your heart rate. It also controls the oxytocin (for trust and bonding), dopamine (for your brain's reward system), and vasopressin (controlling your water retention and blood vessel constriction) in your body.

If you face pain, surgery, chemo, or radiation, holding the hand of someone you feel married to can relieve a lot of the stress that comes with it. Yet another surprising reason to enjoy being married.

The Author

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

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