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

January 31, 2016

How Important is Communication to a Great Marriage?

Couples with great marriages usually communicate quite well. Those with angry marriages or who share a home but not much more usually communicate rather poorly.

But does this mean better communication creates a better marriage? I don't think it does. With a counselor guiding the conversation, it might get a marriage from combative to sort of peaceful, but I've never seen a couple talk their way back to the sort of love they felt for each other when they chose to marry.

On the other hand, I've seen couples with terrible communications skills fall madly in love. And once they're in love, they just keep trying one thing after another to convey their love and what they want from each other. When there's a misunderstanding, they dust themselves off and try again. Many of them laugh at their differences and long to understand each other better.

Feeling in love leads to more communication and to more inspired communication.

And if we think back to how things were when we were feeling in love, we can find our way back there.

Everything was new. Pleasant surprises make us feel in love. We can plan some of them, but others come from refilling our own tanks: learning new things, exploring new places, finding new courage, taking on new leadership roles, meeting new people, expanding our range of creativity, finding new reasons to be grateful or hopeful or kind.

We were open-minded and open-hearted. We did not expect this new person to be like our mother or father or our first girlfriend or our ex-husband. Instead, we got to know him or her without prejudging. Over time, we start to predict our spouse's behavior based on our story of why he or she does things. If you spend any time with newly divorced people, you learn just how wrong our stories usually are and just how deadening our negative predictions become. All we have to do is begin the exploration again, observing choices and offering new ones.

We made more time for love. We savored the best moments. We took time to look into each other's eyes, to listen to each other's breathing. We memorized the sound of our loved one's car and footsteps and the sound of the split-second before speaking on the phone. And we let these sounds trigger happy thoughts and the anticipation of love.

And we experimented constantly, aiming for that flicker of respect in her eyes, that caring gesture from him, that smile when our surprise was well-received, that relaxation into each other, that gasp of delight. As soon as we became know-it-alls, that stopped. It's a great reason to forget what we think we know, because people change and asking for something new without sounding like we no longer want the old, too, takes even more risk than offering something new.

We can't debate our way back to those days. But we can stop obsessing about what's wrong with our marriage and instead once again Expect Love. Because the truth is, most of us, even our spouses, have a great time being loving with anyone open to letting us love them.

And people in love do just fine at communicating.

December 24, 2015

When One Spouse Often Shows Up Later than the Other

We cannot "fix" our spouses. To do so, we would need to assume the "better person" role and pronounce as flawed the person we vowed to love and honor, revealing disrespect. Not a good idea in a relationship based on respect and sharing.

The best we can hope for is to influence our spouses, to hope they will admire our choices and adopt them as their own. Short of that, we can hope to find a Third Alternative to our competing preferences.

So, if waiting for your spouse to show up keeps ruining your mood, here are some Third Alternative suggestions for you.

To you, "on time" might mean five minutes to five seconds before the agreed-upon time. You're not wrong. To many, including airport personnel or officious maitre d's, this is exactly what it means. But if you married someone who almost always shows up for lunch or dinner or an outing together 15 to 20 minutes later, you're not listening very well.

You're both consistent, and you consistently hear something that ticks you off and makes you less pleasant to be around, when your husband or wife never intends for you to show up when you do. In fact, you could probably show up 30 minutes after the time you hear and not do as much harm to your relationship as showing up at the time you hear is doing.

If you choose to show up earlier than your spouse, instead of rehearsing your fears that the most important person in your life doesn't value you or your time, or worrying about the calamities that would have to occur for you to be late, you could think about the things that make people like your spouse consistently late.

Like optimism. If you value your wife's or husband's optimism at other times, why not enjoy it now, when traffic or dressing the kids or picking up the dry cleaning is going a lot slower than an optimist predicts?

Or presence. If you were lucky enough to marry someone who is fully present with you and everyone else in their life, why not think of all those wonderful moments as they fail to hustle away from someone to make it to an appointment with you?

Or flow, that total, immersive engagement in life's attainable challenges. Don't you love that look in your mate's eyes while in flow and that full-face grin as they emerge from it? If that's what just delayed his or her departure, do you really want to meet it with scorn?

Your spouse can't "fix" your promptness that turns into corrosive resentment, but perhaps you can choose to take another look at what he or she gains by being less prompt.

And if you're the spouse who usually arrives second, you too can adjust what you hear. Just subtract the typical difference and proceed as you would with the later time. When you arrive, if you sense anger or disrespect, don't apologize or focus on what was happening to you. You've surely noticed it doesn't really help. Instead, thank your spouse for waiting for you. Ask what you can do to make your meal or outing go better now that you're here.

Because both of you are right. You just don't agree on which variety of "right" will work best in your relationship. Let yourself be inspired. Find that way that works for both of you.

December 12, 2015

"One of you will always be loving more."

Joshua Rogers yesterday shared some excellent advice from Lula Rawls, who has been married for 67 years.

He was seated next to this grandmother of the groom at a wedding rehearsal dinner five years ago and asked for her marriage advice. I love the depth of what she had to say.

"You've got to remember that one of you will always be loving more."

Just in case that didn't resonate right down to your toes, here's Joshua's take on it.

"Seven years into marriage, Lula's quiet response is still ringing in my ears. It crushes my sense of entitlement, the expectation that marriage owes me a low-grade sense of happiness most of the time. It challenges my internal policy of only extending love when it is extended, withholding love when it is withheld."

Thank you for that, Joshua. And thank you Lula for your wisdom.

November 12, 2015

Lousy at Loving

Which of these are you really good at?

  • Trigonometry

  • Skiing

  • Making a souffle that doesn't fall

  • Sewing by hand

  • Replacing a clutch

  • Nature photography

  • Throwing a birthday party

  • Treating the injured at a car crash scene

  • Throwing a curve ball

  • Managing money

  • Matching the perfect wine to a meal

It wasn't everything on the list, was it? So if you've screwed up your marriage or married someone who stinks at nurturing a relationship, cut yourselves some slack, okay?

November 3, 2015

My Wife's Wearing More (or Less) Makeup - What Does This Mean?

If your wife spends less time making herself beautiful, does it mean she cares less about you? If she starts wearing nicer makeup, does it mean she's cheating on you?

Probably not. In research reported this month's issue of Psychological Science, we learn that women choices in makeup vary with the testosterone levels in their saliva. We also know that overall interest in her appearance varies with ovulation, but the testosterone differences are unrelated to difference in ovulation-related hormones.

Claire I. Fisher, Amanda C. Hahn, Lisa M. DeBruine, and Benedict C. Jones of the Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology, University of Glasgow, report that when they measure it over time, "women's preference for attractive makeup increases when their salivary testosterone levels are high."

Polycystic ovarian syndrome can cause excessively high levels of testosterone. Removal of the ovaries, or damage to them from chemotherapy, can lead to low levels. Levels drop with menopause and increase if a menopausal woman is prescribed testosterone cream for low libido or vaginal dryness. So can pituitary problems or enough physical exercise or weight loss to stop a woman's menstruation.

Almost any change in our spouse is enough to trigger a sudden fear that we are no longer loved or valued. It's a panicky feeling. That's why we must Assume Love and ask why what's happening might occur if we were certain a loss of love had not occurred.

Just knowing that the reason may be physical and have nothing to do with our relationship is greatly reassuring. It brings the threat level down. We might even decide we like the change, and a compliment or a request to continue is a lot easier when we feel less threatened. Curiously, even if the reason really was a shift in feelings toward us (or new feelings for someone else), an unthreatened compliment can turn those feelings around.

If the change is a problem -- if we strongly prefer a spouse with more attractive makeup or a more natural appearance -- then we also need to Find a Third Alternative.

And this is one of those situations where it might be very easy to find one, if testosterone or ovulation is affecting a preference.

For many of us, when we get up in the morning, we prefer to linger in bed or with our coffee cup, but we'll gladly forget our preference if keeping our job requires moving faster or if we take up a morning exercise regimen that makes us feel great later in the day.

All we need is another reason to override the preference we wake up with. A request from a spouse, compliments, expressions of gratitude, or even a friendly bit of humor might make enough difference. And if the reason might be a medical change in testosterone level, a nudge to ask the doctor about the change may get those levels changed back.

Remember, your wife is not an opponent. None of the natural, self-protective responses that help in more threatening situations are helpful in dealing with someone who has seen the best in you and promised to love you for the rest of your life.

The Author

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

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