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

June 11, 2018

Whiskers on the Sink

I was stressed. And anxious. And trying to get work done. Problems kept popping up.

I went to the bathroom sink to get a drink of water. The first thing I noticed was how wet the front of the sink was. Then I saw all those whisker clippings. Lots of them.

My mind went right where it loves to go: what is wrong with my husband that he left this mess?! He's a grown man! Can't he do better? Do I need this on a day when I'm dealing with so much stress?

Done with the usual suspects, I quickly ran down my other list.

Assume Love: why might someone who loves me leave such a mess here today? If the point were to annoy me, he's not nearly as creative as usual. Probably has nothing to do with me. Maybe he was in a hurry. Or distracted.

Expect Love: is it reasonable to expect he'll show me love by cleaning the sink every single time he shaves? Nope. He's oblivious to sink messes, here and in the kitchen, so it doesn't take much to distract him from cleaning up. Maybe he's as stressed as I am today. How would I know? I've been focused on the online messes I've been making and cleaning up.

Find Third Alternatives: what would I want from a better option? A clean sink? Not really. Encountering that messy sink might have raised my stress level, but finding it clean and dry would not have lowered it. I want less stress. Should I ask what he wants?

And then I grabbed a paper towel, wiped the sink, and tossed it into the wastebasket right next to the sink. Took me maybe 3 and half seconds, far less time than discussing a Third Alternative to his choice to leave the whiskers here. Better yet, I felt a bit more powerful. I had made a problem go away. On this day of problems, that felt good.

I filled my glass with water and went back to my desk happier. And perhaps a bit less stressed.

May 31, 2018

Marriage in Trouble? Don't Work Too Hard at It

When the resentment level was rising quickly in my first marriage, I heard lots of advice about working harder at being married. So I did. And when it didn't work, the resentment rose twice as fast, until I knew I could stand no more.

No one said to me what I will say to you today. Unless you've been staying away, sleeping with someone else and leaving your spouse with all the chores and all the bills, do not work any harder at your marriage.

What you do for your spouse when you work hard at marriage doesn't help. It's actually manipulative, which is why you feel so much worse when it doesn't have the effect you hoped for.

You know how to love well. You know how to make your spouse, this particular man or woman you married, feel loved. You know how to shower him or her with affection. I know this because you two are married. Unless you married to escape your parents' home or an eviction notice, you've done a great job of loving your spouse.

And you would do it again in a flash if you felt loved. And respected. And cherished. No one would even need to suggest it. You'd do it because it's what follows from feeling that way.

You'd do it brilliantly and with joy, not resentment.

So instead of working on your marriage, work instead on feeling loved.

Be present. Take your time. Notice more. Focus only on the positives. Erase "yes, but" from your mind. Remember your spouse's strengths. Lock eyes and see if you still see your soul reflected back at you even a little bit. Smile or say thank you for anything that deserves it. Don't wait for the resentment to drain away first.

Watch for signs you are trusted, respected, admired, cherished, wanted. Many of them are so ordinary after a few years together that they are easy to overlook. Pay attention.

Don't try to love harder. Just try to feel the love you're offered.

It's like a seedling. At first, you'll notice just a tiny bit of green poking out of the dirt. But then there will be two little leaves. And a stem will branch into two and sprout two more. And all four will grow larger, even as another stem branches off and starts anew. Flowers will bloom. Just keep adding the sunshine and water of your attention to the love you're offered.

These have been missing as you focused your attention instead on what you thought your husband or wife ought to do to bring back your sense of being loved.

No one will need to tell you what to do next. When you feel loved, respected, and cherished, you are a great lover, an irresistible one for the man or woman who married you.

And two people in love are a powerful force. You won't need manipulation to get what you need in a disagreement or a clash of interests when you've got a powerful ally again.

March 14, 2018

Worrying is Not a Love Language

You don't worry about your spouse's health, mental health, physical safety, career, and friendships because you love your spouse so much. It's definitely not a measure of how much you love. And it's certainly not a way to show your love.

Think about this. When you show your husband or wife your love with a kindness, a kind word, a gift, your full attention, or an orgasm, you feel great: floating on air joyful or deep down life-is-good satisfied.

That's not how worrying about whether your guy's eating enough fiber or your gal's putting up with too much from her boss makes you feel. Worrying makes you feel crappy.

Worrying is not a love language.

It's a protective trait gone seriously awry in our current environment. When we humans developed this trait, staying hyperalert after any hint of danger was life-preserving and, more importantly, reproductive-ability-preserving. And more worriers than non-worriers survived to produce your ancestors.

So you worry. You worry not because you love someone, but because you have worrier genes, a great imagination, and way too many hints of danger, almost none of which will require urgent action in the next few minutes.

So you (and I) stay hyperalert way too long. We focus in on the threat and search constantly for signs of increasing threat. And while we're hyperalert, we're less creative, less able to pursue our goals, and (uh oh) less able to be loving.

Moods are contagious in any relationship, and especially in a marriage. Your anxiety ramps up your in-danger spouse's anxiety. It keeps you from noticing and responding to positive news from your spouse in a way that amplifies his or her good feelings, something called Active-Constructive Responding, far more important than your sympathy for the health of your marriage. It keeps you from remembering that a healthy marriage needs five times as many upbeat interactions daily as the negative interactions, including your nagging about the threat that worries you. It keeps you from showing the trust and respect that for most men is the very foundation of any relationship.

Worrying comes naturally. Stopping it is not so natural, but it's necessary in a world where the things that threaten us aren't typically a wild animal or avalanche that will or won't kill us in the next 90 seconds or a disease that already killed 25% of our community in a month or a lunatic willing to murder us to take our spouse or child. Staying hyperalert too long damages your relationship and your health.

And because I do a lot of worrying, I've collected evidence-based ways to cut it out. Here are a few.

  • The first step in stopping worrying lies in letting go of any feeling that worrying about a spouse is responsible or loving. It's not. Acting to stop a threat is both responsible and loving. Worrying about it is not. It's counterproductive: normal, natural, but harmful to you and to your relationship.
  • An easy way to stop worrying is to take action to prevent the threat. Get your husband a heating pad to stop the pain he's trying to endure without drugs. Praise your wife's abilities more often while she's dealing with a psycho boss. Make a concrete plan for surviving whatever you fear might happen.
  • If you're catastrophizing about a threat (imagining the awful consequences of the consequences of something that might possibly happen to your spouse, like losing your home because of a heart attack that might follow from the clogged arteries that might happen as a result of your husband eating too much salt), here's a trick from Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness, and Flourish author and researcher Marty Seligman. Consider the probability of each of these steps happening. Now, just as vividly imagine the results of an equally improbable string of good luck. It's magic! And scientifically proven to work.
  • Let go and let God. If you're religious, stop praying to prevent what you fear and instead trust God will handle it for the two of you. Also scientifically proven to work.

And if none of these work, please ask a psychologist or psychiatrist for help selecting an approach that works for you. They have a bagful of tricks that work.

One thing I learned when my first husband dropped dead at age 35, the day after his doctor said his health was finally out of the woods, is that we are all helpless to control death. When my second husband was very abruptly encouraged by vicious new managers to take an early retirement the year after we married (only to learn two months later that this was not a punishment but a reward, as everyone else in his department was let go without a retirement package), I learned we are helpless to control our careers. Friends who have suffered fires learned we are helpless to control our possessions. But none of us have been helpless to control what happens next.

If you want to truly protect your marriage from death, career disasters, or loss, do it by focusing on enjoying every moment of your marriage, by being loving every chance you get and rolling around like a blissful puppy in the love you're shown. And keep the worry at bay by remembering all the hard times you've come through. You'll come through them again. Make sure you'll have some great memories of the good times to savor when you do.

February 14, 2018

Can Someone Love You and Still Hit, Choke, Shove, or Threaten You?

On this 12th anniversary of the blog, I want to address something a bit more serious than Valentine's Day and whether our partners chose the right candy, flower, or bauble.

As the news is making evident daily, a lot of people, especially women, have been seriously hurt by their spouses and life partners. Can someone love you and still hit, choke, shove, or threaten you? How can you tell if they still love you? When should you accept a heartfelt apology? How can you tell if it's going to happen again, when the person you love is swearing it won't and you're avoiding telling anyone else it happened even once?

As with all the other shocking, upsetting things that happen in a marriage, there's a simple way to make sense of such an event.

Assume Love and ask yourself, "If he (or she) still loves me, how can I explain what happened?" If there's no possible explanation, you can easily figure out that this person does not love you.

But we all know of situations where abuse happened just once and led to a deeper, stronger love. So there must be an explanation. What is it?

Before I answer this, I want to imagine you are standing with someone you know from work or church or the mosque or synagogue you belong to. Or perhaps a fellow gymnastics or Little League parent. Not someone very close to you, just someone who knows you.

While you two are together, imagine someone walking up to you and doing whatever your spouse did. They are careless and knock your glasses off, leaving a scratch on your face. They push you aside to get to something behind you. They give you a poke in the shoulder while they explain something. They shove you or pinch you so hard you bruise, just to get your attention to whatever they have to say. They punch or slap you for something you've done that they did not like. They get angry and choke you but let go just before you pass out. Or they stick a gun in your face and demand you give them money or wash their clothes.

What does that person who only sort of knows you do? Is their response limited to some harsh words for the attacker and some kind words for you, as it might be for a careless outstretched arm that knocks into your glasses? If so, you are probably safe forgiving and forgetting, whether the attacker was your spouse or a total stranger.

Or does the person who sort of knows you get between you and the bully or pull you out of harm's way? Do they call for others to come help protect you? If so, what happened to you was dangerous and probably illegal. You might know more about the situation and think you are somehow to blame for it, and it's extremely likely your attacker will try to make you think you are, but it was dangerous and probably illegal, regardless of any fault you might have brought to it, too.

I wanted to clarify this before we address the explanation for what your partner did to you. Why? Because if he still loves you, he would want to do at least as much to protect you as someone who only sort of knows you. And he (or she) didn't.

They didn't take a moment to consider how much more important you are to them than the debt or dirt or dent they believe you caused. They didn't go for a walk when they felt their anger rising. They didn't turn and punch a wall when they felt their fist start to move toward someone they wanted to protect. They didn't take a cold shower when you said no to a sexual advance. They didn't stop drinking while they could still control their temper. They didn't take any action to end the addiction that puts them in such ugly moods. They didn't see a therapist or take an anger management class to deal with their growing frustrations. They didn't mention any of the growing symptoms of dementia or a brain tumor to their doctor. So, even though they wanted to protect you, they hurt you or risked hurting you just because they felt frustrated.

There are only two explanations for a loving person harming you.

The first is that it was an unintended accident, the sort that anyone else might say something about but would not feel the need to protect you from.

The second is that the person who loves you has lost control of his or her behavior. He wants to protect you but can't stop himself from choking you. She wants to protect you from harm but throws a vase at your head. Normal, healthy people want to protect you. Normal, healthy people who love you want to protect you even more. When they assault you instead, nothing you might have done to add to their anger matters. They want one thing and do another. They have lost control.

Forgiving them seems like a perfectly decent thing to do. But you must also protect yourself.

If your spouse doesn't love you and is risking your life or well-being, you must protect yourself.

If your spouse loves you and wants to protect you, but instead loses control when they get frustrated and risks a loved one's life or well-being as well as arrest (because assault, rape, imprisonment, and pointing a loaded gun at your are all serious crimes), you must protect yourself. And protecting yourself is also the only successful way you can protect your spouse.

Don't wait to find out if it will happen again. Your spouse cannot control whether it happens again or not. It has nothing to do with how much he (or she) loves you. It's almost certainly a brain issue you are not in any position to do anything about. You must protect yourself until someone qualified to help your spouse with their problem gets a chance to provide that help.

Until then, being alone with your spouse with no one else aware you're in danger or available to help on short notice is foolish. It doesn't protect you. It doesn't protect your spouse.

If you suspect alcohol or oxy or meth or coke is the cause, have somewhere to go when your spouse is using them and talk to the folks at Al Anon or a drug abuse treatment center about how to avoid facilitating an addiction. If you suspect dementia or a possible tumor is the cause, bring someone else into your home to help you when you need it. If job stress or job loss is the trigger, go stay at a friend's house for a few weeks every time it comes up. Don't be alone. Don't keep it quiet. Don't hope it will go away on its own.

Own your responsibility for any way you contribute to your spouse's frustration, but know that you are not in any way responsible for his or her crossing the line into physical abuse. Any excuses offered for them are fictitious bullpucky meant to relieve the enormous distress anyone will feel upon harming someone they love. Never take them personally. Hitting, slapping, choking, shoving, and physical threats are not uncontrollable responses to frustration for a mentally healthy person.

It's ridiculous that it took a photo of a black eye to make a woman's claims seem serious enough to pay attention to this week. Research suggests a woman's chances of being murdered by her spouse or life partner skyrocket if he chokes her or points a gun at her in an earlier incident. Outsiders can't see those, but she's ten times as likely to die as a woman who has been hit.

If you're lucky enough not to be abused, be the sort of friend who takes claims like choking and gun threats seriously, maybe even the sort who asks about them if you think something scary is going on in your friend's relationship. If she claims he loves her, know that this may be true, but if it is, the only explanation for the harm done to her is that he has lost control and she needs help to protect herself until he can take care of the problem with his brain.

May you and your Valentine have a wonderful day of celebrating your love. Thank you for twelve wonderful years. I planning to keep blogging, and I hope you'll keep reading.

February 8, 2018

A Cure for the Frustrating Marriage

I'll be doing a half-hour workshop by telephone at 12:30 Eastern time on Saturday, February 10, 2018. It's free, and I invite you to join in.

A Cure for the Frustrating Marriage

Fed up with cleaning more than your share? Wondering what's so hard about putting the seat down? Wishing just once something would happen without you doing all the planning or making all the phone calls? Dying for some support for your dreams? Or more couple time? Or respect for what you do to bring in an income? Or maybe for just one thoughtful Valentine's Day gift?

Let me show you an easy approach to removing all these disappointments from your marriage or life partnership. Relationship skills don't come naturally, because most of them are counter-intuitive.

The oldest parts of your brain want to protect you from threats. They know strong relationships with other people provide lifelong protection. They also know someone this close to you can really hurt you in the moment. Tough, confusing choices made in split seconds, before you even have time to think about them. What you do next makes the difference between a frustrating relationship and a fantastic one.

Which one would you like?

This workshop is part of Barbara Sher's WriteSpeak Showcase, and it's one of 9 free workshops on Saturday. There are also lots of prizes being given away. Call-in instructions are here:

The time is 12:30 pm Eastern, 11:30 am Central, 10:30 am Mountain, 9:30 am Pacific, 8:30 am Alaska, 7:30 am Hawaii, 5:30 pm London, 6:30 pm Central Europe.

The Author

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

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