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

March 29, 2015

Shame on You! The Folly of Shaming a Spouse

If you've read this blog for a while, you know I have no desire to help you win Best Husband or Best Wife of the Year awards. All I want is for you to enjoy being married. And this is not going to happen by shaming your husband or wife.

Shaming a young dog works pretty well. The dog will recognize you as the Alpha in the house, look down at the floor with an impressive look of penitence, and do almost anything to avoid a repeat of your shaming tone or pointing finger. You get your way and you'll still have a great relationship.

This does not work with the man or woman in your life. If you manage to get your way, you screw up the relationship. And yet lots of us give it a try when we're sure we're right and our spouses are wrong.

"What sort of jackass can't remember his anniversary?"

"Are you stupid? You said you would pick up the Beggin' Strips for Fifi today, and here you stand without them."

"Your browser history shows 6 different porn sites. How could you do this to me? I don't want a degenerate like you sharing my bed!"

"Don't be such a loser. March right into your boss's office tomorrow and demand that raise you deserve! And get your feet off the coffee table while I'm talking to you."

"Oh, good grief. How can you be afraid to visit your father in the hospital? He's sick!"

"And once again you forgot the trash goes out on Wednesday night."

Respect is the very foundation of a loving relationship for most men. It's not possible to feel ashamed and respected at the same time. Don't expect to feel cherished or desired or loved by a man who does not feel you respect him.

Anger is the usual response to unfair behavior, and appointing yourself the one who decides what's right and wrong or treating an honest mistake as an intentional act is usually perceived as unfair behavior. Those "micro-moments of positivity resonance" that make us feel "in love" get squelched by anger.

That 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions needed to sustain a healthy relationship takes a big hit when you add shaming to whatever it was that upset you.

And this is the big one. Shame backfires. It doesn't work the way guilt does. Brené Brown describes the difference this way:
Guilt: I'm sorry. I made a mistake.
Shame: I'm sorry. I am a mistake.

When people recognize they failed to treat you the way they intended to treat you (usually, in a marriage, with kindness, generosity, and top priority), they feel guilt. And the guilt drives them make amends and repair the relationship.

When you try to force them to feel guilt, and especially when you attack their character in doing so, they feel shame. Shame does not lead to making amends or repairing relationships. It leads to anxiety, drinking, addiction, eating disorders, and narcissism. None of these will help you enjoy being married.

So, what can you do instead?

First, you can Assume Love. You can momentarily set aside your knee-jerk version of what happened to consider other explanations for the upsetting behavior, explanations consistent with a version of your spouse as someone who still loves you dearly and still possesses all of the wonderful character strengths you fell in love with. This often works, because you know a lot more about your spouse's life and how his or her mind works than you can possibly recall while you're upset. Sometimes this will reveal to you that there is no guilt for your spouse to own.

Second, you can share your dismay with respect and caring and own it as your own expectation, not some rule your spouse must obey. When done this way, without any shame, it may lead to feelings of guilt and attempts to repair your relationship. Or it may be the start of a Third Alternative to address your different ideas of what's right.

"Our anniversary is really important to me. Celebrating it is a way of honoring what's good and right between us. I'm sad that you forgot it is today."

"I was expecting you would pick up the Beggin' Strips for Fifi today. Having them on hand is important to me. Would you be willing to pick some up or to hold down the fort while I do?"

"I love you and I respect the man you are, and I want to want you, but when you visit porn sites, it is a huge turnoff for me."

"I'm worried a lot about money lately, and I keep thinking you deserve a lot more for the hard work that you do, which would be an easy solution to my worries. It would help to hear from you what stands in the way of you getting paid more."

"Is there anything that would make it easier to visit your father in the hospital? Could we bring photos or a game? Or maybe I could go and set up a Skype session between the two of you? You are such a caring daughter and so important to him."

"Wednesday nights don't seem to be good nights for taking out trash for you. Want to trade a chore?"

These approaches won't get you very far with your Jack Russell Terrier, but they can make a big difference in whether you enjoy being married even when your spouse disappoints or angers you.

March 26, 2015

How About a Vacation?

It is so easy to get caught up in all our must-do's and ought-to-do's, but these stresses make it harder to feel loved. And when we don't feel loved, loving a spouse or life partner can feel like work.

When your relationship feels like work, it's time to be imperfect and playful again. Set some time to let some responsibilities go. Cut out some of the stress. Hang up that "Gone fishin'" sign and get back to who you are when you're not struggling.

In other words, it's time for a vacation. Time off from your usual duties. Time off from trying to keep going when you're too tired or too resentful to keep going. Time to shake off the anger and frustrations that keep you from noticing how much you are loved. Time to create a whole bunch of micro-moments of positivity resonance with the person who loves you. And you'll need to shed the frustrations, do things that make you smile to make them.

My husband and I are headed for a Florida vacation next month, to a part of Florida we've never seen yet and some good times with wonderful people. I can't wait.

As a result, if your idea is a good time at the beach, especially if you are a fan of surfing and boardwalks and lots of free music, our usual vacation spot is yours for a discount price of $950, way less than the hotel it's in charges and less than I offer it to strangers for, because you're like family now.

I've owned this August 15-22 beachfront condo week on Virginia Beach since 1987, and I love the place. I've stayed there 23 of the years since then.

It's between 8th and 9th Streets, close to the 14th Street Pier and amusement park, the fishing, parasailing, and jet skiiing at Rudee's Inlet, and all the East Coast Surfing Championship events that week below 5th Street -- but just far enough away for a quieter beach and sleeping experience.

It's a 2-room suite with a bath in between. The bedroom is quiet, with a comfortable king-size bed and a TV. The other room has a balcony facing the ocean, a full-size refrigerator, everything you need to prepare and serve meals, a dishwasher, a sofa-bed, an arm chair and ottoman, a TV and DVD player, and a table and chairs for four. If you really must check your email, there's free wi-fi. Down the hall is a coin-operated laundry. On the first floor, there's a heated indoor pool, a hot tub, and a workout room.

Because all the comments on this blog are moderated, you can contact me about it just by posting a comment. The comment will never get published.

Whether it interests you or not, I would love to read comments about the types of vacations that help you shed stress and reconnect -- or about any vacation problems you and your spouse are dealing with. Thanks for reading this blog and for allowing me to use it this one every once in a long while.

February 23, 2015

You're the Last Person I Will Love

I might have missed Glen Campbell's song "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" if I had not watched the Oscars® last night. I had not heard it was nominated or that it won a Grammy. I did not know about the documentary about his life with Alzheimer's, the one he wrote it for, which aired right near me a few weeks ago.

But then I heard Tim McGraw sing it, and I hurried upstairs to tell my dear, sweet husband about it. And I couldn't get the words out. I choked up and tears flowed.

You're the last person I will love. You're the last face I will recall. Best of all, I'm not gonna miss you.

I can't type them now without tearing up.

You can hear Glen Campbell sing these words to his wife on the NPR website.

If you're wondering if it's worth getting through whatever disagreement, slight, or unfair responsibility is bothering you this week, I really hope you will.

Although Kim is Campbell's fourth wife, they have been together, deepening their roots and connections, for 33 years. For the first five, he was a drug-abusing alcoholic while she had the kids. One of the great things about a long-lasting, happy marriage is what it does for your relationship with your grown children. After his diagnosis, Campbell got to tour and perform with 3 of their grown children for 2 1/2 years while filming the documentary.

CNN has just bought the documentary to air in June and November. I'll be watching.

February 16, 2015

How Much to Spend on Your Engagement Ring

My grandfather sold a lot of engagement rings over his 50+ years at Tiffany's flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. I'm sure he would have agreed "A diamond is forever," a De Beers slogan introduced during the Great Depression, a tough time to sell jewelry.

Diamond engagement rings were uncommon then, but so were divorces.

If "a marriage is forever" sounds more like what you are hoping for, you might consider spending $500 to $2,000 on the ring. Those who spend more divorce more.

From Best Bet for a Long Marriage: A Cheap Wedding with Lots of People Watching on, based on research by Economists Andrew M. Francis and Hugo M. Mialon, Emory University in 'A Diamond is Forever' and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration. The authors also conclude that more guests, lower expenses, and taking a honeymoon are also hallmarks of lower divorce risk.

Sorry, Grandpa. Maybe the diamond is better as a 25th anniversary gift.

February 7, 2015

15-Minute Major Marriage Makeover

If your marriage is not everything you hoped it would be, the next 15 minutes could create a major improvement.

Please note: this makeover is not for marriages experiencing violence, threats of violence, addictive behaviors, or current infidelity.

Here are your instructions:

Take 2 minutes to list your biggest disappointments about your marriage. Write them down the left side of a sheet of paper. Leave room on the right.

Take 3 minutes to write alongside each one what you need. What need of yours is not being met by each of these disappointments? Be specific. Instead of "dishwashing," write "fairness in our division of chores" or "time for myself in the evening" or "stronger fingernails."

Take 3 minutes to list at least ten pleasing things your spouse does when your marriage is going really well. This second list is not the reverse of the first list. Do not write what would make you feel better about the marriage. List the nice things your mate does when he or she feels great about your relationship.

Take 2 minutes to circle any needs on your first list that could possibly be met some other way if you stopped expecting whatever is disappointing you. For example, a need for fairness might be met with some other chore. Stronger fingernails might be met with a dishwasher or paper plates. Time for yourself might be met with a shorter commute or a shorter workday or a housekeeper. Knowing he or she is not meeting your expectations inhibits your spouse from doing the things on that second list.

Take 3 minutes to list the most likely reason your spouse disappoints you on each item where you added a circle. Check the second list to see if it contradicts your reason before you write it. Focused on just one disappointment, you may see your spouse as lazy or unromantic or unfair, but if this does not describe him or her during the good times, think again. You know a lot more than you realize about your spouse's motivations.

Take 2 minutes to plan your request for a Third Alternative on one of your needs. A Third Alternative is one that meets your need and at the same time avoids whatever is stopping your spouse from meeting that need the way you expected. Pick one of those circled needs that you cannot take care of on your own. Fill in one of these opening sentences, then find a calm and unrushed time to say it to your husband or wife or partner in life:

"I love you, and I want to do what's best for you. Will you help me brainstorm some ways that don't require _____ from you but help me get the __________ I need?"

"I love you, and I want more of those wonderful things you do for me when I'm not nagging or moping. Will you help me brainstorm some ways that make sure you get all the _____ you need and also get me the __________ I need?"

That's it. You fell in love with the wonderful things your spouse does when all is well. Nothing has changed. If things are going less well now, your expectations of what else he or she should do for you may be what stands in your way. Marriages drift apart or turn unpleasant when we expect particular acts of love. Your spouse's love is not gone, only the ability to show it without a "Nice, but." Set it free again.

Expect Love.

The Author

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

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