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March 9, 2016

The Meaning of I Love You, But I'm Not in Love With You

I received a wonderful comment this weekend from Duane on my 2012 post, One Last Stand Before Divorce.

After 24 years of marriage, his wife left for her mother's house. She said she loved Duane but was no longer in love with him. He found this blog, Assumed Love, made a bunch of changes, and three months later, he says, "We spent the whole day together and at the end of the day she didn't go back to her mothers. She stayed, It has been 9 months since that day. My Marriage is BETTER than ever. It has been wonderful. I believe we can have one of those truly special marriages now."

I LOVE reports like this! They bring me to tears. This is why I write this blog.

Duane added, "I have a question though to ask you Patty....I have one foot stuck in the past though. I'm still very hurt by what happened. I don't want to bring up the past but I'm still not sure what happened....How does a woman go from 'not in love' to 'I'm madly in love'?"

What a great question. The answer is that it's the reverse of how she goes from "I love you" to "I'm no longer in love with you." So let's take a look at that first.

Love is an Emotion

Love is an emotion, like anger or embarrassment or fear or joy. Like the others, it may seem to stick around. You might continue to be angry for years at the friend who betrayed you. But you're not angry at that friend every single minute. The anger comes and goes. It might show up for a few seconds, maybe even for 15 minutes, but then it subsides again.

While it's around, anger and all the other emotions have a particular physical effect on us, a life-preserving effect. Fear is one of the easiest to notice. Adrenalin gets released into your bloodstream. Your brain becomes a lot more alert and a lot more focused. Your muscles tense, ready to fight, flee, or avoid detection.

These effects all come from what's called your "lizard brain," but why? Well, sometimes it's because your amygdala recognizes a threat: a sound or movement or shape that signals danger, like a snake or a tiger or a human shriek. At other times, it results from a belief you hold about something less primitive and pre-programmed that's happening. For example, your new boss starts to say something in the same tone of voice your fifth grade teacher used to shame you, and fear strikes even before you know what your boss is saying.

In the book Love 2.0, Barbara Frederickson reports on recent research (in her own lab and by others) that show love is an emotion, too, and a rather special one. It causes our pituitary gland to release oxytocin, a hormone known as the cuddle hormone because it lets down our defenses. Love also tones the vagus nerve, which runs from the brainstem to our heart, lungs, digestive system, and other organs, controlling the functions that occur automatically to keep us alive. Most especially, it controls the heart, and stimulating it causes a warm sensation in the chest.

If nerve tone means nothing to you, it means the nerve becomes more effective at what it does. In your heart, what it does is slow your resting heart rate and tie your heart rate to your breathing. It undoes a lot of the effects of the stress of fear, anger, and other negative emotions

Love is in a Class of Its Own as an Emotion

Frederickson tells us, based on watching brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while experiencing the emotion of love, that this emotion stands out. It's different, because it happens only while experiencing another positive emotion in sync with someone else. It lasts only as long as this synchrony between minds lasts. And it happens only when there's some other positive emotion going on, some form of happiness: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, even relief.

She also says we experience love with lots of people. Obviously, many of us experience love not just with our mates, but also with our infants and children, our siblings, our parents, our friends, and even sometimes with someone we just met in a checkout line or on a plane and share our stories.

Lust is not part of this emotion of love. We're not talking about feeling turned on. We're talking about feeling in sync with someone because you're both experiencing the same emotion, the same physical sensations, for this short while, and it feels good. We can feel the emotion of love during sex, but it's not about sex. It's about sharing a positive emotion with another human being.

"I Love You" - Not the Same Thing

We can experience this emotion of love with someone many times before we feel moved to say "I love you." They are not the same.

"I love you" is an expression of caring and longing. We say it to our children, our siblings, our parents, and our close friends as well as our intimate partners.

Love, the emotion, is over and done in a matter of seconds or minutes. "I love you" persists. It can even persist after we decide we'd rather not spend a lot of time with someone like a parent who belittles us, an irresponsible grown child, or a spouse who keeps pushing our buttons.

I believe "I love you" means "I wish you lots of the emotion of love and I long to share that emotion with you."

"I Am in Love With You" - The Measure of Shared Love Emotion

I believe we feel more or less "in love" with someone when we share the emotion of love with them more or less often. Each of us has our own bottom on how often we need this emotion to feel "in love." Less than this is painful.

It's likely we also need to feel it more often in a relationship with more risk: more fighting, less commitment to "for better or for worse," a greater chance of dying due to illness or occupation.

How often? I don't believe anyone knows yet, but I'd guess daily, or nearly so, and several times a day.

So now I can give Duane his answer. What made his wife feel in love again? And how can her make sure it won't happen again?

Things Likely to Lead to a Spouse Who Loves You Feeling More In Love With You

  • Create circumstances likely to produce positive emotions you can share: pull out the photo albums of happy times together, go look at nature or puppies or babies together, put on a movie you'll both laugh at, create a more serene home or lifestyle.

  • Do new things: interest is a positive emotion, and you can create it by sharing something new you're learning or doing on your own or by learning something new or going somewhere new together.

  • Play more.

  • Express your gratitude more, not just for your spouse but also about the good things in your life together.

  • Make plans together. Hope is an emotion you can easily share when you have shared goals.

  • Take pride in your children together. Share the work, enjoy the rewards together.

  • Do what you can to help reduce your spouse's resentment. Any negative emotion makes it much harder to experience love.

  • Make time throughout your day for experiencing this emotion.

Things Likely to Lead to a Spouse Who Loves You Feeling Less In Love With You

  • Avoid each other. You can't get in sync when you're not in touch.

  • Avoid looking at each other when something pleasant is happening. The eyes are important to the emotion of love.

  • Fail to Assume Love. Go with your first, fearful reaction to any unexpected behavior from your spouse, instead of looking for explanations that fit better if you assume you are still loved. The fear will make it harder to feel the emotion of love, and the emotion almost always stops well before the love does.

  • Harbor resentment. It makes the emotion of love much harder to happen.

  • Fail to Expect Love. Expect not just love, but some particular sign of love. You'll grow resentment and kill off gratitude.

  • Ignore a disagreement your spouse feels resentment about. Whether you're right or wrong, you're reducing the chances of love happening, when you could almost always Find Third Alternatives to end the disagreement.

  • Fall into a rut. It kills off opportunities for the shared emotion of interest.

  • Avoid having sex together. This builds resentment and cuts off lots of opportunities for a shared positive emotion.

  • Avoid getting help with depression or anxiety or addiction. All of them reduce your chances of a positive emotion you could share with your spouse.

  • Threaten or frighten your spouse. Fear minimizes the chances of a shared positive emotion.

  • Distrust or disrespect your spouse. It will frighten or anger the person you long to share love with.

Once you know what you're looking for (that warmth in the chest from stimulating your vagus nerve, that reduction in separateness and distrust that marks the release of oxytocin, that sense of shared pleasure), you can more easily pay attention to what's making your marriage so wonderful when it's wonderful. You might also notice which sorts of things bring on this emotion for the two of you and what times of day it comes most easily, so you can bring back wonderful quickly.

I don't believe I've ever heard of a husband or wife or life partner saying, "I'm in love with you, but I don't love you." It's always, "I love you but I'm not in love with you." This is important.

Knowing your spouse is no longer in love with you is a horribly uncomfortable place to be. It's likely you'll consider calling it quits many times over the first month, especially if your spouse moves out or has an affair. It's not unusual for it to take as long as it did for Duane -- three months of creating opportunities to share a positive emotion together -- before your spouse will come around.

But the love in "I love you" lasts even after the emotion's showing up so seldom that it's become horribly painful for your spouse. And now you know how to create the emotion more often.

Even after your spouse says that awful "I'm not in love with you," if you want your marriage back, continue to Assume Love (and take a second stab at explaining behavior that upsets you), Expect Love (and avoid missing out on lots of it while you wait for some particular way of showing it), and Find Third Alternatives (because disagreements and compromises both lead to anger that blocks the love emotion) while you create opportunities for shared positive emotions.

February 29, 2016

Paternity Surprise for Women Thinking of Leaving Their Husbands

Are you separated? Thinking of cheating on your husband? Or still living with your ex-husband but seeing someone else? There's something you ought to know.

While you're married, and even for 300 days (10 months) after your divorce is final, most U.S. states and the U.K. presume your husband is the legal father of any child you give birth to. This is true even if some other man you are sure is the father signs the birth certificate.

In most cases, your husband can contest his status as parent in court, and so can the biological father. Genetic testing will be ordered to sort it out, but it almost always requires waiting until the child is born and the court makes a decision. Until then, the man you were married to at conception has all the rights and all the responsibilities of fatherhood.

Why? To make it easier for a couple to forgive an infidelity and get their marriage back on track, and to make it harder for a husband to abandon his wife while she's pregnant. Good goals.

But in an age where women initiate 80% of all divorces, perhaps a bit of an unwelcome surprise to a woman who pronounces herself single again before a judge does.

February 19, 2016

Agreement or Impasse?

I read about some interesting research recently that relates to Finding Third Alternatives.

It showed just how much people like agreement and, even more, dislike impasse. Just labeling an option "Agreement" made people in a negotiating experiment more likely to choose it, even if it wasn't their best option. But labeling an option "Impasse" had a bigger effect, making people even more likely to avoid their best option to avoid that label.

What does this mean for your marriage? If we want to avoid an impasse with strangers, think how much more we want this with someone we love.

When we disagree on something important, like how often to have sex or whether to send a child to camp or how much to save for retirement, pretending there are only two options and trying to convince each other that ours is the better one yields a lot of frustration in the short run. And in the long run, it can yield bad choices, choices not in our best interests, simply to avoid an impasse.

When you look together for Third Alternatives, impasses are rare. You're not on opposite sides. The size of the pie isn't fixed. The only good choice is a choice that's good for both of you.

Let's say one of you is arguing for maxing out your tax-free and employer-matched retirement savings, while the other objects that this will delay owning a home (and starting to build equity in that home) by at least 7 years. If one of you runs from impasse into accepting the other's approach, what have you lost?

Well, first, the sense that the one who caved is an equal partner in your joint financial future. But second, all of the options for reaching your real goals.

Want to travel after you retire? You can do it a lot less expensively if you've spent years making friends in the places you want to visit or building a career that gives you free or low-cost airline or train tickets.

Want lots of cash when you're 66? How about investing in starting a business that exceeds tax-deferred investing rates of return?

Want to be assured of care in your later years? How about a house full of children who adore you?

Unless you go looking for Third Alternatives, unless you share with each other your real goals and your real fears driving your preference for one of those first two options, the rest of these options will never find their way to the table.

Here's the source of the research results.

February 16, 2016

Husbands' Gripes

The Huffington Post lists the big 6 complaints shared by men in marriage counseling. They are worth looking at -- not as a self-improvement checklist for wives, but as a big help when you want to Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives, whether you're the husband or the wife.

1. My wife expects me to be a mind reader.
2. The late night arguments are getting out of hand.
3. She doesn't appreciate me.
4. She doesn't back me up when I discipline the kids.
5. She's not interested in sex.
6. Our marriage is no longer a priority for her.

What signs of love are you expecting that your husband has no idea you want?

How many of the things your husband does that upset you are actually ways to avoid another late night argument? And if you're looking for a Third Alternative if your husband disagrees with whatever you're proposing, is after the kids are in bed really a good time to mention it?

How many of the things your husband does that upset you are actually ways to bring your attention to the things he does for you and the things about him he thought you valued?

Is the reason you seem to be getting more and more of the child-rearing responsibilities, even though you also have a job, because your husband is trying to avoid that unpleasant situation where you don't back him up?

What Third Alternative would make sex as much of a priority for you as for your husband?

What love are you missing out on when you respond to not getting what you expect by busying yourself with something else?

February 13, 2016

On Staying in Love (Assume Love's 10th Anniversary post)

When I began writing this blog on Valentine's Day, 2006, I was afraid. Afraid to admit to my contributions to the terrible problems of my first marriage. Afraid no one would read what I had to write. Afraid I would run out of things to say. Afraid I'd get to the same point in my second marriage and discover I'd been kidding myself about what I learned from my first husband's sudden death.

Break out the champagne! I've kept writing about marriage for a decade, I've now been married to Ed longer than I was married to Rod, and I can tell you this stuff works.

More than 300,000 people visited Assume Love last year, many of them more than once. More than 15% of all visits to the site lasted 15 minutes or longer. Several people a day post comments reporting success or requesting advice, and I answer as many of them as I can.

There's also been a great weight off my shoulders for the ten years since I publicly owned my mistakes.

The three most popular posts of 2015 (after the RSS feed) were from 2012 and 2014, and even the titles tell a story:

How to Get Your Wife or Husband to Love You Again

If Your Husband is Oblivious to How Unhappy You Are

One Last Stand Before Divorce

And that brings us to today's topic, staying in love.

Would you say you're basically happy, sad, angry, or anxious? All four of these are basic emotions. They come in a variety of flavors and intensities (amusement, joy, disappointment, depression, annoyance, rage, fear for your life, fear of appearing inept, etc.), and they don't hang around forever. Emotions are brief and fleeting, lasting just seconds or minutes. All of them come and go, but at any given point in your live, one affects you more than the others. It sets the tone. It's who you are.

You know you're experiencing an emotion because of the signals and chemicals your autonomic nervous system sends to the rest of your body: your blood flow increases thanks to a pounding heart, your jaw and fists clench, you lose your appetite and crave sleep, tears fall, your face turns red, your heart rate or blood pressure drop, you sweat, you sigh.

Love is also an emotion. When it occurs, there are measurable bodily changes as oxytocin is released and the vagus nerve lowers your heart rate.

Feeling "in love" is no different from feeling happy, anxious, sad, or angry even when you're not currently experiencing that emotion. You feel it because it's the most frequent emotion or the one with the most noticeable effect on your body. It's a specific type of feeling happy.

If you want to feel "in love," you need to feel the emotion of love pretty often. And like all the other emotions, what anyone else does has a lot less influence on whether you feel it than what's going on in your head does.

That's because your brain is what triggers those bodily feelings that you interpret as emotions. And it's mostly comparing what happens to what you believe.

Sure, if there's a speeding car coming your way, your amygdala knows you're in danger and you need the boost of fear to prepare your body to prevent bodily harm.

But if you read that someone's manuscript got rejected, your brain's going to check further, to see if you know this person and, if so, how likely this is to affect him or her. Maybe you'll feel sad. Maybe not.

If your spouse kisses you on the way out the door, your brain's going to check whether this is expected or not. If not, does it fit with other hints of infidelity or with recently hearing a friend's regret over so casually saying goodbye the day his wife died? It might induce love, a special form of happiness. Or it might induce suspicion, a mild form of fear. And for all you know, your spouse actually did it for good luck before asking for a raise.

As long as what happens isn't obviously unloving, what you believe, what you expect, determines the emotion you'll feel.

And this takes us right back to the core of what I have been sharing wth you on Assume Love for the last ten years:

  • When you're upset by your spouse, Assume Love. Ask yourself how a good person who loves you fiercely might do the thing that upset you. Our human default assumption is that others can hurt us, and it affects what we think about unpleasant surprises. But when someone has promised to love us until death do us part and done us no harm, "might hurt me" is not a valid assumption. And this invalid assumption is leading us to false conclusions that drive our emotions.
  • When you're disappointed by your spouse, Expect Love. There is an infinite variety of loving acts, marvelous in their diversity. But when we decide all humans must show love by purchasing gifts on Valentine's Day, we set ourselves up for the emotion of anger ("how dare you treat me so shabbily!") or fear ("am I living with someone who has no love for me?").
  • When you disagree with your spouse, Find Third Alternatives. Disagreeing sometimes about which option to choose is perfectly normal, even for identical twins. The mistake lies in thinking any two options are the only ones available or even the ones we'll like best. It feels great to find the one that gives you what you need while doing the same for the most important person in your world.

Wishing you a fantastic Valentine's Day. Try to treat it like Easter, not Christmas. Hunt for the Easter eggs: look hard for all the signs of love on this special day. Don't expect a mind-reading Santa to put the exact love sign you long for under your tree.

The Author

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

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