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July 20, 2021

When Your Spouse Won't Use Your Love Language

I'm sure you have heard of Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. Lots of us have read the book. Others have learned the languages from magazine articles or workshops.

If you and your husband or wife share a Love Language, it's easy to show your love for each other. For the rest of us, there is a giant pitfall you might want to avoid.

If you expect your spouse to use your Love Language just because you shared which one means the most to you (Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Physical Touch, Quality Time, or Acts of Service), you are setting yourself up for resentment. And resentment is one of the most corrosive things you could bring to a marriage.

Why would your spouse not even try to use your Love Language? Well, first, because it doesn't feel loving when your spouse does it. We've all been raised with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. What your spouse wants done unto him or her is not this.

If Quality Time feels loving to your spouse, it's likely that performing Acts of Service feels like time apart, doing chores. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about doing it. Doing it doesn't feel like he or she is showing you love.

If your spouse was raised by someone disingenuous or manipulative, Words of Affirmation are probably highly suspicious. Delivering them without any real sense of why you long to hear them probably feels phony, not loving.

Another reason your spouse might not want to engage in your Love Language is the risk factor. First, there is the risk of failure: how do you do something well if you can't even understand the value of doing it? How does someone who dislikes gifts or who grew up receiving gifts with strings attached or gifts that tried to push them to be someone other than who they are even begin to choose a gift you will love? It's like asking a blind person to choose a painting for you.

And then there is that bigger risk: doing it so badly that they lose your love. They know how much this matters to you. The stakes are huge. I am married to someone whose Love Language is physical touch. He's a master at massage. I stink at it, even after taking several classes. I cannot tell what I am feeling under the skin. I simply don't feel the differences someone good at massage feels. And before me, my husband was engaged to and living with a massage therapist, so I know he knows how bad I am at this. It feels like I am trying to show love by calculating his rocket trajectory without any knowledge of physics. I feel tested, not loving. And I feel like I am failing the test, no matter what he says.

A third reason for not using a wanted Love Language is an inability to do so, thanks to neurological or physiological differences.

So, what can you do if your spouse can't or won't learn your Love Language? First, never, ever try to manipulate your spouse into using it. Don't invest days or weeks in showing your love their way and expect this obligates them to use yours. It doesn't. Sure, you can end a relationship over this (or over any other expectation) if you feel shorted, but why would you want to?

Instead, learn to recognize when your husband or wife is showing you love in his or her own language, and show that you noticed and appreciated this loving. As you have probably already noticed, it's pretty frustrating to show love that goes unrecognized. Eventually, you just quit trying and pull away. You don't want your spouse to do that, do you?

Then, with your relationship chugging along healthily, take charge of your needs. If you need Quality Time together, schedule it. Accept that you may get turned down on some of your invitations, but keep making plans and don't blame your spouse for not making any. If you feel the need for words of reassurance or celebration or kindness, speak them out loud and ask for an "amen" from your spouse.

If you long for Gifts, get creative. Ask a good friend to take charge of choosing them for your spouse whenever the urge to show you love hits. Or ask your spouse to pay for your order of monthly flower delivery. If you are married to someone whose Love Language is Acts of Service, request whatever you would like as a gift and asked that it be delivered in nice wrappings, turning it into an Act of Service. Or ask your spouse with a Words of Affirmation Love Language to put them in a frame or a song or on a cake, so they look like a Gift. And be sure to also exchange gifts with your friends and family members who will get a kick out of choosing something surprising for you now and then, the cherry on top that your spouse probably will never be able to come up with.

If your language is Physical Touch, schedule yourself for frequent spa treatments, even if it's just exchanging them with a friend who also enjoys them. Then find hobbies to try with your spouse that involve lots of touch, like couples dancing or bobsledding or some forms of exercise. Go ride the Scrambler together! And make sure you make sex fun for your spouse.

Want more Acts of Service? Don't wait for them to be offered. Ask for what you want. And take no for an answer. Nagging will just push you two apart. Hire help. Or barter for it. Ask your Gift-loving spouse to give you gift certificates for chores. Ask your Quality Time-loving spouse for an afternoon of working together, and let him or her choose which jobs to tackle.

Remember, not speaking your Love Language is not a sign that you are not loved. And it is not a sign that you are getting less than you deserve. You deserve love. And you will get less of it if you reject loving acts that don't fit the model you adopted as a toddler.

June 30, 2021

What Did You Say?!

A reader recently asked me a question, and I expect she's not the only one asking.

I have been watching couples/friends get into arguments they didn't want to get into, simply because the discussion began on the wrong foot.
Instead of asking an open ended question, e.g., "It seems cleaning up after dinner is a task neither of us wants to do. I wonder how we can solve this?" they ask questions in a manner that immediately puts the two people into opposition: "Why didn't you?" "Why don't you?" "When will you?"
What can the recipient of this kind of attacking question do to redirect the conversation into a discussion rather than attack/defend? I am out of ideas.

Famed marriage researcher John Gottman calls these sorts of questions harsh startups. While observing couples and their discussions in his lab's research apartment, he and his team have found that these harsh startups are a very bad sign for the relationship.

That is, unless they are softened by the person receiving what sure sounds like criticism, bossiness, or nagging. When you are that person, try to remember to Assume Love, so you can calm your knee-jerk response long enough to see if you can figure out why someone decent who loves you might be upset enough to speak so harshly.

Remember, when you Assume Love, you don't pretend you know you are loved. You try on that idea to see if it helps you find another explanation for the nasty comment, so you can respond to the person behind it. (Some people really are unloving jerks. In the moment, though, a lot more of them can look like it, and you don't want to become one yourself with a knee-jerk response to a slip of the tongue.)

"When will you start doing your share around here?" probably has very little to do with tonight's dishes, when it comes from a loving person. It's a sign of overwhelm.

"Why don't you ever pick up after yourself?" might come from someone with a much stronger need for order than you have. And it's someone you care about. Do you really want to yell back, "Well, why don't you start looking for a job that pays enough to live on?"

A good starting point in calming down your spouse and strengthening your relationship is to acknowledge the pain you're hearing after you look beyond your own sudden alarm at being yelled at. "It sounds like you're feeling you get stuck with too much responsibility. That must feel horrible. Let's talk about it later this evening. And right now, let's just leave the mess and go for a walk together. I miss holding your hand."

If you've just been accused of not picking up after yourself, try something like this: "Sometimes I forget just how tolerant I am of messes. I know you're not. I can clean up the dishes. But before I do, would you help me see the rest of the mess? Let's just take a quick walk through the house, and you point out to me the things I'm overlooking. That way, instead of trying to guess at what's important, I can know as I take care of these things that I am taking care of you."

I'm betting you will like what happens next a whole lot more than an escalating battle over tonight's dishes that spills into everything else you two do together.

We all need to feel heard. And we all strike out when we feel frustrated that we're being taken for granted.


April 7, 2021

Emotional and Physical Abuse

I really want to bring to your attention Dr. Steven Stosny's excellent blog post on when emotional abuse is more likely to become physical violence.

He opens with this great definition.

Emotional abuse is deliberately making partners afraid or feel bad about themselves. It's usually instrumental, to punish or coerce partners into doing something the abusers want or not doing something they don't want.

If you've ever threatened divorce to get your husband to stop going out drinking with friends or belittled your wife to talk her out of some plan you expect will fail or pointed out your spouse's weight gain in hopes of provoking healthier behavior, you (and I) are guilty of emotional abuse. But here, we are talking about chronic emotional abuse, daily threats, and constant belittling or insults. Stosny continues.

In terms of power, physical abuse constitutes a failure of emotional abuse. Effective abusers never have to be violent to exert power; the coercive and punishing force of emotional abuse is sufficient to get what they want.

Stosny says, "All violent relationships are emotionally abusive, but most emotionally abusive relationships never become violent." Then he lists what things increase the risk of violence.

If you are on the receiving end of emotional abuse or if you notice yourself increasingly using this tactic to get your way, you will want to read this list of factors that can push it over the line. And you will also want to take his Safety First advice at the end of the article. Anyone using emotional abuse frequently poses a danger to both of you and to your relationship. Take charge. Get help. There is nothing loving or good about tolerating emotional or physical abuse, even from someone who loves you. If it's happening, you both need help and new skills.

If you asking yourself how you can Assume Love and follow this advice, please read my blog post, The Secret to Stopping a Violent Spouse.

And I will add this note again: any attempt to strangle or choke a female partner increases her odds of attempted homicide six-fold and successful homicide seven-fold. Please do not accept any promise after a choking attempt unless it comes backed by a qualified professional who has been treating your partner for long enough to render such a judgement.

March 27, 2021

The Fairness Balance in Marriage

You know that feeling when you feel so generous to your spouse? When everything you do for your spouse or give to your spouse makes you feel even better about your marriage?

And that feeling when you take score and wonder if you would be better off if you two just divorced? For example, when your mate was too tired or busy to mow the lawn but still expects you to prepare dinner?

Why not take score when you feel generous?

And why not do something generous whenever you find yourself taking score?

You might find yourself a whole lot happier.

February 25, 2021

Annoying In-laws

Do your in-laws show up unannounced at all the wrong times? Do they demand to share all of your vacations? When your spouse is not around, do they criticize you or order you around? When your children are around, do they undermine you?

It can help to see things through their eyes. A long time ago, a tiny infant was placed in their care. They were charged with keeping this tiny child safe and fed. As the baby grew, it was their duty to teach them right from wrong. Maybe they taught what their parents taught them. Maybe they rebelled against what they were taught and emphasized different values. But it was a sacred duty.

Surely, they screwed up at times. We all do. And they had to do it while their parents and their in-laws continued to push the values that matter most to them: duty, respect, love, liberty, fairness, happiness, enthusiasm, piety, loyalty, learning, music, art, physical fitness, self-sufficiency, appreciation of the finer things, courage, whatever mattered to them. But the sum total of their efforts is the human being you admire and fell in love with.

And now it is your turn to navigate the confluence of your values, your spouse's values, your parent's values, and your in-laws' values, quite possibly while honoring that most sacred duty of teaching the most important of these values to a child.

It's not an easy journey for most of us. We could use a guide. Anyone with different values from your own who has gotten through this and managed to raise the sort of person you chose as your spouse is a great candidate. Consider asking you're in-laws, when you're not frustrated by their behavior, how they managed it.

And when you do find yourself frustrated by whatever your in-laws are doing, when they appear to be violating whatever you hold dear, consider stepping back to figure out which value they are fighting for and whether it's one that contributes to your spouse's good character.

This just might reduce your frustration level. If it does not, remember that it's perfectly fine to set your own boundaries now that you are an adult. You may not be able to tell them not to drop in unannounced if that is something your spouse values, but you can let your spouse know that when they do drop in, you'll be in your garden or watching television or out for a walk. And you can do it without anger, the same way you might go cook something while your spouse watches a football game or you might take the kids outside while your spouse's book club visits.

When you are criticized, you can acknowledge the value they are arguing in favor of and tell them what matters to you: "I know the men in your family are all great at hunting, and you all enjoy it a lot, but the world needs art, too, and that's what I'm good at and plan to focus on" or "I agree that cooking appetizing meals is very important, but today I am focused on getting some important work done to pay our health insurance bill, and I would love any help you can give me to get back to it."

For your spouse, who loves both of you, these work a lot better than "How can you think it's fun to take the lives of innocent animals?" or "Mind your own business and go eat at your own house if you don't like what I'm cooking!" And, at least for me, they feel a lot better to say, because they leave room for enjoyable future conversations without giving an inch on decisions that are mine to make.

The Author

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

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