Don’t Pretend Love


You Assume Love when you take a second look at what your spouse or life partner does as if you are well-loved.
You Pretend Love when you act as if you’re loved even though you don’t believe it.
When you Assume Love, you give yourself the chance to receive more love by looking beyond your instantaneous, gut-level reactions to events. You pay attention to what you know to be true. You stop yourself from jumping to conclusions. You do this for you, so that you don’t miss any love being offered to you.
There’s a good chance you’ll notice love where you didn’t see it before and want to show your spouse more appreciation as a result. That’s great! But it’s not required, and it probably won’t happen every time. When it doesn’t, pretending it did is not the solution.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Do you just go through life assuming the best of the person who loves you or do you ask him why he said or did something the way he did?
    Do you ever get confirmation that your assumptions are accurate or do you just go on (maybe) living on a fantasy?

  • >> Do you just go through life assuming the best of the person who loves you or do you ask him why he said or did something the way he did?
    You should definitely ask, but not right away. Not while you’re furious or frightened. And not while you’re feeling unsure of his love. Ask when you’re ready to hear the answer and use it to strengthen your relationship, not to test it.
    >> Do you ever get confirmation that your assumptions are accurate or do you just go on (maybe) living on a fantasy?
    If you assume love (which includes coming up with explanations of how someone who truly loves you might have done with the best of intentions whatever upset you), you don’t need to worry about living on a fantasy. Anyone who does not love you will soon do something that a loving person cannot do to a loved one, and you will spot this instantly.
    As long as you are loved, accidentally overestimating the good intentions of your mate is a good thing, not a bad one. It is actually one of the distinguishing characteristics of a long-lasting loving relationship. I suspect this is because the way we treat someone we believe to be loving us well strengthens their love for us.

  • I am delighted to find you, Patty! You did a great job on that “Marriage Is Obsolete” show that Dr. Veronica hosted.
    I really agree with the idea of assuming love. My husband and I have done much better when we hold tight to the notion that we ALWAYS want the best for one another, even if our actions are not proving it at that moment.
    We’ve been married for 62 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 15 hours, so something must be working!
    Keep up the good work, Patty. I love your story.

  • Patty…..I read article after article about relationships….and I have say that I think it is ALL…TOO MUCH TROUBLE. A relationship is like another full-time job that rarely ever gets rewarded. Stay On-guard…do the righ thing, say the right thing, look the righway, whew! It’s definitely easier to be single and date.

  • Hi Patty! Just found your site although I hope its not too late for me. I have been married for 9 years together with him for 13. I am 49 (gulp) and he is 45. Second marriages for both of us, no children but he has a (now) 15 yr old son from the previous. For the last few years it has been difficult being married. We did see a counselor but didn’t take it seriously. Things would work out for a bit but then slide downhill again. Now he doesn’t live here. He moved out 12/18/13. At first I thought we were done, done, done. He called and we saw each other 1/6/13 for the first time he moved. We also went away 2/1-2/3 to our other home which we had purchased in 09. We were planning on retiring there within 10 years or so. Since then we had gotten together and spoke and saw each other approx once a month. During these times as he was trying to reconnect I was extremely angry and had my guard up. Looking back thats when I should have been more approachable and listened more. I kick myself now. On 7/9/13 we saw a marriage crisis counselor who I wish, wish, wish we had seen earlier. After a 3 hour session he “got” us. Knew the core right where we both were coming from. But when asked Bill said he did not want to work on the marriage. While he doesn’t say divorce he isn’t saying lets work this out. We had a l-o-n-g face to face talk Monday 8/5/13 in which he says he’s content. Not happy but content. I’ve emailed him before our meeting and told him I’ve been working on myself. During our meeting I explained why I cry sometimes in front of him..that I am releasing my anger which orginated from pain. I was calm and listened to him and his thoughts. I thought the meeting went well and asked him to watch some video’s (he took the website info) but haven’t heard from him since. I know the right thing to do is back off and give him his space but I’m dying inside. My time restraint issue is that currently there is a yr-round renter in the other home. he would like to know if (a) the house will be sold and he has to move or (b) he will be signing another years lease that expires 2/2014. What are your suggestions to get my husband in the drivers seat and stop living in limbo? Help help!

  • Tina, let’s start with the easy question first. Don’t let your tenant’s lease dictate your marriage chances by rushing you. Do whatever keeps your *marriage* options open, not your divorce options.
    If Bill does not want to work on the marriage, try playing instead. Try seeking happy times together.
    On your own, try going through that list of things that caused you pain, anger, and now tears to see if any of the pain was perhaps self-inflicted. You can download my free Spring Cleaning Your Marriage ebook from to help. It’s good news if it was, because then you don’t need him to help you clean it up.
    Men are highly sensitive to blame, especially to blame for something they don’t believe ought to matter, especially if they feel undervalued for what they believe are more important contributions. And they are highly sensitive to it because of their hormone mix, not because of how they feel about you or themselves. Tears feel like blame.
    It’s possible there is much to blame him for. If so, and if you need apologies and changes from him to stop blaming him, you need to give him a lot more reasons to go through all that, because he is content living without you and you seem to be the one with hopes for a better future. So my suggestion is that you two date for now.
    Here are some suggestions for great dates with someone you know as well as you know Bill:
    Date Night and Your Love Language
    5 Ways to Get Your Spouse to Spend Time with You
    The Strength of Strengths
    How to Fall in Love with Your Wife
    Date Night and Love Languages
    Inexpensive But Fun Date Nights

  • I guess my main question is how do I get him to refocus on me? Right now while he does answer my texts and phone calls (which I make on a limited basis) he doesn’t make any plans to see and be with me. He says he knows he’s being selfish but he does not want a relationship right now. He tells me he goes out a lot but mostly on his own. My therapist says do not chase him and don’t ask him a question that he can say no to me to. I would be open to dating him but I don’t know if he wants to date me. How do you know when it’s too late? I feel (as do others) that he will wake up when it is too late and I have moved on with someone else. There is no one else in my life right now but I do not want to sit home alone night after night. A suggestion has been made by a friend who says I should start the divorce process since he will continue this living this limbo way. I really feel sad and very alone Even though I am surrounded by a wonderful support group. Should I think it is really over? Or wait until he files whenever that may be if ever?

  • Tina, it sounds like not knowing what will happen is bothering you even more than his absence. If that’s the case, filing for divorce might be a good move. I doubt it would bring him home, and I doubt you would be happy, but you would be less anxious.
    However, you would be in an awful place for dating anyone else. You might well end up in a miserable relationship or find yourself used by the men you meet.
    Please talk to your wonderful support group. Let them know you want to stop sitting home alone at night, and you don’t yet want to start meeting men. Invite them to do things with you. Do you like to learn? Try museums, lectures, classes in dance, languages, or interior design. Are you kind? Try volunteering in a soup kitchen or animal shelter, building something with Habitat for Humanity, or getting together to knit caps for babies in your local hospital. Are you awed by nature or music? Join an astronomy group together or listen to classical music or opera, live or in someone’s home over a potluck dinner.
    Choose activities that help you be more of your best self, and do them with friends. It will change you and your relationship with your husband. And if you choose to move on, you will be in much better shape to do so well.

  • Dear Patty,
    I have been reading your posts off and on for the last two years and it has helped me through some difficult times. I would like to thank you for making this available and answering my emails. I have followed your advice on assuming love and have come to realize that I still love and care about my wife.
    The problem is though that she no longer cares about me and told me so as recently as yesterday. I think she build up so much resentment about the way I treated her in the past, that at some point she stopped caring. BTW, there was no physical abuse or infidelity or addiction or anything like that but nonetheless our marriage from her standpoint is more or less dead. I believe most of our issues centered around money, control and respect (or lack thereof). I feel that her main emotion towards me is anger. It does not take much for me to set her off. I want to be honest but I feel that if I do, it just makes her more angry. Nonetheless I have now chosen to be honest at any cost, since I have little to lose anyway. For the most part, I feel mostly sadness and resignation.
    We have four wonderful children and that is part of why I would like our marriage to work out. I certainly don’t want to do anything to shatter my children’s world as their happiness is the most important thing in the world to me, so for that reason alone, I will be staying with my wife for the time being.
    However, I find it hard to continue in a relationship where love and affection is unreciprocated. She has told me before a few years ago that she did not care about me and I felt really lost, hurt and lonely at the time. This time around it still hurts, but time has dulled the ache and hardend my heart a bit. I firmly believe that ultimately how you feel in life is determined 99% by how you respond and only 1% by the actual circumstances and that has helped me.
    I really think that I am much less selfish than before and I am much more willing and able to consider other people’s perspectives and feelings. My own wants and needs are secondary to those of my family at this point. My life is no longer about me. It’s best to suffer in silence, if there is no one who cares about your suffering. I just hope that one day I will be able to find someone who will care about me as a person, just plain and simple, without any pretenses. I hope that person can be my wife but I am starting to lose hope. I feel like I am stuck, I can’t go back and I can’t go forward. I would appreciate any advice you could give me. Thank you.

  • Ed, at some point, your wife made the same choice you are making today, to stay despite feeling unloved, unaccepted for who she is and wanting this more than anything — except her children’s wellbeing which she would not sacrifice.
    This gives you something in common, a starting point for falling back in love. Imagine you met a woman this angry over the choice she had to make. How would you romance her? Would you start by telling her you’ve become a better, less selfish person? Or would you start by acknowledging her pain and how unfair it is than anyone must ever make such a difficult choice?
    I don’t think love is dead until indifference replaces anger.
    I hope you read my October 3, 2013 post on anger, too.

  • What if you have never really been in love with your spouse. At the time we started together it was what everyone thought was best and I didnt think I could ever find anyone so great who would love me so i made it work. Ten years later i cant pretend and its not working. I dont want to be married. I think at times it was easier to make it work when I was younger and didnt know better, and over the years, especially with a major lack of personal time with each other, where we could at least try to make it work (even though in the back of my head it was always there that I was trying to make it work) there is no reason i see on staying together. It wasnt because we were in love that I got married, it was rushed, there were mistakes made and to try to stay in it because of not wanting to hurt the other or because of what others expect doesnt seem ok….

  • My husband and I have a pretty good thing going. There is a cultural difference (he is Scandinavian) we have bridged with humor and has even helped us both to stretch and grow.
    He was raised on a very poor farm and did not learn any table manners. He is now highly educated and in corporate America. I was stunned when we went out to eat with his colleagues that he speared an entire long asparagus and shoved it vertically in his mouth, chomping on it like a horse on a carrot, slurped his coffee noisily, etc i.e. the same bad table manners he exhibits at home. I could see his boss was put off. This might be a contributing factor to his lack of advancement. He is sensitive about coming from a humble background. I was thinking of hiring an etiquette person to teach us both better table manners.
    Should I surprise him with this as a gift or discuss it beforehand? Or just leave this alone?

  • I have been a long time reader and have found it beneficial. However I’m at my limit and want a second opinion. I feel like I should add that I have anxiety and ptsd from past abuse. (I am seeing a psychologist.) Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between anxiety-driven thoughts and facts. What I feel isn’t always reality.
    The past five years, every 6 months or so, we have a fight that ends with my husband telling me that he cares for me a great deal but doesn’t love me but also doesn’t want to separate or divorce. The topic at hand changes, but at the core both us feel unappreciated and overworked. He enjoys my company, sees me more as a companion, ocassionally romantically, and, top priority, wants a stable two parent life for our children. He does loving things for me, namely gifts and service, but I’m afraid I misinterpreted.
    We have been to counseling and a couple’s retreat, and I have asked him to go to counseling again. I don’t understand him and don’t feel understood by him. He shows signs of Asperger’s but won’t consider it. I have been educating myself, but there isn’t a whole lot of hopeful information for relationships.
    I’m at my limit, because I feel like I’m deluding myself. He literally has said “I love you” once in five years while half asleep. Does one keep assuming love despite the spouse say it’s not over and over again?

  • Eva, thank you so much for asking. The reason you Assume Love is to clear your head after an upsetting incident enough to make sense of the incident. The fear that we’re not loved is big one, even for people who haven’t suffered abuse at the hands of someone who had promised to love them. And fear literally narrows our thinking, so we jump to conclusions or get tunnel vision when it’s triggered.
    Assume Love doesn’t mean ignore the small stuff or give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. It’s not about your spouse. It’s a tool for managing your own role in your relationship. It means ask yourself to explain what happened and why it happened as if you knew for certain you’re still loved and safe.
    At one level, this protects us from staying in a marriage where we’re not loved. Someone who truly loves you may do a bunch of screwy things over the course of a marriage, but if they have control over their own actions (i.e., no brain tumor or advanced Alzheimers or addiction that must be treated before they will be fit to live with again), they won’t do anything that they (or anyone else who cares for you) would protect you from if a stranger tried to do it to you: rape, hitting, punching, threatening bodily harm, taking money needed for food and shelter, poisoning you, using personal information to coerce you, imprisoning you, etc.
    At another level, it helps us figure out how to handle a situation that is at first very upsetting. An example of such a situation would be if a husband told his wife he cares for her and wants to remain a family under the same roof but doesn’t love her.
    Assume for the moment that we could know without a doubt that he really does love her, that he would be devastated if she died tonight. Pretend it’s a movie — we’ve seen this character do kind things for his wife, give her gifts, celebrate her successes with her, comfort her when her ptsd gets to be too much, and we’ve watched him withdraw or get angry during their fight. And now he says this awful thing he’s not said for the past six months or ever said when they’re not fighting: “I don’t love you.”
    Has he said it because he wants some space after the fight? In a fight, men are more likely than women to get emotionally flooded, with spiking blood pressure and heart rate, a red face, maybe sweating, and they reach a point where they can’t handle any more inputs until their bodies calm down. Women who aren’t experiencing this may try to keep discussing the issue at hand, unaware that they’re beyond the point where rationale discussion is possible and into the point where men realize they need to separate from the argument.
    Has he said it because he suddenly feels like he doesn’t love her, and she’s pushing, in the middle of their argument, for some assurance that he does? This tends to happen when a man feels his wife does not respect him, doesn’t feel he’s good enough for her.
    Has he said it because she’s accused him of never saying “I love you” and he wants the accusations to stop? There are many men who seldom or never say those words, even though they show their love in other ways and have never broken their promise to love, honor, and cherish. Something in their past has given those words way too much power…or way too little.
    Has he said it because he’s fallen in love with someone else? In our movie version, we would have seen signs of a private relationship taking his time and attention. In real life, his wife would probably have noticed these signs, too. But as long as he wants to remain a caring family until the children are grown, there’s plenty of time for falling back in love with his wife. It’s not a crisis yet, just a challenge.
    Has he said it because his wife’s not ever using ways of showing love that feel loving to him? Is it just exhaustion over doing what he feels is loving and not getting much loving in return? His wife might need to think a bit about this one. It’s helpful to review Gary Chapman’s book. The Five Love Languages, for clues.
    Perhaps after considering all of these, none of them fit. Instead, it’s clear he feels no love, just ownership of his wife. He wants two parents for his children and he doesn’t care how much pain he must inflict to get it.
    If any of them ring true, we’re done. We can stop Assuming Love and go with whichever story best fits the evidence. And if there’s no love, or if we feel helpless to do anything about the cause that fits, and we don’t have religious beliefs that forbid it, we might choose to leave the marriage.
    But you mention feeling unappreciated and overworked. And this is a huge problem for many couples, one created by unnecessary expectations and the delusion that our overworked spouse should help us with our overwhelming workload.
    You’ll find your marriage a LOT more enjoyable if you let this unreasonable expectation go. Take out a pen and paper and imagine your husband doesn’t wake up tomorrow. Nothing else has changed, but now it’s just you and the kids. Write down all the new things you’d need to handle. Go through a weekday, a weekend day, a week of things that must get done once or twice a week, a month of things that must get done once or twice a month, and a year of seasonal, birthday, and holiday tasks.
    Your real workload is everything you’re doing now plus everything on this list. Your very real husband is handling everything on this list. And every time you ask for one thing more, you’re dismissing all of the things on this list as “not enough.”
    I’ve been suddenly widowed, so I can tell you that if it were to happen for real, you would need to start crossing things off your combined lists right away. Some you would just stop doing, like ironing or redecorating or being a class mother or (in my case) working somewhere that requires you to spend 2 1/2 hours a day commuting.
    Others you might spend extra to do, like buying prepared meals instead of cooking or paying a laundry service so you can make more money or hiring babysitters when you need some time to yourself or for adult tasks.
    Others you’ll ask for help with from your friends, your colleagues at work, and your family. And you’ll thank them profusely every time they help and never say “not enough” to them.
    Please, please do not let yourself be unhappy in your marriage because you’re overworked and unappreciated. Stop doing some of what you’re doing, especially the stuff you feel your husband doesn’t appreciate. Prioritize. What really matters to you about raising children and what do you do only because others think you ought to?
    Look at where you could pay to make the chore easier or less time-consuming. Think you don’t have enough money to spend more? Imagine doing this without your husband’s income and think again. Would you and your children not be a lot happier in a smaller home or with less expensive hobbies or clothes if you were less stressed and had more free time and you fought less with your husband and felt more grateful to him?
    Start asking other people, instead of your husband, for help. Start thanking them and your husband for what they do.
    And if fighting is what leads to being told you’re not loved, consider mastering the art of Finding Third Alternatives so you have nothing to fight about.
    If you two are parenting together, companions in doing things you enjoy doing, and sometimes romantic, I think you have much reason to be hopeful. You’re not yet into any of the messes that make restoring a marriage really difficult. Work on cutting out the overwork instead of resenting your husband for it and learn to avert fights by Finding Third Alternatives. If you do, I think you’ll not only find your way back but discover some of the benefits of having a spouse who is so different from you. And you won’t need to talk him into counseling or anything else to get there.

  • I assumed love for 29 yrs. Knowing it was not there. 10 yrs.ago my husband told me I was not the girl he had wanted to marry, as I was questioning his love. Do I go on assuming? It sure is harder now. LacieJoe

  • If you know love is not there, you are pretending love. When you assume love, you try on that possibility (that he’s still the great guy you married and he still loves you) and see if it comes up with different explanations for his behaviors that upset you.
    If it reveals a plausible explanation, the explanation guides you to change what you say or do, so that you can enjoy your marriage. If you just shrug it off and change nothing, sweeping the upsetting acts under the rug instead of acting on them, that’s pretending love.
    And if it doesn’t reveal a plausible explanation, it’s time to demand one or to get the two of you into marriage therapy or a marriage education class to fix what’s broken.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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