Before I started assuming love, I engaged in the very popular “Isn’t my spouse awful?” game, as both instigator and player. To get it started, you ask your sister or people at work, or maybe even the stranger seated next to you on the bus, to confirm that there’s something terribly wrong with your spouse. You plead with them to agree that you’ve married someone who’s just plain wrong. Wrong about angels. Wrong about blue-green algae. Wrong about whether the right color ribbon is worth a two-hour drive. Wrong about evolution. Wrong about who ought to be elected. Wrong about what does and doesn’t belong in a living room. Wrong about the value of television. Wrong about how to when to ask for a raise. Wrong about teal blue. Wrong about who’s right and who’s wrong.
If you’ve played the game a lot, you may have it down to a shorthand version. You just glance at whoever’s available and roll your eyes as your spouse speaks. Whichever way you let others know how distressed you are with your spouse’s choices, every time you do it, you push love out of your life.
Why do the rest of us help you push love away? Well, most of us have strong opinions about politics, sports, hobbies, habits, decorating, religion, and the unknown. If we agree with you, we’ll gladly tell you so. It makes us feel a little closer to you, a little more right. Most of the time, it doesn’t occur to us that we’re helping you reject your life mate’s love, that we’re joining in to knock the foundation out from under your marriage.
When you assume love by trying to understand how someone kind and safe to be with who loves you fiercely might come to these different beliefs, you build your relationship. You reduce the fear that you don’t know and can’t trust this person you’re with. You reduce the fear that your differences will shatter your relationship. And you start to gain one of the great benefits of a marriage or life commitment to another person, the chance to explore different beliefs in a safe and loving environment.
Thank you Patty for this terrific article! This “game” is one of the most debilitating things to a marriage. It seems inevitable that there be plenty of issues about which one can play “ain’t my spouse awful,” and learning to stop doing that is a significant step in turning a marriage around.
I think that the next step is to start to understand why we (or they) play this game in the first place. Often there are underlying feelings of pain or fear together with feelings of helplessness. Complaining is never an effective way of getting our needs met in the first place. Complaining to others about our spouse is partly an attempt to validate our feelings. That it is ultimately ineffective even at that makes it doubly ironic of course.
So I believe the best support one can give to a friend who is playing “ain’t my spouse awful” with you is to try to validate their feelings without agreeing with their judgments about their spouse.