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Round Up the Usual Suspects

If your wife treats you like part of the furniture or can't stop telling you how to earn more money, if your husband drives you nuts with his insensitive comments or misplaced laundry, it's time to round up the usual suspects.

The first ones that come to mind may sound like these:

  • She may love me, but she doesn't like me.

  • I thought he was a kind and caring man, but I was wrong. He's a self-centered jerk.

  • All she wants me for is my money.

  • All he cares about is how I make him look.
People don't change as much with time as these thoughts assume. The positive qualities that led you to choose your spouse remain. If anything, they've increased. And it's highly likely that your mate still wants to love you, to feel love toward you and to do the things that will make you feel loved. Other things get in the way.

So round up the other usual suspects, the ones that fit the assumption that your mate still loves you and still possesses all of those sterling qualities. See if any of them fit.

  • He or she doesn't know you'd like to be interrupted, don't want advice, don't like this type of comment, think laundry belongs elsewhere, etc.

  • Your mate wants you to notice his or her pain, so does something known to get your attention or something that others in his or her life would recognize as a distress signal. This person you love may be feeling disrespected, trapped, frightened, mistreated, or in need of attention.

  • He or she knows what you want but strongly disagrees and cannot behave that way and wants to avoid your typical response to attempts to discuss the issue.

  • This person who loves you doesn't notice what's happening, because he or she is focused on doing something else for you or another family member right now.

  • He or she feels too frightened or worried to deal with your wishes right now. Something's happening at work or with a family member or inside your mate's head. It needs all of his or her attention at this moment.
These explanations cover a very large portion of all of the odd and annoying things our spouses do. When you figure out which one's likely, you have a powerful tool to strengthen your marriage.
  • Doesn't know - Tell your spouse what you'd prefer. Speak with love to someone who loves you and wants you to have all that you want in this world.

  • Wants you to notice his or her pain - Review the last day or two. What's needed here? An apology? An ego boost? A hug? Some help with an overwhelming task?

  • Knows what you want but strongly disagrees - Offer to seek the Third Alternative, a solution that meets both of your requirements.

  • Doesn't notice what's happening - Acknowledge the higher priority. Decide whether you can accept the upsetting behavior in support of that priority. If not, commend the effort for the higher priority and ask for what you want.

  • Feels too frightened or worried - Accept the pain of whatever upset you as a way of sharing the load with your partner. After the crisis ends, discuss what you want in the future.
Of course, if none of the usual suspects fit, you'll need to think a bit harder for an explanation, maybe even ask friends to help.


This is great. I love the usual suspects. Here's another one.

"He or she knows what you want, but the knowledge is hazy becuse of deep habits that lead him to do it differently."

It's crazy, but even after I know the right way, I don't always follow my own rulebook. It's been a lifelong struggle becoming conscious of neatness. I'm improving but always grateful to my wife who has to watch me grow slower than either of us would like..

That's a great addition to the list, Jerry.

If I were upset about a mess and then recognized that my wonderful husband loved me and wanted to make things neat for me but acted out of old habit, it would help. I'd feel safe in asking him to do something about the mess. Or I could take care of the mess now and ask him to be neater next time. I wouldn't worry that he'd never be neat or never care about my feelings.

Great addition! Thanks.

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

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