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Articles from February 2009

February 24, 2009

Happy Marriages Start with Happy Partners

One thing I learned from screwing up my first marriage is that happy marriages start with happy partners. It's not the other way around. As much as your mate might want to add to your happiness, he or she cannot make you happy when you are not.

In my second marriage, Barbara Sher's book Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want has been a big part of our efforts to find our own happiness and support each other's. This wonderful book came out 30 years ago, and it is still so popular that a special 30th anniversary edition comes out on March 24th.

I met Barbara Sher in 2004, at a PBS donors workshop in Bethlehem, PA. Immediately, I signed up to coach others using the techniques in Wishcraft, through something she calls Success Teams. My next team, eight weeks of workshops following Barbara's great program that will start you on a lifetime of successfully going after your dreams (no self-improvement or positive thinking required), is a telephone team, so anyone can participate.

Whether you join a Success Team or work through Wishcraft on your own, it's a fabulous program for getting past your procrastination and self-defeating stories about why you can't do what you love. And Barbara Sher plans to celebrate the 30th anniversary edition in a big way. She's offering prizes to those who join her, plus a giant, worldwide, 24-hour Idea Party to figure out ways to get you where you want to go, which begins the evening of March 23 for those of us in US time zones (all day March 24 UTC / Zulu / Greenwich Mean Time).

Recent research into happiness shows the pleasure of a box of chocolates, a bunch of flowers, or a massage is short-lived. More effective are a career or hobby that engages you daily and a life of meaning, in which you bring your talents to a cause greater than yourself. You owe it to yourself and the man or woman who loves you to find a way to do what you love.

February 19, 2009

It's the Way I Look Now, Isn't It?

Today's post is by guest blogger Russ Lane of Second Helping, a website about life after weight loss. It is unusual to address dating in Assume Love, but what Russ experienced affects us married folks, too, when our fears get in the way of seeing what is really going on.

I never dated before I lost 200 pounds and transformed from wallflower to Mr. Adventure. Back then, I blamed this and every other failure on my weight. Now that I'm in relationships, I found I still play that same game, just now it's with loose skin. And here I thought I broke my broken record.

Understand that years of food contortionism, weight lifting, and running doesn't create a Charles Atlas body out of the obese. I carry loose skin on my legs and abdomen that can't adjust to smaller me. Normally it's no big deal: 23 years of being obese certainly teaches you how to dress to minimize.

But meeting a man with whom there's great chemistry, all the time knowing what they see isn't what they'll get, provokes nothing short of loose-skin-shuddering terror.

I recently met the man of my dreams shortly before I moved from my hometown in North Carolina to New Orleans. He was handsome, shy, strong. Those were just perks: his integrity humbled me, and his spirit enchanted me.

And I was in the best shape of my life, longing for a fresh start after returning home for my mother's death two years prior. This goal didn't cooperate with a long distance relationship, but this man was worth considering a change in plans. I'd even move back to a city that just reminds me of ghosts: both my mother's and my own. I was awestruck by him.

Yet for all his truly exceptional qualities, our interactions followed the nasty pattern of all my previous relationships:

1. He asked "Why have we never seen each other before?"

I don't remember my reply; I only remember what I didn't say. What I didn't say is how many times I've seen him in the past. Often. For him, I conveniently appeared in view after I lost the weight I had put on after mom's death.

And I looked at this strong, sincere, genuine man and resented him a little. And then I was disgusted with myself. Were our perspectives flipped, wouldn't I have done the same?

2. Meaningful Silence.

The sense of intimacy built the more we talked. That kind of intimacy I adore, the talking. Noise I can handle.

But I can't tolerate the silence. Usually the meaningful silence strikes when I first take off a shirt and the skin appears. This time, I weaved in and out of consciousness one hazy morning and felt a strong hand closely examining my loose skin. I let him investigate in silence. Deer don't talk when they're in front of a car.

I immediately began rejection preparations the second he began his search. Usually the meaningful silence turns into permanent silence, but this one bucked the trend and called back a few days later.

3. "You're great, and goodbye."

We continued talking even after I left for New Orleans, and, at first opportunity, I raced back to North Carolina to see him for two weeks. I parked at his house and when I reached for him, he jerked back, tucked those investigatory hands of his under his legs. With the this-is-how-it-is certainty an employer speaks to his employees, he explained that I was "cool" but we were done before we got started. He didn't want a partner, even a potential one, out of reach.

Reeling, I caused much drama in the week following: chance meetings turning sour, leaving long voice messages, resulting apologies, even a genuine attempt to "let bygones be bygones" inadvertently making more of a mess. I was as ill-equipped for our ending as I was for our meeting. And I'm not proud of this. It was so 200 pounds ago; I didn't push myself to improve mind and body for years to leave the broken record intact.

So I had to face it: I wasn't ready for him, or even worthy. Nearing 30, I had the relationship experience of a middle-schooler and the conduct to match. Just because I missed out on all the pre-teen melodrama doesn't mean I still don't have to go through it, albeit later than most.

And I also had to face that the only one calling my loose skin into question was me. My highly-evidenced loose skin relationship pattern was of my own creation. Just the fat pants coming back to haunt me with the same tired excuses.

And I can't blame him for any of that. He can't be blamed for my loneliness and fear propelling a desire to make a distance relationship work; I can't blame him for his loneliness and fear forecasting worst-case distance relationship scenarios. And now I can't blame the skin either.

My pre-weight actions have consequences on my body, and my post-weight treatment of men has consequences too. I have to live with both.

Russ Lane lost more than 200 pounds while working as a food writer. From that experience he created Second Helping, a Web site featuring a variety of news, cooking and first-person columns examining the new opportunities and challenges of life after weight loss. He writes in New Orleans and studies for his personal trainer certification. E-mail him at, or visit Second Helping at

February 14, 2009

Tit for Tat

Tit for tat may make you happier for the moment, but always at the expense of your relationship. Falling in love made your heart sing, not because of what your beloved offered you, but because it made you want to offer so much more.

Happy Valentine's day! Be generous.

And thanks for three great years so far. Here's a post from that first Valentine's Day in 2006.

February 8, 2009

Great Couples Book: The Usual Error

Pace and Kyeli Smith have knocked one out of the park with their new couples communication book, The Usual Error: Why We Don't Understand Each Other and 34 Ways to Make It Better.

What is the Usual Error? It is the very normal, very human, big-trouble-creating mistake we all make. It is assuming that others think like us, would react like us, or value the same things we do. When we do this, we get ourselves into all sorts of love-squelching communications problems.

While showing you how to spot these errors and fix them, Pace and Kyeli offer code names for them, so you can defuse a situation quickly. They provide wonderful little vignettes of how they have cropped up in their lives and how they now handle them. And they offer some great techniques for dealing with the big ones.

The book has four sections: communication dynamics, boundaries, turning conflict into communication, conflict resolution, and positivity. The chapters in each section are short, fun to read, and immediately useful.

I love their third alternative to peacefulness (avoiding all conflict to be nice) and violence (overstepping boundaries to protect what's rightfully yours). They call it fierceness. It is the assertive middle ground so many of us need help finding.

I also delight in their answer to indecision, trust your future self, and their approach to handling verbal attacks, verbal aikido.

The illustrations, by Martin Whitmore, are illuminating and fun. You cannot find this book in most bookstores, but you can order The Usual Error online or learn more about it at the Usual Error website.

February 6, 2009

When Marriage and Careers Collide

This is a comment I wrote in reply to a post by Pam Slim today, in Escape from Cubicle Nation, asking how to handle a situation in which one spouse's new business launch conflicts with another spouse's planned job change. Don't miss the other great comments there if this is an issue for you and your spouse.

Pam, Dave, thanks so much for this opportunity to comment. Marriage and work are both topics I get passionate about.

Dave wants us to pick between the two options he and his wife have laid out, to support his view or convince him of her view. In any dispute, there is only one marriage-supporting choice, and that is the one that lets you give your spouse the moon and the stars without giving away whatever you need for yourself.

As soon as one of you objects to the other's proposed solution or proposes another, it's a dead giveaway neither is the one you are looking for. You need a third alternative.

A third alternative is one that satisfies each of you as much as your preferred option, without causing the problems for you of the other one.

Dave and his wife need a solution that (1) gives his wife the financial cushion she needs to take her career risk without feeling constant fear or embarrassment and (2) lets Dave avoid getting locked into a position with his uncle that would prevent him from enjoying the fruits of his success with his new business.

So, Dave, can you turn down the next phase with your uncle and stay in his employ? If not, do you have the skills to quickly move to another full-time job, perhaps a sales job, where you could gradually reduce your hours and pay as your new business succeeds, or where you could leave without harming a family member? You need to stay employed only until your wife has made her move or your business has taken off.

Alternatively, could you leave your uncle's employ and invest 75% of every workday for now in helping your wife secure her new position? You two would need to decide in advance how many weeks to invest before you switch to spending that 75% looking for your own next job if she hasn't found what she's looking for and your new business isn't yet bringing in an income she's comfortable with.

If it's too early for her to start looking for new teaching jobs, can she help you line up and serve coaching clients, so you can add more clients before you make the leap to self-employment? Or can she help you cut expenses enough that the year of savings becomes 18 months worth?

Two heads brainstorming together on a single problem is a much better use of your minds than dreaming up ways to convince each other your own goal or strategy is the right one.

Why "Love Me Better" Fails

I'm unhappy. Love me better."

That's not exactly how we put it. We ask for more time at home, more romance, more appreciation, more help around the house, or more evenings out.

Usually, what we ask for are things we received lots of us at the start of the relationship. We just want to go back to those good times, to feeling loved.

Feeling that loved again is a perfectly reasonable wish, definitely not out of reach for most of us, UNLESS we try to get there by pleading, "Love me better!"

"Love me better!" shuts off love. It doesn't get you more. The love is still there. Today, it might take the form of a steady drip into your retirement account, instead of chocolates and flowers. It might take the form of family time with the kids, instead of date time with you. It might even be lurking just below the surface, waiting for any sign you would actually welcome a hug or some hand-holding.

When you announce, "Can't feel it; love me better," it is a slap in the face. It's a denial of all you are being given. Because your mate cannot tell you want what you want instead of something else, that you are not even looking at all the other forms of love offered to you, it comes across as a demand to fill an apparently bottomless pit.

What can you do instead? Pay attention. Savor the love you are getting. Appreciate it. Say thank you, and be specific about why you are grateful.

"Love me better" creates resentment for both of you. You resent not having what you put on your marriage checklist. Your spouse resents being asked for more than what he or she feels capable of. And resentment snuffs out love. "Love me better" snuffs out love.

Get to work on filling the holes in your life that make you want more. Need more conversation? Make new friends or call the old ones. Need someone to appreciate your cooking? Invite your family over. Want to dance? Find an instructor. You may even find your wife or husband willing to help you find the people who can help you.

Get creative. Want more together time at home? Rearrange your schedule to be fully present when your mate is home. Pay someone to do the chores that cut into the time your spouse is not working. Learn a skill that pays better or take a risk, so less of the burden of paying the bills falls on your spouse. Instead of asking your spouse to spend less time at the office, make his or her time at home more enticing, more urgent to hurry home for.

Does it sound like work to give yourself what you need, on top of everything else you must get done each week? Then imagine how much harder it sounds to the love of your life, who knows a lot less than you do about what would actually please you.

Reopen the flow of love that made those early months so wonderful. All you have to do is pay attention to ALL the ways you are loved. You married someone very special, with his or her own way of loving you. The moment you appreciate what you are given, instead of resenting what you are not, love will rush back in. Enjoy!

February 1, 2009

Surviving the Recession Together?

The Oprah Show is

"looking for couples who have grown closer despite tough economic times. If you've lost your job, your home, your car, or other possessions but managed to save your marriage in the process, we want to hear from you. Has the economic downturn somehow opened up new opportunities in your life -- perhaps the change to spend more time with your kids, or reassess your priorities? We want to know your secret to surviving a recession."

If your secret is to Assume Love, Expect Love, or Find Third Alternatives, I hope you will tell her producers I'm working on teaching these to married people everywhere. Thanks!

The Author

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

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