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Articles from February 2010

February 28, 2010

Seinfeld Turns "Tell Me My Spouse is Awful" Game into a TV Show

UPDATE: It was as bad as expected (maybe worse, thanks to replaying the meanest two things said in each episode) and unfunny to boot.

Tonight's the night. Jerry Seinfeld's new Marriage Ref show debuts right after the Olympics closing ceremonies. It's the "Tell Me My Spouse is Awful" Game for others' amusement.

You know the game. Someone comes into the office or runs into you at the supermarket and wants your opinion on just how dreadful their mate is. Their spouse or life partner wants something or claims something is true. They disagree. You are asked to take sides. Right there, right away, with just one of the parties in front of you, in obvious pain.

You are asked to confirm their usually unjustified belief that the two possibilities laid in front of you are the only possible options for them, so this friend or colleague can feel justified in his or her anger or, worse yet, doomed to a painful marriage. If you refuse, you leave this sad or angry person even more so. If you play along, long after they make up, you are left with a negative impression of their mate.

But you will have lessened the chances of them making up just by playing along. Because you will have reinforced their fear that these two unacceptable choices are the only ones available to them.

Let me give you an example provided by NBC, courtesy of Access Atlanta columnist Rodney Ho.

He wants a stripper pole in the bedroom. He won't be the one dancing on it. He plans to tell their four kids (at least the two young enough to fall for it if they don't hear about this episode at school) that it's mommy's exercise pole. She does not want a permanent reminder of the things she's willing to do while playing in the bedroom.

If you've been reading this blog for any time at all, you already have thought of at least one obvious Third Alternative that might make both of them happy, like a private hotel room with a pole. Might even look a lot sexier than the $150 pole he's thinking of planting in their bedroom. And it might get a much sexier dance out of her, minus the embarrassment of his asking her mother to side with him on this.

Instead, a group of comedians will crack jokes about their dispute, cement it into a permanent either-or, him vs. her issue for them. Comedian Tom Papa will let them know who wins. (Their relationship always loses.)

If you're interested in the success of your marriage, and you still want to watch the show for the laughs, do it with a notebook on hand. Listen to what the spouses say they like or don't like about the two options and jot down two or three Third Alternatives for them. Your notebook could be invaluable if you and your spouse ever find yourselves in the middle of the same dispute.

February 26, 2010

Amarillo, Columbus, NW Arkansas, & Richmond Marriage Boost

Chik-fil-A does it again. The Marriage and Family Foundation, headed by Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy's son Bubba Cathy, just changed the future for married folks again. This time, it will be in Amarillo, TX, Columbus, GA, Northwest Arkansas, and Richmond, VA.

They surprised four pro-marriage groups with big grants, announcing them via a video stored on a digital camera mailed to each of the winners. You can watch the video they received on YouTube. They had a lot of fun making this announcement!

Thanks once again to the Smart Marriages newsletter for spreading the news.

The four organizations receiving the grants:

If you live near any of these and you're married or thinking of getting married, congratulations on your good fortune!

February 25, 2010

Great Real-Life Example of a Third Alternative

Writer, speaker, comedian Patty K and her guy Joe ran into one of those "what do we do now?" choices recently. She enthusiastically encouraged him to go after a dream of his only to find it landed her in her idea of a nightmarish lifestyle.

Should Joe give up his dream? Should she tolerate being miserable? Did he have to choose between love and an unhappy companion? Did Patty have to choose between love and privacy? No. Our either-or decisions generally reflect only the limits of our vision, and these two have lots of vision between them.

I invite you to visit Patty K's blog and read about their Third Alternative and how it's already changing their lives.

February 24, 2010

Stop! Before You Communicate Anything...

Pay attention to Steven Stosny's wonderful advice about using at home the communication techniques you learned in the therapist's office or in a book.

In Marriage Problems: How Communication Techniques Can Make Them Worse, Stosny writes:

Early in your relationship you chose to feel connected, just as, if you're thinking about communication techniques now, you're choosing to feel disconnected.

Stop and think:

Don't think of how to get your partner to do what you want or, if you prefer the euphemism, how to "communicate" with him/her. Rather, ask yourself these questions:

Do you want to feel emotionally connected with your partner?
How curious are you to learn his/her perspective?
Do you care how he/she feels right now?
What do you love and value about your partner?

Instead of manipulating your partner, how about reconnecting and looking together for a Third Alternative that provides what you need without manipulation?

February 22, 2010

From Tiger Woods' Announcement: 48 Words We All Need to Hear

"I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled."

At some point in your marriage, there is a high probability you will reach a point where temptation hits at the exact same moment you feel you have worked hard to make money your spouse takes for granted, worked hard to care for a mate too ill to meet your sexual needs, worked hard to stretch a dollar year after year for a partner who won't even buy you a bunch of flowers on your anniversary.

You just might feel entitled. You might even feel getting what you deserve would reduce the tension in your marriage. And you might run straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by.

Deal with your resentment long before you walk into that temptation.

Find a Third Alternative to giving or doing so much that you open yourself to temptation, an alternative that works for both of you, one well within the boundaries of marriage. Don't exchange that tension, that feeling of deserving something more because the effort in your relationship is out of balance, for the even worse tension of being out of integrity with your own values and the cause of enormous pain for the man or woman at the center of your life.

February 16, 2010

25 Relationship Bloggers Share Tips

I am not one of the 25 bloggers who wrote it, but I think you should see this. It's a free eBook called LOVEveryday: Thoughts on Loving Amidst the Chaos of Life. It's beautifully designed and has some wonderful ideas for making the rest of the year even more delightful than Valentine's Day.

Leave them a comment and tell them I sent you. I think we need more of these, and I want to be part of the next one! Enjoy.

February 15, 2010

Like Looking through the Eye of God

Nancy "Sunny" Bostrom, a volunteer deputy marriage commissioner in Alameda County, CA, has a beautiful take on performing weddings at the county courthouse:

"It's like looking through the eye of God. I get to be three feet away at a moment none of their descendants will see, that no parents get to see in the same way. You place yourself in the crossroads where people are making these huge commitments. This kind of love is where poetry and religion and science all converge."

Thanks to the San Jose Mercury News for the quote.

February 14, 2010

More Romance in My Marriage, Please

Happy Valentine's Day, and thank you for this fourth anniversary of the Asssume Love blog. It wouldn't be any fun at all without you. If you've been lurking, I hope you will say hi in the comments on this anniversary of ours.

Today's topic is, of course, romance. When it gets this much advertising, this much aisle space in almost every store, you would think every husband in America would know exactly what to do today.

So why didn't your husband get you that luxury car with the bow on top and a box of chocolates on the leather passenger's seat? Or at least write you an original song and sing it for you while strumming his ukele in front of a roaring fire?

If you're feeling let down today, let's try this. It might keep you from doing something to him that you will regret.

First, Assume Love. Assume for the moment that whatever he did or did not do today was done with as much love as he's ever had for you. For those of you really smarting today, let's also assume you were not blinded by love when you saw all those great qualities in him, but that you are blinded by something else if you don't see them still.

Let's be clear. I do not want you to act as if this is true. I want you to just try on the idea for a what-if experiment.

What if all this is true? How might it explain your not getting taken out to dinner tonight? Or your receiving a new ironing board today instead of those flowers you thought all wives should get? Or my husband offering just a kiss and a hug to celebrate the day?

Option 1. (You should always consider this one first.) He has no idea you might be expecting some hint of romance today or that you believe romance is for married people, too. If you have ever whined at or insulted him about this in the past, mentioned gifts your friends received from their guys, or made a huge fuss over a past Valentine's Day treat, this is not your explanation. But if you are newlyweds or never said a thing about past unromantic Februaries, you might want to clue him in, even invite him to take advantage of the half-price sales tomorrow.

Option 2. (Another one you should always consider.) He doesn't know it's Valentine's Day. If he's involved in a Mardi Gras Krewe, the America's Cup Race, or the Olympics, he could forget the chocolates, even if he loves you very much and wants you to feel adored. Same goes if he's caring for a dying brother or trying to make sense of a recent diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. Or if he's suffering dementia.

Option 3. He knows you like to be fussed over and he knows today is the day, but he still sees romance as what you do to persuade a woman to love you. To show it now, after he has promised you everything he's got and received your promise to love him for richer or poorer, would expose his vulnerable soft underbelly, his fear that it's all still temporary and must be earned again and again. This is especially possible if he loves you, but you have threatened recently to leave him or have dismissed him publically as someone you have to look after like a child.

Option 4. He wants to shower you with romance, but nothing he can afford, nothing he knows how to do, seems like enough for the woman he adores. He thought by now he would be able to afford to give you something monstrously expensive. Or he shopped for days, but never found anything remotely good enough for you.

Option 5. He's frugal. He does not equate money with love. In fact, he feels most loving when he's protecting your financial future. And he expects you will gratefully receive that gift right along with the simple card or small box of candy.

You know this man, and there may be other explanations for why his way of loving you is to skip Valentine's Day or deliver less romance than you hoped for.

Of course, if he's vicious, showing you what he got his mistress for Valentine's Day or giving you a box of chocolates with the warning that he's put rat poison in two of the pieces, our what-if is over almost before it starts. Loving people don't do these things. They wouldn't even stand by quietly if they saw a stranger doing such things. There is no loving explanation for such behavior

But there are loving explanations for a lot of non-romantic Valentine's Day acts.

Second, Expect Love. I didn't ask you to go looking for loving explanations of an approach to Valentine's Day that upsets you so that I could talk you into settling for whatever crumbs you can get. I did it to help you check if you might have overlooked some of the love you were offered today, love that just happened to get in the way of playing along with Valentine's Day customs.

I think it is perfectly sane to expect love from your husband. But it is a mistake to expect it to show up in any particular shape or form. Looking for it in one place will lead you to overlook it in all the other places. And pouting at your husband because his love did not assume a romantic form is likely to keep the rest of his love for you under his hat.

Use what you discovered from assuming love to shine a flashlight into some of the corners of your marriage and see if there are bits of love you haven't yet enjoyed or thanked your guy for. What can you afford because of his frugality? Has he offered massage or kisses and hugs instead of searching for the perfect gift? Has he been creative in coming up with things to do together, instead of songs to sing you? Has he made every day a little bit romantic instead of making this one overly so?

Third, Find Third Alternatives. You tell him you want flowers, but something (maybe even his way of expressing love) keeps him from buying them for you. Could you enjoy flowers you buy for yourself? If not, it's not the flowers that matter. Is it the time it takes to stop and buy them? Is it having the money spent on you instead of something else? Is it the message you would assume flowers convey? Once you know the specs for what you're looking for, convey those, instead of asking for "a little romantic gesture" or "a bouquet of flowers if it wouldn't kill you."

You can do the same with any other sign of romance you are hoping for. You can also do it with whatever measures of love he's using that you are failing to deliver to him, because we all feel a lot more generous when we feel safe, loved, and respected.

Do say hi, please, in today's fourth anniversary comments. Let us know if your husband delighted you on Valentine's Day or if you found these steps helpful or if you are a husband or a life partner and have an opinion on this. Or send some virtual fruit, and we'll mix fourth anniversary tradition with today's technology. Thanks for reading!

February 10, 2010

How Much is Your Nurturing Worth?

Are you the sort of person who takes good care of your mate? Brings a fresh box of tissues bedside during the flu? Gets up to make breakfast every morning? Washes, matches, and lovingly folds socks? Shows up for a goodbye kiss at the door? Fusses over the kids to make sure they feel securely cared for?

How much nurturing do you feel you deserve in return?

Great kindness is a character strength. Exercising a character strength impresses other folks, but it also makes us feel really good about ourselves and what we know how to do. It is its own reward. At least it is until we're feeling needy and start keeping score.

When we keep score, we get it wrong if we expect as much nurturing as we have given. Our mates possess--and feel good about using--different strengths. What we get in return may be creativity or integrity or perseverance, and all the benefits they generate.

My husband, Ed, has the world's greatest sense of humor. He knows how to lighten a mood and how to approach work playfully. I could never offer him as much good humor in return. It's not one of my top strengths.

Which strengths of character does your spouse use to express love and concern for you? Are they same ones you use, or are they different?

February 7, 2010

The Preventability of Divorce

Whenever I declare that there are things worth learning about how to succeed at marriage, I risk offending good friends and even relatives who have divorced. Divorce is often painful, almost always life-disrupting. How cruel to even suggest it wasn't necessary and the result of a bad match-up of partners.

I was thinking about this earlier today and how similar it is to a business failure. There is a point in any business at which almost nothing can be done to stop its bankruptcy or its failure to successfully reorganize even with the protection of the bankruptcy laws.

Sometimes that point comes in the first month of business, when someone releases a product that makes your brand new buggy whip no longer relevant to most buyers or when terrorists blow up a building in the neighborhood of your new restaurant.

Sometimes it comes when an unprecedented season of forest fires spares your store, only to fill it later with mud and rain and ash during a promotion you planned for months.

But sometimes it comes before you open for business, when you might have done something about it if you knew better. If your teachers and mentors had ever talked to you about the difference between profit and cash flow or the importance of market research and test marketing, you might have been prepared for what sank it. Your legislators and government could have alerted you to laws that made your plans a lot more expensive than you ever guessed.

Or that point of inevitable failure may come when you fail to recognize a turning point and change course. If only you had thought to bring on a team of advisors or hire experienced executives when your business took off faster than you expected, presenting you with non-stop challenges well beyond your current abilities, the business failure might not have happened. If only someone had told you that it's much, much easier to hire on customer-facing employees with an inate urge to make people happy than to train anyone else to provide great customer service to angry customers, that quality control blip would not have been fatal to your business.

I do not in any way blame anyone for walking away when marriage becomes more painful than they can bear. I was ready to do it myself in my first marriage. I do not blame anyone for staking out their separate, disconnected territory in a marriage they don't want to end but can't bear continuing as is. It is how my parents survived 50+ years together. And I surely don't expect anyone to stick around and endure torture or even the threat of physical violence in their own home.

I just don't want anyone else to get to any of those points because they didn't know what to do back when it wasn't yet inevitable.

February 5, 2010

Valentine's Gift Idea for Couples

How does this sound? Four to eight days in Orlando, Florida, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort. Four pools, a spa, golf, tennis, volleyball, walking trails, and on-site babysitting service. Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios close by.

Plus a keynote by Five Love Languages author Gary Chapman. Another by Mars-Venus author John Gray. Michele Weiner-Davis' Divorce Busting Secrets. Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, on Erotic Intelligence. Harville Hendrix. Steven Stosny. Yakov Smirnoff after dinner. The latest marriage research presented by the researchers themselves. And workshops on porn, stepfamilies, how to keep your family together, how to recover from infidelity and abuse, Retrouvaille, marital sex as it ought to be, the Love Dare from the movie FireProof, African American marriage, money differences, becoming good husbands, Covey's Habits for families. And so much more - over 200 presenters in all.

If you are clergy or lay clergy, a social worker, a marriage therapist, a clinical psychologist, a teacher, or just someone who wants to help others save their marriages or build them right from the start, you can get certified in marriage education while you're there. And not in just one program, but almost every well-known marriage education curriculum. So many you can't possibly complete them all this year, but you will want to return year after year. And there is a good chance your profession offers continuing education credit for attending.

It's one of the most inexpensive conferences I attend, and there is a big discount if you attend together. The resort offers an incredibly low room rate, too. And the place will be packed with married couples like you and others who care deeply about the health of your marriage.

This is my idea of a great Valentine's gift! The Smart Marriages Conference takes place in July, and you cannot register for it yet. But now you know about it. So, visit the website, book your room at the Rosen Shingle Creek, print out the flyer, and request the brochure. Registration opens in March, and you will need the time to choose among all the offerings.

May I suggest a beautiful Valentine's Day card and a backrub with this wonderfully marriage-affirming gift?

Disclaimer: I receive no affiliate fees or other remuneration if you attend the Smart Marriages Conference. In fact, almost no one on the program does, either. If you take their certification training programs at the conference, you will most likely pay less than anywhere else they offer it. The entire enterprise is a coalition of people who care deeply about the success of your marriage, led by the totally amazing Diane Sollee.

February 4, 2010

Big, Hairy Problems

When you're facing a big, hairy problem, you can curl up in a little ball and beg your spouse to solve it for you. Or you can come up with a possible solution and try to talk your spouse into joining you in implementing it. Most of the time, both of these will just leave you with a big, hairy problem and an unhappy relationship.

Since, of course, you deserve better, these will probably also leave you angry--and prone to saying things that take a long time to repair.

While you are in fetal position or flailing your arms on the bed, your spouse will likely suggest a few things you could do to tame the problem. When you hear them, it will become clear to you that you married a crazy person, who is now riding your big, hairy problem like a rodeo rider on a bull and coming right at you. It's not a pretty moment, but it pretty much comes with the wedding rings.

Is there another way? Yes. It is called the Third Alternative.

Two Scary Alternatives and One that Works

Sure, the big, hairy problem often poses as big a threat to your spouse as to you. After all, you are a couple. Whether your spouse is blithely unworried about the problem, scared silly and feigning helplessness, or just rattling off solutions you know would never work for you, the answer is the same. If you don't agree on what to do about a big, hairy problem, you need a Third Alternative.

Alternative One is whatever you propose, whether it's hiding under the covers while your spouse makes everything OK, drawing up a plan together, or implementing your own battle plan. What we know about Alternative One is that it pleases you, but there's something about it so dreadful to your spouse that no amount of love for you could make it palatable.

Alternative Two is whatever your spouse hopes will happen, whether it's that he or she can ignore the problem, postpone dealing with it a while longer, or get you to carry out his or her battle plans.

Just a small note here. There would be no Alternative Two--and no issue between you--unless something in Alternative One scares the bejeebers out of your spouse and something in Alternative Two has the same effect on you.

What Does a Third Alternative Look Like?

The Third Alternative is not ever Alternative One or Alternative Two, so don't waste your breath arguing for or against them. Leave yours at the door. Walk away and back into your spouse's arms, because it will take two of you to find the Third Alternative.

Here's what the Third Alternative looks like. It has at least as much benefit for you as Alterrnative One, but none of the OMGs of Alternative Two, the stuff you just know you couldn't do or won't do or don't want to do or find just plain icky. It lets you protect your spouse from whatever it is about Alternative One that scares your spouse. And it lets you give your spouse the moon and the stars--all the benefits of Alternative Two and maybe even more.

Fake Bacon (It's always about bacon, isn't it?)

If you're not clear about the two sides, consider Raven, who is panicked about their financial crisis, and Mike, who won't give up buying high-priced Beggin' Strips for the dog during belt-tightening, not even for a lower-priced substitute.

If Raven argues with him about price, she will never find the Third Alternative. It's evident he cares about price and values the price reduction of the substitute, but if he's still not on board, it's because there is a big negative associated with not having Beggin' Strips. For Raven, there is no positive associated with not having Beggin' Strips. She's interested only in saving money, and it looked to her like this was a place to save some.

Their Third Alternative saves money, which they both want AND includes having Beggin' Strips for the dog, which Mike needs. Raven could debate the importance of these treats for the dog, but it would signal she doesn't trust his judgment. Sane men don't fight for fake bacon unless it matters. Far better to work together to find other areas where they can cut costs and to find free or less expensive sources of Beggin' Strips.

Bigger than Bacon

Your big, hairy problem might be a lot bigger and hairier than buying Beggin' Strips when you can't pay your electric bill. You might be choosing between chemotherapy and living like you're dying: windsurfing in a hurricane, bungee-jumping, giving all your money away. Or the two of you may be trying to figure out whether to take one six-figure job in Akron or two jobs that pay half that in Raleigh, where you will be close to your aging father. Or whether it is crazy, in this economy, to take time out to get a PhD at the age of 44.

The Third Alternative can only be found by laying out both sets of valued positives and both sets of feared negatives and brainstorming together (or even with other people) to find a way to accommodate all of them. And the only way to get honest participation in this from a spouse is to (1) stop arguing for whatever you propose, (2) stop arguing against whatever he proposes, and when it's clear you have done this, (3) offer to give him all of what he needs, (4) share what you need to get and avoid, then (5) ask gently for what he needs to get and avoid, and (6) start brainstorming together, with no criticism of any suggestion, until you find one that qualifies as a Third Alternative.

Your Turn

Have you and your mate resolved any big, hairy problems? Or is there one on the table right now? Let me know in the comments. Thanks!

February 2, 2010

Prescription for a Happy Marriage

Prescription for an Unhappy Marriage

  • Keep checking if you are loved, if you are respected

  • Keep checking whether you are getting all you expected

Prescription for a Happy Marriage

  • Keep checking if you are overlooking loving acts or signs of respect

  • Keep checking whether you are getting goodness you never expected

Simple, no?

February 1, 2010

We Need to Stop Spending So Much Money

Having trouble communicating about the issues in your marriage? You may not be speaking the same language.

"We need to stop spending so much money." It's a simple statement of an opinion, yet an utterly uninviting, unencouraging one. We could use some alternatives.

"I'm looking forward to doing a lot of things together after the kids are grown and we're retired, so could we please brainstorm a few ways to put more money into our retirement account?" [A better approach, especially if your spouse values quality time together.]

"May I repair this for you instead of getting a new one?" [A good approach for a loved one who sees love in doing things for each other.]

"I want to shower you with great gifts -- not a bunch of flowers, but an entire garden, not a new comforter for the bed, but an entire new bedroom, not new gadget for the kitchen, but a kitchen where you'll feel right at home. I want to buy a house for you, and I'd like your help to think of ways to afford it." [An inviting way to appeal to spouse who loves to receive gifts and views them as sign of love.]

"I want to spend more long, loving Saturdays in bed with you. Where could we cut costs on stuff that hardly matters, so I can spend less time working and more time with you?" [Works for a mate who especially enjoys the physical side of love.]

"Let's skip the club this Friday so we can get up early on Saturday and play tennis. I love watching your serve." [Works if you two have gotten into an expensive rut and your spouse eats up your loving respect.]

What would work with your mate? Let me know in a comment. Thanks!

The Author

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

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