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What If You Could Change Everything?

About your marriage, that is. You can. The three secrets I discovered a day too late put a lot of power in your hands.

Secret #1: Assume Love. When something happens that makes you wonder if your wife has no respect for you, if your husband no longer cares about you, or whether you ought to stay together, Assume Love.

Your lizard brain, the one that protected so many of your ancestors who lived in tougher times than yours, always assumes danger. It does not want you doing any thinking. If you might be in danger, if the situation even looks similar to dangerous, it takes action. It narrows your thinking. It focuses your attention on threats. It gets you ready for a fight for your life, the fastest run you've ever taken, or a complete freeze to fool your enemies. Not particularly useful for dealing with your life partner unless yours is violent or cruel.

So tell your lizard brain kindly that you are safe and just want to try on a different idea with your new brain, your very clever prefrontal cortex. Assume you loved as much as ever by a man or woman who is just as wonderful as ever, then try to explain what happened. That's it. Come up with a few different possible explanations for how a loving person might do the same thing that upset you so because it looked unloving. Think about what else is happening or has happened to the person who vowed to love you and how it might relate to what upset you.

Maybe all it will get you is an understanding that what looked mean could also have been kind and the choice of which to believe or act on is yours. Maybe it will put you in a position to ask your mate to explain something, and you get you an honest answer because you are able to ask kindly and without accusation. And sometimes it will shock you right out of your shoes and turn your I-am-out-of-here fury into compassion and a much more deeply intimate connection with your spouse.

Secret #2: Expect Love. Stop expecting everything else. All those other expectations are getting in the way of feeling loved and respected. Expect Love. If you receive none, I will help you pack your bags and get away. But you receive a lot less love when you are busy watching and waiting for anything else, whether it is Valentine's candy, getting the garbage to the curb before the trash truck arrives, a hug, or a fair share of the chores. Take your attention off what you expected love meant and use it to learn what love really means. I think you will like it a lot more than you expect.

Secret #3: Find Third Alternatives. If you disagree about any two options, just toss them out. They are no good for you two as a couple. Join hands to spec out what would work for both of you and start brainstorming. You would be amazed at how often a disagreement blinds you to something you will like as much or more. And if you have ever given your spouse something that was just what he or she wanted, you may have an idea how much better a Third Alternative is than just getting what you want.

With these three secrets—Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives—you have to power to really change your relationship and rediscover the intense love of your early days together.

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

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