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Articles from June 2011

June 27, 2011

Is Your Marriage Unfair?

So many marriages go down the tubes because one spouse or the other feels taken advantage of. Sometimes, a spouse will keep quiet about it until he or she suddenly erupts. The rage that follows overwhelms any feelings or acts of love.

Other spouses, often the children of who watched the spontaneous combustion of a doormat, attempt to even the score daily or hourly. They give orders or exact their pound of flesh with mocking criticism.

As you may have discovered through trial and error, none of these approaches help you enjoy being married, even when one temporarily reduces the bedroom floor's sock or dust bunny population.

What will help you enjoy being married? Getting your needs met.

Get Your Needs Met

When my first husband refused to handle the local chores—pharmacy pickups, landscaper quotes, cable installer appointments, and the like—it felt so unfair to me. We lived close to his office. Mine was in another part of the state.

It felt unfair to him, too. He had all the chores he could fit in his week. When he promised to take care of any of these, he never could get around to them. He did not like being asked to do the impossible.

Only after he died did it occur to me that an office closer to home would free me to take care of those chores. Tell me why your mate should do any chore. Now you know what needs fixing in your life to enjoy being married. You will find it right after the word "because."


  • "He should wash the dishes, because I cook the dinners." If someone else cooked the dinners (Stouffers or Lean Cuisine, a neighbor looking to pick up some cash while working from home, your husband), you might enjoy your marriage a lot more.
  • "She should go back to work full time, because I might lose my job soon." Something keeps her from finding the time or will. How about looking for a more secure job or doing something at work to secure this one, so you can enjoy your marriage again?
  • "He should weed the rock garden, because he's the one who wanted it." Perhaps he wanted it weeds and all. Stop weeding. Start planning how you will use the space after his weeds kill his garden. Get back to enjoying your guy.
  • "She should help me wallpaper, because I do not have enough time to finish it myself." People who hate wallpapering (or have exams to grade or a report to write) do not speed up the job. Who else do you know that might help? What can you buy at the wallpaper store to make the job easier? How could you free up more of your time?
Doormats, bossies, mockingbirds, and judges, why wait for your spouse to change when you can enjoy being married without the wait?

June 24, 2011

Why Be Married? To Survive Colon Cancer

Colon cancer patients, male and female, have a 14% lower risk of death if they are fortunate enough to be married when they get this awful diagnosis. This finding, from Penn State University's College of Medicine and Brigham Young University, compares patients at the same stage of the disease. Married patients also were likely to be diagnosed at an earlier stage.

Download my free Why Be Married eBook for more research and stories about the many benefits of marriage.

June 21, 2011

Want More Encouragement from Your Husband?

Today, as I ate my salad for lunch, a couple was seated in the booth in front of me. Both were carrying way too many pounds, enough to make it difficult to walk.

The restaurant was the sort where every meal comes with enough calories for a family of four. Most of the food there is fried, covered with cheese, and accompanied by fries or a free dessert.

She ordered a salad. She was apparently dieting and ramping up her exercise levels for health reasons, and she wanted his encouragement and support. He was nearly silent, except for a few one-word answers. She kept trying. She tried through his cheese-topped chili, through his butter-grilled meat and cheese sandwich, through his mound of french fries, right through his free dessert.

Her timing was awful. I hope she did not leave the restaurant believing her husband does not care about her efforts to improve her health. More importantly, I hope she wanted the kudos she was asking for, not a change in his behavior. Her timing was bad for kudos and dreadful for a change.

Today's tip is this: if you want encouragement or a change in your husband's behavior that will make you happier, seek it when you can tap into his strengths, not when it will diminish his pleasure.

Her request for support in her self-moderation came across as criticism of his enjoyment of the meal. He could not share his enjoyment with her. She could not get the kudos she wanted, and she certainly could not convince him to join her in her health quest right in the middle of the meal he had chosen.

Does he do yardwork, swim, or play volleyball? She could look for feedback on her eating and exercising changes when he's fresh from doing something physical or when he's chosen grilled fish from a better menu.

Did she want to ask him to lose weight, too? She should just ask, directly. And do it while he's more inclined to find it a good idea he can commit to, like while he's changing out of a tight suit into something more comfortable or while they are planning a future event together, not while they are eating in calorie city.

Real encouragement makes a marriage stronger. Criticism makes it weaker. You will get better results if you seek encouragement when it will make both of you feel like better people.

June 17, 2011

The Difference Between a Disagreement and a Fight

You ask for something. Your husband or wife says no or asks for something different. This is a disagreement. A disagreement may actually be a good thing.

So what turns a disagreement into a fight? You demand, pout, withdraw affection, insinuate, or put forth perfectly rational arguments that result in your mate demaning, pouting, insinuating or taking up sides against you in a debate. Unless the two of you both enjoy the adrenalin rush and makeup sex, a fight is probably bad for you, your mate, and your marriage. Research suggests you will need to interact positively and as intensely around five times to undo the damage.

Just going along with your spouse and forgetting your own wants or needs does not result in a better outcome, unless the disagreement is so minor you will not remember it tomorrow.

How Can a Disagreement be a Good Thing?

If you pursue a Third Alternative, an option each of you finds at least as pleasing as the one your mate turned down, you get two huge benefits.

The first benefit comes from eliminating the fear any disagreement triggers. Most of us carry some fear of being abandoned if we disappoint our mates or of losing our freedom to be ourselves in order to get the approval we seek from our mates. The fear fades when we hear, "I want this, but I also want you to have what you want, and I will work with you to get both."

The second benefit comes from discovering something we did not know would delight us. It comes from combining our strengths with our spouse's strengths to discover how to have both when we had lived our lives until know believing we could have only one or the other.

We learn from checking our thoughts to figure out what makes us want a particular experience, whether it's a quiet Saturday at home, a family gathering, a trip to the lake, or a round of golf, and what we dislike about the other option for this time. We learn from exploring our mate's thoughts, too. We learn how different our pictures of the same phrase can be. We learn what happened in the past to associate fear or disgust with any of them.

As we brainstorm ways to get what both of us seek and protect our mate from fear or disgust, we stretch our creative muscles. If we start hot-dogging to loosen up our wild ideas, we laugh and play together, growing closer and beginning to see things through lenses unlike any we have used before. We reveal ourselves and we see our mates more clearly. We find new respect for each other and for ourselves.

Is There a List of Third Alternatives?

There can be no list. The Third Alternative depends on the two of you. There is no obvious better choice until we know what makes the first two choices good or bad for each of you. Is golf your mate's first choice for the exercise, for the camaraderie with others who enjoy playing, for the time to reflect on life between moments of intense concentration, to shift from parent to adult roles for a while, or to qualify for some important accolade?

When I sought a winter equivalent for sailing my little dinghy on the lake, I expected to hear skiing. But as I laid out what brings me joy in sailing, with friends because I was a new widow then, two said, "I get those from playing the piano." So I tried it. It gave me a new appreciation for those who find sailing unenjoyable because the many simultaneous tasks and problems to solve never come together to take them into flow or playfulness. I switched to dancing. I learned a lot about myself and I learned to appreciate a lot more about others' piano playing.

When I disagree with my husband, I jump the net to his side. Otherwise, we could spend days arguing for our first ideas and just making each other miserable. Once I am on his side of the net, we stop lobbing the ball back and forth. I learn. I grow. And I find myself astounded to discover new sources of enjoyment, new ways of living.

If you find yourself in the middle of a fight today, or at the start of a disagreement, jump the net. Offer to make your husband or wife happy, and yourself, too.

June 13, 2011

When Your Spouse Spends Too Much

When Your Spouse Spends Too Much (or Earns Too Little) is the title of my next teleclass, scheduled for July 13, 2011 at 6 pm PDT, 9 pm EDT. There is no charge to attend, but you must be a newsletter subscriber to get the phone number, and you must phone in to participate. Put it on your calendar and sign up for the newsletter now at

I do not believe you are a victim. You hold the power to change the quality of your marriage without waiting for your husband or wife to change. Resentment makes a mess of your life and your marriage, as I so thoroughly proved in my first marriage. Call in and learn a better way.

June 10, 2011

Want Commitment? Let Yourself Be Judged

Because I went to a university with a 15:1 male-to-female ratio and found myself a widow at age 34, I have a little experience with dating.

One big mistake people make while dating, assuming their goal is to find and marry a great guy or gal, is trying to duck being judged.

They do what they believe others want or expect, hoping to be selected as good enough to commit to. They fear rejection. All they manage to do is postpone rejection until after the wedding, when it hurts more and costs more.

If you seek a marriage partner, dating is the proper time to judge and be judged. Let yourself be seen and known and judged. Perfect the art of bouncing back from rejection, sure in the knowledge that while you may be able to convince someone to date you, you must find a spouse.

Commitment requires that you judge and let yourself be judged.

June 7, 2011

When Your Romantic Overture Fails

I received a comment today on this blog from JS, who is looking to put some romance back in his or her marriage. Like so many of us, they have fallen into parents-instead-of-lovers mode.

For their anniversary, JS arranged a romantic weekend without the kids at a hotel and spa she likes, but it backfired. She did not like being surprised. She claimed to be ill and refused to go, then went shopping. She is a woman who sets high standards for herself and others and measures love in acts of service that do not always manage to meet her standards.

JS asks, "The big question in my mind is how I could try to get her to change her expectations and try to see the things I try to do as a sign of love."

Here is what I recommend to JS and to you if you ever find yourself in the same shoes.

JS, isn't it just horribly frustrating when we try to change the people we married so we can have the marriage we expect? It's enough to leave any of us in tears. People are not easily changed.

Many women would be thrilled to have a surprise romantic getaway. Others feel blindsided by any surprise. Not much hope of changing one into the other.

"My way or the highway" does not work very well in a marriage. When she did not accept your proposal for how to celebrate your anniversary, you chose to get out of town until you cooled off, using the kids as an excuse, and she chose to buy things to make herself feel better/prettier/wealthier, using illness as her excuse.

Neither of these made the two of you feel any closer, probably not even any happier. Both, however, are perfectly natural responses from people who do not want their love to end. We tend to protect ourselves from the horrible suspicion we may not be loved by acting as if we no longer care if we are loved. Fortunately, when we do this, it is usually because we care a lot.

Assume Love

Instead of trying (in vain, I am sure) to change her expectations, why not try to change your experience of your marriage. It turns out to be much, much easier. Assume, just for the sake of this exercise, that she loves you dearly and wants a romantic relationship as much as you do. If you knew this for certain, if there were no question of whether she finds your loving acts good enough, how else might you explain her reaction to the surprise romantic weekend?

I do not know your wife, so I will just get the ball rolling with a few possibilities. You can keep adding to my list until you come to one (or two or three) that sound like her.

  • She hates surprises in general and feels life is out of control when hit with one.

  • She loves that spa but can only feel comfortable there with the right clothing or haircut or weight, so she feels she needs more notice.

  • She expected the weekend to involve more sex than usual and did not feel well enough or in shape enough or happy enough to enjoy it.

  • She has recently felt you call the shots a lot, and she needs to flex her muscle a little to feel comfortable in the marriage.

  • She already had plans for the weekend, whether reading a book, watching a movie, or lunch with a friend.

  • She had her heart set on some other way to celebrate the anniversary and your plans made it clear she was not going to get whatever she so looked forward to.

  • You heard an off-the-cuff "no" based on some momentary upset, but your reaction to her "no" killed her interest, so she did not change it to a "yes."

  • Your anniversary coincides with another anniversary that makes her feel sad or with an allergen outbreak that makes her feel ill.

The purpose in this Assume Love technique is to help you see the story you tell yourself while you digest a rejection may not be the real story. In fact, the way our brains work, it almost certainly is not the real story, because our distress at rejection floods our brain with chemicals that force it to look for other threats, not better explanations.

Remember, though, you Assume Love only to help you come up with the other possible explanations. If your I-am-not-loved explanation is still the best fit, do not feel you must select one of the others. This would be Pretend Love, nothing I recommend.

Expect Love

Let's say you recognize that it is possible she still loves and just does not show it in the way you expect, like running off with you for an impromptu romantic anniversary weekend. If she loves you, you can stop trying to love her well enough to get the loving you want and instead put your attention on noticing all the ways she shows you she loves you.

Since you know her love language, you know what to look for first: acts of service. But look, too, for the other four love languages. Just start making a list (privately, of course). If you get a kiss on the way out the door, take note. If she does something with the kids, take note. If she prepares a meal, take note. If she says something encouraging or complimentary to you, take note.

Do nice things for her when you feel inspired to. Skip doing any you resent doing. If asked to do something you will resent, say, "I am sorry. I cannot do this today. Can I help you find another way to get it done?" You probably will not need to do this much, because once you are actively managing your resentment and actually seeking out signs of her love, you just might find yourself scrambling to find nice things to do for her.

You may also find that as you express your delight in the things she does, you can ask for more, knowing that she is free to say no, just as you are.


Give it a try. I would love to hear your experiences with these two techniques. This includes anyone who reads this, not just JS.

June 4, 2011

How to Choose the Perfect Partner

If you are not yet married but would like to be, you may wonder if you now date or live with "the one" you should marry or, if not, how to spot this perfect partner. I received an email recently from someone wondering about this, too.

Who is Your Perfect Partner?

Your perfect partner adds something extra to your good enough life. He or she is not responsible for making it good enough. If you find it hard to meet your perfect partner, do something to make your life better.

Your perfect partner disagrees with you about many things. Otherwise, how could he or she bring anything extra into your life? The Third Alternatives you two discover when you disagree will open your life to possibilities you never dreamed of.

Your perfect partner is not frightened or disgusted by your past or your dreams. You cannot know this, and you cannot find your perfect partner, until you reveal your past and your dreams, ideally after the first date and before the first orgasm, because all that oxytocin will bond you and make it harder to leave if you have found the wrong partner for you.

Your perfect partner does not have a past or dreams for the future that frighten or disgust you. You feel free to admire and encourage a perfect partner.

Your perfect partner will sometimes do things that shock, hurt, embarrass, or frustrate you, simply because you two see things differently. However, barring brain damage from an addiction, disease, or accident (all of which call for immediate treatment, not just forgiveness), your perfect partner will never pose a threat to your health, life, or sanity.

Because your perfect partner's perfect partner is you, your perfect partner cannot be (a) created by attempting to fix him or her, (b) lured by pretending to be anyone by yourself, nor (c) drafted through imprisonment, pregnancy, or financial support.

How Do You Find Your Perfect Partner?

You keep looking. You break up and move on as soon as possible when you discover you are dating someone else. As soon as your life is good enough again, you get out and meet new people, because one of them may be or may know your perfect partner.

Your perfect partner is one of many perfect partners for you, one who happens to inhabit the place or lifestyle you find most comfortable right now. If you do not find him or her there, try traveling in slightly different circles.

If I Marry, Won't It Constrain My Life Choices?

Yes, it will. Life is one giant buffet full of options, but every single one you put on your plate constrains your ability to choose the others. Spend your money on a great pair of shoes, and you have less for a trip down the Amazon or a cozy house overlooking the water. Spend your time in the garden, and you have less time for windsurfing or writing a novel.

If you marry someone who won't get in an airplane, you will need to do your air travel solo. If you marry someone saving for a house, you may need to channel some of your funds into that house, too, or live apart.

And yet, marrying increases your options, too. It increases them because your husband or wife brings a different set of character strengths to inspire you, to rescue you, and to open up options not available to you with your strengths. And it increases them because your spouse can give you a boost up and a softer place to land, making it easier to take a big risk, experience something incredible, and perhaps reap the big payoff.

Marrying also frees up all that time you spend looking for, getting to know, checking out, breaking up with, and recovering from people who are not your perfect partner. Think of all the other things on your wish list you could spend this time on!

The Author

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

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