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Articles from August 2011

August 24, 2011

The Secret to Stopping a Violent Spouse

battered woman in bathrobe looking up at her abuserThe on/off cycle of love from an abuser can mess with your mind. Which is real, the over-the-top words of affection or the underhanded, life-threatening acts of violence?

If your mate still loves you, both. And he or she can control one of them, not the other.

No one who loves you will assault you intentionally. Think about this. No one who loves you will assault you intentionally. Assume Love and try to explain the violence. Only one explanation fits: he or she hurts you in spite of choosing not to. Your mate is incapable of protecting you.

Either you are living with someone incapable of protecting you from his or her violence or you are living with someone who no longer loves you. Either is a very dangerous place to be.

This means the apologies and the love that follow mean nothing at all about the abuse. The only thing that will stop the abuse is stopping whatever causes the abusive behavior. That out-of-control rage comes from something that screws with your mate's executive functions in the brain: alcohol, drugs, addiction, mental illness, a brain tumor.

Choosing to face and fix any of those takes a lot more than love. It is much easier to apologize or to find a way to blame you for what happened. The more you overlook, the harder it will become.

New research by psychologists at Ohio State University, reported by Sophia Dembling of Psych Central, pinpoints a critical moment in protecting yourself and your marriage.

If you did not physically separate sooner, this moment holds the secret to stopping the violence.

Your or a neighbor calls the police. They take your abuser into custody. Here is what the researchers found is quite likely to happen to you when your mate phones you from jail. I will use "he" because they studied only male abusers, but I doubt the pattern is limited to men.

First, an angry conversation about what happened or did not happen. You stay strong.

Next, a second angry conversation about it. You stay strong again. You know what happened. He cannot convince you otherwise. You know you are in danger.

That is what the researchers call phase one. He's angry. You are strong.

Phase two is the critical one. He minimizes the abuse, hoping to convince you it was not nearly as serious as what you have done, what he is facing in prison. He may tell you how much he misses you and the kids or even that he is so depressed by what happened that he will kill himself.

He wants your sympathy. As soon as he gets it, you head off into phase three, which is a very dangerous place for both of you. In phase three, you side with him against every possible source of help to get him well and make you safe.

He wants your sympathy. He knows every one of your buttons to push to get it, too, because he knows you well. He wants your sympathy because jail is scary for anyone but overwhelming to anyone with an addiction that demands to be fed constantly.

No matter what words he chooses, you will know they are the lies born of an addiction or mental illness. You will know this because his loving side would care deeply about the harm done to you. If it were accidental, he would care about it even more than you do. You would have plenty of his sympathy. He would offer to bear your pain if he could.

If he seeks your sympathy, there is nothing you can do to help him now, especially not allowing him to ignore his out-of-control behavior and its consequences. If he threatens suicide, report it to the warden, so they can take away any means of killing himself.

The most loving act you can do right now is leave him to deal with the consequences of his behavior in a place that prevents him from doing any further harm to the person he loves. It will surely require a lot of courage to deal with his problem. Sympathy will only get in the way.

The secret to stopping a violent spouse is to keep your sympathy for yourself and your marriage until he deals with his problem.

August 21, 2011

What to Do When You Stop Loving

Last March, I answered this question on Quora:
If you are married with a kid, but you and your wife do not love each other, what should you do?

Twitter tweet by Quora: Awesome Quora answer @married

My answer:
Love your kid's mother. It's the greatest gift you could ever give your child.

Regardless of your emotions toward her, be as generous, forgiving, caring, brave, fair, trustworthy, nurturing, helpful, complimentary, and welcoming as you possibly can. Use every ounce of your creativity, everything you have ever learned to find ways to make your child's mother feel welcome in your life.

Smile a compassionate smile when you are around her.

Ask everyone who knows her to remind you of her best qualities.

Do not let disagreements get in your way of loving her for what you agree on.

Let go of your expectations of what she would do if she loved you. Stop tapping your toe waiting for anything. Pay attention instead to all the good things she gives you, does for you, says to you, does with you, or does to make your body feel great. Savor each one.

What would you change about yourself if you divorced? Unless it will break your vows and your child's heart, do it right now. Lose weight, get in shape, write a book, go out for a beer with your friends, take a trip your wife wants no part of, give your kid a second bedroom and fill it with furniture and toys that are even nicer than what they have now, give them two sets of gifts at every holiday, take twice as many vacations with them, and never eat another brussels sprout.

Should unhappy parents ever divorce? Sure. But the ones who should are unlikely to describe their situation as "you and your wife do not love each other." This is just the very common trough between when you love because you feel loved and the day you feel loved because you chose to love.

While in this trough, you feel frustrated. You want to love and be loved. You can tell your kids are getting cheated, and you imagine it would be better for them to have the two of you happy again, even if it is because you are loved by and loving people they don't give a hoot about. You think it would be better even if you were happy elsewhere and they still lived in their current home, even if their other beloved parent were bitter.

The trough is a horrible place to be. But most marriages come out the other side. They come out when one spouse makes an effort to love again or lets go of believing only divorce would remove the constraints they see on their current life and start being themselves again. The other side of this trough is a very nice place to be.

Have you come through the trough? Did your parents? Add a comment about it. Help anyone who might be coming through the trough now.

August 17, 2011

I'm Dying to Tell You About Something

This arrived today as a comment, but it's too good to be hidden away like that. It's written by a regular blog reader who calls herself Roodle. It made my day, and I think it will give a lot of hope and wisdom to others hoping to get married.

Hi again, Patty.

I'm dying to tell you about something that's happened in my life, largely due to your blog.

I'm in my mid-40's and still single, and I've been trying to figure out what I can do differently so that I have an easier time getting into a healthy, happy relationship and keeping it that way.

A couple of years ago, I decided to stop banging my head against a wall (also known as dating) until I felt confident that I could do things differently. I read a lot, attended a few personal-growth workshops, and practiced new ways of interacting with friends and family. All of this helped, and your blog has been one of the most important sources of new perspectives for me.

I could tell I was developing great new skills, and I knew that I needed practice at a higher difficulty level: with a man I was interested in. I was afraid, though, that I would be so invested in the future of the relationship that I wouldn't feel free to play around with my new skills. What to do?

A few months ago, I met a man I was very attracted to. He wasn't ready for a Relationship (meaning commitment and physical intimacy), because he's getting over the breakup of a long marriage. But he clearly liked me a lot.

Voila! A practice ground! We openly shared our goals. His: female companionship & distraction from his troubles. Mine: male companionship and practicing my new skills without worrying about our future together. We made only one commitment to each other: to stay in communication.

I could write so much about what I've learned! Here are some highlights.

While I can't exactly assume love, I can assume "like" and good intentions, and it's truly transformative. I've found that sleeping on things when I'm upset makes me much better at coming up with alternative ideas about why he did something.

Sometimes, what's going on is that he doesn't understand how important something is to me, so I let him know. Sometimes, what's going on is that he's just living his life and not thinking about me at that moment. That's reasonable. Sometimes, he's confused about his own wants and feelings. Those three probably cover most of the toughest situations!

As you've said in your posts, often it's not important to find out what was really going on. Just to think of innocuous or caring possibilities is enough.

I've always done a lot of ruminating about my relationships, but now it's productive. Either I think of enough positive possibilities that I reach peace, or I realize I can't think my way to peace and I decide to act. Either way, I can stop thinking about it -- aah.

I've learned that talking to my friends when I'm upset at him isn't necessarily helpful. Perhaps I can train them to help me think in the new ways, but for now, most of them do what I used to want them to: lay blame at his feet.

I've realized that, if he does something I don't like and does it only once, I can often just let it go. If it turns out to be a one-off, I'll be glad I didn't waste emotional energy on it. If it happens again, I can deal with it then.

Also, I've gotten plenty of evidence throughout my life that I stink at guessing what's going on with a guy. So I made a new rule: if I'm wondering, ASK. (Obvious, no? But really, I used to brood for a long time and get myself good and ticked off before I would talk to the guy. Great start to a conversation!)

I found that a good way to start a delicate conversation is to lay out the overall goal. In this situation, I said, "We both want to spend time together and enjoy it lot, right?" In a marriage, it might be, "We both want to have a rich connection and enjoy each other as much as we possibly can, right?" That reassures the other person that, even if the conversation gets tense, no one is looking for an out.

Every single time I've gathered my courage and asked him a question or broached a delicate topic, this particular man's response has been "I'm so glad you brought that up," or "Yes, that's important; let's talk about it." I know I can't expect that level of responsiveness from everyone, but it's great to have the reinforcement. And it's got to be in great part because of my more constructive approach.

I've also realized how important it is to accept reality, rather than engage in wishful thinking or avoid looking at the truth. It was freeing and relaxing to get clear about how small a space there is for me in his life. I was confused because he's so very happy to have me in his life. But once I sorted out his feelings from his availability to me, I could focus on how to be happy in light of that reality. I worked on filling my schedule with activities I enjoy; strengthening my connections with friends; and thinking about whether I might be ready for "real" dating again.

I am starting to feel ready to apply these new skills to a relationship with a potential future. It'll still be scary, but I really believe in the new approaches, and I really want a loving relationship.

I'm not sure what this man and I will become to one another if/when we stop being each other's boy- and girl-friend substitutes, and I'm not sure how each of us will feel about the transition, but it's just about time to find out. Staying true to my new approach as I talk with him about it will make it a rich and as-positive-as-possible experience.

Thank you for your generous sharing of your experience and wisdom, which has played such a big part in my growth!


What do you think, men? What would have been your reaction while dating to finding someone like Roodle?

And who else wants to join me in wishing Roodle the very best with her wonderful new skills?

Is Financial Irresponsibility Grounds for Divorce?

A reader asks how to help a newlywed friend. She's paying the bills, keeping careful track, budgeting for every predictable expense. He's running up unexpected bills, failing to warn her what they will owe this month or to turn over needed paperwork on time. And it's drowning her in distress.

Can this marriage be saved? Can she live with a man like this? Of course she can. How long have preachers been warning right at the altar that richer and poorer are both possible and even a normal part of marriage?

Marriages can work and be outrageously happy with little money or with lots. But they are almost always unpleasant when we believe our mate causes the problems we experience.

Please do not let me imply it is OK for anyone to run their husband or wife into debt looking for that next dopamine hit or to sit at home playing sudoku while their mate does all the work. It's not OK to do this, and it's not OK to provide anyone else with the means to do this.

But the thing that starts most divorce-bound resentments is nowhere near this big.

The Source of the Money Problem

Is a surprise bill for $500 a problem? Not if you have $50,000 cash on hand. Not if the source of the bill surprises you but your budget includes $750 a month for surprises.

Your resentment comes not from the expense, but from your expectation about what a wise or loving person would do with the money.

You will find it much easier to love your spouse when you let go of the expectation that money means the same thing to both of you and you should therefore agree on how much you need or how it gets spent.

If you need a budgeted amount or a cash reserve to feel secure and to perhaps even enjoy paying for something your spouse needed or wanted, why not add it to the budget or start building the cash reserve?

It is quite normal to have different risk tolerance levels, different long-term financial goals, different reactions to spontaneity vs. predictability. When you disagree, find a Third Alternative, an option that gives both of you what you need.

A good friend, like the one who asked the question, can help morph a complaint about differences into a set of specs for an alternative that works for both of them. Friends can also help brainstorm creative ways to get what both want.

Belief Gets in the Way

Some will say we cannot find more money or more time. I know for certain we can. I know it because my husband dropped dead, and I had to. Suddenly it became possible, because I was willing to work harder, take more risks, and do less unnecessary stuff. I know it because every couple that divorces, claiming they never had enough money, finds the money for two homes, duplicate bedrooms and toys for the kids, separate vacations with the kids.

Many will say, "Unfair! Why should I bring in more money or spend less on something else when my spouse could fix the problem by becoming more responsible with money?"

Marriage is always unfair. Just add up what you would spend to live alone, what chores you would need to do living alone, how much you would spend on looking for love, how much time it would take to help your kids maintain close relationships with both parents. Most married folks have an incredibly unfair advantage. Why would they consider jeopardizing all this over a squabble about how much more money and time they could be saving?

A friend can help an embattled spouse measure what's happening against a realistic alternative, instead of the alternative of a fantasy spouse who thinks just as we do. A friend can help come up with ways to deal with the real problem instead of turning it into a marriage problem.

Could, Not Should

I do not mean to say the more money-cautious spouse must be the one to fix this problem. Not at all. But for me, in my first 13 years of marriage, the idea that I could be the one to fix our problems never occurred to me. The idea that my spouse could be perfectly at ease with a situation that created stress for me and that my stress and my reaction to it were the real problems getting between us never occurred to me. The idea that fair is not half as satisfying as close never occurred to me.

And then he was dead, and I had to earn all the money, pay all the bills, make everything work. There was no one to whom I could say, "We have to talk." (By the way, no matter how you mean this, it almost always sounds like, "Bad dog. Come! Sit!") All I could say, to my reflection in the mirror, was, "One more problem solved. What's next?"

It was bone-crushingly depressing to realize I could have done the same while I still had a chance to enjoy the very special man I had chosen to wed.

Want help figuring out how to enjoy whatever time you have with your husband or wife, in spite of money issues? Use the comments section. Give yourself a phony name and a blank URL to remain anonymous. But please include your email address. It will not be published. It will let me notify you when I post a reply and perhaps include some extra, unpublished suggestions.

August 10, 2011

Why Be Married? Not Alone for Our Own Happiness

Henry and Mary Stillwell and seven of their eight children
After the open-air meeting the procession reformed and marched back to the chapel, which was filled to the door with a crowd that waited impatiently for the service to begin. The chapel was decorated with evergreens, roses, wedding bells and flags. A solid bank of white and green was before the altar. Above, a huge wedding bell of flowers was suspended.

Before the ceremony Mrs. Stillwell addressed the audience and told some of her experiences when first she came to Portland 18 years ago. Then, while the Army band played the wedding march, the bridal couple entered and took seats on the platform amid the applause of the crowd.

Miss Mitchell was in the dress uniform of the Army, with a white silk sash about her waist and shoulders and a white bow on her hair. Aside from these simple distinctions, she was garbed as simply as any other Army woman in the house. Mr. Vanderkelen wore the conventional uniform of the corps.

The flag of the Army and the flag of the United States were carried to the center of the platform before the altar and spread so as to form a background. Before this the couple and Brigadier Stillwell took their stand. Mrs. Stillwell then read the marriage vow of the Salvation Army: "We do solemnly swear that we seek this union not alone for our own happiness, though we hope that through it it may be advanced, but because we believe we will be better fitted to carry on the work of the Salvation Army. We will in no way let this union come between us and the work of the Salvation Army. We will each of us not object to anything the other may desire to do to further the work of God through the Salvation Army."

"If you desire to become husband and wife on these terms," said Brigadier Stillwell, "stand forth."

Miss Mitchell and Mr. Vanderkelen immediately advanced to the altar, and there, through the ceremony of the Salvation Army were made husband and wife. After concluding the ceremony Brigadier Stillwell congratulated the pair, and the members of the Army in the hall shouted their approval of the union. The bride sat on the platform smiling happily, and the groom smiled back with the air of a soul-satisfied man.

- Morning Oregonian, August 6, 1904, as quoted by T. McCracken

You probably do not have my great-grandmother's passion for the work of the Salvation Army. Mary Stillwell had more passion, more fearlessness, and more of a sense of mission than any human being I have ever known.

But you do have a passion, something you do well and yearn to do, something the rest of us need you to do to make this a better world. And you are in danger of failing us. When it becomes difficult to do, your spouse's discomfort is the easiest thing to blame for your decision not to honor your passion, not to be who you were meant to be.

When you share your vows, when you renew them, or even just the next time you stand on the peak of a mountain together surveying the great valley below you, try her promise:

"We do solemnly swear that we seek this union not alone for our own happiness, though we hope that through it it may be advanced, but because we believe we will be better fitted to carry on the work of [fill in your great passion and your spouse's here]. We will in no way let this union come between us and the work of the [fill in your great passion and your spouse's here]. We will each of us not object to anything the other may desire to do to further the work of [fill in your great passion and your spouse's here]."

Not alone for our own happiness but also to be better fitted for our most important work. Like Mary and Henry Stillwell.

That's my grandfather, the baby on his mother's lap. The photo was taken about two years before Mary's business trip to Portland. She had one more child before the trip. She continued to follow her passion after she became a single mother less than a year later, when Henry died of consumption. She did not stop when the daughter standing next to her died a few months later, after their cross-country move and her older her sister's wedding, nor when the son born 18 months after my grandfather died a decade later.

Some report being unhappy because marriage keeps them from doing the things they love. Think they might have it backwards?

August 2, 2011

How to Crush Your Spouse

If you're married to a woman, let her overhear as you talk with a woman from work and share feelings you have not shared with her.

If you're married to a man, tell him you should have married someone else.

The Author

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

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