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Articles from October 2011

October 31, 2011

Why Be Married? Because Love Happens All the Time, Everywhere

Yesterday, the New York Times published Mona Simpson's eulogy for her brother, Steve Jobs. I just have to reprint a few really important quotes from it today.

Steve was like a girl in the amount of time he spent talking about love. Love was his supreme virtue, his god of gods. He tracked and worried about the romantic lives of the people working with him.

I remember when he phoned the day he met Laurene. "There's this beautiful woman and she's really smart and she has this dog and I'm going to marry her."

His abiding love for Laurene sustained him. He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere. In that most important way, Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic. I try to learn from that, still.

"Love happens all the time, everywhere." That was the part I failed to understand in my first marriage. I missed out on so much love because I thought I knew what my husband would do if he loved me. If we look for love only some of the time, in certain places (the lawn, the dinner table, the bedroom, the visits to your relatives), we can easily be fooled into believing we are not loved enough.

Love happens, all the time, everywhere. And it makes marriage one of the most wonderful things that happens to us in a lifetime.

October 30, 2011

Why Be Married? For the Hot Water

As you might have heard, the northeastern U.S. got hit with a record-breaking October snowstorm yesterday. We were right in its path.

And even though I usually overprepare for hurricanes, I didn't do much about this freak storm, because I was supposed to pick up my mother at the airport. Instead of preparing the house, I was digging out my car. Online weather reports kept telling me it was raining, not snowing in NJ. They were saying that about where I was, too, so I wasn't all that confident, but still I did very little to prepare for problems and focused instead of being safe on the drive to the airport and back, which included getting myself a lot closer to the airport before dark and hanging out until she landed.

So I was caught by surprise when trees began falling apart in the neighborhood. I got a little worried when the tree I park under lowered its boughs to surround my car in its own private garage with no exit. I went out and shook snow off every branch I could reach with a broom. Then the power went out and we got the call that her flight was cancelled.

We were not ready for the 22 hours that followed, without heat or electricity or—gasp!—the internet.

There we were, surrounded by candles and wearing several layers of clothing, when my husband, a genuine, certified geek, began setting up two piles of big, fat technical manuals on either side of a candle in a jar. He set a cookie cooling rack across the two piles of books (Perl, PHP, Excel, Linux, and the like). Then he set a pot of water on to boil, as if this little, apple-cinnamon-scented candle were a Bunsen burner in a chemistry lab (waving hi here to my science teacher daughter-in-law). To my delight, the water boiled, and we could have all the tea, coffee, and hot cocoa we needed to make it through a very chilly night of indoor camping.

It's times like this that I really love being married.

October 29, 2011

May Your Marriage Be Full of Laughter

May these vows and this marriage be blessed.

May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.

May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.

May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.

May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.

May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcomes the moon in a clear blue sky.

I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.

- Rumi (Kulliyat-e Shams 2667)

October 28, 2011

10 Bogus Excuses for a Crappy Marriage

Here they are, ten really lousy excuses for the two of you drifting off to an "irreconcilable differences" divorce.

1. My Husband (or Wife) Won't Let Me

Really? You feel free to decide whether or not to stick to those vows you made, but you have surrendered the decision to take a job you want, sport a different hairstyle, try skydiving, or meet your friends after work? Find a Third Alternative, a way to do whatever you need to do that doesn't ruin your spouse's life or make him or her a scapegoat for your loss of enthusiasm.

2. She (or He) Has Lost Interest

Not buying it. Try something new. Not something phony, but something so very you that the person who fell wildly in love with you will be unable to resist.

3. We're Just a Bad Match

This is just the flip side of lost interest. Too much sameness or too much difference both reflect a shortage of creativity. Get a notebook. Write in it every time the two of you agree on anything, from whether stop signs should be red to whether pumpkin tossing is entertainment or a bad waste of good food.

Once a month, take an hour to brainstorm ways to use your points of agreement to find more to agree on. If you agree red means stop, get everything red out of your bedroom. If you agree pumpkin tossing is entertaining, start your search for pumpkin tossing events to visit together or poll your friends to find out which ones would come to your own pumpkin tossing event. Or experiment a bit and try some watermelons on the next Fourth of July.

4. He (or She) is a Workaholic

Workaholic are looking for praise or for escape from something less pleasant at home. You have the power to praise for things at home. You have the power to make coming home an absolute blast for your spouse. If you want your spouse at home more, start competing with his or her work.

If the only thing you want him or her home for is to mow, cook, watch the kids, or remodel, a subscription to Angie's List might be your best gift to yourself. You two are not the only ones who can do these things. Plan something more likely to keep you having a blast until it's suddenly your 50th anniversary and you wonder how the time flew.

5. He Doesn't Show Me Any Affection Any More

News alert! Few men have any natural ability to be truly affectionate. Men figure out affection through trial and error or copying some other man who gets what he wants through affection. If you're getting less affection, it's quite possible it's because your response to his affection changed. He may be really confused about what works and what doesn't now. And because he's a guy, he will stop doing whatever he suspects will lead to rejection from you. Tell him when he's getting warm. Better yet, show him.

6. She No Longer Has Any Respect for Me

Another news alert! Few women have any natural ability to offer respect. They tend to think it's something you must earn, rather than the very basis of a relationship. She may act like she distrusts your driving. She may seem to take the work you do and the income you bring in for granted. However, if she is always be trying to improve you, it means you are still OK in her eyes and worth the effort. Pick up on her implied respect and show her lots of affection (kisses, hugs, touches, flowers, other gifts, and any words that suggest you will be there for her) whenever you spot it. Women can learn about respect.

7. We are Too Busy to Spend Much Time Together

Not true. You may choose time on kids' activities over being together. You may choose money-making and ladder-climbing activities over being together. You may choose gym time or friend time over being together. In the long run, though, your kids will benefit much more from your rock-solid marriage than an afternoon of rock-climbing lessons and your life will be much richer for long-term love than for whatever you manage to put in the bank.

8. I Think He (or She) is Seeing Someone Else

And just to cement your suspicions, you are holding back on your time and attention, your affection, your respect?

9. The Economy (or a Job Loss) is Putting a Strain on Our Marriage

OK. So? Why is this difficulty not bringing you two together to look for Third Alternatives to all the new challenges? Why are you not offering him lots of extra respect while outsiders heap on rejection or shame? Why are you not showering her with affection and security while it feels like the rug is being pulled out from under your family? Do you have any idea how much harder divorce will be on your finances than marriage is?

10. I Thought He (or She) Was My Soul Mate, But I Was Wrong

Or perhaps you are wrong now. Perhaps you are not sad or angry or frustrated or bored because you are not soul mates, but not recognizing what soul mates you could be if you stopped being sad or angry or frustrated or bored. There is only one expectation of a husband or wife that will build your marriage up: Expect Love. All those others things you expect just keep you from seeing the love and being a soul mate.

Unless you are married to someone abusive or with an addiction or mental health problem that puts you in danger, you have plenty of choice about whether your marriage succeeds and lots to look forward to if it does.

October 27, 2011

What Twitter Can Tell You About Marriage

On Twitter, where I am known as @married, I created an Enjoy Being Married list of Tweeters with good stuff to say about being married.

Here are just ten of the tweets from the Enjoy Being Married list today.

You don't need a Twitter account to view what they are saying. But if you have one, almost all of them welcome your questions and will answer them right away. This is a huge marriage resource available to all.

October 26, 2011

The Marriage Blister

Have you got a marriage blister? That would be an irritation resulting from something that rubs you the wrong way, day after day after day.

For example, you find a raised toilet seat offensive, and you have to lower it several times a day. Or you make the dinner and expect this means you will not have to wash any dishes, but they are still on the counter at bedtime at least every other day. Or you try for a kiss only to hear, try after try, "No! I haven't brushed yet."

That's a marriage blister, inflamed by a minor irritation that gets repeated over and over. After one forms, no matter how much you like the shoes, you will dislike wearing them.

Here are three ways to heal a marriage blister.

  1. Find a Third Alternative, a mutually satisfying alternative that reduces the friction. A toilet that lifts with a foot pedal and lowers automatically might work.

  2. Expect Love. If you lived alone, unloved, there would still be dishes to wash after making dinner. Why tell yourself that unwashed dishes are a valid indicator of whether or not you are loved? Break out the paper plates and look for other signs that you are loved. Maybe the shoe is fine, and it's a burr on your foot causing the blister.

  3. Assume Love. Before you get all red and sore, ask if there is some way your mate could be trying to show you love, rather than rejection, by delaying that first kiss? Perhaps if you received the love gratefully, the closed-lip irritation would disappear in short order.

When the blister's gone, the shoes look so fine!

October 25, 2011

Why Be Married? For a 70th Anniversary

A New Zealand couple, Margaret and Allan Alexander, celebrated their 70 wedding anniversary on October 4th. Both are in their 90s.

They met in 1937 and married in 1941. A month after marrying, Allan went off to fight in WWII. A bomber pilot stationed in England, he was unable to return home for three long years.

It was a huge test for a new marriage, one faced by many couples who married in 1941. Allan flew 27 night missions over Germany in a Stirling bomber. In one five-month period, his squadron lost 39 aircraft, with a crew of 7 in each one. He says he survived by becoming one with his machine.

Back home, Margaret could do nothing but wait for his return and the resumption of their marriage. She said the separation was "dreadful." Finally, he was back. They raised three children together and retired almost 30 years ago.

Thanks to the Kapiti Observer for the Alexanders' story.

Most folks today are marrying too late in life to reach their 70th anniversary. Many are saying marriages ought to be temporary, because 5 or 7 or 12 years with one person is plenty. For me, though, the idea of spending my 90s with someone who has known me and stood by me for seven decades sounds like pure heaven.

October 24, 2011

Floods that Wipe Out Good Marriages

Researchers call it "diffuse physiological arousal." Therapists call it "flooding."

You start out a little bit angry or anxious. Your stress grows. When it reaches the point called "flooding," you can no longer think clearly about anything except fight (hurting or stopping the person or thing you are upset about) or flight (getting away, even if just inside yourself, stonewalling the person trying to get you to talk).

Your nervous system is flooded with the stress chemicals, cortisol and adrenaline. You become physically stronger. Your time horizon gets very short. You don't consider the long-term consequences of what you do or say.

You are physically aroused, and the arousal is diffuse—it affects every part of your nervous system. No one else needs to get inside your head to tell you are highly upset. They could take your pulse, check your blood pressure, see you sweat.

If you are a man, you reach this point more easily than a woman. If you are a woman, you may have unwanted tears streaming down your face at this point.

If your disagreements with your husband or wife put either of you into flood stage more than once in a blue moon, you've got a problem. You need a better way to resolve those disagreements, or your marriage is highly likely to fail.

Two suggestions: avoid getting to this point and stop talking about the disagreement immediately if either of you even comes close to this point.

To stop talking about the disagreement, it might help to have a private code phrase either of you can use to change the subject, for example, "Let's head for higher ground" or "How about those Lions?"

To avoid getting here, learn to begin a search for Third Alternatives as soon as you realize you disagree. Here are some great how-to posts:

What is a Third Alternative?
Find a Third Alternative - Step One
Find a Third Alternative - Step Two
Find a Third Alternative - Step Three
Is It a Third Alternative or Just Alternative 1.5?
Big, Hairy Problems
Great Real-Life Example of a Third Alternative

Don't let a flood wipe out your marriage. Whatever your disagreement, it is not worth driving yourself to doing something you will feel ashamed of later. It is not worth the damage to your heart and blood vessels. The disagreement will not end during a flood, but your chances for a lifelong bond with another human being may very well get flooded out.

October 23, 2011

Active, Constructive, Marriage-Strengthening

Help yourself to happier feelings. Tell your spouse about the positive events in your life. Accomplish a goal? Receive an award or promotion? Lose weight? Tell your spouse. Researcher Shelly Gable has found this pays off in increased well-being and a better mood.

You can take it to the next level and get greater well-being plus a more satisfying and stable relationship. How? Through active and constructive responses from your spouse.

That's active, not passive. No lame "uh-huh." No unenthusiastic "that's nice, honey." We're looking for a bit of enthusiasm and attention here.

And it's got to be constructive, not destructive. Changing the subject is destructive. So is pointing out there is a downside to this victory. Constructive is asking how your mate got the good news, how she or he felt at that moment. Constructive is listing the reasons why the good outcome was well-deserved and pointing out all the good things likely to follow from it.

How can you get such responses? Ask for them. Give them when your spouse has good news. Pay attention to your spouse's mood before you decide to share your good news. And don't downplay your own pleasure in your accomplishment or blessing.

October 22, 2011

You Were My Sunshine

Man in classic red convertible with both arms raised high with delightWe marry someone who fills our life with sunshine. It feels so good, we cannot help but sing—and say yes.

Turn a few calendar pages, and suddenly, it's a dark day. The sun is almost completely hidden by dark clouds that get our clothes wet and frizzle our hair. Worse yet, it's the eighth dark day in a row. No tornadoes ripping the roof off. No hurricane knocking the trees over. No flood destroying everything we own. Nothing awful enough to call in the Red Cross. But we're not singing any more, and we miss it fiercely.

Our self-protective, threat-aware lizard brain urges us to escape. Don't wait around to find out how much worse it will get. The best defense is a good offense. Rain on your spouse's parade and move yours to the other side of town.

Our friends, equally protective of us but a bit more worldly, tell us to hurry off to see someone who can fix our spouse. If he or she won't join us, we can whine, plead, beg, cry for sunshine.

But the most effective strategy? Whomp up some sunshine! Do things you enjoy. Try new things that sound like fun. Smile compassionate smiles at everyone and feel the warmth of their response. Say and do the nicest things for your mate, but only the ones that make you feel like a real superhero.

Bad weather is temporary, even in a marriage.

October 21, 2011

Before You Ask for a Divorce

I know from personal experience how overwhelming emotions can get when your marriage feels like it's not working. Before you announce you've had it, try this.

Make a list of the things you would do after you divorced, other than flirt or find a new sex partner, and do them for three months. Go out for dinner with your friends. Take a trip without your spouse. Learn to dance. Lose weight. Join a gym. Get a new hairstyle. Take a bubble bath every evening. Stop running errands for your spouse. Change jobs. Take your kids out to dinner without their other parent. Shop for an apartment or a smaller house. Maybe even rent a place of your own.

That's it. Don't work on your marriage. Work on yourself. Take your post-marriage life for a test drive. Get your mind off what you would get away from and onto what you would move toward. Don't say you're leaving. Don't promise to stay. Take 90 days to get to know yourself and be yourself again.

While you are doing this, there is a good chance your husband or wife will begin to see you and your marriage very differently. And you might, too.

October 20, 2011

Marriage Questions? We Have Answers

Once a month, I do a free marriage education teleclass. This is your opportunity to learn a little and ask me just about anything. It usually a small group, so you can expect plenty of personal attention.

The topic is announced in advance. On November 9th, the topic will be In-laws, Step-kids, and Holidays. If time allows, we will tackle other topics, based on your questions.

I would love to have you join us. To get the call-in info and a monthly newsletter, just sign up for my Enjoy Being Married mailing list.

If you have already joined us, please use the comments below to share your experience. Thanks!

October 19, 2011

Why Be Married? So Your Heart Bypass Lasts

Psychologist and relationship researcher Harry Reis says:

"Getting relationships right is something that people ought to pay attention to, because it is significant."

The University of Rochester professor and nursing professor Kathy King asked 225 heart bypass surgery survivors two simple questions a year after surgery:

  1. Are you married?
  2. Do you feel happily married compared to most people?

Pie charts showing 27% live, 73% die in unhappy marriages, 83% live, 17% die in happy onesFifteen years later, they checked to see who was alive and who was not. 83 percent of the women happily married a year after surgery were still alive. Compare this to the unmarried women (only 27% still alive) and the women in unhappy marriages (only 28% still alive).

The outcome for happily married men was the same: 83% were still alive. For them, just being married was a big factor: only 36% of the unmarried men made it 15 years, but 60% of the unhappily married men did.

While the number of people studied is small, the differences are huge, and Harry Reis is an experienced and highly regarded researcher, If your cardiologist offered you a treatment shown to increase your 15-year survival odds from 27% to 83%, or even from 60% to 83%, would you jump on it? Will you jump on turning your marriage around from unhappy to happy?

Source: Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle newspaper

October 18, 2011

3 Ways to Get Your Wife's Respect

Want more respect from the woman you married? These should help.

  1. Be you, at your best. Find more ways to use your greatest strengths (creativity, humility, generosity, gratitude, perseverance, curiosity, social intelligence, integrity, leadership, perspective, bravery, etc.) when you are with her.

  2. Show more affection. Without affection, women have a hard time paying attention to anything else. Let her know her respect matters because she matters so much to you. This may be hard to do when you feel disrespected. Do it anyway, because you're not getting any respect by being distant or mean.

  3. Ask for it. Really. She has no idea how much you crave her respect. She does not need it the way you do. Because of this, you might need to explain it to her. Point out positive examples, not her failings.

You might think your wife has changed or that she never respected you to begin with. You might be wrong about this. Her cues have just changed. Change them back.

October 17, 2011

Wear Something Gaudy

Patty as a clownI was just reminded that today is Wear Something Gaudy Day. We were first introduced to this bit of fun by Larry Dallas, a character on the 70's sitcom, "Three's Company." There is a good chance he introduced us all to Wear Something Gaudy Day at The Regal Beagle.

Some years before that episode, around 1969, I had a favorite gaudy outfit I had made for myself. It included a hot pink satin peasant blouse. I paired this with a pants in Chinese red homespun with a wild paisley print. The waistband was the width of a cummerbund. Two huge pink buttons attached a pair of wide suspenders to it. Down below, on my ridiculously long legs, were paisleyed elephant bells, gathered at the waistband and widening into a 36" hem on each leg.

No match for the Drew Carey Show's Mimi, of course, nor for Lady Gaga, but definitely gaudy. And fun. The outfit always picked up my spirits, always made me feel like dancing.

Many years later, a widow already, I had to show up for a photo shoot, in a suit, at a corporate client's office. It was Mardi Gras, and I was missing New Orleans. I brought a bunch of feathered masks and beads for our final shot. We were in the cafeteria. A young woman who worked there came up after we finished to ask where we got the masks. She knew her husband would go wild if she had one. She blushed as she said that and again as I handed her a mask and some very shiny beads to go with it. Gaudy is fun.

If your marriage is running a little ordinary and humdrum these days, today's your chance. Put on something truly gaudy and dance your spouse around the house. Playfulness and celebration are hallmarks of a thriving relationship. Enjoy being married!

Links to photos of your Wear Something Gaudy Day celebrations are greatly appreciated—unless all you are wearing is a feather mask and beads.

October 16, 2011

Is It Possible to Enjoy Being Married?

Marriage brings with it responsibilities, disagreements, and unpleasant surprises. Some of them don't make themselves known until you divorce or your mate becomes addicted to something. Thanks to the recently high divorce rate, marriage often means stepchildren, too, not to mention stepparents-in-law and your new half-brother-in-law's son and stepdaughter. Lots of family drama potential.

So, is it possible to truly enjoy being married? I believe it is. You can feel loved, respected, and cherished if you are married. You can feel part of something bigger and longer-lasting than yourself as a married man or woman. You can get more sex, more affirmation, more self-understanding, more relief from daily chores, and more wealth with a spouse. You can savor the good times much longer when you stay with the same person, and you can confidently weave together a shared life.

How do you manage it, especially if things have been less than enjoyable recently?

I believe you Assume Love whenever your husband's or wife's behavior upsets or worries you.

I believe you remember to Expect Love and not any of its many proxies. Letting go of what you think love should look like to pay attention to all the other surprising forms it takes reduces a lot of resentment, eliminates a lot of stress, and leads to a lot of growth.

I believe you Find Third Alternatives for the things you disagree about. By definition, they will please you, and the process of looking for them will strengthen the bond between you.

Please share. What else do you do to Enjoy Being Married?

October 15, 2011

Best Friends, Respectfully

Ken Solin, a 50+ guy looking for love, decided to try something new. He wrote about it in the Huffington Post last Wednesday. I think you might find what he said interesting for your own marriage.

I had noticed that in great relationships the partners were also best friends. Alternatively, I had never seen a bad relationship that embraced friendship.

He set out to find a female best friend. And he found one. Notice what he says about getting through the tough spots with her:

When all else fails, we remind each other that best friends treat each other respectfully, particularly when they disagree.

Most of us women would say kindly, gently, lovingly, with forgiveness and concern. Men say respectfully. Women who pay attention to this difference have a much easier time getting the kindness, gentleness, love, forgiveness, and concern they value.

We haven't failed yet to find workable solutions to our problems, because we truly are friends, and friends always manage to work it out with dignity.

Workable solutions. Work it out. Dignity. Sounds like Third Alternatives to me.

I like this guy.

October 14, 2011

Marriage Tips for Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries

Newlyweds Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries face all the usual difficulties of transitioning from planning for the Big Day to living in love day after day. They get to face them in the spotlight, too. Not easy.

So, when Cupid's Pulse asked me to share some advice for newlyweds like them, I did. I hope you will check out my guest post, Three Tips to Enjoy Marriage Despite the Battles.

This is Day 14 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Following Stu Gray's lead, I am aiming to post daily for the month of October. I welcome all suggestions for questions to answer or topics to cover. Let my know what you want to hear.

October 13, 2011

5 Ways to Get Your Spouse to Spend Time with You

Unfortunately, whining seldom works. Neither does asking why your spouse has too little time for you or talking about what other couples are doing together. So, how can you get some more quality time together?

  1. Make your request specific. Suggest a particular event or activity at a particular time. "I would like to hike around the lake on Saturday morning, and I would love for you to join me; are you available then?

  2. Choose something you both are likely to enjoy. Save the things you want your mate to try for a period when you spend lots of time together.

  3. Make it a Strengths Date. Choose something that brings out your best self and your spouse's best self. For an avid learner, make it a museum or lecture or tour. Skydiving or spelunking work for someone with lots of curiosity and courage. Go to a party or a gala with a mate with really high social intelligence. Make it an art opening if one of you thrives on appreciating beautiful things. Invite a courageous mate with a love of life for some white water rafting, Suggest a volunteer activity like housebuilding, feeding the poor, or playing with hospitalized kids for a big-hearted spouse or a natural leader.

  4. Be completely present in whatever you do. Leave your cell phone with someone who can handle any emergencies. Don't discuss bills or childcare issues. Be fully there, listening, affirming, encouraging, and enjoying your beloved.

  5. Savor the good times. Take photos, record sounds, make a sketch, or pick up a souvenir, and put your reminders somewhere where they will lead the two of you to recall the great time you had together. If there were bad times, too, let them fade away as you recall the good ones.

Spending time together matters. It weaves the threads that make you a couple. It makes you happier, and happier spouses last longer. If quality time is the primary Love Language for either of you, it is so satisfying. If it's not, it still reminds you what a wonderful person you married.

October 12, 2011

When Spouses Grow Boring

Husbands and wives grow boring when we stop discovering new things about them. Some of us think we would prefer they get out and try new things to keep us interested. The rest hope they spend more time at home, where they would surely be more interesting than at work or working on that hobby of theirs. The real difference between boring and interesting spouses just might be us.

Here are some very interesting things about husbands and wives:

  • How they chose their first best friend

  • What they would say if they were invited to dinner with the chairman of the corporation they work for, used to work for, or hope to work for

  • How they felt and why on the one day in their life they believe they were at their very best

  • What painter or songwriter they would like to meet and what they would ask

  • Why they chose their college major

  • What cheerleading or gymnastic moves they remember from high school

  • Where they would go if they had 24 hours and $24,000 and you at their side

  • What song or rhyme they most enjoyed as a child

  • What they do when you take them to a place likely to fascinate them

What have you discovered about your spouse this week?

October 11, 2011

When to Say No to Your Kids

Father kissing mother's head as she holds their newbornWhat an awesome responsibility, to become the parent of a child. When you have taken care of feeding them and protecting them from harm, you still want to give them all the love they need and all the advantages you can offer.

You teach them to walk, do homework with them, take them to soccer practice, pay for their SAT prep classes. You monitor their television time, show them how to hold a crayon, cook a dinner, and ride a bike.

But the most important thing you show them is how to be happily, respectfully, affectionately married. So, if baby massage class, violin lessons, rugby practice, and PTA keep you from spending needed time with your spouse, just say no.

It is truly the best advantage you can offer your kids.

October 10, 2011

I Need More from This Marriage

We all get there. The marriage is not enough. An empty hole drains us. We are certain our spouses have the ability to fill it, but they don't. We cannot get by on this much money, help, sex, support, appreciation, or recreation. One more day of this is just too much.

The answer? Expect Love. Everything else we expect from our mates causes us grief or anger. Sure, some husbands take care of the yard work. Yours loves you a different way. Some wives cook great dinners seven nights a week. Yours loves you a different way. Some are willing to dance, go skiing, or check out museums. Yours loves you a different way.

Recast the disappointment. What are you getting instead? And how much more will you get when you stop complaining about or begging for the rest?

Recast the expectation. What is it you need? How can your husband or wife help you get it, without being the one responsible for providing it? Where can you meet people who like to dance, ski, or tour museums? How else can you get great meals without cooking them? How else can you have the yard you desire?

If you resent not getting what you need, you suck the life out of your own enjoyment of the marriage. If you abandon the marriage, your list of unmet needs grows longer, not shorter. But if you take responsibility for getting what you need, you free yourself to love and to welcome all the other forms of love your spouse offers.

This is what I realized as I reviewed my list of unmet needs the day after my husband dropped dead. I have the needs whether or not I have the husband. I need to meet fewer of them for myself as long as someone loves me. But no matter who this is, he is unable to fill them all—and delighted to fill the ones he can when I am not whining about the others.

October 9, 2011

Why Be Married? Because Love Matters

Paul McCartney married Nancy Shevel yesterday. It's got me singing All You Need is Love again today, one of the world's (and the Beatles') most touching songs.

"All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need."

And what do we need it for? To become our best selves.

"Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time. It's easy."

"Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be. It's easy."

"All you need is love."

If you are lucky enough to have a husband or wife today, look past your differences. Look past your unmet needs. Look for the love you are offered in an act of service, a small gift, an affirming word, time shared with you, or a gentle touch (thanks for the list, Gary Chapman).

Now amplify it in your heart. Send it back to the source and out into the world.

Congratulations, Paul and Nancy! May you bring all your experience with love to this marriage and enjoy the rest of your lives together in harmony.

Thanks to all the folks participating in this month's Ultimate Blog Challenge for your encouragement in posting on Assume Love daily for the month of October.

October 8, 2011

When Your Wife Criticizes Your Driving

Does your wife caution you to slow down, pass that car, take a different route, keep up with traffic, stop riding that bumper? Does she wince, grab the dashboard, brace her feet, check the side mirror?

And does it make you wonder why in the world she agreed to marry someone she trusts so little? Does it make you feel like a kid with a learner's permit again? Especially if you have been driving accident free for years?

Assume Love. If you are loved and respected as much as ever by this woman—and you probably are—what would lead her to behave like this? If she does not do it out of distrust, what other reasons are there?

  1. Anxiety - With nothing to do but watch the road, she has plenty of time to imagine the worst happening. Withdrawing or getting angry will increase her anxiety. Try some tender distraction. You might even add occasional reminders that her safety is very important to you.

  2. Misunderstanding - Men are far more attuned to distrust or lack of respect than woman are, thanks to our hormones. Let her know this affects you and ask her to speak up only when there is imminent danger. And try to keep in mind that her biochemistry leaves her highly attuned to any lack of affection.

  3. Habit - If she is raising or teaching children, she may just be in the habit of critiquing. To break the habit, respond as an adult—a loving, kind, patient man.

Looking at a problem through your spouse's eyes gives you the power to change the situation and the compassion to strengthen your relationship as you do.

October 7, 2011

How to Keep Your Husband or Wife from Cheating

Lots of married people, men and women, cheat. Some do it repeatedly, believing they are somehow entitled to do so. Others do it once, looking for emotional or sexual relief when there is great tension in their marriage. This second group usually decides never to try that again, whether they get caught or not.

Cheating is contagious. Research shows that those who know someone who has cheated are more likely to cheat.

You can never control your spouse's behavior, but you can do things to influence the environment in which he or she makes a choice.

  1. Cultivate friendships with people of especially high integrity or exceptional relationship skills.

  2. If you learn someone you both know (or somebody in the news) has cheated, share how you would feel if you ever found yourself in the shoes of the cheater's spouse. Avoid making any threats. Stick to how you would feel, not what you would do.

  3. Stay present in your marriage. Actively love your spouse. Actively watch and listen for all the ways your spouse loves you. Acknowledge them.

  4. Do not belittle your man or take your woman for granted.

  5. Keep the number of positive interactions with your spouse at least five times the number of negative interactions. Strong marriages are not ones that avoid conflict or self-assertion; they are ones with a positive/negative ratio of 5 or higher.

  6. Avoid snooping. While it may help you discover cheating sooner, it creates an environment of distrust, rather than love and respect. This will not help when your mate must make the decision to go with a feeling or honor those vows.

  7. Assume Love and look for other possibly valid explanations for anything your wife or husband does that upsets you. Avoid unleashing your anger, resentment, or tears over misunderstood motives.

  8. Expect Love. Let go of your expectations about how a loving person will behave (like taking out trash, saying I love you, spending time with everyone whose company you enjoy, or joining you in all of your hobbies).

  9. Find Third Alternatives for your disagreements, ones that satisfy both of you. Avoid bullying or caving. Save compromise for a last resort.

While you can influence the environment in which your husband or wife makes the decision, you are in no way responsible for your spouse's choice to have an emotionally or sexually intimate affair with another person. If it happens, don't blame yourself.

And don't give up. Almost everyone who has ever been cheated on survived it. Many of them remain married and happily so after a healing period. Others decide to leave, and most of them find love again.

Cheating is just one of many rough spots your marriage may encounter. Obsessing about it in advance will leave your marriage weaker for the others, the ones neither of you has any say over, like floods, tornados, fires, disabling illnesses, and the deaths of loved ones. Worse, it will leave your marriage less ready for the uplifting events and those moments of pure joy. You cannot be fully open to these, you cannot amplify each other's delight, while you are on guard.

October 6, 2011

Great Resources for Marriage Education

Here are some of my favorites:

Please check them out and share your opinions.

October 5, 2011

Can Renewable Marriage Eliminate Divorce Pain?

Bride with bouquetSomeone in Mexico City has proposed a marriage license that expires unless both spouses renew it. The minimum term is two years, so it is highly likely to take longer to terminate such a marriage. Regular marriages in Mexico can be ended with a no-fault divorce in just six months.

The purported advantage lies in a premarital agreement about custody of any children and who gets what from any shared assets. No surprises. No fighting or lawyers allowed.

Is anyone fooled? Is the pain of divorce all about money and control? No pain from rejection? No sense of personal failure? No frustration from getting by without a second household income? No grief for your kids who are now much more real than when you made your premarital choices about possible offspring? No sadness over losing half of your extended family?

If you need to know you can just walk away in two years or five, consider the possibility that you have not yet found someone worth marrying.

October 4, 2011

Find a Third Alternative - Step Three

If you read yesterday's post, you know that step one in finding a Third Alternative is to jump the net and step two is to write new specs. Now we are ready for step three.

Step Three: Brainstorm!

Sometimes, one of you can do the brainstorming on your own. You look at your new specs and ideas start popping. Suddenly, there it is. The Third Alternative, the one you will like as much as you liked your initial idea and your mate will like as much as his or her first option.

After twenty years of marriage in the same house, a friend learned about Third Alternatives. He and his wife had disagreed for twenty years about where to store the can opener in the kitchen drawers. When he realized their specs for a Third Alternative were "in this drawer" and "in that drawer," he came up with a solution on the spot. He bought a second can opener. No more disagreement. He got what he wanted and made his wife happy. Not bad for $1.97!

The same was true for my husband and me. The moment we laid out our specs for a Third Alternative, the same idea occurred to both of us.

Our specs: laundry room, well lit, with open storage shelves, no soap odors in a living area, no unfinished basement between the laundry room and the rest of the house. We both grabbed for the house plans to point out our great idea, which was a finished hallway from the stairs to the laundry room. We made the short hallway roomy, gave it an oak floor, white walls, and recessed lighting. A door off the hallway opened into the family room. Another went into the laundry room. And we were both delighted with it.

The answer is not always obvious. Sometimes we need to do a lot more brainstorming. The idea is to keep tossing out ideas without evaluating any of them. The really far-fetched ones may be impractical, but they free our minds to be more creative.

When brainstorming a way to meet all of the specs for the Third Alternative, two minds are probably four times as successful as one person working alone. When this is not enough, invite others to brainstorm with you. Choose creative friends and acquaintances. Don't tell them the first two alternatives or who wants what. Give them only the new specs and ask them to think of anything close, then build on it. And, if you can, get several of them together at the same time, so they can feed off each other's ideas.

You have new technology to help, too. Put your specs on Facebook and Twitter. Use the hashtag #IdeaParty on Twitter to invite a group that has a regular brainstorming session on Thursdays.

I am also happy to help you brainstorm a way to meet your new specifications. I love brainstorming. Just show up at one of my free teleclasses or add a comment to this post.

October 3, 2011

Find a Third Alternative - Step Two

If you read yesterday's post, you know that step one in finding a Third Alternative is to jump the net.

Step Two: Write New Specs

Those first two ideas, the ones you disagree about, can keep your thinking stuck. To find something else you both like as much begins with a list of specifications for making you happy. Your first two options won't work as solutions, but they give you a starting point for thinking about what you're looking for.

If you got the option you want, what would be better? How would you feel? What could you do? What would be possible that is not possible now?

And what would not happen to you? What do you dislike or fear about your mate's suggestion?

This is not the time to list every little nice-to-have about your alternative nor everything anyone might ever dislike about your spouse's. It is time to figure out why one appeals to you and the other does not, so you can describe what the Third Alternative must include and avoid.

Draw a large square on a piece of paper. Put a line down the middle, with your info on one side and your spouse's on the other. Draw a line across and put what the Third Alternative must do on the top and what it must avoid on the bottom.

For example, in the great laundry room battle, the window was nice-to-have. If I could not have a window in a basement laundry room, I would still want it there. Water in the family room was nice-to-avoid, not a requirement. I did not expect laundry room flooding to occur often enough to plan for it. These would not go our on list.

What I wanted was a well-lit laundry room that would not let laundry detergent odors into any living space. I have a lot of allergies and I have not found a soap that won't aggravate them. This was the first delightful surprise. My husband had no disagreement with protecting me from allergy problems, as long as he got the benefits he sought from the family room location.

When he revealed the big one, I because a Third Alternative cheerleader. I would never, ever have guessed this was the difference between basement and family room for him, just as he never guessed soap odor keeping me from enjoying the family room was the difference for me.

I grew up on the east coast, where just about everyone has a basement. My husband grew up on the west coast, when almost no one does. The house we were building was a bi-level. Half of the lower level would be unfinished. The other half would be the finished family room. Both would sit high enough to have windows and to be reached from the garage but low enough to be thought of as basement.

Here is what my husband said right before we had our joint aha! moment. He said, "I don't want to have to walk through icky, unfinished basement to get to the laundry room, like at your parents' house.

We had our specs. Laundry room, well lit, with open storage shelves, no soap odors in a living area, no unfinished basement between the laundry room and the rest of the house. That was our Step Two. If we could have this, neither of us would get stuck with half a pie. We could have it all.

Tomorrow I will tell you we did it, and how some other folks have found their Third Alternatives.

October 2, 2011

Find a Third Alternative - Step One

If you read yesterday's post, you know how to recognize a Third Alternative: it ends a disagreement with both of you happy.

Even Stephen Covey, who wrote about Third Alternatives in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, lost track of this first step when he also called this Win-Win negotiating. Almost everyone since has used this same name, and the name leads sales people, business leaders, and relationship therapists to completely miss the essential first step.

Finding Third Alternatives is not negotiating at all.

Step One: Jump the net!

You and your mate are on the same team. (For that matter, so are you and your customer, you and your subordinate, or you and your joint venture partner.) As long as you are on opposite sides of the net, there are only two alternatives. You may defend yours creatively, hoping to make your husband or wife see the light and agree with you, but you will not find a Third Alternative.

Jump the net. Tell your mate, "I want you to have what you want. I just cannot give it to you in this particular form. Let's come up with some specs for a Third Alternative."

Before we jumped the net on the laundry room disagreement, here are some of the things I said to my husband about putting it in the basement of the house we were building:

  • "If it's in the basement, it will have a window and some natural sunlight." This was not a must-have for me, but I was pretty sure he would think it a great benefit of my getting my way on this one.

  • "If the washer overflows, the water will go into the sump hole, not the family room." Neither of us had ever seen a washer overflow except on TV comedies, but what the heck, it might convince him.

  • "We would not need to walk as far with the laundry basket." Yep, I was really reaching now.

I have heard some women even put some spin on the ball with something like, "How often do you think I am going to feel in the mood after lugging the laundry in there and washing in the dark?"

You might win a battle this way, but in the end you'll destroy your relationship with the most important person in your life.

When you jump the net, you give up your first alternative and stop offering any reasons to select it. You are going to get something you like just as much, so let it go. You get a bonus with a Third Alternative, too. You get a happy spouse who feels like a winner, too.

This is the step way too many people skip, and they seldom find themselves happy with the outcome. They are still negotiating, dividing the pie in two based on the final score in their little tennis match. You are on your way to making a bigger, tastier pie with your beloved mate, who is now standing right beside you.

Tomorrow, I will give you the recipe.

October 1, 2011

What is a Third Alternative?

I have decided to accept the challenge from Stu Gray of Stupendous Marriage: Love, Sex, and All the Rest to participate in this month's Ultimate Blog Challenge. The challenge is to post something on Assume Love daily for the month of October. It was this or give up chocolate for the month, and I think this will be a lot more fun.

This week's teleclass is on Third Alternatives, so let's start there.

For me, discovering Third Alternatives put an end to so much frustration and disappointment that I love sharing them with anyone who will listen.

Let me draw you a picture of them. First, one of you gets an idea. For example, let's put the laundry room in the basement of the new house. Then the other has a "better" idea: let's put it off the family room.

Or one of you says let's spend the money on a better lawn mower, but the other says times are tough and we had better keep it in our savings account.

On a simpler, but just as frustrating level, one of you says let's put the toilet seat up or down as we need to, but the other thinks it looks better or reduces middle-of-the-night risks better if it's always down.

Those are the first two alternatives. The first is a happy "I have a good idea" suggestion. The second, designed to prevent whatever unhappiness that good idea offers, turns it into a disagreement.

Unfortunately, at this point, most of us forget we're on the same side. We forget how much we love being able to give our spouse what he or she wants. All of a sudden, we feel threatened, afraid we will not get what we want at all.

And we forget that these two are not the only alternatives available to us. It's "what I want" versus "what I really don't want." So we begin the opening arguments for our defense of our great idea.

Of course, there are almost always more than two alternatives. We can have what we want most of the time and get the bonus of giving our beloved husband or wife the great treat of getting their way. All we have to do is find that Third Alternative that has the elements we like about our great idea and the elements our mate likes about the opposing idea, but none of the negatives of either of them.

For example, together you find a way to have a better lawn mower without losing any of your savings. Instead of convincing your partner to compromise or give in, you work together to find a Third Alternative that pleases both of you.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about how to do this. You can make this month of 31 posts a lot easier for me: just ask questions using the Comments form — or send chocolate!

The Author

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

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