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Articles from November 2011

November 30, 2011

Three Questions to Ask before You Marry

It seems the new question everyone wants an answer to before they marry is whether they can share a home without strife. While it is an interesting question, it hardly seems worth two or three years of sharing a home before agreeing to marry. Learning to Find Third Alternatives can get you through sharing a home with almost anyone you respect and care about.

Here are the three questions I encourage you to ask well before you agree to share a home or even a bed.

  1. Does he or she value my greatest strengths and possess strengths I have less of than I wish I had?
    By strengths, I mean things like integrity, curiosity, creativity, optimism, fairness, kindness, forgiveness, social intelligence, modesty, open-mindedness, self-control, playfulness, a love of learning, spirituality, piety, persistence, a sense of awe and wonder, a zest for living, leadership skills, loyalty, and the like.
  2. Do we agree about the obligations of marriage?
    Do we agree that infidelity is normal or intolerable? Do we agree on the minimum income, chore time, and parenting time required of a spouse? Do we agree about a spouse's obligations to in-laws or step-children? Do we agree about the risks a spouse can take without the blessing of the other spouse? Do we agree that marriage includes children or that it need not? Do we agree that marriage is for life, through poverty and sickness as well as better times, or that it is for as long as both of us meet our obligations, or that it is for as long as we both care to stick around?
  3. Do I know this person's Love Language, and am I willing to show my love this way?
    If your spouse measures the quality of your relationship in acts of service, are you prepared for a life of service? If your spouse needs words of affirmation or respect, are you prepared to offer them, even if words seem cheap to you? If your spouse thrives on gifts, are you prepared to invest the effort to think of frequent gifts and make or buy them? If you marry someone whose love language is physical touch, will you engage in sex even when your libido is low and offer massage and hugs as needed? And if you marry someone who measures love in quality time spent together in activities or conversation, can you make the time to be present in these?
To me, these are far more important than the question of whether you are good at living together.

November 29, 2011

The Assume Love Philosophy

This, in a nutshell, is the Assume Love philosophy: put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

In other words, don't work on your relationship. Help yourself enjoy being married. What you do for your relationship when you enjoy it will never feel like work.

Save your ideas for making your spouse a better husband or wife until you have fully opened yourself to receive the love already offered you, even if it does not match what you expected.

Don't ask a friend or therapist to choose which of you is right. You are both right, even when you disagree. Ask instead for help finding Third Alternatives to make both of you happy.

Assume Love. Expect Love. Find Third Alternatives.

That is it in a nutshell. If you have just discovered this blog thanks to Stu Gray's Top Ten Marriage Blogs contest or the article in this month's Working Mother magazine, welcome! I am so glad you have joined us.

Please use the Comments section to ask a question, share a tip, or just say hello at any time. So glad you have joined us.

November 28, 2011

Is Your Husband or Wife the Right One for You?

If you are trying to answer this question, I can help. This is how to tell if the person you married is the right one for you.

Stop expecting anything but love. Watch who emerges.

If you are with the wrong person, it is not likely some right person awaits your desertion of the wrong one. If this is the wrong one, all the chores, all the bills, all the parenting responsibilities, all the social obligations, all the instigation of recreational activities fall on your shoulders. Take them on without complaint.

If this is the wrong one, it falls on you to find people who want to have long conversations, shop, attend political dinners, attend religious services, or go fishing with you. Go find them.

If this is the wrong one, the gifts, affirming words, or helping hand you want will need to come from friends or relatives. Cultivate your relationships with the ones who might provide them.

Now make time to spend with your wife or your husband in which you expect only love, as you did when you first fell in love. Over several months, you will find your answer.

You will be filled to overflowing with love, or you will know this person (and, coincidentally, almost anyone you found tempting while you had all those unmet expectations) is wrong for you. The odds lean heavily toward rediscovering love, so give it a try.

November 27, 2011

What if You Knew It Would Never Happen Again?

Enjoy a tip from the widow's handbook. For the next 48 hours, try this. Whatever you remember and whatever happens, imagine it will never happen again. Good or bad, past or present, it will never happen again.

As the two of you take a walk together, imagine this is your last chance. You will never be able to walk together again. What sort of walk will you want to remember for the rest of your life? What will you want your spouse to remember? How can you make it that sort of shared walk?

If you are still angry because your spouse showed up late for dinner with your parents, imagine he or she will never show up for dinner with them again. How much time do you want to spend with this anger now?

If you are having lunch together, imagine this is the last time you will both be able to have lunch together like this. In the future, you will dine alone or perhaps need to feed your spouse and remind him or her to swallow. Will your mind be focused on your next chore as you eat this final shared lunch? Will you pay more attention to the mayonnaise than your marriage?

As you go off to work and know your spouse will be able to have a leisurely coffee after you leave, imagine this is the last time. You may suddenly be unable to work, or the two of you may suddenly have a large uninsured loss, forcing both of you to work more hours or take better paying jobs you cannot stand. Right now, the last time things are like this, will you begrudge your spouse this quiet cup of coffee?

For those of us who have lost a spouse right in the middle of the busiest part of our lives, and for those of us who have been hit with a catastrophe that changes everything, the reassessment over the next month or two (or twelve) is tough. We ask ourselves constantly how we could have overlooked what we had.

To those of you who have never experienced this, we say, "Wake up! Waste no time. There is so much love to be had. Never pass up the opportunity to receive it."

November 26, 2011

Did Thanksgiving Leave You Happier?

Positive psychology researchers have shown that feeling and expressing gratitude are two sure ways to feel happier. If you got too tied up in food preparation, cleanup, or family squabbles to do much Thanksgiving on Thursday, you still have two days left before you head back to work on Monday. What about your spouse and your relationship do you give thanks for?

November 25, 2011

Assume Love? Why?

At first read, a lot of folks think I must be daft to encourage anyone to Assume Love. It sounds like it would let a spouse just walk all over you.

I am not the sort of person who lets anyone walk all over me. But I was, for my first 34 years, the sort who unknowingly walked around assuming a few things that robbed me of the great marriage I could have had. When my husband rather abruptly dropped dead in the middle of a really bad spot in our marriage, it tore open the curtains hiding my assumptions.

Those assumptions had caused me an awful lot of pain. They robbed us both of many of the blessings of marriage. On my first morning as a 34-year-old widow and single mother, I saw them for what they had done to us. Over time, I saw them making a mess of a lot of other marriages. And when I started working for Martin Seligman and learning about his research, I realized that others knew what I learned that bleak morning but had not yet applied it to marriage.

When you look at the things your husband or wife does or fails to do, you see them through your own assumptions, the ones that work all the time, like it or not. These assumptions are built into what Seth Godin call the "lizard brain" and Daniel Kahneman calls "System 1." They are the Beliefs that lead to the Consequences in cognitive psychology's ABC (or ABCDE) Model.

See if you recognize any of them as your own.

  • If you love me, you will do what is fair. When I do a lot of work for this family, you should do the same. When I put time and thought into getting a great gift for you, I deserve the same in return. If I show up on time, you should not show up late. If my commute is longer, you should take care of more of the stuff at or near our home, if you love me.
  • If you love me, my needs should be important to you. I should not have to beg for what I need. I should not be alone when I am afraid to be alone or bored being alone or sad being alone. If I want sex, you should initiate it at least some of the time. If I like boating or skiing or hiking or dancing or finger dancing, you should make time for it. If it frightens me, you should never raise your voice around me. I should not feel unable to pursue my goals for lack of support from you, if you love me.
  • If you love me, you will respect me. You will always defend me against outsiders and your family members. You will always speak to me with respect. You should never disagree with me in public. You should never dress in a way that embarrasses me, if you love me.
If you hold these beliefs, you will keep score and feel angry, maybe even scared for your marriage, when your spouse accepts your acts of service without reciprocating them, when any of your needs go unmet, and whenever you feel invisible or disapproved of. And you will feel this way even if your spouse still adores you and is dreaming up newer and better ways to love you.

Because you feel angry or scared, you will frantically look for other signs that it is time to forget your marriage and protect yourself. It is just the way the human brain works.

When I say Assume Love, I don't mean tell yourself you are not angry or scared, because it will not work. I don't mean ignore any signs of real danger (that flower pot coming across the room at you or that fast-draining bank account or the insistence that you let your mate drive you and your kids home while drunk), because that would be insane.

What I mean is assume you are loved as much as ever by a man or woman of the same character as the one your married and ask yourself what might lead such a person to behave the way your spouse is behaving. Do it because the way you are feeling (angry, scared, hurt, sad) results from your assumption about the cause of what happened, not from what happened. And your assumption just might be wrong. So try out this other assumption (still loved, no sudden selfishness or recklessness or lack of integrity) and see if it leads to an explanation that fits better.

  • Loving spouses behave unfairly all the time. They do it when they place a different value on the outcome or effort involved in a task. They do it when they feel you did not notice their other contributions. They do it when they feel overwhelmed by responsibilities or illness. They even do it when their nose is out of joint because they think you should be doing something about their need or showing them greater respect.
  • Loving spouses often want to do something about your need, but feel incapable of doing it. After all, if you need it, it's probably something you yourself feel incapable of taking care of. When Rod died, and I had to meet my unmet needs myself, while taking over for many that he had been meeting, I was embarrassed to discover just how hard what I had been asking for really was.
  • Loving spouses often feel so comfortable around you that they show disrespect and have no idea how awful it makes you feel. Or they get so frustrated by the unfairness they perceive that they compare you to a child just to get your attention. Or they believe you to be so strong, so self-assured that they fail to support you when they could.
I have to Assume Love all the time in my second marriage. I am not completely rid of my beliefs, not immune to being surprised or displeased. But I know now that my underlying beliefs, the hidden ones, often lead me to inaccurate explanations.

Those inaccurate explanations lead me to hurt and anger, which result in my doing things that hurt and anger Ed. When I Assume Love and consider what might make the loving man I know him to be do the things he does, it stops the automatic focus on threats and lets me recall a lot more relevant facts.

It works wonders, and not just for the small stuff. It has stopped people on the verge of divorce. I love hearing, just a few days after they have announced they want out, that their marriage is now the closest it has ever been, because they Assumed Love.

If you want to read more on how to use this technique, check out How to Assume Love in the categories list over there in the right column.

I Have a Favor to Ask

Top-Ten-Marriage-Blog-2011.pngIf you have a moment between now and Sunday, December 4th, please visit the Stupendous Marriage website and vote for this blog as your favorite during 2011.

The form is below the list of finalists. You must provide your email address, select your favorite from the drop-down list, and use the Send button to send your vote to Stu Gray. The ten annual winners are always widely shared with marriage educators around the US and the world.

You get just one vote, despite all the wonderful blogs in the list of finalists. I hope you will cast it for Assume Love.

And then go check out the other 47 finalists. You might discover some great new sources of support for 2012.

November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you, your partner in life, and your extended family a Thanksgiving full of fun, gratitude, and food.

November 22, 2011

Five Ways to Screw Up a Holiday

Here are five great ways to screw up a family holiday:

  • Overschedule yourselves, leaving no time to savor together the family gathering you worked so hard to create

  • Fail to notice your mate's Love Language, whether it's bringing something extra from the store as a gift, obsessing over the turkey as an act of service, or spending precious bonus time off from work trying to talk or do something together with you

  • Share your displeasure over the way things are going with what marriage researchers call a harsh startup, instead of first asking gently for whatever you would prefer

  • Agree to one thing (like gathering with your extended family) and do another (like watch football in the den while your mate cooks and your guests stew)

  • Take your spouse to visit your family and forget to create a few moments for just the two of you

Know how I know? I've lived every one of them. Here's to a great Thanksgiving this year.

November 21, 2011

Rose-Colored Glasses and Marriage

If you Assume Love when upset by your mate and you Expect Love to show up in forms you never dreamed up, you will inevitably overlook one or two of your spouse's failings.

You won't overlook crushing debt or being shoved or burned with a cigarette, but you might overlook an unkind word intended as an insult. You might overlook a missed anniversary or a failed promise to pick up your dry cleaning or be home by 7:00. You might even overlook a brief affair if it eventually brings you closer and more certain you want each other.

You will most likely think more highly of your husband or wife, because your attention will be on his or her strengths and loving acts, instead of analyzing whether you are getting all you deserve or tiptoeing around to make sure you won't be left.

And while it might give you an overly positive view of your husband or wife, this is perfectly normal, nothing to worry about. Research shows happily married people tend to have an even better impression of their mate than their mate's closest friends do. So enjoy!

November 20, 2011

When Marriage Really Stinks

People have two big fears about marriage. The first is that they will trust their spouse and then be abandoned, whether literally or in other ways. Those other ways might include infidelity, overly long hours at work or with friends, or silent time in front of a TV or computer. They might also include failure to be supportive in the face of challenging in-laws or children. They worry even when their spouses have no intention of doing any of these and promise to stay by their side.

The second big fear about marriage is losing their freedom. They fear they will not be able to do things they love to do, go places they long to go, or dress as they damn well please. They feel marriage as a ball and chain. Even when they are doing what they want, they fear they might be stopped by their spouse.

For those with both fears, life is lived on a ping pong table. To avoid abandonment, they deny themselves freedoms out of fear their spouse might deny them. Then they complain about the restrictions or act out against them, driving their confused or offended spouse to avoid them, triggering their fear of abandonment again.

Many of us have just a little of one or the other of these fears. Others have an overdose of one or both. These fears form in our minds even before we can speak. We have little control over them. They will arise during a marriage. When they do, marriage really stinks!

It stinks because we see our husband or wife as the thing causing our fear. Spouses are not supposed to cause us fear, so we feel anger and attack, or we feel hurt and withdraw.

But we are no longer children who cannot speak or reason. We may feel the initial wave of fear, but we can decide to do something other than react to it.

The thing I do is Assume Love and look for a different explanation. If I am not in immediate physical danger and I am not so emotionally overwhelmed that I cannot think straight even after a short walk, I Assume Love. I remember my husband promised to love me. I remember I could once see and feel his love. I remember he was not unthinking or uncaring, a liar, or an idiot then, and I know people don't change personalities so radically without a medical cause or a lot of drugs or alcohol. So I ask myself what if he has not changed? What else could explain his actions if he were still that man?

For example, why would a loving man leave the house for a meeting with a prospective client and not be home yet eight hours later? And not call? I have a long list of reasons why an uncaring man might do these things, and they are making me create a laundry list of evidence out of perfectly normal things he has done or said over the past month. But why would a loving man do this?

I ask this question almost instantly now.

And that is when I recall he's driving in a state that does not allow cell phones unless you pull out of their awful traffic, and he's carrying a cell phone that is poorly served in the area he's visiting. And he is not a multitasker. He seldom stops doing one thing (like meeting with someone or driving) to do another (like giving his wife an update). It's not that he rejects calling me. He just won't even think of it until the first task is done.

I realize the client is in the IT business, where the normal work day clock has no meaning and where people drop everything, even interrupt a meeting, for a hardware or networking emergency. And that the client is located in a town where my husband used to work and might want to stop and revisit a favorite restaurant or store.

"Don't take it personally" is a lovely saying, but we are hard-wired to take everything personally until we will ourselves to think of causes that have nothing to do with us.

If you find yourself anxious because your wife had a hush-hush phone call with a colleague and giggled in the middle of it, Assume Love. If you find yourself angry because your husband objected to your plans to take a week-long writing course, Assume Love. If you freak out when you discover your life partner has just started downloading pay-per-view porn, Assume Love. If you are enraged that your wife committed you to a Thanksgiving gathering without consulting you, Assume Love.

If you just go with your initial gut feeling, driven by things that happened before you could speak, you will confirm you are married to a ball and chain or a walk-away Jo(e). If you ask friends or strangers what they think, they will side with you and often even scarier stories about what your spouse might do next. But if you Assume Love, you might discover you already know you and your relationship are most likely just fine, and you can just let events play out without a crisis or discuss them without exploding.

November 19, 2011

How Will You Celebrate Your 50th Anniversary?

Have you thought about this? How will you celebrate your 50th anniversary?

Because you will want it to be in a way that truly reflects who you are and who you became in each other's embrace.

And if you have a clue now what will endure, think what a great time you could have if you weave it into every single year of your marriage.

Who will you include in your 50th anniversary celebration? Will there be music? Dancing? A favorite food or drink? Will there be adventure? Or laughter? Or the beauty of nature?

Will your celebration be frugal or posh? Serene or wild? And what will you wear, assuming it's still legal, of course?

My first husband and I were planning ours when it suddenly occurred to us we had to get married first. As I'm sure you know, he passed away in 1986, but the plan was for May 2023 in whatever was the best amusement park in the US at the time. We hoped we would both still be able to enjoy a Wild Mouse ride, but we would settle for sharing a Ferris Wheel with our many guests.

I married again at age 50, so I may not ever see a 50th anniversary, but I hope you will post your plan for yours in the Comments.

November 18, 2011

Why Married People Fight

Why do married people fight?

Often they fight to protect what they believe their spouse might take from them. Married life will wear you out if you must constantly watch out for your own interests. What to do instead? Start practicing looking for Third Alternatives if you need relief from this exhausting job.

They also fight to increase intimacy. A good fight makes you feel your lives are more intertwined. It gets your blood moving, a lot like sex does. It might give you more physical contact with each other. It confirms your mate still cares what you think, even if he or she disagrees with it. It might even lead to makeup sex.

In the long run, though, research shows the couples whose unions survive constant fighting have at least five positive interactions for every negative one. Each fight offers a lot of negatives. So what can you do for the positives?

Sex, of course. Why not move to the makeup sex a little sooner in the fight?

Dancing. It offers physical contact and gets your blood flowing without any more hurtful words.

Hiking. But only if the path requires you to hold onto each other on the tough parts.

Baking or cooking. Feed each other with the mixing spoon. Lick the beaters together. Hug the cook. Compliment the cooking. Compliment yourselves as a couple, too.

I am sure you can think of lots more. I hope you will, and I hope you will share them in the comments box below. [If there is none there, click on "Why Married People Fight" up above.

November 17, 2011

How to Explain It?

When my son was little, he had a book I loved. It has a lot to do with assuming love.

I just looked it up to give you the official title, which was Sherlock Hemlock and the Great Twiddlebug Mystery: or The Mystery of the Terrible Mess in My Friend's Front Yard. Sherlock Hemlock, a Muppet detective, tried to deduce what had left behind birthday candles, crumpled wrapping paper, paper hats, and more in the front yard.

Little Betty Lou thought maybe a birthday party.

Sherlock Hemlock's answer? Twiddlebugs. Everywhere he looked for evidence of twiddlebugs, he found some.

When we try to explain the unexpected—who would want to explain the expected?—we have to start somewhere. Most of us start in some rather predictable, if misguided, ways.

We might ask, "What would make my loving wife complain right now that I never do anything for her?" But we don't. Instead, we think, "I don't know why she married me if she thinks I am such a screw-up. Maybe that rich jerk she was dating before me dumped her and I just came along at the right moment. All she does is complain, about my driving, about household chores, about schedules. I make a living. I take her out to eat. I do the taxes. But I am nothing to her. She despises me."

All we see are signs of more twiddlebugs, instead of a woman at the end of her rope, hurrying through some huge project with too little time left. Without a big, red circle on an oversized calendar, our obsession with those twiddlebugs keeps us from remembering why she's overwhelmed today.

We might ask, "Have I forgotten anything he said that might explain why he is late coming home tonight when we need to leave here by 7:30?" Instead, we ask, "Is he cheating on me? Is this related to his claim he had to brush before kissing me this morning? What did he charge on last week's business trip? Should I use his password to read his email? I'll just put his dinner in the refrigerator. No point waiting for him tonight!"

We see twiddlebugs when we look for twiddlebugs. When we put down the magnifying glass and take a look at the whole picture—when we Assume Love—we see more plausible explanations for what happens in our marriages.

Assume Love and look for an explanation that fits with it. Twiddlebug invasions are a lot rarer than love.

November 16, 2011

Inexpensive but Fun Date Nights

Taking time to renew your relationship with each other makes it easier to remember why you married. Working Mother magazine asked me to suggest a few fun nights out for December, when many budgets are tight.

The December issue is on newsstands now, and the article is online. I would sure appreciate a Facebook Like or a Twitter tweet if you like any of the suggestions I gave them. Buttons for both are right in the online version of the article.

Other date nights that need not cost much:

  • Pack some fresh, crusty bread, some cheese, and a container of soup and head out for some ice skating together. Lots of endorphins from the exercise, plus a romantic meal.

  • Invite two or three couples who knew you while you were dating and have a pot luck dinner together. Send all the kids to one house with a babysitter while you gather at another. Remember the good times together. But no gripes or parent talk.

  • Live near a city with a real downtown? Go see the holiday decorations together. To add some playfulness, make up bingo cards before you go with the words or designs you expect to find. Winner gets to kiss the loser in front of the next shop with a W in its name.

  • If you have house guests coming for the holidays, make a plan in advance for a mini-getaway for the two of you. Right in the middle of it all, take off for a coffee shop and order something very wintery. Drink it almost nose to nose over a tiny table. Say thanks for all your mate has done for you this year.

Add your favorite inexpensive date night in the comments. A lot of people read this blog, and you might make their holidays.

November 15, 2011

When You Get Married

When you get married, pay close attention to all that is good and right about the person you choose. Pay close attention to the ways this wonderful man or woman makes you feel great about life, about love, and about yourself.

Your new husband or wife will someday reveal weaknesses, envy, selfishness under stress. Those will be temporary. The goodness, the integrity, the honesty, the justice, the creativity, the grace, the playfulness, the loving, these are what will endure and what will see you through those difficult days. Never lose sight of them. They are the heart of your marriage.

When you get married, choose well. Look beyond looks and money and status. If you are going to vow to do anything for life, love is a great choice.

November 14, 2011

Some Favorite Lyrics

This one verse from Tony Arata's song, a huge hit for Garth Brooks in 1990, says a lot about why I will always Expect Love and avoid defining how my marriage to Ed should unfold.

And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance—I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance

This is the sweetest dance.

November 13, 2011

When You First Met

What do you remember most about when you first met your husband or wife? Other than the physical attraction, what impressed you?

Was it his or her zest for living? Integrity? A great sense of humor? That love of learning? His or her leadership skills? Or sense of responsibility for the poor or the environment or the members of his or her team?

Was it surprising creativity? Great kindness or generosity? An ability to get along with everyone and talk easily with anyone?

Did you admire bravery in the face of danger? Awe in the face of natural beauty or great art? Modesty or piety?

Were you taken aback by his or her gratitude? Spirituality? Efforts for justice? Self-control and discipline?

Or was it the ability to persevere until each goal was met? Great curiosity about things and experiences? His or her open-mindedness? Wisdom that came with different perspectives on problems? Or enduring optimism in spite of setbacks or obstacles?

Are your lives set up to allow your partner in life to continue amazing you with this ability? Are they set up to allow you to impress your mate with your own?

November 12, 2011

Is This Emotional Abuse?

scowl.jpgEmotional abuse can do just as much harm as physical abuse. While anyone can hurt you physically, someone who knows you as well as your husband or wife does has a real advantage when it comes to doing emotional harm.

What is emotional abuse? It is using whatever causes a person fear, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, or rage for the purpose of manipulating them.

If you argue with your spouse to the point where he or she gets emotionally flooded and can't think straight, because it lets you win the argument, you are an emotional abuser.
If you repeat a story of the time your spouse froze up while making a presentation in order to discourage him or her from running for office or seeking a promotion at work, you are an emotional abuser.
If you really, really want your husband or wife to agree to something and you hint or say that you will refuse sex if you don't get it, you are an emotional abuser.
If you get your mate to change clothes before going out by painting a picture of how he or she might be embarrassed, just so that you will not be embarrassed, you are an emotional abuser.

I point these out because most of us briefly resort to emotional abuse at some point in our marriage. These are strategies that gave us some of our first power as children. They don't die easily. But they are inappropriate for adult relationships.

If your spouse is emotionally abusing you, recognize that it might be a sign of feeling overwhelmed or powerless, returning to childish ways just as we do when we whine or curl up in a fetal position. If you can do something about whatever is overwhelming your spouse or giving you too much power in your relationship, do it.

If you are able to ignore or avoid the manipulation attempts until your spouse recovers from a temporary period of great stress, do it.

If it is related to alcohol or drug abuse, deal with the addiction.

But it may also be that you are being manipulated by a spouse who has little or no real love for you. If you think this might be the case, you are going to need a bunch more information. I recommend The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing by Beverly Engel. Wiley, 2003.

[Note: This is an Amazon Affiliate link, which means they pay me a very small sum for suggesting you buy from them.]

November 11, 2011

Date Night Ideas for Geek Couples

Date nights can really help a couple with children or busy work schedules maintain the close and stimulating relationship of their dating days.

To get the most benefit from a date night, schedule it in advance and create souvenirs while you enjoy it. Both give you more opportunities to savor your time together. And savoring helps it compete better with your negative thoughts about your marriage when you are apart or at your wit's end.

Here are some ideas for geek date nights or date afternoons:

  • The free-admission Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington's Dulles Airport.

  • A concert or special show in a planetarium like the Adler in Chicago, Montgomery College, MD, University of Texas at Arlington, ECSU in Elizabeth City, NC, or the Sudekum in Nashville.

  • Buy the latest video game you both agree on and play it for the first time together, in a luxury hotel room or an inexpensive fall timeshare rental overlooking an ocean.

  • Spend an evening sharing your good thoughts for your spouse through the selection of video titles in your On Demand or Netflix menu.

  • Use some free online smart phone app creation tool to build an app for just the two of you, with your photos and a way to send each other kudos or kisses. Then go walk the boardwalk or take a hike in the woods, so you can phone each other while you have more fun together.

  • Cook a candlelight dinner for the two of you, starting with recipes from Cooking for Engineers. Can you borrow a pair of Bunsen burners or stick the candles in a pair of beakers?

The idea is to celebrate who you two are, to see each other at your best or delighted with something, and to create memories worth revisiting years from now. So, if you are not geeks, these are probably the wrong ideas for you. I hope, though, that they encourage you to picture the two of you immersed in whatever passions you share.

Please share with us any unusual date nights that brought joy to you and your partner in life. If the Comments form is not visible below, click on the title of this post to go to a page where it will be displayed.

November 10, 2011

Sometimes, I Don't Like My Husband

Sometimes, I don't like my husband. When this happened in my first marriage, I would search around for all the other reasons not to like him. I would get a good grump going. But, as you know, waking up a widow changed my perspective.

Now, when I don't much like my second husband, I smile. I smile because I know the reason. I am frustrated, not getting something I expect from him. Nothing changed about him. I changed. I expected something other than love from him. So, I smile, and I look for signs of his love for me.

I always find them. And then, feeling loved, I get back to the job of figuring out how to get what I thought he was going to provide. It might be a whisker-free sink for cleaning my contacts or a companion for a movie or a cook for dinner.

When I do, I feel a lot better. And I realize one more time that I can do this for myself, even if he goes right on being the lovable but unpredictable guy I fell in love with. I never have to wait for him to change so that I can enjoy being married.

Top Ten Marriage Blog 2011 award nominations

I hope you enjoy this blog. I think the new Top Ten award would look great in place of last year's, don't you? Click on it if you would like to nominate Assume Love and be reminded when the voting opens on the day after Thanksgiving.

November 9, 2011

Why Be Married? For the Creativity Boost

Today is the fifth anniversary for a couple of great friends of mine. They are two of the most creative people I know. Each of them provides a boost to the other's creative efforts.

He is Matthew Cornell, a photo-realistic painter with a thing for stormy weather. He won first place in painting at the Saint Louis Art Fair in Clayton, MO, this year. That's a big deal prize, in case you're as uninformed about these things as I am. And it's not the first time he's won it.

Lon Brauer Studios wrote on their blog, "Matthew Cornell was pretty spectacular. He had about 10 photo-realistic landscape paintings on the walls of his booth, one on each panel and several of them VERY small (business card size) but with large frames bringing the overall size of the pieces up to about 8″x10″ or so. The scale of the pieces FORCED us to go in and inspect them closely - I couldn't help but be pulled in by them. It was such a dramatic and effective way to show the work. He's definitely got the goods as evidenced by red dots (meaning SALES, for anyone not familiar with the art market) on at least half of the paintings on display."

Want to see what they're talking about? Check out these Matthew Cornell paintings. Or click on any painting on or visit the Matthew Cornell page at EVOKE Gallery.

Matthew has a great wife who cooks him really healthy meals, accompanies him to art shows and gallery openings, and travels with him to find the sites he paints. She encourages him when an economic downturn cuts into his sales or when bad weather keeps everyone away from a gallery opening. Being married makes it easier to be so creative.

But Matthew's wife does not live in his shadow. She is the wildly popular ProNagger, Rachel Z. Cornell. She coaches people struggling to finish their book or dissertation, to launch a new career, to earn a better position, or turn their life around. In just a few minutes a day, she can get you past all sorts of obstacles to creative success.

I have learned so much from her about how to be ready for opportunity, how to increase my creative inspiration, how to write to-do lists that actually encourage me to work, and how to avoid the post-creative-binge slump. Who knew nagging could be a creative outlet? It is for Rachel.

When she and Matthew married, Rachel was a working multimedia artist with a masters in fine arts from the University of Michigan, a pretty remarkable achievement for a woman who is legally blind. Since she decided instead to encourage other artists, writers, and creative folks by nagging them, Matthew has been by her side to support her new artistry.

He's her proofreader, her business advisor, her financial support as she launched her business, her driver, and her ongoing connection to the world of artists and art. Being married makes it so much easier for her to be creative, too.

I congratulate Rachel and Matthew on their strong and healthy marriage and all they have been able to create because of it. Five years of loving each other, encouraging each other, and helping each other through tough times is a wonderful start on a life-long happy marriage that will enrich both their lives, which means ours will be enriched, too.

November 8, 2011

Marriage Bank Accounts

A number of marriage therapists suggest couples pay attention to their marriage like a bank account. Don't make a withdrawal if you have not made enough deposits.

The intention is good. The score-keeping seems all wrong.

And so does the idea of withdrawals.

Is watching football when your wife wants to go furniture shopping together a withdrawal? Or is it just a conflict of interest better solved with a Third Alternative than by kissing her the morning before the game?

Is giving your husband an errand to run a withdrawal? If he fails to run it, does the withdrawal still count? I would expect the husband who fails to run it is more put out by the demand than one who gladly heads off to take care of it. Why not find a Third Alternative for getting the errand taken care of without either of you feeling you are treated unfairly?

And what about the research, repeated by several researchers, that shows it takes 5 times as many positive interactions as negative ones to keep a relationship strong? No bank account works that way.

I don't buy the bank account method. Work at making yourself happy in your marriage, happy enough to want to be kind, warm, generous, forgiving, and grateful toward the love of your life. And forget the score-keeping.

November 7, 2011

In Sickness And In Health? Alcoholism, Too?

drink.jpgAlcohol abuse and alcoholism harm a lot of marriages. When we take those wedding vows, pledging to stick together in sickness or in health, do we also accept the drunken rages, lost wages, and self-inflicted depression?

If staying and leaving were our only options, I would say no, we do not vow to accept all this harm. Fortunately, staying and leaving are usually not our only two options.

Al-Anon, that wonderful, free support group for those affected by someone else's alcohol abuse, offers this answer the to question What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is widely recognized as a disease of compulsive drinking, which can be arrested, but not cured. It is a progressive illness, which will get only worse as long as the person continues to drink. Total abstinence from drinking is the only way to arrest the disease. Alcoholism affects the entire family; indeed, everyone who has contact with the alcoholic is affected. Unfortunately, the only person who can stop the alcoholic from drinking is the alcoholic himself or herself. [emphasis added]

Some of the other options:

  • If you do not have enough money because of what your alcoholic husband or wife does, find some money and a safe place to keep it..

  • If you do nothing to bring joy into your life because your alcoholic will not join you, take your attention off the problem you cannot fix and pursue that joy.

  • If you do not feel safe in your own home, fix this, without waiting for sobriety. Set limits. If your wife or husband violates the limits, create a safe place for yourself and your children, whether a locked room, a separate apartment, a strong friend you invite to live in your home, or an abused spouse shelter.

  • If you have been buying alcohol or manufacturing excuses for your guy or gal, stop. Almost every serious illness comes with an unpleasant treatment we need courage to accept. We need the lifestyle consequences of the illness to motivate that courage. Getting in the way of the consequences of drinking is a lot like sabotage.

  • If you have been avoiding contact with friends or family to avoid feeling shame, invite them over and remind yourself you have and have always had almost zero control over your mate's drinking. Keeping touch with reality is especially important when you live with an alcoholic.

What does it mean to Assume Love when you are married to an alcoholic? It means you understand that the disease creates a disconnect between your spouse's intentions toward you and his or her actions. It means you can see and appreciate the intentions, but you are the only one who can protect yourself and your relationship from those disconnected actions that hurt you physically, emotionally, or financially.

At first, you will see the intentions in sincere apologies offered while sober for what happened while drunk. Take this as a serious sign that you need to act to protect yourself and your children.

As the disease progresses, you will see the intentions in the excuses invented to preserve your mate's self-perception as someone who cares for you. It is likely your spouse will blame you or outside factors for provoking his or her shameful behavior. You might want to find a therapist to help you with an intervention at this point, closing off the avenues of escape from the many consequences of the problem for your spouse.

If the situation reaches the point where your spouse loses all shame for what he or she does to you, remove yourself and your loved ones as far as you can from your spouse. Keep your distance until you learn he or she is sober and seeking to show love for you again.

November 6, 2011

More on When to Assume Love

I was so glad to receive a comment about yesterday's post, wondering if I was injecting a bit of sarcasm.

I was glad to receive it. I know this technique is a bit difficult to grasp. I welcome any opportunity to make it clearer, because I think it helps enormously. All by itself, and in just a few critical minutes, it can be the difference between divorce and renewed love for your spouse.

At first glance, Assume Love looks like I am suggesting you give your spouse the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Avoid blowing up over little stuff. Avoid carrying grudges.

But Assume Love is so much more powerful than that. In fact, if you just give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, you might miss out on the real power in this technique.

Assume Love is not, like most marriage education techniques, a way to make things better between you and your husband or wife. Everyone else pays attention to the relationship. I pay attention to you. Assume Love is not about a better relationship. It is about you and whether or not you enjoy being married.

All three of my techniques—Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives—are about your experience of your marriage. They work a lot faster than fixing your spouse does and create a lot less resentment than changing yourself for your spouse.

Imagine this. You are self-employed. Lately, your revenues have been way down. Your husband has been unemployed for six months. He hardly even checks the web for openings any more. You read of an opening in his field. Your hopes go up. Maybe, maybe, you will pull through this financial crisis before you lose the house.

He says, "There's no point applying for this one." First, you are crushed. Your hopes shatter on the floor around you. Next, you get angry. You have, after all, been looking for clients for your business day in and day out while he watches TV. This feels so unfair! Next, you feel abandoned. You cannot believe he would turn this down when it leaves you so vulnerable. To lose your house when you are both less than ten years away from retirement is unthinkable. You are sad, angry, and scared all in a big, crazy bundle. And maybe you contemplate just walking out on him, certain you would be safer and happier single and on your own.

This is where you Assume Love. Sure, you practice with it when he puts the vegetable peeler in the wrong drawer or borrows the book you're reading and doesn't return it. But moments like this are the ones where it makes all the difference in the world. You cannot pretend this doesn't matter to you. You cannot just give him the benefit of the doubt.

Now you ask yourself, "if this man still loves me completely and still possesses his best qualities, and I had no doubt of this, how might I explain what he just did?"

Your first answer is likely something like, "He doesn't care if I lose my home!" And you recognize that the man you married, when you were sure he loved you fiercely, would care. A lot. You are looking for an explanation of why a good, loving man would do this.

And do you know what's happening as you do this? The chemical soup released in your brain as you got sad, then angry, then scared begins to clear up. And this is very important, because the soup is designed to focus your attention on threats. But you know that a husband refusing to apply for a job is hardly the sort of threat our bodies are designed to handle. No immediate escape is required. You will not be called upon to fight for your life, as you might if this were a tiger or a fire. Instead, you need to broaden your focus. And to do this, you need to dissipate the chemical soup.

So you try again. "Perhaps he's afraid to apply after all this time out of work." And then you think back to the man you fell in love with. Courage is one of his greatest strengths. Fear does not explain this one.

So you think about the way he said it, "there's no point applying for this one." This is a clue. What's different about this position? Your thinking is getting clearer. More things are popping into your head now. You remember him saying this about an earlier job, months ago. Where was that job? Could it have been at this company?

No, it was a different company. But did you notice how you stopped being furious and began to be curious? Feels better, doesn't it?

So you look again at this job ad, and the company name looks oddly familiar. Your husband has mentioned this company before. When was that? He was still working then. When was it? Was it when he was ordered to let two of his people go, as the company was going downhill? It was! Now you remember. He let them go and one quickly landed a job at his level at this company. And ever since, his disgruntled former employee, Leonard, has taken every opportunity to show him up, hiring one of the employees he tried to hold onto, getting himself put on the same panel at that conference. The advertised job would surely report to Leonard.

When you check in with your feelings, the sadness and the anger are gone. You're still scared of losing the house, but you know that applying for this job would be a lot to go through with a very small probability of getting a job. It may have even been painful for your husband just to read that Leonard's hiring. And when you realize how much you care about this, you wonder how in the world you thought you could leave this man.

But you could have. You could have added to his pain over the job offer with accusations that he does not care about your well-being or is not as courageous as he should be. His response probably would have increased your fear. Your fear would have stung him like any loss of respect. One of you would have rejected the other. The other of you would have withdrawn to avoid further pain. And you, too, could have ended up divorced over a job ad at a difficult moment in both your lives.

Those are the very moments at which to Assume Love. If there is an explanation, you are much more likely to find it or find yourself willing to ask gently for it after you Assume Love. If there is no explanation, you are much more likely to recognize this with a clear head after you Assume Love.

Unless you have married someone incapable of loving you, you will spend less time angry, scared, and hurt. You will find yourself with more respect for your man, and most men respond very, very well to respect from their spouse. You will spend more time feeling tender toward the man you married and receiving the rewards of tenderness.

And this is what it means to Assume Love. You bring yourself back from the strong emotions of your initial explanation of an event and reap the benefits of a more accurate explanation.

It works well for the little stuff, too, the things you could just overlook by giving your man the benefit of the doubt. But if you use it for the little stuff, you will be ready for the big stuff: the porn, the surprising raised voice, the big decision made without consulting you. And you just might enjoy being married in spite of the surprises.

November 5, 2011

When It Helps to Assume Love

notMyFault.jpgAssume Love is shorthand for a little technique that can turn your distressing marriage into a great one. Try it whenever you find yourself wondering if your mate could possibly still love you or be worthy of your love. All you do is ask yourself, "if this person still loves me completely and still possesses his or her best qualities, and I had no doubt of this, how might I explain what he or she just did?"

Doing this little thought experiment frees you from the intense focus on threats and problems that your distress forces on you. It lets you recall relevant information and connect one bit of information to another. It lets you see love you might otherwise overlook.

Some good times to Assume Love:

  • When your partner says no to your plans [because it is likely you already know enough to understand why and realize you are not being thwarted, that you just need a different way to get what you want]

  • When you discover your husband of a decade or more is suddenly into porn [because you might then connect the onset with something like a vasectomy or a disappointing performance in bed with you]

  • When your wife starts going out with friends after work [because you might recognize how it's improving your relationship or helping improve her sales or turning her into a better mother instead of seeing it as a rejection of you]

  • When your usually quiet and calm husband raises his voice [because it just might be a last-ditch effort to draw your attention to an urgent problem]

  • When your mate refuses to do without an expensive, name-brand product [because it taps into some very important memory or helps relieve some deep pain]

  • When your wife refuses to take a job offer, even though you two really need the money [because she knows she cannot do the job in a way that will keep the job or lead to a good reference when she must move on]

  • When your spouse does something with the kids that scares or disgusts you [because he or she is protecting them from a threat you have never faced but your spouse has]

  • When your husband demands to drive the two of you home while drunk [because the only loving explanation for this is that he intends to protect you but has lost the ability to turn down a drink that interferes with his good intentions, in which case you'll need to protect him and yourself from his addiction until he find the strength to deal with it]

  • When your spouse beats you up or empties your bank account to punish you, rather than as a result of addiction or mental illness [because you will find no explanation for a decent, loving person doing the sort of thing he or she would protect a loved one from if anyone else tried it, and you will know you are not loved by or safe with this person any longer]

November 4, 2011

Updating Assume Love

I added some more categories to this blog today, to make it easier for you to find older posts about my main three marriage-fixing techniques, Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives. All of these were previously lumped together under the How to Assume Love category. I hope you find the change helpful.

November 3, 2011

Not the Fairy Tale I Hoped For

My husband does not often suggest subjects for this blog. However, when he read this quote from Kim Kardashian's blog, he said, "You have to write about this." And so I will.

About her very brief marriage to Kris Humphries, Kim Kardashian wrote:

It just didn't turn out to be the fairy tale I had so badly hoped for.

Fairy tales entertain, and they teach. And still some folks see only the princess and the prince dressed in their finest outfits and the part about living happily ever after.

Cinderella: Happily ever after is not granted to the stepsisters who dressed the part, but to the one who works hard day after day and treats everyone kindly. Happily ever after was granted to the crown prince only after he put in the effort to track down the right woman, first by holding a ball and then by a house-to-house search that required getting on his knees over and over with an abandoned shoe.

Snow White: Happily ever after for her came after hiding out in the woods doing housework for a bunch of hard-working men, getting poisoned, and surviving a lengthy coma. For the prince, it came after hacking his way through thick undergrowth to rescue his bride.

Beauty and the Beast: Only virtuous people see the virtue in others. They end up in good marriages. Beauty's sisters marry for good looks and wit and end up stone-hearted statues doomed to watch their sister live happily ever after. And, one presumes, their equally vain husbands don't find their cold, hard statue wives all that enchanting, either.

Perhaps it turned out Kim married into a nightmare. Maybe she discovered the man she married has no capacity for love or empathy. Perhaps he posed a grave danger to her, thanks to an uncontrolled temper or addiction. If so, my heart goes out to her and I fully understand her desire for a divorce and admire her discretion in not broadcasting his flaws.

But it sounds like she really expected that putting on the princess dress for a day would result in every good thing she ever expected from her prince and more.

Cinderella, Snow White, and Little Beauty know that happily ever after comes from being able to see the best in your mate, being able to recognize love in all its forms, and being willing to be hard-working, flexible, and grateful. It does not come from demanding it as your right because you wore the fairy tale dress.

November 2, 2011

What Would You Miss?

If your marriage is like most, there are things about your spouse that upset you. Because they upset you, you spend more time thinking about them. Guess what this does to the quality of your time together?

Want better? Mentally go through the next 24 hours of your life. What would you miss if your spouse were suddenly no longer in it? No divorce. No splitting up your assets. You have full custody of any kids and pets. And Prince Charming or Snow White have not yet shown up.

Not enough to make you ache for your mate? Try going through your favorite day of the year, whether it's Christmas, your birthday, a sunny vacation day at the beach, or a lazy Sunday at home.

What would you miss?

And what can you do to encourage more of this from your husband or wife while you are fortunate enough to be together?

November 1, 2011

Launching a Business Without Killing Your Marriage

Gene Marks' NY Times blog on the art of running a small business included two items that caught my attention yesterday.

The first is a great quote from Penelope Trunk in Venture Beat:

"The dirty secret about start-up founders is they can't keep marriages together. Part of the reason for this is they are crazy to begin with. And part of the reason is that you have to be married to your company to do a start-up. So divorce rates are high, especially among women, because they are much less likely to have a spouse who is willing to stay home and keep the family intact. So I got a divorce. It was on the cover of The New York Times. And all P.R. is good P.R., of course, but I realized, while I was going through the process, that I wanted a successful marriage more than I wanted a successful career. And then I thought, 'No. I want both.' And I became exhausted wondering how women get both. (Until I realized, oh, this is why women don't do start-ups.)"

I happen to think there is a lot one can do to keep the family intact during a start-up, starting with how you break the news to your husband or wife. It's all covered in my online course, Enjoy Being Married When You Take the Self-Employment Plunge.

The second was a quote by Michael Idov in Slate:

"Within weeks, Lily and I -- previously ensconced in an enviably stress-free marriage -- were at each other's throats. I hesitate to say which was worse: working the same shift or alternating. Each option presented its own small tortures. Two highly educated professionals with artistic aspirations have just put themselves -- or, as we saw it, each other -- on $8-per-hour jobs slinging coffee. After four more months, we grew suspicious of each other's motives, obsessively kept track of each other's contributions to the cause ("You worked three days last week!"), and generally waltzed on the edge of divorce. The marriage appears to have been saved by a well-timed bankruptcy."

Enjoy Being Married When You Take the Self-Employment Plunge includes a section on working together, too. Two of the most important points in it are defining "fair" in advance and divvying up the tasks in a way that lets each of you bring your best character strengths to the job, which produces a lot more job satisfaction.

Are you thinking of launching a business? Are you guiding your own business through these economic hard times? How's it going? What's working for you? What problems would you like help with? Hundreds of people read this blog every day and would love to benefit from your experiences and to help you get past your current obstacles. Your comments are always welcome.

The Author

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

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