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Articles from January 2012

January 31, 2012

What I Thought I Wanted

You probably already know what drives me to write this blog and teach my teleclasses. Just in case you don't, it was getting exactly what I thought I wanted 25 years ago, when my resentment outweighed my love for the man I married, the father of our son. I write and speak to stop you from going after what I thought I wanted.

First I wanted him to change. I wanted a fairer division of chores and responsibilities. I wanted more hugs and kisses. I wanted more understanding of my very stressful job and long commute. I wanted more communication. I wanted a partner for dance lessons. I wanted to get out more and do things. I wanted more for our son than just someone to read to him and cook him dinner.

When my husband wouldn't change and my resentment grew and grew, I wanted a divorce. An amicable divorce, of course, one that would not in any way harm our nine-year-old son. (Odd that I gave up believing in the Tooth Fairy long before I gave up believing you can reject a child's other parent and not hurt him. Or that I thought our son could not see I was already rejecting his father in so many ways.)

The day after those words came out of mouth, deeply hurting my husband of 13 years but not really surprising him, I got full custody and 100% of all our assets. And while I did not receive any child support payments, I did receive his life insurance.

I also received the biggest comeuppance of my life. (Do people still say comeuppance? It means a fate one deserved, karma, payback.)

My husband had been ill for a long time, but it was a chronic illness, seldom a fatal one. We had thought he was getting healthier, and he had said he was ready to start a new semester a week later, even if he did not feel very healthy. It was not to be. His body failed him. I had failed him, too.

I had held him responsible for my unhappiness and for not doing more to relieve my stress over my work, my commute, our son's schooling, and our crazy decision to have a home built for us after a cross-country move. I had appointed myself the one who decided what needed doing and how much of it was my fair share.

I had decided we could only do recreational and social things together, so I was bound by and resentful of his limited energy. I had limited my opportunities for hugs and kisses and sex to what was possible when he was not ill, instead of exploring what might work better for the two of us. I was still holding my you-owe-me token from when I worked full-time to put him through five years of grad school.

I had not ever been physically threatened or emotionally battered. I was unhappy about my marriage only because my expectations had not been met and I could not control the situation. And I have met so many of you in exactly the same situation. Maybe you are halfway out the door now. Maybe you are eying someone tempting who might meet some of your needs on the side. Maybe you are still in the nagging or whining phase. Wherever you are, I need to tell you this:

  • Marriage is seldom fair, because there is no one, true list of tasks to divvy up. If you think you are doing too much, do less. If you are unhappy doing less, do not blame this on your mate. And definitely do not expect that divorcing will fix this.

  • Marriage will never live up to your expectations, unless you bring to it just one expectation, that you will be loved, and drop all the rest. You will be shocked how much love you can receive if love is all you ask of your spouse. Expect Love.

  • No matter how long you are married, you will never learn to read your spouse's mind. You will often feel hurt or anger when no offense was intended. Learn to Assume Love and take a second look. It will make you a happier person.

  • When you disagree, do not sulk. Do not cave. Do not debate. Do not demand or pull out five-year-old IOUs. Find Third Alternatives. Life is amazing when you are lucky enough to share it with someone who can help you find even better ways of getting what you want from it.

And if you have kids, know that you don't need to choose between whatever harm divorce will do to them and whatever harm your current anger or depression is doing to them. People can and do fall back in love when they let go of their resentments by releasing expectations that have nothing to do with love.

January 30, 2012

A Valentine's Day Third Alternative

Luis said, "Barb, do you think you can find us a babysitter for Valentine's Day, so I can take you to dinner at La Paz?"

A small shudder of annoyance went down Barb's spine. Luis never seemed to pay any attention to their budget. And he never, ever called any of the sitters himself, even though Barb had entered all of their numbers into his cell phone.

Barb said, "I would much rather we put the price of a La Laz dinner into the twin's college fund. It's only ten more years until we have two kids in college at the same time."

Step 1: Jump the Net!

Luis replied, " I hear you, Barb. I appreciate the need to save money. Third Alternative, then? Is the cost your only objection? Anything else we need to consider to come up with a Third Alternative that works for you?

This took Barb by surprise. They had just recently read about Third Alternatives. Luis was not going to launch into his usual routine. He was actually asking what she wanted, apparently intending to give her whatever she requested, just not in the manner she asked for it.

What did she want? She thought about asking him to call the sitter if they needed one, but then she realized she wanted to speak directly with the teen who would spend the evening with their two sons.

Step 2: Write New Specs

Barb said, "Something inexpensive or even free is what I want this Valentine's Day, Luis. And romantic, at least a little bit."

Luis replied, "What I want is to take you somewhere special and memorable, Barb, but there is a reason. In the past year, Rob and Bart both died so suddenly and Jen developed MS. And I cannot even remember what I did for you last Valentine's Day, less than a year later. This year, I need to do something you will remember if anything were to happen to me. So, it needs to be special and not use up money the boys will need for college, right?"

Barb said, "Oh, I had no idea you were so affected by what happened to Judy, Rob, and Bart, Luis. OK, those sound like good specs for a Third Alternative. Now we brainstorm, right? How about I make a really nice candlelight dinner at home?"

Step 3: Brainstorm!

Bart replied, "I really like the idea of candlelight, but how about if I take care of the money-saving? If I brown-bag lunch for the next two weeks, instead of going out with everyone else, that will! least $100. How much is the babysitter?"

"Maybe $30," Barb said.

Luis said, "I am going to put my old cameras on Craigslist. If they sell in time, we go to La Paz. If not, we go somewhere a bit less memorable, but nice."

Barb replied, "Luis, I love the idea of La Paz, but I don't have any dresses nice enough for there. A new outfit would cost way too much."

Luis said, "OK. One more specification for our Third Alternative. But let's not write off La Paz too quickly. Is there any inexpensive way to come up with a suitable outfit, assuming you would actually like to go to La Paz, that is."

"I would really love a romantic, candlelight dinner with you at La Paz on Valentine's Day, Luis. But where would I get an outfit?"

Luis said, "That's pretty much out of my league, but I would be happy to ask my sisters if they have any suggestions."

Barb said, "No, please don't impose on them, Luis."

"Asking for help with brainstorming is not very imposing, Barb. They both have pretty creative minds and lots of friends," Luis said.

"You're right! I could ask a couple of the gals at work for ideas, too. Whether it's La Paz or some place a little less expensive, I think this will be a memorable Valentine's Day just because of this discussion. Thank you, Luis. I'm really glad we learned how to find Third Alternatives when we disagree. If we get to La Paz for Valentine's Day as a result, I am a fan for life!"

January 29, 2012

A Faster Route to a Happy Marriage

The slow and uncertain route to a happy marriage looks like this:

  • Do the things a good wife or a good husband should do.

  • Make sure your spouse knows what you expect him or her to do.

  • Schedule time to talk about your distress when you're unhappy.

  • If things get tense, make sure you protect your assets and your feelings, just in case there's a divorce.

  • Always check whether your friend or therapist agrees that what your mate does to upset you is as unfair as it feels.

  • Avoid marital conflict by spending more time with your kids or more time working to support them; if you don't have any kids, have one now, before the relationship gets any worse.

  • See a therapist who can help you reach a good compromise if you disagree about anything important.

A faster route to a happy marriage has three simple steps:

  • Assume Love: When something your spouse does upsets you, recall that you married a good person who promised to love you. Take a second look at what happened. Try to figure out why a good person who loves you might do this thing. It will jog your memory, just in case nothing bad (and perhaps even something very good) was intended by it.

  • Expect Love: Instead of putting energy into earning your mate's love, put it into noticing all the loving things he or she does for you daily. Once you see them, you will not need a list of "shoulds" to inspire your own loving acts. And you won't let another list of "shoulds" keep you from recognizing what a great person you married.

  • Find Third Alternatives: Welcome disagreements as a great opportunity. A Third Alternative is at least as satisfying as your original position, but it comes with the extra bonus of delighting the person you love. No need to avoid conflict. No need for heavy, accusatory discussions. Just another chance to discover another way to grow happy. If you involve your friends or therapist, ask them to help brainstorm Third Alternatives, not to put a magnifying glass to your wife's or husband's faults.

Marriage is not a competition against your spouse. If the results seem fair, it's probably not yet as good as it could be.

January 28, 2012

You Deserve Better

Well-meaning friends often say, about whatever complaint we have toward a husband or wife, "You deserve better."

Is it true?

Is the confirmation helpful?

If you did not deserve it, what might you do to rediscover happiness and closeness with your husband or wife in spite of your disagreement about what he or she ought to do?

January 27, 2012

EITC Awareness Day

Today is Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day. The IRS estimates that between a fifth and a quarter of those eligible for it fail to claim it. This year, with many couples struggling in ways they have not in the past, the Administration for Children and Families has made an effort to get the word out.

From their press release:

Are you eligible to claim EITC for 2011 taxes?

  • Must have earned income in 2011
  • Must have a valid Social Security number
  • Investment income limited to $3,150
  • Generally, must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien all year
  • Cannot use "married filing separate" filing status
  • Cannot be a qualifying child of another person
  • Cannot file Form 2555 or 2555-EZ (related to foreign earned income)

If you meet these rules, your earned income must also be less than...

  • $13,660 ($18,740 if married filing jointly) with no qualifying children
  • $36,052 ($41,132 if married filing jointly) with one qualifying child
  • $40,964 ($46,044 if married filing jointly) with two qualifying children
  • $43,998 ($49,078 if married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children

You could be Eligible to Receive an EITC up to:

  • $464 with no qualifying children
  • $3,094 one qualifying child
  • $5,112 two qualifying children
  • $5,751 three qualifying children

Do you want help figuring out the EITC?

  • Use the interactive EITC Assistant at to show you if you qualify
  • Call the IRS toll free at 1-800-TAX-1040
  • Visit a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site for FREE help and tax preparation, or see your tax preparer. To find the nearest site call: 1-800-906-9887

January 26, 2012

What Will You Accomplish Next?

The model for flourishing as a person includes five elements, according to the Father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman:

  • Positive emotions

  • Engagement

  • Relationships

  • Meaning and purpose

  • Accomplishments

The last part of PERMA is Accomplishments. The road to accomplishment is what researcher Angela Duckworth calls Grit. Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, author of Succeed, offers some excellent advice on accomplishments:
"Don't visualize success. Visualize the steps you will take to succeed."

If your marriage is rocky right now, you may find your attention and efforts mistakenly centered on fixing your spouse. It is very difficult to fix someone, and his or her spouse is the worst person to do it. All of your attention to this fool's errand will keep you from accomplishing something remarkable and within your reach, like writing a book, learning a new skill, or launching a business.

Go for the accomplishment first. Think of it as putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting your spouse. It gives both of you your best shot at a happy marriage.

January 25, 2012

Meaning Matters

Continuing with Martin Seligman's take on positive psychology, we come to the fourth element in PERMA, meaning and purpose.

This is defined as being part of something bigger than oneself, something that will outlast you, something that affects more than just you. It is nice to share this with your spouse, but it is not necessary. You can pursue your own connections to something meaningful, knowing it is likely to add to your enjoyment of life.

For me, being part of the marriage education movement matters. I get great satisfaction from writing this blog and giving my Enjoy Being Married teleclasses.

Others get this from being part of a religious fellowship, volunteering to improve a school, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, campaigning for a politician with world-changing ideas, volunteering to rescue animals, or being an active part of a Gilbert & Sullivan Society. Others keep it closer to home and find meaning in raising children and providing them the best possible home.

Not sure where to find more meaning? Just watch for your biggest responses to upsetting news stories. If you cannot find a group working to help these folks, ask a librarian, use your search engine, or put #IdeaParty in a tweet on Twitter asking for ideas of where to find one.

When your mate is depressed or stressed or just disengaged, you still need meaning in your life. Do not lay the blame for not finding yours on your spouse's shoulders. Filling your life with meaning is important to flourishing, and your flourishing matters to the strength of your marriage.

January 24, 2012

Why You Need a Relationship or Two on the Side

Continuing our series on PERMA, Martin Seligman's model for flourishing, we look at Relationships, the third of the five sources of well-being: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishment.

We need relationships. We crave them. When they go wrong, we swear we do not need them and will be better off without them. Yet most people who divorce will marry again. And most of us will spend a lifetime seeking or nurturing relationships with friends, children, parents, siblings, and that one special other person we want to share our lives with.

One of the ways to nurture this primary relationship is to take some of the strain off it by building other relationships. Here I do not mean competing relationships, the stuff of sexual affairs and emotional infidelity. Those are unhealthy relationships. We play act in them, using our violated marriage pledge as an excuse to withhold or exit at our convenience.

I mean friendships with people who have no claim on or interest in the parts of our lives pledged to our spouses. I mean cultivating friendships with those who love the literary discussions or tennis games you adore but your wife or husband does not. I mean the friends who appreciate being asked to advise you on things your spouse will not, so that he or she can remain your chief cheerleader.

When you get some of your needs met outside the marriage, it frees you to better appreciate all the rest that your spouse does for you. At the same time, it creates a life with more and stronger relationships, which is one of the main hallmarks of a happy person.

January 23, 2012

The Engaged Life, after You Marry

As I mentioned yesterday, I would like to look at the latest model of human flourishing, PERMA, and what it means for how we can enjoy being married. According to Martin Seligman, wellbeing stems from five sources: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishment (PERMA).

Yesterday, we looked at how to get more Positive emotion into our lives when our spouse cannot or will not do things with us, give us that massage or hug we crave, or say the words we long to hear.

Today, I want to focus on Engagement. This marvelous bit of flourishing has another name. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi gave it the name Flow, that wonderful state of being where you are so intensely involved in something that you could not even say if you are happy or unhappy. When you are done, though, you know you enjoyed yourself, even in spite of any pain or danger involved.

Rock climbing, sailing, and white water rafting are great examples of flow-inducing activities. So are painting, sculpting, making music, and acting. Good sex leads to flow. So can cooking or dancing or solving a puzzle.

Nine things make an activity more likely to put us into flow:

  1. At every step, our next goal is clear
  2. Each action results in immediate feedback
  3. The task calls for a slight stretch, just a tiny bit more skill than we currently possess, but not a lot more
  4. We become aware of nothing beyond our current action
  5. We cannot notice distractions
  6. Failure, while possible, does not occupy our thoughts
  7. Self-consciousness slips away
  8. We easily lose track of time and find ourselves surprised when we stop how much has gone by
  9. Over time, we come to engage in the activity for its own sake, rather than what it will gain us

Our recent discussion of online games comes to mind here. Many people go into flow while playing them. To a spouse who wants to engage them, the total involvement, the time that slips away, the loss of self-consciousness, and the inability to notice distractions may all come across as rejection.

When you choose your own flow activities, you might want to be sensitive to this. Choose the time and place accordingly. And don't expect your life partner to understand that you are oblivious to your rock climbing or sculpting partner, too. Avoid engaging in your flow activities with someone that will set off jealousy.

If you have no flow-inducing hobbies, start looking. Pay attention to times when you find yourself emerging from flow. One that most people recognize is the end of a long-distance drive, when you cannot remember the landmarks along the way and wonder how you made it home like that. Pay attention to those little urges to master a new skill. Learning a skill can often put you into flow.

Still stuck? Check out your Signature Character Strengths through the VIA Strengths Survey at Using them in new ways tends to result in flow.

If you share a strength with your distant husband or wife, it might be a great choice. As you experience the benefits of frequent engagement, he or she may be tempted to join you.

If not, remember you can increase your engagement in sex, too. If your environment offers too many distractions to block out, work on removing them. If your schedule conflicts with losing track of time, change your schedule. Stretch just beyond your current skill level in pursuit of greater pleasure for yourself or your mate. Become more aware of short-term goals and not just your end goal. Sex is a great place for shared flow.

January 22, 2012

Strengthen Your Marriage with a Video?

Positive psychology researchers continue to study what we can do to lead more enjoyable lives. Martin Seligman tells us we flourish by adding Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishment (PERMA) to our lives.

I would like to look at these to learn how we can enjoy being married over the next few days.

Positive emotion comes from remembering our past, enjoying our present, and looking forward to our future. Philip Zimbardo tells us research reveals an optimal mix of these: a moderate amount of time seeking physical or mental pleasures in the present, a bit more looking forward to a positive future, and even more reliving the happiest parts of our past.

If you are currently striking out on enjoying the present with your husband or wife, thanks to his or her depression or work stress, what can you do? You probably already figured out one option. You can find others to have a good time with. Having a good time makes us a lot more approachable when our mate has a spare moment.

Zimbardo gives us another, one that holds us close to the person we married. We can relive special moments from our past or picture those in our future. Bring out the scrapbooks and photo albums or create a new keepsake: a printed book, a blog, or a video collage. The act of making it will improve your wellbeing and very likely strengthen your marriage bond. Some day, it may also become a treasured memento for your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

January 21, 2012

Is Your Marriage Anyone Else's Business?

This issue always comes up during election years, doesn't it? Some of us find the news that a candidate left his wife for his mistress a bad sign. Others want to forgive it as a mistake or simply keep everything about a candidate's personal life off-limits.

I would argue, though, that marriages matter. They are not entirely private. They are not entirely our own business.

Yes, we make mistakes. LOTS of us make mistakes. Many of us cheat on our spouses, whether once or many times. Many abandon our spouses or decide it is just not worth dealing with our irreconcilable differences any longer.

But it is not entirely our own business.

Christianity Says Yes

Many Christian churches read Matthew 19:6 (repeated at Mark 10:8-9) at weddings: "Therefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." In other words, if any of you attending this wedding pursue one of them as a sex partner or spouse, or if you encourage one to abandon the other to better share their earnings or efforts with you, you're way out of line.

The Catholic Church outlawed secret marriage at the Council of Trent in 1563, when it required marriage banns, in which the bride's and groom's parishes were asked on three different occasions, "If any of you know cause or just impediment why these persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it." Among the reasons to be reported: living together before marriage, previous marriage not annulled or ended by the death of a spouse, or causing the spouse's death to get around that rule. This rule endured for 420 years, until 1983, and both the Lutheran Church and the Church of England went along with it, too.

The United States Says Yes

In the US today, the rules may have changed, but marriage licenses are still required, and they are a public matter. When I first married in 1973, we had to publish notice of our marriage in the local newspaper.

When you marry, your fellow citizens give you a rather large wedding gift. If one of you ends up supporting the other for any reason, we give the other one a nice tax break. In other words, we help pay the cost of supporting your spouse, because it is important and valuable to all of us that you do this.

When you marry, we cut you a break in court proceedings. You are as likely to know of your spouse's illegal misdeeds as a business partner or paramour, but you alone cannot be forced to testify to them. Why? Because this relationship is that important to the functioning of society.

When you marry and stay married for ten years, even if you later divorce, Social Security, a program funded by all of us who work for a living, gives you a choice of receiving the Social Security payment you personally qualify for or one based on what your spouse qualified for, and this continues beyond the death of your spouse. Free money, in many cases, to say thanks for staying married for at least ten years.

Buy a house and live in it alone or invite a friend to live with you, and you must pay tax on any capital gains in excess of $250,000 when you sell. In 2013, you may also need to pay Medicare tax on some or all of that $250,000, too. Bring a husband or wife to live in it with you for at least two years, and you can avoid both taxes on another $250,000 in capital gains. Your fellow taxpayers offer you up to $47,000 in additional tax savings just for being married.

Do married folks deserve all this? I think they do. They reduce welfare costs, home health care costs, long-term health care costs, disabled care costs, prison costs. Their lifestyle is typically greener. Even if they divorce, the law holds them responsible for each other's care through alimony and division of assets deemed to be shared regardless of who purchased them, much to the dismay of many who might prefer just parting company like two roommates moving on. Society invests in marriage because there is generally a good return, for society, on the investment.

Are Candidates' Marriages Our Business?

What does this have to do with candidates for president, vice president, senator, and representative? A good deal, I think. Forgive them for their private mistakes, sure. However, as you choose stewards for society's investments in our common good, consider how they have treated society's investments in their marriage(s). As you choose those who will untangle thorny problems in our relationships with other nations and with industries supported by government, take note of how they have handled the thorny problems in their primary relationship with a person of their own choosing, even if it ended in divorce or annulment.

Is Your Marriage Our Business?

Marriage is far from irrelevant and far from a private matter. We all have a stake in each other's marriages. I want so much for yours to be satisfying and long-lived. Please reach out if you need help insuring this. Not all marriages succeed, but many more could if we reached out to others instead of to those willing to put our marriage asunder for their own benefit.

January 20, 2012

How to Get Your Mate's Attention

It happens a lot. We reach a point in our marriage where there seems to be no time for each other. So much to do! Kids. Work. Schooling. Email. Favorite TV shows or sports teams. Cooking. Taxes. Shopping.

All of a sudden, it's just too much. We want to talk. Go out to a quiet dinner together. Get some sympathy. Make time for skiing or photography or whatever it was we did together before all this happened.

There are two approaches to getting our husband's or wife's attention when we reach this point.

This one does not work:

  • We need to have a talk.

  • We never DO anything together any more!

  • You don't ever make any time for me.

  • Your stupid computer games are more important to you than I am, aren't they?

This approach is a lot more likely to help:

  • If I hire a sitter, are you free for dinner out on Thursday?

  • Can you get away the weekend after next? I would like to go skiing, and I would love it if you would join me.

  • Know how I said I would be leaving dinner in the crock pot tonight while I attended the networking meeting? Instead, I really need a shoulder to cry on. Can you please bring yours home, and I'll order in some pizza?

  • All I can think about today is how sexy you are. Can't wait to see you tonight. You have my full attention! What would you like to do with it?

Mixing the two is worse than sticking with the first one, so be sure you can take no for an answer and still come back with another great proposal soon. It's not inviting if your spouse gets an earful for declining.

January 18, 2012

When His Hobby Separates You

Yesterday, on The Generous Wife, Lori wrote a great post about the value of getting to know more about the parts of your husband's life you don't share. She recommended listening, asking questions, and learning a new shared vocabulary. She gave the example of her husband's fascination with zombies.

One of the commenters, Lisa, asked a question so many of us have asked at some point in our marriages. Her husband is unemployed and playing lots of online games. She asked, "Why would I want to learn about his newest online game if it's all he does? It's stealing his time away from his family."

I ached for Lisa. It is such an awful place to be, wanting more and feeling like she's enabling his harm to the marriage and their children if she follows Lori's great advice. Just in case you missed it, I thought I should reprint my comment there, in case you are walking in Lisa's shoes.

Great article, Lori! To answer Lisa's question, you might want to do it because men are biologically different from us women. To them, for reasons that have to do with different hormone levels, the foundation of a relationship is respect. There can be no relationship with someone who does not respect you as a person.

Unemployed, he's surely concerned about how much respect anyone has for him, especially you. Avoiding you avoids discovering his marriage has died.

If you express interest in his gaming, it also keeps you from focusing on your belief that he's "stealing his time away from his family," which surely gets in the way of showing your respect for him. He is more than his income. There are so many other things to respect about him.

Feeling your respect again is likely to relieve a good bit of the anxiety he surely uses gaming to deal with (unless this is a full-blown addiction out of his control -- and yours). It might even free up some productive time for looking for work, and it will surely give him more self-confidence to face the possible rejection.

You cannot rebuild your relationship with scorn. You cannot win more of his time with scorn. And you cannot come up with more income or more Daddy time for your kids by ending your marriage. So why not try talking about the games?

(Sorry, Lori, for hijacking your comments thread, but I made this mistake 25 years ago and feel an overwhelming urge to hang on tight to anyone headed for the same cliff.)

Lori forgave me and encouraged Lisa "to join in on the gaming 'to a healthy degree.'" Great advice!

January 17, 2012

When You Get Married

When you get married...

  • You try to be the person you think a wife or husband should be.

  • Your spouse tries to be the person he or she thinks a wife or husband should be.

  • They seldom match up with what the other expected.

  • Neither of you keeps trying quite so hard without positive feedback.

  • Each of you may resort to nagging to get what you expect or withdrawal to avoid the pain of not getting it.

A much better approach is to aim to enjoy being married to your spouse. This means you...

  • Let go of your expectations of what you will get from the marriage other than love.

  • Take care of the things you don't much like doing and hoped a spouse would do for you, so you never bury that love under resentment.

  • Pay close attention to all the love you get, and express gratitude for it or return it amplified.

  • Get to know your wife's or husband's character strengths and even create opportunities for her or him to use these strengths around you.

  • Let your spouse know how much you respect and value these strengths, especially the ones you are still mastering.

  • Remember people do not change all that quickly, so what upsets you a month or year or decade after the wedding may well be just a different way of loving you.

  • Recognize differences are normal but seldom as either-or as they look, so try for a Third Alternative that satisfies you both even more before you debate or fight about them or settle on a compromise.

A happy spouse is irresistible.

January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Your Marriage

Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the United States as much as almost anyone in our history. However, he was not born into greatness. He was born into unfairness and brutal penalties for aspiring to much of anything.

He chose to risk his career, his income, his physical safety, and his wife and children to step up to the plate and take a swing at perhaps making a difference. He chose it while in college, according to his roommate at the time, who later helped me with my City Planning thesis at MIT.

His first few warmups were not quite what he had pictured, but he kept at it. Eventually, he knocked it out of the park. He was murdered for it, but what he had accomplished remained and grew.

What does this have to do with your marriage? Everything, if you are biding your time and biting your lip while you wait for your spouse to change. Everything, if you fear taking a risk to make your marriage one you could enjoy, because it might possibly result in your husband or wife choosing divorce. Everything, if your needs go unmet and you heap piles of resentment on top of this pain by expecting your spouse to meet them. Everything, if the penalty for doing what you need to do is brutality at the hands of your mate, but you fear being on your own even more than this.

When you choose to change your marriage, to make it one you can enjoy, there is no guarantee it will work. Yes, you could run into a lot of resistance. Yes, you could end up divorced or with a lot more responsibilities. It might not work, but even if it doesn't, you will become a different, stronger person, and so will your children. Better yet, if it does work, it will change the world you, your mate, and your children live in.

Worth thinking about on this day when we remember the man who stepped up and took his swing at changing everything.

January 15, 2012

"Why am I Just Finding This Great Blog?"

2011 Hot Marriage Blog Award Ā© Liufu Yu | Dreamstime.comWe're sporting another award today, this one a 2011 Hot Marriage Blog Award from The Generous Husband, a marriage blog with lots of good stuff for husbands. As you might guess, the author is married to the author of The Generous Wife. Together, Paul and Lori also write The Marriage Bed, with sex and intimacy tips for married Christians.

Paul writes:

Why Am I Just Finding this Great Blog Award: Assume Love

This is far from a new blog, but I only found it recently. Patty's first post (Feb 2006!) says "When you Assume Love, you give yourself the chance to receive more love by looking beyond your instantaneous, gut-level reactions to events. You pay attention to what you know to be true. You stop yourself from jumping to conclusions. You do this for you, so that you don't miss any love being offered to you." I've been reading bits of her story and her blog, and am looking forward to sharing it here in the future.

I hope you will check out Paul and Lori's blogs, as well as the others that won 2011 Hot Marriage Blog Awards.

Paul, thank you for swelling my head and, even more, for honoring the many people whose visits to this site or opened emails and RSS feeds from here tell me month after month that I should keep writing about this stuff.

January 14, 2012

Love Rankings

I am a big fan of the Thumbshots website, where you can see how one search engine's site rankings compare with those from another search engine for the same term. Imagine if we had the same thing for our different takes on how loving an act is.

Link to Thumbshot site comparing two sets of website rankings

The top row here is Google, the bottom Bing, for a search for sites about a particular keyword. But let us imagine the top is me and the bottom is my husband. And let us pretend the circles are not links to websites, but to actions the two of us would view as more loving (on the left) to less loving (on the right). Thumbshots shows us where there are matches with those blue lines. The red dots are for a particular one I am interested in. Let's say he patted me on the back.

I rank it 59th on my list of nice things to do. It's my 59th favorite way to say thanks or I love you. Now follow the line from my 59th to his list. He ranks it 22nd, which is pretty high on his list.

If I had just served him a special snack, which is 24th on my list, I might find this pat on the back patronizing, a weak, disinterested gesture that made light of my kindness. I might feel hurt, pull away, maybe serve myself more of the snack than I gave him.

But I won't, because I make it a practice to Assume Love, to stop and ask myself whenever I am upset how my loving man might come to do this upsetting thing.

When I Assume Love, I picture something like the Thumbshots display. Look at my number 24, the special snack. It ranks 44th on his list, and he responded with his 22nd ranked gesture, the pat on the back. He was deliberately amplifying the love he felt from me.

Had I stuck out my lower lip, grabbed a bigger snack, and sat on the other side of the sofa from him, he would surely see it as a big rejection. He might even think twice about amplifying my love the next time he has a choice.

Unfortunately, there is no Thumbshots website for our love rankings, like there is for search engine rankings. However, when I Assume Love, I have some information to go by. Any form of physical touch ranks pretty high with him, while gift-giving of all sorts ranks high for me and low for him. I might not see he's amplifying my love, but I can see this is a loving response.

It's good to know what's so far down in your ranking that it's hate, not love. For me, that's pretty much anything another decent person would protect me from if a stranger did it to me. If my husband does any of them, I will move out of his reach.

But such acts are not what end most marriages. Instead, it's not realizing that our rankings tell us very little about what our husband's or wife's acts mean. Look at all those little circles with no match at all in each of our top 50 or 60 rankings. Every one of them is a resentment waiting to happen, if we don't Assume Love.

January 12, 2012

Teleclass Recordings!

For several years, I have wrestled with requests for recordings from people whose schedules don't allow them to be part of my Enjoy Being Married teleclasses. I do the teleclasses for free. I don't advertise anything during them. What I get in return is real-life marriage stories. I learn what people are facing. I hear their great ideas for each other. I discover when I make sense and when they need to hear more to grasp my rather different take on how to enjoy being married.

I feared I would lose this if I offered recordings. Finally, I had an idea. Keep the teleclasses free, but let those who just want to listen get the recording for a small fee ($6). And it worked. I had a good size group last night, and we got a good recording from it.

What Should You Expect from Your Husband or Wife?
Recorded Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Patty Newbold, Enjoy Being Married, LLC
51 minutes

Feeling let down? Thinking you deserve more from this person you married? Wondering if giving more would get you more or just leave you feeling taken advantage of? We discuss all of these and more on our January call. Thanks to a great question, we also cover how to handle your mate's excessive expectations.

The recording is available through JigsawBox, the same service I use for my course for new entrepreneurs who want to protect their marriage. If you are not already a JigsawBox user, you will need to sign up for a free account with them before you purchase the recording.

January 11, 2012

How to Handle Campaign Disagreements

Most of the time when couples disagree, I strongly urge them to Find Third Alternatives. Life together rocks when you both get what you want or better.

Fortunately, though, you get two votes at the end of a political campaign. You both get to cast the vote you want, and which candidate wins probably will not depend on how your household votes.

Best advice for handling campaign disagreements? Don't talk about the campaign! Allow your mate his or her totally wrong-headed take on the issues or the candidates. Make no attempt to correct it nor to justify your vote.

People don't stay close, caring, respectful, trusting, and in love by accident. Change the subject.

January 10, 2012

10 Alternatives to "Let's Do Something Together"

When your husband or wife has settled in to watch TV or answer emails is a terrible time for "Let's do something together." And any time is a terrible time for "We never do anything together." Here are some alternatives you might want to try.

  1. I want to take you to dinner tonight. Does Chinese or Mexican sound better?

  2. It's a beautiful sunny day out, and I'm headed down to walk along the river. If you're free, it would be so much fun to share this walk with you.

  3. There's a jazz trio at the place around the corner tonight. Feel like going out after dinner?

  4. After this show ends, can I talk you into watching the movie Our Idiot Brother together? It came today.

  5. Let's put on some music and dance until the game starts.

  6. There's no rain forecast for Saturday, and we have a choice of three outdoor festivals we can take the kids to, Medieval, strawberries, and foods of the world. You up for any of them?

  7. What was your favorite date from before we got married? Let's relive it this Friday night. We have some really great times together, don't we?

  8. I want to try something we have never done before. I narrowed it down to three. One is a hot air balloon chase at sunset. Another is watching a professional jai alai game. And the third is a massage class. I would love it if you could pick one that sounds worth trying.

  9. I challenge you to a game of Scrabble. When is a good time for it today?

  10. You look like it was a really tough day. Would you like a back rub?

The trick is to be specific, considerate, and enthused.

January 9, 2012

Porn and the Otherwise Lovable Husband

I received a lengthy comment today from a reader dealing with her husband's viewing of porn on the internet.

I suggested looking up Mark Laaser, Phd, who has written some helpful stuff on the subject after finding himself getting sucked into it. One of his books is The Pornography Trap: Setting Pastors and Laypersons Free from Sexual Addiction..You can see him in this Smart Marriages 2010 video or purchase a recording of the rest of his talk plus one on Sex in the Age of Twitter by Pat Love from Smart Marriages and iPlayback.

Mark will tell you what the porn industry does to take a man from a simple, normal fantasy right into an addiction. More importantly, he tells men how to come back out again, instead of losing their wives and their integrity.

But there is more I want to say to her, because porn is not her biggest problem. Her husband promised to stop it. There is nothing more for her to do about it, except forgive if he fails but keeps trying.

It feels like something is missing from her life, and it has for a long time. When her husband came home from long hours at work and did nothing more than watch TV, she begged him to "do more things together" with her and their children. She nursed her resentments and carried on with a superficial marriage. After the kids were grown and it was just them, and the internet had joined the TV in his life, she began to wonder if she still loved him.

Forget the porn. What we have here is a man who worked to support his family, but never mustered enough energy, enthusiasm, or drive to do anything more. He retreated into electronic entertainment day after day. He withdrew from life and from his marriage. Is he a bad man for this? Hardly. He did nothing to harm them. His resentment never turned to rage or physical abuse. He never gambled everything they had and lost it trying to fuel some excitement. He never stopped his wife and kids from finding their own joy. He just never led the way.

And we have here a woman who tried to engage him and raise a family, but never mustered enough energy, enthusiasm, or drive to do anything that delighted her or drew him closer. She would implore him to do something together, but she had no passion he could join in with. When he said no thanks, she withdrew in resentment. She expected him to get up and lead, and he failed her.

She had no clue her expectation caused her resentment, and she had no clue her resentment took from him what he expected: respect. She asked him to talk about his feelings. He had no idea how to do that, and he feared hearing her feelings, because people who are happy with you seldom ask to talk about it. He withdrew from any chance of hearing his wife was unhappy with him, never realizing that withdrawing is as tough on her as losing respect is on him.

And now, years later, we have two people still waiting for the other to lead the way to a life of shared good times.

And neither is ready to lead, in part because they are not sure how. More importantly, though, both appear to feel they cannot lead until he is sure of her approval and she is sure she matters to him.

But while she disapproves, he will be uncertain how much she matters. And until she's certain, she will not approve.

If you are the man in this scenario, one that happens in many marriages between otherwise wonderful people, for Pete's sake, tell your wife her real-life body means more to you than any air-brushed photo or seductively lit video. When you pass up the opportunity to boost your libido by looking at others, know that it matters to her and makes you a bigger man in her eyes.

If you are the woman in this scenario, for Pete's sake tell your husband he is and always has a good and worthy man. When you pass up the opportunity to complain or talk about feelings, know that it matters to him and makes you more lovable in his eyes.

And no matter which you are, turn off the TV and the internet for a week to break the habit of letting others entertain you. Plan things you can do together some of the nights and things you can do separately on others to give you two something to talk about when you come together. And schedule some time and energy for sex.

Make it a no complaint, no escape week. If you are out of ideas, check this date night post or these geek date night ideas or these inexpensive date nights. You might just rediscover why you fell in love.

January 8, 2012

What Are You Not Getting from Your Husband?

Do you have a list of things you are not getting from your husband? I did, right before my first marriage came to a crashing halt. I had a long list.

It was the list of a married woman. Single women have a different sort of list. They pay their bills, clean their bathrooms, shop for clothes, even raise children without a husband. What's on their list? Love. Someone to know them. Someone to accept them. Someone to care what becomes of them. Someone to touch them gently and lovingly. Someone to excite their passion.

It is only after they get these that they put the rest on the list. Someone to shovel snow. Someone to make more money when their own budget gets uncomfortably tight. Someone who does as much as they do to be sure the toilet bowl is clean and the seat is down and the paper rolls the classy way. Someone who cooks or cleans up after the cook. Someone with ambition or style or courage to enhance their own.

And now, the person who brought love into their life, the person who married them and promised for better or worse, feels perpetually not good enough. They know that unless they do all these things that feel unnatural or unimportant to them, all the things they want to do for the woman they love will never amount to good enough, either.

Now they feel unknown, unaccepted, uncared for, unable to reassure or fire up passion. Worse, they feel no respect from their list-maker, and they know respect is the very foundation of any relationship.

Even in my second marriage, I am sometimes secure enough in the things I sought when I married to start adding other things to the list. Now, though, I quickly notice what the new items on the list are doing to the love and respect in our marriage. I acknowledge what I need, but I remove it from what I expect my husband to provide. I might ask for them, once, maybe twice, but I accept the answer may well be no.

It's not no, I don't love you. It's no, I don't like doing this and I do not feel loving when I do it. Or it is no, I don't ever notice when this needs doing, and I do not enjoy being seen as not good enough when I fail to do what I don't even notice needs doing.

In my first marriage, I read each no as no, I don't love you enough to do this. This made everything on the list feel bigger, more urgent. It made me notice more things I needed. And then I woke up a widow, and I was stuck with my own list, and even I thought some of them really were not important enough to bother with during the first year or two as a single mom. Within a year, my biggest unmet need was again to be loved.

We all need a lot of people in our lives. We need friends who like to talk or listen if our mate does not. We need friends who help us screw up our courage to pursue our ambition or change our style. We need Dutch uncle friends who remind us how very little time it really takes to make the bathroom as we like it. We need friends who applaud us when we choose paper plates or a better dishwasher in place of replacing the worn sofa or even a second job to afford to eat out more, so after-cooking cleanup never drives a wedge between us and the man or woman who adores us.

If you find yourself expecting a lot more than love from your spouse, take some time to make new friends. It's a terrible thing to walk away from a happy marriage that became an unhappy one only because you drowned it in expectations. Expect Love and you just might enjoy being married.

January 7, 2012

Will Divorce Fix the Problem?

When married life is frustrating, divorce can seem like the only way out. But it is well worth asking, "Will divorce fix the problem?"

One celebrity reporter, certain that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith are on their way to divorce, writes in The Daily Beast:

Sources close to the power couple say both Will and his actress wife have strong personalities that have clashed one too many times of late.

"They just kept butting heads over the kids and other personal issues within the marriage,'' said a former long-time employee of the Smiths. "Jada's independent and focused, and Will likes to be in control. Someone has to agree to give in and that wasn't happening anymore with them.''

Clashes over the kids don't get fixed by divorce. All divorce does is force the couple to make more decisions with less communication. It also allows either of them to force the other to hire lawyers to defend their choices before a judge. Staying married and hiring a mediator would surely be a lot less expensive and a lot easier on the kids.

Clashes over personal issues? "Someone has to give in" is not true. The two stands we choose for these personal issues are almost never the only two available to us. No one has to give in if even one offers to begin a search for a Third Alternative that both will like better than the first two. And with money like theirs, they can enlist some incredible expertise to help them find more options.

Could anyone think a person who likes control would be happier with a mate who enjoys being controlled? Or that an independent and focused person really seeks a dependent and unfocused mate? I have no idea what these two celebrities are really up to, but the description of what might be tearing apart their marriage seems to suggest they are mismatched. I disagree.

If you're focused, it's very helpful to have a mate who keeps external forces under control. If you like things under control, a mate who has the focus to reach her goals can provide a lot of help keeping them that way.

Divorce will not fix either of these problems. Marriage education just might.

January 6, 2012

What Would You Do for a KlondikeĀ® Bar?

I love that jingle: "What would you do for a Klondike bar?"

As kids, we did all sorts of crazy things for the smallest of prizes. Better yet, we challenged each other to do things for a prize.

Play is how children build the skills they need to survive life's scarier moments. Play feels like fun to make sure they will engage in it.

As a couple, we need to play together, too. It builds the cooperation skills we need to become so much stronger together than separately when we need strength.

What's your Klondike bar? What prize will you play for? Tell your mate. Then challenge him or her to try something new for a Klondike bar. Play matters at every age.

January 5, 2012

Is Your Marriage Loud or Quiet?

Would a stranger observing the two of you call your marriage loud or quiet?

Loud is just fine if every angry outburst is matched with at least five exuberant or encouraging ones. How can you go from angry to encouraging? Assume Love.

Quiet is just fine if it's shared intimacy and respect, rather than passive-aggressive resentment. How can you go from hurt to grateful? Expect Love.

And how do you find your way to loud exuberance or quiet transcendence? Throw yourselves into synergy and building delightful new things together. How? Find Third Alternatives.

Yep. That's it.

January 4, 2012

Third Alternatives for Worriers

Does one of you worry more than the other? Ever wonder what you could do about this? All that extra worrying gets to be pretty annoying to the one who thinks there is nothing to worry about. And all that nonchalance just gives the worrier more to worry about.

Treat it like any difference of opinion and shoot for a Third Alternative. To find one, you first need to let go of your original positions and stop trying to convince each other of them.

Instead, talk about what you need. The worrier wants less risk. The other wants more freedom, spontaneity, or trust. Take some time to learn from each other. What risks does the worrier see? This is not the time to debate the risks, but to hear them. What does the non-worrier see as the costs of worrying? Again, don't debate; listen and learn.

Use what you heard to create the specs for your Third Alternative, then to brainstorm something that works for both of you. Here are some examples:

  • Both want to enjoy the drive. For one, this means moving as fast as the car, the weather, the traffic, and the policing permit. For the other, it means never getting closer than six car lengths behind another car's bumper at interstate speeds and never riding beside or in front of a truck. Third Alternatives: (a) the one who watches distances drives, (b) the one who enjoys driving adds a couple more rules to the game.

  • One cannot bear to spend the last $5,000 in the bank on anything but a life-and-death emergency. The other trusts money will always appear when needed, especially when they use whatever they invest what they have in high risk/high return possibilities. Third Alternatives: (a) put $5,000 in an out-of-sight account that the worrier controls and risk the rest, (b) create a bank account for risk-taking and put 60% of every payoff back into that account, (c) agree on quick payoff work the risk-taker will do when a gamble ties up or loses the last $5,000.

  • One does everything possible to avoid exposure to unnecessary germs. The other believes exposure builds up immunity. Third Alternatives: (a) jointly research the effectiveness of exposure and cleaning routines to let go of the ones that don't work, (b) set aside clean zones in a few places around the house.

  • One wants to prepare for every storm, the other for sunny days. Third Alternatives: (a) split the two tasks between you, (b) create a system of rewards for things done to prepare for the one you don't naturally prepare for.

If you are the worrier, keep a notebook of things you worry about that don't happen. For example, every time your spouse arrives home safely from an interstate drive without you, most likely driving in the way that frightens you, write it down in your notebook. Build your own trust in your mate.

If you are the non-worrier, keep a notebook of everything your worrier does to protect you from harm. If it works, also write down exactly what would have been required to make things better if the problem had not be prevented. Build your gratitude for the freedom granted you by your mate's caution.

January 3, 2012

The Stupidity of Cheating

Some folks cheat on their wife or their husband to put one over on them, to win at some game of deception. They might get more sex, but they lose intimacy. You cannot feel close to someone you treat as your opponent. You cannot feel known by someone you must lie to. You cannot have a close relationship and one on the side.

Some folks cheat because they feel they deserve it. They continue to provide whatever they view as their spousal duties robotically, with no living, breathing relationship left. Then, perhaps because they have seen others do it before them, they take the lover they feel they deserve. Oddly, they seem surprised when neither partner is all that delighted to have access to only half of the man or woman they could be.

Some folks cheat because they want their marriage to survive. Ironic, no? Something huge is missing from their marriage during their spouse's illness, addiction, layoff, or pregnancy, and they figure if they can just get this from someone else, they can keep their marriage alive long enough for it to recover. Again, it does not work. When you add deception and divided loyalties to an illness, addiction, layoff, or pregnancy, ti makes recovery a lot more difficult.

Some unmarried folks join in, helping one spouse cheat on another. A few do it because they somehow expect a healthy marriage to emerge from such a compromised beginning. They feel certain the odds that apply overall do not apply to them. Others do it because they want what married people have without any of the risk of loss.

Unfortunately for them, tolerating the risk of loss is the only way to get what happily married people gain from their relationships, which is far more than sex or money. The other benefits include loyalty, protection, kindness, acts of service, the intimacy of being known and appreciated without any mask, synergy, shared goals larger than those you could tackle alone, shared memories, being part of two families instead of one, and opportunities for great personal growth.

To put these at risk by cheating on your spouse or to miss out on them by cheating with someone else's spouse? Pure stupidity. Happy people have good relationships.

January 2, 2012

Why Be Married? To Fly Higher than the Stars

So many of the folks who have figured out the secret to fame and fortune cannot figure out how to stay married. Olivia Wilde eloped with her Italian prince at age 19, but she was divorced in 2011 after just eight years together. Elizabeth Hurley's second marriage, to Arun Nayar, also ended in 2011. It lasted only four years.

Fred Armisen and Elisabeth Moss lasted only 16 months. They were separated for eight of them. Their divorce was final in May of 2011. Kim Kardashian was ready to give up after just 72 days. Her divorce from Kris Humphries is still pending.

So is Arnold Schwarzenegger's divorce from Maria Shriver. He blew it big time but may yet get a second chance. They have been married for 25 years.

So why am I telling you this? It's because the folks who study what makes us happy say it's close relationships, not money or fame. Money makes a difference only below a household income of $75,000 a year. If the next million or two comes with a failed marriage, it's a net loss.

If you are taking stock as you begin this new year, be sure to give yourself a whole lot of credit for figuring out how to love the guy or gal you married. It's worth a fortune.

January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

I want to take a moment today to thank you for reading Assume Love. It has been a great year, with a big increase in the number of posts per month and another Top Ten award from Stupendous Marriage.

Wishing you and your marriage a wonderful 2012, full of shared moments, intimate communication, and gratitude for all the love you receive.

Lots of love,
Patty Newbold

The Author

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

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