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Articles from February 2012

February 29, 2012

How to Assume Love After a Long Day at Work

In response to my recent post, Angry at Your Inconsiderate Husband or Wife?, I received this from "Sam." I could definitely relate. It is harder to Assume Love when we're frazzled.

I am pretty good at doing this early in the day and in the middle of the day, it's at the end of the day when I'm tired after a long day at work that I find I can't ignore what I believe are inconsiderate acts. I try to tidy the house up before I leave for work and when I arrive home, most of the time I arrive home after Mr. Sam, my tidy home is no longer tidy. There will be socks on the floor, a belt on the dining room table and dishes in the kitchen from his dinner prep. So I spend the first half an hour of arriving at home cleaning up the house that I cleaned up in the a.m. and I really don't do well, because I'm tired, assuming love. Rather I assume he is inconsiderate, he knows the puppy will eat his socks yet he leaves them on the floor, he knows the dish washer is empty b/c he saw me emptying it that a.m. but he can't be bothered to rinse and put the dishes away, he knows it drives me up the wall to have a belt on the dining room table yet he leaves it there to spite me. How to I assume love at the end of a long day?

When we Assume Love, we look for what might cause a good, loving person to do the things that drive us nuts when our spouses do them.

Who leaves dishes on the table, instead of putting them in the dishwasher he saw his wife empty before he left for work? Besides a miserable and uncaring man with no couth, that is?

  • A loving man who notices nothing before his second cup of coffee soaks in. He would be astounded to learn his wife emptied the dishwasher right in front of him nine hours ago. Accidentally putting dirty dishes in among the clean ones right before dinner is a mistake he has vowed never to repeat.

  • A thoughtful man who figures dinner is coming up, and it would be a lot smarter to clean up once instead of twice. Used dishes hold no creep-out factor for them the way they do for a partner subjected to nightly lectures on the proper way to set a table. You have no idea how disappointed he will be when you not only fail to praise his ingenuity but call it thoughtless.

  • A caring man with a very different sense of timing than yours. When he gets home from work, not rushing is one of his top virtues, one you might appreciate in the bedroom or when he helps the kids with their homework.

What could possibly drive a loving man who craves your respect to leave his socks on the floor as he enters the house and toss his belt on the dining room table when he gets there?

  • It might be a man whose return home is filled with distractions: kids, phone calls, notes to read, chores to do. Loving men, like the rest, tend to be really bad at multitasking.

  • It could be a man who adores you but feels he's being taken for granted, especially if the socks and belt are ones he wears only for work. Putting these symbols where you cannot miss them is his way of communicating with you.

  • And then there are the loving men who try to break you of your perception of things like dining room tables even as you try to do the same in reverse.

How to change things?

  1. If it seems possible the mess in your house is the act of a loving spouse and not deliberately inconsiderate acts, start by asking for what you want. Hints do not count as asking. And requests get drowned out by even a wee bit of sarcasm or disgust.

  2. Check the act for a message, especially if he's just started doing this or your roles have recently been changed by a new job or new responsibilities. If you think it might carry a message, try offering what your spouse is looking for. If you can't tell, ask.

  3. If neither of these works on your first attempt, offer to find a Third Alternative together, a solution that makes both of you happy. While you might be certain the only good place for a belt is in the bedroom closet, your real goal is not to be grossed out. You could agree on another place near the door or put hooks in the coat closet. You might throw a plastic tablecloth on the table in the morning and move it and everything on it into a convenient basket when you get home. Or you might stop somewhere on your way home to shake off the day, spend the first five minutes after you get home hugging and kissing your guy or dancing with him, and find that you don't mind the mess or the picking up nearly as much as you do when frazzled.

February 27, 2012

Should Rihanna Forgive Chris Brown? Wrong Question

What I did not get until my first husband died is how difficult relationships can be when you ask the wrong questions about them. Should Rihanna forgive Chris Brown is one of those questions. It takes you to all the wrong places, hides the truth you need to succeed.

Should she forgive him? It will probably make her life a lot happier to do so.

Should she be alone with him again? A very different question.

Here is what I would say to Rihanna and anyone dealing with abuse. When a man you love abuses you, there are only two possible explanations.

(1) He does not care about your wellbeing. If this is true, you are not safe being alone in a room with him. Even if you love him dearly, you must protect yourself from his harm, whether you forgive him or not.


(2) He cares about you, perhaps more than anyone else ever has. If so, the abuse proves he lacks the ability to control his behavior, to act the way he intends to act. If this is true, he may show great remorse. Or he may instead claim you caused the abuse, because it's pretty scary to accept that he is unable to control what he does to you.

He may think his ability to control himself when he's not drinking or doing drugs or overstressed means everything is OK, but if he does not control whether he drinks, does drugs, or gets overstressed, there is nothing OK about it.

Even if you love him dearly, perhaps especially if you love him dearly, you must protect yourself from his harm. You must do it because he cannot. Hurting someone he loves will lead to great shame or magnificent excuses, but neither fixes the problem and both erode the relationship.

You are the least likely person to help him regain control. You must protect both of you from his problem until he finds help with it. If it's treatable, like addiction, alcoholism, growing up in an environment where he could not learn self-management skills, or an operable brain tumor, your best bet is to physically separate until he recovers.

It's not difficult to forgive someone once you decide their abuse was not intended. I hope Rihanna has forgiven Chris. But you do a man no favor at all if you forgive without also protecting the woman and the relationship he values. He cannot do this for himself until he treats the underlying cause. There is no hint that Chris Brown is yet in control of his behavior when annoyed by anyone. I hope Rihanna keeps her bodyguard with her at all times while he's around, especially if she actually cares about Chris.

February 26, 2012

3 Ways to Make Your Husband Easier to Love

Today I thought I would share three ways to make your husband easier to love. Can I stop with just three? I must, or what will I write about tomorrow? OK, here goes:

  1. The next time you get upset at whiskers on the sink or socks on the floor or crumbs in the den, check the clock. When your unhappy or angry feelings finally subside, check it again. Now measure how quickly you can clean up his mess and feel good about your home again. Which one improves your mood faster? Neither of them changes his behavior. For this, you need to Find Third Alternatives together. Your improved mood will help there. It will also help you receive and enjoy any kisses or kind words or thoughtful acts he might offer. You want these, don't you?
  2. Another way to make your husband easier to love is simply to avoid mocking him or complaining about him to others in his presence. The male chemical soup of hormones makes it much harder for them to be loving when such things happen. It just does. Husbands are a lot easier to love when they are showing us love.
  3. The third way? Treat your marriage like one long Easter egg hunt. Go looking for love. If your parents love showed up at the dining room table, look for yours in the bedroom or the garage, too. If your friend reports being loved during the workday, look for yours after dinner or over breakfast. If you were expecting to find love in the form of cash, make sure you don't overlook the eggs containing supportive words, physical delights, and becoming truly known and accepted. The more love you find, the more love there will be to find, so never look in just one place or for just one type.
Know what's great about all three methods? You don't need any help convincing or teaching your husband to become easier to love. You can just let him be himself and turn it all around. For me, it took the death of my first husband to discover this. I want you to discover it before it's too late. Make your husband easier to love this week and let me know how it goes.

February 23, 2012

Angry at Your Inconsiderate Husband or Wife?

You're rushing to prepare dinner for the family. You won't be eating with them. You have an important meeting to attend. But it's your responsibility to feed them, and you're running late.

The vegetable peeler is nowhere to be found. Not in the drawer. Not in the sink. Not hiding behind the chopping board someone left out. (And you know the kids don't bother with chopping boards.) Where is it?

There it is. It's in the dishwasher. Not washed. Not with any hope of getting washed before it's time to prepare dinner. Someone (and you know it was not the kids) stuck it in here to save 20 seconds of washing up. And now you must wash it if they are to eat the carrots and potatoes you planned.

You feel mistreated, invisible, annoyed. You recall other annoyances that were surely thoughtless acts: moving your magazine to another room, forgetting a dinner at your friend's house, showing up late to your parents' 25th anniversary party a decade ago.

(That's how memory works. Annoying events are connected to other annoying events, not to last night's great sex or that encouraging pep talk before you left to make this morning's presentation at work.)

This is exactly the time to Assume Love, to ask, "Why might a good, loving person stick the vegetable peeler in the dishwasher between breakfast and dinner?"

One possible reason: you are no longer expected to make dinner today. Check the message board. Check the kids' calendar. Check for prepared food in the refrigerator.

None of those? How about distraction? How busy was this day for your loving mate? Anything big or urgent going on?

No? How about one of those fast cleanups where you stick everything in the dishwasher just to make the kitchen presentable on short notice? Maybe. The room's pretty neat, and so is the family room. But why hide the peeler and not the cutting board?

This might be where you remember doing your own fast cleanup this morning. Was the peeler out then? Not sure. Not likely, though.

So, maybe it really was done without consideration for you. But while you were running through the possibilities, it's likely you automatically washed the peeler. It's possible, too, that you recalled this morning's kind words while you were making your quick cleanup.

Even when you do not find a loving explanation, it still helps to Assume Love. It shifts you attention away from what anger focuses it on. It lets you recall the loving moments you chose this mate for. It puts what happened into a more realistic perspective. And it calms you enough to assess the situation more accurately, so you can take action if action is needed.

While it might spare your wife, husband, or life partner from a tongue-lashing or retaliation, these are not the point. The point is allowing you to enjoy your marriage, no matter how different you two are.

February 22, 2012

Saudi Arabia Looks to Marriage Education to Cut Judicial Costs

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Justice is contemplating requiring couples to obtain family management licenses before marrying. Sixty percent of all court cases in the nation are family disputes, says the Saudi Gazette.

No suggestion was offered that individuals might complete their training before beginning the search for a marriage partner. The license is to be granted to the couple. Sounds like training will be needed on demand, as many arranged marriages occur fairly quickly after the two agree to a match.

The course will teach "the skills and knowledge needed to solve disputes when they are married." I have my fingers crossed that they include how to Find Third Alternatives.

I wonder what percentage of U.S. court cases are family disputes and how much our state budgets could be cut if more of us received marriage education?

February 21, 2012

Why Be Married? For the Meaning It Brings

This is a great story from StoryCorps on what it means to be married.

Link to story on StoryCorps site - No transcript available

Sorry-this story is no longer available

February 20, 2012

How to Have a Successful Marriage

I have to applaud Long Island Bride and Groom magazine. In with all the gorgeous gowns and wonderful venues on New York's Long Island, they offered about-to-be-weds tips for continued success after the wedding.

The article, Happily Ever After: How to Have a Successful Marriage, appears in their February 2012 edition (page 359 in print, 363 online). They solicited critical items to discuss before the wedding from relationship advice authors April Masini, Jacqueline Del Rosario, Jan Harrell, Piet Dreiby, Andrew Shrage, Cathi Brese Doebler, Taffy Wagner, and me. It's a great bunch of topics for anyone getting married to discuss before their wedding.

February 19, 2012

Why Be Married? For the Intimacy

Sue Wiygul Martin and her guide dog, KismetWe have a guest post today from Sue Wiygul Martin, author of Sue's Blog: The story of a suicide survivor and the rebuilding of a life. Sue is a great writer, and her true story is a great read for us. For her, though, writing it is a journey back through some very emotional events.

Sue's guest post is an email she sent me this morning, relishing one of the true joys of marriage. I reprint it with her permission and a big grin.

So, here's what it's like today. Jim's upstairs painting the bathroom. I'm downstairs writing. I can hear the music Jim is playing but it doesn't bother me. I can also faintly hear the dryer in the laundry room. This is such a comfortable day. It's raining outside, hence our indoor activities. While I usually prefer that it be quiet when I'm writing, Jim's music is oddly comforting. It reminds me that he's there. If I get stuck for a word or phrase I know I have only to go upstairs. I'll tell him what I'm writing about now and he'll help me find the elusive word or phrase.

This is one of the unexpected benefits of my writing. We've remembered and talked about things in a way that we never have before. I've lost track of the times I've started with, "Oh, and something I've never told you..." It's a level of intimacy we've never before experienced.

February 18, 2012

No Dads Needed?

The New York Times published an article yesterday titled For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage.

It's a wonderful thing that women can now support themselves and their children. I know this firsthand, as I became a single mom at 34, when my first husband died. I was in no shape to remarry just to support myself and our son, and I did not want to place this burden on my parents or my in-laws. Both helped us many times, but I was very glad to be able to handle most of the expense and time it took on my own.

It's wonderful, too, that no young woman who finds herself pregnant from a foolish misjudgment of a young man's character must marry him now, as they generally felt required to do when I was a young woman.

What bothers me, though, is the gap between the people today's young men and women are willing to have sex with and the ones they are willing to marry.

I am not willing to believe more than half the women under 30 and the men they have sex with are unsuitable marriage partners. We know they are sexually attractive. We know many of them live together. We can surmise it is not about protecting assets, as they are young and only 8% of those with college degrees avoid marrying.

So, what is it about? I suspect two things. One is a confusion of marriage and weddings. Young people delay marriage while they try to raise the cash for a "real" wedding. Why? Perhaps because their own unmarried parents are in no position to provide this for them. Definitely because we still promote the white-dress ceremony and catered dinner with open bar and glass clinking as the big rite of passage for women.

I can only hope for some trendsetter to change this.

The second cause, though, I can do something about. Fear of marriage failure is rampant in our society. And any kid who has been through their parents' divorce knows how painful it is. No one wants to inflict this on their own kids. Is it really better for the kids to know from the start that dad is temporary? Is it better to know mom does not trust dad to provide as much care as the government will if she's unmarried? I doubt it, but I can understand a woman without a lot of earning power or good marriage role models fearing marriage failure and an inability to afford a divorce.

We need to teach marriage skills
, and we must not wait until a marriage is failing. We need to teach them while people are making choices about their sex partners, about whether to marry, about how to deal with growing apart or facing temptation while in a marriage or a serious relationship.

If you are a parent, make sure you learn marriage skills, so you can teach them to your teen, your grown children, your nieces and nephews and grandchildren. If you are a teacher, teach your students to find Third Alternatives, to spot the connection between expectations and resentments, and to stop and consider alternative explanations for upsetting events.

If you produce TV or radio programming, please start incorporating the benefits of marriage education in your story lines. If you run a business, take a look at the financial benefits of marriage education for employees at H.H. Gregg and Chick Fil-A, or talk to me. I have a presentation for managers on job-relevant skills to cut the business costs of marriage problems, based on my 38 years as a management consultant.

I will keep sharing everything I can on this blog and on Enjoy Being Married. You can find more at Smart Marriages, the Dibble Institute, Compassion Power, PREP, the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, and the California Healthy Marriages Coalition. We need our dads.

February 17, 2012

5 Helpful Things to Discover Before You Marry

Thinking of getting married? Probably the least useful thing to learn about him or her is how well you share a bathroom or kitchen. Here are some more useful things to find out.

  1. What is his or her Love Language? How comfortable are you using it?

  2. What are his or her 4 or 5 top Character Strengths? Encouraging the use of these strengths in work and play will provide lots of opportunities for admiring your mate and for him or her to experience flow and satisfaction with life.

  3. Who does your intended dream of becoming? Do children matter? Wealth? Public service? Leisure? Athletic, artistic, or business accomplishments? Rural or city life? Fast-paced or laid back? How do these fit with your plans?

  4. How does he or she handle stress, frustration, and loss? And your responses to stress, frustration, and loss? Will you be able to remain present for him or her while dealing with them, or do these coping strategies trigger your own hot buttons?

  5. Your new spouse will change over time, but most likely not in the ways you might plan. If who you see today is the best that he or she is capable of becoming, will you continue to respect and cherish this person?

You can keep yourself out of a lot of marriage pitfalls if you learn all of these before you marry. And if you are already married, discovering them now may help you get out of any you have fallen into.

February 16, 2012

Asking for What You Need? Go with the Oreo

There are three ways to ask for what you need from your husband or wife.

The first is the plain vanilla wafer approach. "It drives me nuts to open the kitchen cabinets and see that mess in there. Will you please clean them today?"

The second in the chocolate chunk granola with cranberries and macadamias approach. Who knows which part of the request to pay attention to? "My parents are coming next week, and the grass is so long that there are toys hiding out there and no one would want to sit on that patio, but there's not enough room to sit in the dining room because of your book-sorting project."

The method that works best is the Oreo approach. Start with something positive, make a related request, and end with some more of the good stuff. Here are two examples.

"You keep the kitchen counters so clean and orderly. I would love it if you could keep the spices inside the cabinets this clean and neat, too. I know some people don't care about stuff like this, but I am crazy proud of the way our kitchen looks when the cabinets are closed."
"Think my parents will notice what a great job you did on painting the back of the house? Do you have time to mow the grass before they come tomorrow? That would make it look even better, and then we can eat out on the patio and won't need to empty the dining room."

When your request is the creamy filling in the middle of the cookie, it confirms you appreciate your spouse's best qualities and hard work and would like more of his or her best.

"We have survived so much together, mostly thanks to your incredible ability to see a better future no matter how bad or final the present moment might look. Will you help me avoid sinking into depression over our current financial problems? I trust your visions even when I cannot yet believe them, and they help."
"You really look so sexy tonight with your hair like that. Would you like to try something new? I want you so much right now, and I think you will really like this."
"I can't forget how great it felt to have your support when I went back to school and go my degree. I would really like to write a book this year. Will you be my champion, my cheerleader, my shoulder to cry on one more time?"
"Will you please put on that super hero cape of yours and whisk this trash out to the curb before the truck gets here, while I stand here admiring how great your butt looks since you got back into bicycling?"

Almost everybody loves Oreos.

February 15, 2012

3 Big Mistakes in Apologies to Your Wife or Husband

At some point in your marriage, perhaps many points, your wife or husband will feel hurt and withdraw from you. More than likely, you will feel miserable, either because you hate to see your beloved in such pain or because you feel unjustly accused. The last thing you want at this point is an ineffective apology. It will make both of you feel worse.

Here are three big mistakes to avoid when you offer your apology to your wife or husband.

  1. The too small apology. Just think of any seven-year-old muttering "sorry" to a sibling. Drawing it out, "soooooooorryyyyyyyyy," won't fix this. You must do better than a talking parrot could do, or there is really no point offering an apology.
  2. The not guilty apology. Don't pat yourself on the back for coming up with a clever way to express sorrow only for your mate's self-inflicted distress. "I am truly sorry if you thought I should be taking care of that" will not relieve any of the pain nor reduce this new distance between you, even if you are 100% innocent.
  3. The appeasement. Avoid proffering flowers, candy, poems, protestations of love, seductions, candlelight dinners, and anything else your mate enjoys. These occasionally will reduce the distance, but they often sweep the pain under the rug, where you are likely to trip over it again and again.

Want something more effective? Try this. "Our relationship is very important to me. Please tell me what I can do to make it right again."

Stand close and look into your husband's or wife's eyes as you say this. Listen closely to the answer, no matter how long. Paraphrase whatever you are asked to do. If you can, do it. If you can't, jump the net and start a search for a Third Alternative that will make your relationship solid again.

February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day is Special at Assume Love

wideheart.pngValentine's Day has had a new and special meaning for me since 2006. It's the day I launched this blog and began offering hope of a happier marriage to anyone who wants it.

Today is our sixth anniversary together. Thanks for a great time and for all your marvelous stories of success at remaking your marriages.

It's also Valentine's Day, so I think that's all I will say for today. Find a way to feel your mate's love today. I will be doing the same.

Happy Valentine's Day!

February 13, 2012

3 Things I Learned From My Husband

One of the most delicious things about being a wife is learning from spending so much time with someone whose strengths are different from mine. Here are three I have learned from my second husband, Ed:

  1. In just 48 hours, the tomorrow I'm busy fearing today will be the yesterday I have no time to think about.
  2. Multitasking is much less sexy and joy-producing than being focused on one thing, one person, one idea at a time.
  3. Laughing silently is not nearly as healthy for me as laughing out loud.

What have you learned from your life partner?

February 12, 2012

Why Be Married? For the Respect

I just noticed that it's been more than a month since I added to my Why Be Married series. There are so many great reasons. Today, one that's close to my heart, as my first husband died without warning at the very young age of 35.

Respect is a very good reason to be married to the person you love:

  • The respect you receive as a husband or wife if your mate is in a car accident, a fall, or a shooting and someone must be notified of their death or hospitalization
  • The respect you receive as a wife or husband if your mate is ever wrongly accused of a crime and you are in possession of information that could somehow be used against the person with whom you share expenses, future plans, maybe even children
  • The respect you receive from your mate's employer when it is time to honor his or her contributions at work
  • The respect you receive from a prospective employer looking for someone who can handle responsibility and commitment
It's not that no one else deserves the same respect, but that the seriousness of the vow of marriage automatically confers all of this respect on you. It changes you, and it changes others' perceptions of you. Marriage matters.

If you are looking for more reasons to be married, I have turned some of my earlier posts in this series into an eBook. You can download your copy from the eBooks section of my Enjoy Being Married website.

February 11, 2012

How to Avoid Marrying the Wrong Person

It seems a lot of people get married and then wonder if they married the wrong person. If you are still single and looking, you might wonder how to avoid marrying the wrong person, too.

The right person never uses force or emotional manipulation to get what he or she wants from you.

The right person, like all the wrong people, is not likely to change in the ways you imagine or plan. If that's OK, he or she is the right person, and so are you.

There is a reason you are asked to agree to love, honor, and cherish through all levels of income and all degrees of health. If you want to marry for money, physical ability, or physical appearance, there is no right person, just the best deal you can make for the time being.

If you marry someone who appears to be the right person and you wake up one day to suspect he or she was not the right person, it pays to consider another possibility before you give up. The possibility? That you married the right person and he or she is doing exactly what the right person does, and if you stick around and try to understand, your life will blossom before your very eyes, just as it did when you first became convinced this might be the right person.

February 9, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 5

Yesterday, in Part 4 of this series on how to explain a loving spouse doing something that upsets you, I wrote:

"I am not talking here about pushing, shoving, hitting, cutting, damaging something especially dear to you, making remarks known to bring you to tears or render you helpless, or repeating angry outbursts or making threats until you fear being in the same room as your mate."

Today, I want to talk about all of these. Abuse happens, and fear of becoming its victim is probably our biggest obstacle to even considering loving explanations for distressing acts.

When you Assume Love, you try to explain how a loving person might come to do whatever your wife, husband, or life partner just did that upset you so. How do you explain acts like these?

My guess is that your husband or wife would try to stop a stranger who did any of these to someone he or she loved. Most people would.

This leads me to a conclusion that there are only two explanations for such behavior. One, there is no love. Two, there is love but no self-control, no ability to act as he or she intends.

The first is dangerous. Living with someone violent or manipulative who has no love for you risks your life and sanity. It often also risks the wellbeing of those you love, including your children, siblings, and parents.

However, this is the only dangerous situation. If you Assume Love and find explanations for your spouse's other behaviors that leave you feeling safe and loving, even if you are wrong about them, it will do you no harm. In fact, you could stay happily married, giving your husband or wife time to fall back in love with you.

Pushing, shoving, hitting, cutting, damaging something especially dear to you, making remarks known to bring you to tears or render you helpless, or repeating angry outbursts or making threats until you fear being in the same room as your mate? These are dangerous. Don't tough them out. Don't pretend they did not happen just because your mate apologizes a day later or says you deserved them.

Instead, check whether you can explain them as an inability to act in accord with his or her intentions toward you.

  • Is your spouse also unable to control his or her consumption of alcohol, painkillers, other prescription or illegal drugs, porn, sex, food, or gambling? If so, you and your relationship will be safe only after he or she deals with this problem. Only he or she can make the choice to get help dealing with this. If you overlook or buy into the notion that you caused the unloving behavior, you make this choice harder. Love your spouse from a safe distance to make the decision easier.
  • Does your mate have a brain tumor, stroke damage, Alzheimer's, uncontrolled bipolar disorder, severe depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, other brain disorder, or recent head injury? If so, and the problem is not immediately treatable, you may need to find one or more caretakers strong enough to handle the violence or abusiveness so that you can focus on loving your mate and your mate can stop feeling remorse or shame for what is beyond his or her control.
  • Has your partner lost jobs or friends due to difficulty controlling his or her anger? If so, and it is not due to any of the things above, it may be a lack of training in techniques for controlling resentment and anger. One great source for this training is Steven Stosny's Compassion Power.

If any of these are true for your mate, you have a shot at a fix, but only with others' help. If not, I urge you to find others to help you safely separate yourself from a non-loving and dangerous spouse. You should not give up your life, your health, or your sanity for love.

But let's come back to something else here, because such intentional cruelty is not all that common. Most of us have witnessed a victim of unintentional cruelty and cringed when he or she accepts the blame or the apology for the second or third or twentieth time. We become highly self-protective in our own marriages and overreact to any behavior we don't like, from arriving late for dinner to cutting the kids' hair too short, hoping to stay in control of our own marriage or recognize when it's time to bolt.

It is impossible to enjoy being married while staying this guarded. If you Assume Love, you do not need to remain so guarded. If you can explain an act as possibly loving, there is no harm in doing so, whether you are right or wrong.

If the act is undeniably unloving, as the ones discussed here are, there is only one explanation for a loving person doing it: he or she cannot control his or her behavior for some reason. This loss of control does not happen because you were not vigilant enough. It happens because something messes with your beloved partner's brain. And it puts the job of protecting you on your shoulders, at least for a while. Do not pretend that love will protect you.

If your partner appears to be in full control of his or her actions, an undeniably unloving act will be a very clear sign it's time to put yourself first and enlist everyone else who cares about you in doing so, too.

As long as you can recognize an undeniably unloving act, you can let your guard down and enjoy your marriage the rest of the time. You can actively look for and enjoy whatever love you are offered. If you overestimate your spouse's good points, you will be in good company. Most happily married people do.

And this is why I think it's so much better to Assume Love than to vigilantly keep score or to sweep your anger under the rug and pretend you feel loved until you no longer can.

February 8, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 4

When you Assume Love, you try to explain how a loving person might come to do whatever your wife, husband, or life partner just did that upset you so. This series offers some tips to help when you just cannot get beyond, "It's awful, I hate it, it must be intentional meanness."

First, we looked at Love Languages. Next, we looked at genetic differences in our ability to read each other's moods. Yesterday, we looked at our spouse's calendar. Today we look at intentional acts, things that appear quite unloving at first glance.

Let's draw a line first. I am not talking here about pushing, shoving, hitting, cutting, damaging something especially dear to you, making remarks known to bring you to tears or render you helpless, or repeating angry outbursts or making threats until you fear being in the same room as your mate.

I am talking here about brief, intentional acts like rolling the eyes, making a snide remark, raising the voice, banging a fist on the table, dumping dinner in the trash, slamming a door, or throwing something that poses no threat to you.

I do not recommend doing any of these to your spouse. When done to you, though, you may want some help seeing how to explain them when you Assume Love.

These acts are the adult equivalent of a temper tantrum. No one, not even a two-year-old, throws a temper tantrum unless they feel horribly frustrated, unhappy, and unable to effect any change, and believe they are in the presence of someone who cares.

Many of them are actually done as loving acts, a frantic attempt to fix your marriage.

For example, if your husband has never raised his voice in the decade you have been together, the one time he does it is significant. If you have ever lived with someone whose raised voice was followed by violence or intimidation, you may want to Assume Love before your knee-jerk response kicks in.

Why? Because a rarely raised voice is a strong bid for your attention. Shrinking away or turning it into a fight will be counterproductive. Stop and think about what you are doing or saying, because it is quite likely severely frustrating your mate. Does this make you to blame for his out-of-character and unmannerly behavior? No. But it presents you with a great opportunity to get closer and strengthen your marriage instead of pushing the two of you apart.

Let's say you are packing for a trip when your mate's frustration reaches the boiling point. Where will the trip take you? Who will you see on it? What dream of yours does it feed? What might your mate dread about any of these? It's big, and you probably need an immediate Third Alternative to calm your partner's fears.

Or perhaps you are nagging, telling your spouse what to do or asking one more time why she will not do it. The frustration should be your sign that what you ask has much larger obstacles than you can see. And not seeing them makes your spouse feel unseen. Feeling seen is one of the key benefits of marriage, and you may be unintentionally taking it away from your mate.

Remember, the opposite of "I love you" is not "I am angry at you." It is "I don't care." Occasional anger can come from great love. Returning anger for anger requires, on average, five positive, loving acts to restore the marriage to a healthy path. Returning love for anger, because you hear the caring through the anger, can bring the marriage closer almost instantly.

February 7, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 3

When you Assume Love and try to explain your husband's or wife's behavior as a loving act, do you draw a blank? We continue our series today with more tips for finding that explanation.

On Sunday, we looked at Love Languages. On Monday, we looked at genetic differences in our ability to read emotional cues. Today, we look at the calendar.

Are there days in your year with an emotional impact? My first husband's birthday almost always puts me in a sad and reflective mood, even though May is my favorite month of the year and cause for unexpected delight in all sorts of things.

On the anniversary of the day our son was born, I am almost always cheery and optimistic. The first week of September still puts me in a book-buying mood.

My husband has such a calendar, too. When looking for a loving explanation, it helps to recall anything I have learned about the effects of this month or date on him.

If children are involved, think back to what you know about the same time of year in his or her own childhood or to when your spouse was the age of each of the children. Was your spouse hit at a young age with the deployment, hospitalization, or death of a parent? Was he or she sent off to camp each summer? Was the start of the school year a happy or sad time? When did a sibling or friend die?

The more recent calendar can be helpful, too. One wife trying to explain an initially upsetting change in her husband tracked its start back to a particular month. When I asked what else had happened that month, she remembered his vasectomy. The context suddenly made sense of the change. He was dealing with the surgery, not being mean to her.

A husband realized after his wife was out the door in the morning that today was the day she was to see the doctor about something seen on her most recent mammogram. He was still trying to figure out why she seemed so unhelpful when he could not find the thumb drive with his book draft on it. It's amazing how quick the tables turn when you realize it wasn't about you after all. He went to send her a supportive text message and found his thumb drive behind his smart phone on his desk.

February 6, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 2

When you Assume Love and try to explain it as a loving act, do you sometimes draw a blank? This series offers some guides you can use. Yesterday, we looked at using Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages. Today, we will apply some new research on emotions.

Let's imagine you just shared some news with your spouse, but the reaction is hardly the one you expected. It's as if he or she does not even notice whether you are delighted or anxious about it.

Well, it might not be callousness. This turns out to be one more thing our genes very likely control. People with two copies of one version of the serotonin transporter gene region 5-HTTLPR (the long allele, in case you're into doing your own genetic testing) are less sensitive to emotional information in the environment than those with one or two copies of the short allele.

A study from UCLA (see the last section of the press release) looked at 96 couples over eleven years of marriage. They found that such partners are less likely to pick up on their husband's or wife's positive or negative emotional state.

When you Assume Love because your spouse's reaction to what you just shared seems callous, give some thought to how often this happens, because it just might be genetic. If it is, before you express your outrage, try being a little more obvious about how the news affected you. If you get an empathetic reaction, it could protect both of you from the effects of unleashing your anger about the initial response.

The study is due for publication in the American Psychological Association's journal Emotion. View the study abstract here.

February 5, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 1

Are you one of those people who can't make the shift from all the awful explanations for what your spouse did? When you Assume Love and try to explain it as a loving act, do you draw a blank?

If so, the series of posts that begins today may help.

One of the best guides is Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. You can run down the list and see if what happened fits into any of them.

I watched this happen one night at the Yellow Rose Saloon, a country-western dance hall. I was out front, clearing the smoke from my lungs on a beautiful evening. A younger woman came out with tears in her eyes. She was soon followed by a young man I had seen there many times.

Apparently, he felt she had badly misinterpreted whatever he had done on the dance floor. But when he put his arms around her, she let out a scream and ran out into the unlit side parking lot. I asked him to stay put and hurried out to the lot myself.

Turns out his love language of physical touch is definitely not hers. In her childhood, hugs like his (a full-on bear hug) were the start of physical abuse. She had been seeking words of affirmation inside and hoping he would follow with some when she came outside. She hated his playful verbal teasing, because she needed to hear he loved her, admired her dancing, liked the effort she put into dressing up for him.

Were they hopelessly mismatched? Not at all. He could learn to resist the urge to comfort her with bear hugs and still make physical contact. She could learn to recognize his physical contact as a sign of love. She could learn to hear his teasing as a sign of one of his top character strengths, the strength of humor and playfulness. She could also come up with a signal to offer him when she needed him to stop and speak seriously with her. He could come up with one to signal her words were not enough and he needed to be held.

If you two have been life partners for a while, you know his or her Love Language: quality time together, gifts, acts of service, physical touch, or words of affirmation. As you try to explain an upsetting event, start by checking whether it involved your mate's love language or might have been a misdirected attempt at speaking yours.

More tomorrow, in Part 2 of this series on looking for loving explanations.

February 4, 2012

Upset with Your Mate? Look Elsewhere

Know that joke about looking under the street lamp for keys you dropped elsewhere, because the light is better? One of the great things I learned by helping with the research into character strengths and well-being is where else to look when I am not seeing my husband's strengths.

Let me share a few with you. Upset with shortcomings in modesty or authenticity? Look for how much optimism, energy, and enthusiasm for life your mate brings you.

Distressed by a lack of creativity or curiosity? Look for fairness and leadership in your husband or wife and how they enhance your life.

Wishing your guy or gal were more generous or nurturing? He or she might excel at learning or perspective and be a great help to you in solving problems or tackling new projects.

Distressed because your spouse does not share your awe and elevation in encountering nature or worshiping God? You might want to look at his or her ability to persevere through difficult circumstances to reach a goal or to keep to a schedule or a diet.

Spouses may also be brave, playful, forgiving, prudent, or open-minded. They may be great at nurturing loving relationships, being part of a team or community, or interacting socially with other people, too.

There are many character strengths, and each of them enhances our lives and makes the world a better place. Each of us embraces, hones, and relishes a few of them. As we do, we limit our opportunities to develop the others.

We can look for our mate's character strengths under the street lights of our own and come up empty-handed and critical. Or we can choose to turn and look beyond our own key strengths to see just how lucky we are to be married.

February 2, 2012

Close Your Marriage's Emotional Bank Account Today

A new study of commitment in the first 11 years of marriage confirms something I have long believed.

"The psychologists recommend against 'bank-account relationships,' in which you keep score of how often you get your way and how often you compromise."

They looked at the results of two types of commitment at the start of these 172 marriages:

  • "I really like this relationship and want it to continue."

  • "I'm committed to doing what it takes to make this relationship work."

From the UCLA press release:

"The second kind of commitment predicted lower divorce rates and slower rates of deterioration in the relationship."

The study was conducted at UCLA by Dominik Schoebi, Benjamin Karney, and Thomas Bradbury and reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

What they discovered really should not come as a big surprise. The second sort of commitment is a form of "if then" planning, which dramatically increases our success at any endeavor. In one of Peter Gollwitzer's earliest experiments, just forming a plan about when and where to start a difficult task like writing a paper for school increased completion success rates from 25% to 67%. Deciding in advance that if this relationship is in trouble, I will work to improve it, makes a big difference in whether it lasts.

If you keep an emotional bank account, and your spouse overdraws his or her account, what's your "then"? This might keep things fair, but will it get you what you really want?

Let me suggest some different if-thens for a happy marriage. If my husband's words upset me, I will Assume Love and try to explain how a loving intent could have led to those words or actions. If I am upset because my expectations are not met, I will check whether I really need the expectation or could simply Expect Love. If we disagree, I will offer to Find Third Alternatives.

February 1, 2012

May I Ask for a Bit of Help?

I could use your help with a problem I have. I need to find someone to rent my timeshare week in Virginia Beach from August 18 through 25, 2012. I always love this week, but this year it conflicts with a family gathering elsewhere.

It's between Atlantic Avenue and the boardwalk, with large windows and a balcony facing the ocean. It includes a bedroom with a big, comfortable, king size bed, a living room with a sleeper sofa, and a fully equipped kitchen with a work island and a full-sized refrigerator. It's within walking distance of free concerts, boating, fishing, parasailing, and lots of restaurants. It includes an indoor pool, spa tub, exercise room, maid service, wifi, and free parking for one car. At $1,300, it saves a bunch off hotel prices in the same place, and the timeshare suites are nicer.

Do you know how to reach me for more info if you or a trusted friend might be interested? My email address is patty [at] Or you can use the Enjoy Being Married contact form.

Thanks for allowing me this brief interruption. I hope you received my February Enjoy Being Married newsletter today. If not, you can get it immediately by adding your name to the Enjoy Being Married mailing list.

The Author

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

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