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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.

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

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