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Articles from March 2012

March 30, 2012

When to Fix a Failing Marriage

To stay on top of developments in marriage and divorce law, policies, education, and research, I monitor a bunch of Google alerts daily. As a result, I am almost certain to hear about every celebrity break-up.

This week, it is Jennie Garth and Peter Facinelli. They are divorcing. Been together long enough to leave three young daughters to deal with what they could not fix. Sixteen years, eleven of them married. Kids are 5, 9, and 14. Second marriage for her. Irreconcilable differences, of course.

He's 38. She turns 40 next week. His acting career is going great right now, hers not so much, so she's dragged their kids into a reality TV series on cable that debuts in April. In it, she and the kids move out of Hollywood to the country, accompanied by a female assistant who, if we believe the promo clips, hates the country and shares Garth's bedroom.

Facinelli has been filming in Vancouver and New York for the past two years, coming home to Garth's ranch/set in Santa Ynez on weekends. Now they plan to share custody of the kids.

She says she rejected the idea of divorce. She told People, "We both saw it unravel and it was painful. I tried everything I could to save our marriage."

If you see your marriage start to unravel, here are some things you might try to arrive at a different ending.

  1. If you must live apart for career reasons, be part of each other's weekday lives. Visit each other. Get to know the places and people your spouse lives among while you are apart. Be available by phone or internet during the day and not just late at night.
  2. If you live together but see less of each other than in the past, schedule some of your time to be available to your spouse, and keep to it even if he or she does not take advantage of it for the first month or two. During this time, make it clear you are available. Stay off the computer and the phone. Don't start anything you cannot drop at a moment's notice, nor anything that would keep you from noticing your spouse checking on your availability.
  3. When your marriage begins to unravel, spend more time on and with your spouse, not your children. A little disruption in their lives now might spare them the continual disruptions of shared custody and the many awkward life passages later.
  4. If you are unwilling to move to where your spouse is currently working, at least stay near where his or her next job might be found.
  5. Pay more attention to preserving your marriage than your income or wealth. Yes, you might lose both in a divorce, but staying married beats any individual strategy for protecting your future financial well-being.
  6. Find one more ray of love or respect every day.
  7. Assume Love when you get upset. Expect Love when you want more than you're getting. Find Third Alternatives whenever you disagree. And don't stick your head in the sand until your partner starts to move on from your unraveling relationship.
If your marriage is unraveling, be more present in it, not less. Start the mending as early as possible, before major repairs are your only option.

March 28, 2012

Ten of My Favorite Assume Love Posts

I have been writing Assume Love for a little more than six years now. That is a lot of blog posts. In case you missed them, these are some of the ones I am proudest of.

Earthquakes and Extramarital Affairs - Trusting the person you married, dealing with an affair if one happens (March 2011)

Four Steps to Assume Love - One incredibly powerful technique for anyone who wants a happier marriage (February 2006)

Change or Lose Your Spouse - Dr. Phil and I disagree again (April 2011)

All You Need is Love - Getting clear on what you really need from your spouse (February 2006)

Scheduling Spontaneity - If you're both busy, date night helps, but you can have spontaneity, too (October 2006)

Big, Hairy Problems - What to do when big, hairy problems sneak up on the two of you (February 2010)

Backsliding - Dealing with the fear that improvements in your marriage are only temporary (May 2007)

How to Talk to Your Spouse About Money - No point turning a money issue into a marriage mess (December 2008)

Regaining Your Wife's Respect - Men and women see respect differently (March 2012)

The Difference Between a Disagreement and a Fight - You might even learn to enjoy disagreements (June 2011)

Which is your favorite?

March 27, 2012

Marrying for Life

Choosing your someone to live with or marry? Never been married before? Lots of juicy new data out to help you choose. It should be heartening to those recently married and wondering if they will make it through their current disappointment or fight, too.

You have probably been hearing news clips about the report on first marriages that was released last week. The data were collected from 2006 though 2010 from 15 to 44 year olds around the U.S.

People are marrying later and more are cohabiting first. This is what the news media keep reporting.

Here is what I notice in the report.

We are marrying later, but by age 40, the probability of a woman having been married at least once remains right around 80%, the same as in the 1995 and 2002 surveys. We are still big fans of marriage.

If you are a woman, you have a 52% chance of a 20th anniversary of your first marriage. But if you have a bachelors degree or higher, that jumps to 78%. No matter what your education, if you get married before you give birth to any children and while you are not pregnant, you have a 77% chance. Finishing college OR postponing pregnancy until after the wedding puts you in a group of women with better than 3-to-1 odds of your first marriage lasting 20 years or more.

Men also get a great boost from a bachelors degree and postponing children: 65% of those with a bachelors or better and 74% of those with no prior kids and none on the way make it to the 20th anniversary of their first marriage.

Your odds are also much higher with a partner who lived with both of his or her biological or adoptive parents at age 14, who has never been married before, OR who has no children by other people. They are higher, too, if avoid cohabitation at least until you are engaged to marry.

The data comes from the National Survey of Family Growth by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and NCHS (National Center for Health Statistics) in a March 22, 2012 report entitled First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth.

March 26, 2012

Do I Have to Accept Porn?

Porn is a problem in many marriages. In an earlier post, I referred to several resources from an expert on the subject, Dr. Mark Laaser. The comments on that post are also worth reading. If porn is an issue in your marriage, I hope you will check it out.

A lot of women take offense at porn. It makes them question their husbands' respect and love for them. It feels like infidelity to them. It makes it so much harder for them to respect their men.

A lot of men do not understand. They don't think of porn as having anything to do with their relationship with their wives. It is just entertainment to them. It feeds their fantasies and may make them feel more sexual with their wives, not less. It may relieve their concerns about the effects of a vasectomy, a prostate problem, or aging. It may make it easier to remain faithful to a wife who wants less sex or tamer sex than they want. It may provide relief from some other tension in the marriage that they have no idea how to bring up or resolve. Or it may have become a compulsion, because porn is marketed in a way that leads a man from one type to the next until there is no way to get the same satisfaction from a healthy relationship with a real woman.

You don't have to accept porn as part of your relationship. You don't. Even if other women find it acceptable or normal or even exciting, your relationship is between the two of you. You are not required to tolerate it.

If you cannot tolerate it, and your husband is into it, here is my advice. Do not make your husband out to be a bad person for wanting this form of entertainment or for succumbing to this compulsion. Instead, recognize that this is basically a disagreement. Find a Third Alternative. Respect his needs and offer to make sure they are met, just not this way.

A Third Alternative is one that pleases both of you, so you must do the work of learning what makes porn attractive to your husband at this point in his life. If you really want to know (and there is no other way to get to your Third Alternative), you must ask your questions non-judgmentally. Your goal is to find a way for him to get whatever he gets from porn without turning you off or making you feel disrespected or unloved like porn does.

There is a good chance that will be a lot easier than you imagine. If it's not, please find a therapist or clergy member who is comfortable talking about sex to help the two of you.

Keep in mind that "he stops looking at porn" meets only your half of the criteria for a Third Alternative. It also lacks the important half of any plan to kick a habit, the substitute for when the urge or opportunity comes up.

If you are not familiar with the steps to finding a Third Alternative, please check out my "How to find third alternatives" page. This is a powerful tool for every disagreement with the man who promised to love you for the rest of your life but doesn't always know how to do it.

March 25, 2012

Burnt Peas

How easy it is to get bent out of shape over burnt peas.

There you are, waiting for your dinner, and suddenly you smell them scorching. Once even one is scorched, it's pretty much too late to rescue them. And now the giant wheel of fortune begins its wild spin. Where will it land for you?

  • I feel so bad for my mate. What an awful, last-minute thing to happen while cooking dinner.
  • Oy! How long will this delay dinner? Will we get to the movie on time?
  • How stupid are you, spouse of mine, to put too little water in the peas and to leave them unwatched?
  • Who needs a green vegetable? Let's eat!
  • Are you trying to burn the house down?!! Why do you always try to do four things at once? Why can't you pay attention to what you're doing?
  • Should I go into the kitchen and make sure my beloved is OK?
  • I love my mate's creativity! We must be having blackened peas. Should be interesting.

Here's the thing. Even after the wheel of fortune makes its stop, if the thought it lands on does not improve your relationship, you are free to take another spin.

March 23, 2012

What If You Changed Your Definition of Fair?

If you changed your definition of fair, how would it change your marriage?

What if you decided dish washing, lawn mowing, meal preparation, shopping, laundry folding, and oil changing don't belong in your definition of fair? Without them, how fair is your marriage?

What if you decided earning money has nothing to do with how fair your marriage is? Disregarding your incomes, your efforts to find a better job (or any job), how fair is your marriage?

What if you decided to measure how fair your marriage is on just one measure? And what if that measure was your spouse's love language, whether that is touch, gifts, acts of service, quality time, or affirming words? How would the balance of giving and getting look if you did this?

Does your definition change on its own? Is it focused on chores when you really do not want to tackle the next one? Does it switch to pleasure when you're wanting sex or a back rub that doesn't lead to sex?

Yours is the only definition of fair creating your feelings of resentment or of being blessed from whatever is happening in your marriage. What if you decided to change it, on a trial basis, for the coming weekend?

March 22, 2012

Why Be Married? For the Anchor

Ever feel so angry you want to break something or hurt someone? When you're married to someone you love, you can balance your anger against your desire to protect your spouse. It makes it easier to anchor yourself instead of drifting on the currents of your anger.

Ever feel like walking away from your job and your debts rather than do the hard work of making things right again? Being married makes it easier to do it, because you're doing it for someone else who matters, even when the job or the obligations feel like they don't matter. It's an anchor that keeps you from drifting into irresponsibility and its penalties.

Ever dread dealing with other human beings and want to withdraw? When you're married, it's harder to withdraw. You have more relatives, and you have someone who can speak for you when you need a break. Marriage provides the anchor that keeps you working on relating to other people so you do not drift into depression.

Ever tempted to take the easy way out and lie or cheat? Marriage anchors you to your better self, if only to protect your spouse.

Many fear marriage will become a ball and chain. Instead, it becomes an anchor when you need one. Why be married? To be the person you hoped you would become by setting anchor when the winds blow.

March 21, 2012

If You Think You Can't Go On Being Married

On the brink of throwing in the towel and filing for divorce? Diane Sollee of Smart Marriages (website of the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education) has a page on what to expect and what else to try first. I highly recommend it.

If,instead, your spouse is proposing divorce, she has another great page of resources for fighting a divorce.

There are some irreparable marriages out there, but not as many as we believe when we are in the middle of an unbearable situation or an overwhelming urge to just start over. I have been there. I know the pain. And I know how very hard it is to find a way to stop that pain without some new ideas from those who understand it. If you're there, check out the Smart Marriages resources. The first two alternatives of this pain and the different pain of divorce are usually just two of many. Find the Third Alternative.

March 20, 2012

Emotional Abuse Boot Camp by Webinar

Emotional abuse is a serious problem in any marriage, whether you're dishing it out or taking it. Dr. Steven Stosny developed a unique and highly effective way to help both the abusers and the abused. Until now, if you wanted to learn it, you had to get yourself to Maryland or hope he took his Boot Camp on the road to a city near you.

I just received an announcement from him today of a Love without Hurt Boot Camp Webinar. This is not the typical recorded 60 minutes. It's a live boot camp with him, just like his 3-day events in Maryland, that you can attend from your own home. It's May 5 and 6 (a weekend), with the third day on the following Saturday, May 12.

He will even allow you to submit your questions in advance and hear your answers when you listen to the recordings at your convenience, but I am going to strongly urge you to participate live and do all the exercises he gives you between sessions. What he teaches will likely change your life, no matter which side of the abuse you're on, even if your spouse walks out on your marriage.

Dr. Stosny teaches compassion, so you can be pretty sure he won't be shaming either of you. Instead, he will teach you a technique you can use whenever you're angry or full of resentment.

From his announcement today:

The Boot Camp produces dramatic change in a short time for those who do the work. The tone is healing, not accusatory, compassionate not blaming, valuing not devaluing, and, most of all, empowering.

I have no personal connection with Dr. Stosny and receive nothing from him for letting you know about his boot camp. I share it with you because I care about you and because I have heard him speak, read what he's written, purchased one of his audio courses, and seen his follow-up study. I think the opportunity to do this boot camp by webinar is a great opportunity at a very low price. It's also a great way to do it in private if your spouse is at all hesitant.

You can watch a video of one of his Oprah appearances, take his Walking on Eggshells quiz, and learn more about the boot camp on Dr. Stosny's CompassionPower website.

Please note that the webinar version of the boot camp is for emotional abuse only. If you are dishing out or receiving any physical abuse, I hope you will watch for the in-person version, his private boot camps, and his phone consultations.

March 19, 2012

Five Questions to Help You Find 3rd Alternatives

You want something. Your spouse objects, because he or she wants something else in the same time slot, with the same money, or in the same spot. You need a Third Alternative.

You want what you want, and you want to be the sort of spouse who gives your mate what he or she wants, too. But what you each want is seldom the thing you each say you want. It is the feelings and the capabilities that thing offers you. And there are many ways to get what it offers you.

Question 1: What results would our Third Alternative need to provide to make both of us happy?

Question 2: What disadvantages would our Third Alternative need to avoid to make both of us happy?

Question 3: What stands in the way of having this AND that instead of this OR that?

Question 4: What are we taking for granted about our options that does not really matter to either of us?

Question 5: Who do we know that might have looked for something similar in the past and run across ideas we have not heard of yet?

A Third Alternative gets you what you want and lets you give generously to your life partner at the same time. If you are looking for one right now, please use the comments as your way to reach out to thousands of other people for help finding it.

March 18, 2012

We Just Grew Apart

That is what many people say when their marriages die.

Every day, you have a choice. Grow together or grow apart.

If you would like to grow together, find new things to do together that use the top strengths each of you brings to the marriage.

Have you tried cooking classes? An internet business? A garden? Building a canoe? Hiking the Appalachian Trail? Backpacking across China? Buying a pair of spinning wheels to enter sheep to shawl competitions? Rebuilding a car? Volunteering at your local hospital, soup kitchen, or Habitat for Humanity project? Writing each other love notes? Singing karaoke?

Pick one that lets each of you shine and feel like you at your best, and it just might entwine your lives, so you don't grow apart.

March 16, 2012

Completely Off Topic: Basketball

I don't often watch basketball. Neither does my husband. But my alma mater is in the NCAA Division III Final Four tonight. I think it's worth noting.

It's the first time in the Final Four in the team's 112-year history. MIT's Engineers entered tonight's game with a 13-game winning streak. Two more will win them the championship.

They are tied at the half. I don't care a lot about basketball, but I really care about proof that it's possible to be more than a geek. I care because I am driven now to help people, including you, enjoy being married.

Wishing the team luck in the second half and in all their years after MIT.

March 14, 2012

Celebrity Divorces

Judging by the amount of media space they get, we all want to read about celebrity divorces. How is it that they find a beautiful, highly successful spouse and throw the wedding of their dreams (and ours) but cannot stand each other for even as long as we less famous folk do?

John Tierney and Garth Sundern have been working on this conundrum. In 2006, they published a formula for predicting the odds of a celebrity marriage lasting in the New York Times. Yesterday, they updated the formula.

Of course, marrying quickly factors in. No time for getting to know each other, so they marry the person they invented in their mind and find the real one disappointing. And marrying young is in there, too. No one knows whether marrying younger causes unstable relationships or whether both things stem from a common cause.

A difference in ages reduces their chances. In fact, they square the difference, so ten years has a much bigger impact than five. Their combined number of previous marriages lowers their chances of success. Past performance predicts future performance unless we learn some new skills. Signs of narcissism predict an earlier end, too, because narcissism increases the odds of infidelity.

The formula notes that the woman's infidelity is more likely to end the marriage than a man's and that skimpy or sexually provocative clothing is a strong clue that a woman might be narcissistic. So is frequent appearance in the tabloids, but they have now tempered this by computing a ratio of New York Times appearances to tabloid appearances to account for how well-known a celebrity is in general.

They have had six years to test their predictions from the old formula, and they have done well. Now they have tweaked it and predict that Kate and Prince William, Calista Flockhart and Harrison Ford, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, and Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z have at least as good as chance as the average Joe and his Jenna do.

You and I might have a better chance. If we married before getting to know the person we chose, we can Assume Love whenever we're surprised. It may protect us from misunderstandings that make us unnecessarily miserable. Even if we're a wee bit narcissistic, we can remember to Expect Love when we feel we're not getting all we deserve, sparing ourselves the nasty pain and self-doubt that follows. If we married young or married someone older than ourselves, we can Find Third Alternatives to resolve the differences in our opinions and desires that arise as we mature.

And we can rest assured that looks, income, and a lavish wedding cannot compete with marriage skills for insuring a great relationship that we can count on.

March 13, 2012

Daffodil Days

Today, the daffodils in my front yard bloomed. So did the hillside of daffodils at the home of a friend well west of me. She called to tell me. Daffodils bloomed well east of me in New Jersey today. My artist friend posted a photo online.

It is a gorgeous day, with a light breeze and a temperature more often enjoyed in May than four days before St. Patrick's Day.

I left my car at the Post Office and just started walking around Doylestown. It's a great place to live. And this is a beautiful day.

As I walked, I thought about what a difference it makes to receive better than we expect. The sky is so blue. The breeze feels wonderful. There are puffy white clouds in the sky and blooming things again in the dirt. But if we woke up to this day in May, we might notice the bare trees and the diminished quality of the sunlight. By then, we might even be annoyed by the birds, all of whom are announcing their return today and, I suspect, choosing mates.

And you know what? Marriage is quite a bit like weather. When you expect less than you get, it's wonderful. When you expect more, it's not.

Today is beautiful if you feel the breeze, recall the heavy coat you needed so recently, and watch the daffodils bloom. It's not nearly as beautiful if you focus on the dead grass or the leafless trees. But today, we don't expect leaves or grass. Thank goodness.

Enjoy being married.

March 12, 2012

Regaining Your Wife's Respect

The following is a comment I received today in reply to my 3 Ways to Get Your Wife's Respect post on October 18, 2011. It is a classic situation, and I suspect the answer may help more than Drew, who left the comment.

I made several mistakes during a one year period over seven years ago. Since I have been a model man and model father, she even gets ro stay home if she chooses. Now, after 7+ years I find out that she has NO respect for me and stated to a mutual friend that she will never respect me or feel strongly for me again. Btw, I DIDN'T cheat. I had a drug problem and was dishonest about it. I had an 'email fling' during that period too. What do I do? It's been 10 years and two kids later.... Thanks

She's still with you, Drew, so I am pretty sure she does not view respect the way you do. This puts you at a bit of a disadvantage in trying to regain her respect. You can't guess what will win it. Let's see if I can help.

Being a model man and a model father is not enough, even though it's quite a lot and you should be proud of yourself for this.

She may believe she won't feel strongly for you again, but I'm sure you have seen all the comments in this blog from people who have been utterly surprised to learn how strongly they feel when they thought they did not. Don't take her word for this. She has no way of knowing.

Since you are still together and you have kids who would benefit enormously from it, why not prove her wrong?

Start by looking for the respect she can't see. Check my March 7th post, One More Ray. Every day, see if you can find one more ray of respect than you noticed the day before, and thank her for it. At breakfast, notice if she trusts you enough to share the table with you. That is respect. She won't call it respect, and you probably should not give it this label, because she's still protecting her heart from the risk of respecting you, but it is respect. Let her know you enjoy being able to have breakfast together. Tomorrow, you can notice she does the same thing at dinner.

If you pick up the kids from school the next day, you can notice that she trusts you to care for "her" children. Ever notice how many divorced women don't? Don't point out the respect, but do let her know how glad you are that both of you are involved in the kids' daily lives.

On another day, if she asks you to do something for her and doesn't tell you exactly how to do it or imply you're not likely to actually do it, notice the ray of respect for your intentions and abilities. Tell her, "It's my pleasure. Thanks for asking the way you do. It's nice."

If you make dinner and she shows up for it on time, you can count this as the new ray for another day. Say, "I'm so glad you're here. You're just in time for a great dinner."

If she asks you for advice on anything, chalk up another ray of respect. Nobody asks for advice without respecting the expertise or experience of the person they ask. Tell her, "It makes me feel great to be asked."

Will she share a bed with you? Let you drive? Put her money in a joint bank account? Accept your hugs? Tell the kids to do as you say? All are rays of respect.

Look for a new ray of respect every day and appreciate her for it. She won't see any of it as respect. To her, it's what nice people do. The other thing nice people do is appreciate the efforts of nice people, and you will be doing this at least once a day. This she will notice. You can keep to yourself what you are noticing, which is that, no matter what she says, she actually does respect you.

To women's way of thinking (and it's all in our hormones, nothing much we can do about the difference except respect it and deal with it), nice people earn our respect. Hurtful people don't deserve it. You hurt her, and the things you've been doing to prove your are worthy of her respect, nice as they are, don't relieve her pain, so she's not ready yet to consciously extend you any respect.

If you have figured out her love language, and it's something other than words of affirmation, say an extra thank you in her love language whenever you can. If you are not familiar with love languages, pick up Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages: Men's Edition from your favorite bookseller or library. The more loved she feels, the more respect she will be capable of.

Keep adding a ray a day to the respect you notice and acknowledge each one. If she does something that feels disrespectful, see it as a shadow among all the rays of light, so that you don't feel the urge to cut off your kind acknowledgements of all that is good about your relationship. If you feel really unappreciated and out in the cold, quietly skip a day and look for another ray tomorrow.

We women do not understand respect the way you men do. The word has very different meanings for us. We can say we have no respect for you and still proudly wear our wedding band, share a home with you, tell our kids what a great guy you are. If you listen to our words instead of watching our actions, you'll miss out on a lot of what we have to offer. If you pick which things we should respect you for instead of paying attention to what we choose to respect, you'll miss out on a lot, too.

Drew, will you let us know after a couple of weeks how you did with the One More Ray exercise and what effect it has? I would really appreciate it.

March 11, 2012

Love Cannot Explain

When we Assume Love, we do it to help us look for alternate explanations for an upsetting incident. Finding them helps us bounce back emotionally and often grow closer to our spouses.

Some things, though, cannot be explained as the acts of a loving person with a sound mind. Among them:

  • Putting your freedom, food, or shelter in jeopardy by committing felony acts, spending more than disposable income on personal whims or addictions, or making your home unsafe to live in.

  • Physically harming you, your children, or your close family members, or repeatedly threatening physical harm to any of you.

  • Tapping into your worst fears repeatedly to keep you anxious, frightened, or depressed, whether with verbal put-downs, threats, exposure to things you are phobic about, or open violation of your sexual fidelity or privacy.

Get help to physically separate yourself from or protect yourself from any spouse engaging in these acts. Once you are safe from harm, you can better judge whether to remain loyal or not, married or not. You cannot help nor make such decisions while dealing with the danger in person.

Some of these can be explained as the acts of a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol, dealing with dementia, brain tumor, or brain damage, or subject to an addiction. In these cases, you need physical protection or separation not just for yourself but also to protect your spouse while ill. Being in a position to commit unintentional harm to a loved one will only interfere with their recovery or peace of mind.

You can continue to support and love from a safe distance or with trained help by your side. I believe you help a good deal more this way than by staying close.

March 10, 2012

Thumbing Your Nose at Insufficient Generosity

In Daniel Pink's book, Drive, he reports "an experiment replicated around the world." It's a two-player experiment, just like your marriage or life partnership.

One player gets $10 and the right to choose how much of it, if any, to share with the other player. The other player decides to accept what's offered or give all $10 back to the psychologist running the experiment.

The players don't love each other or even know each other. Neither player stands to lose anything by playing. Neither has to earn the money. The only thing at stake is how the money is shared.

Most people, put in the second player's shoes, reject offers of $2 or less. They would rather turn down the offer of unearned cash than accept what feels like an unfair division of the $10. It's worth the $2 to teach the bozo a lesson on fairness.

Lots of people do this in their marriages, too. And it's not just with cash. They do it with household chores: "I might as well be single if I have to clean the house but he won't mow the lawn and take out the trash." They do it with sex: "My wife doesn't like sex as often as I do. I deserve to have a fling when I get the chance, even if it risks the marriage."

It's normal, human behavior. Walk away from insufficient generosity, even if it means getting less overall. And in a marriage, it is often a lot less. When we use this reasoning to walk away from our vow, we generally look at one tiny aspect, overlooking income to focus on chores, overlooking the emotional support behind our current career success to focus on sex, overlooking sex, shared chores, and our vital need for love to focus on how often we get meaningful conversation from our mate.

Here is the difference in marriage. The experiment gets repeated with the same two players. If you want more than $2 the next time, what do you think will work better? Walking away from the first deal, leaving both of you with nothing or expressing your pleasure at receiving $2 while your partner walks away with $8?

Our natural instincts are not always the best ones for the situations we face. As we practice a different response (picking our noses in private, for example, or sharing the road with other drivers according to a book full of rules), it becomes second nature. The benefits are worth it.

Expect Love, not any one version of it. $2 extra is $2 extra. Unfair is when you're actually $2 down from what you would have if you were single.

March 9, 2012

Avoid Pretending to Feel Loved When You Do Not

Here's my take on how to enjoy being married. You don't work on the relationship. You work on enjoying it.

Remember when you enjoyed it? Remember when you were thrilled about getting married? Remember those times you felt so close and so in love that you spent half the day thinking of ways to delight your mate? It wasn't work then, was it?

Well, that's what I mean when I say Enjoy Being Married.

So, when I say Assume Love, you can be sure I do not mean ignore that awful, frightening doubt and act as if you feel loved, respected, safe, or happy.

Assume Love is a technique you can use when you stop feeling that way. And I offer it to you because you will not get back there by accusing your committed life partner of causing those awful feelings. If it was his or her intention to make you unhappy, the accusation won't lead to change. And if it was not his or her intention, you have evened the score by pulling your mate down to your unhappiness level, and you have done it intentionally. Not helpful!

You will also not get back there by being extra sweet, helpful, generous, or sexy while you feel unloved, disrespected, unsafe, or miserable. You are the one who feels awful. You will feel more awful, increasing your resentment level, unless your spouse feels inspired by all these extras to do more for you. Each bit of additional resentment raises the bar for what he or she will need to do in return to please you. At the same time, the resentment leaks out between efforts, demotivating your mate.

Working at being married fails miserably unless the two of you are working with a therapist who makes sure you can both see and appreciate each other's efforts.

So, please do not pretend to feel loved when you feel unloved, unsafe, unhappy, or disrespected. When you feel this way, your very human mind will take the very human precaution of watching intently for all other threats to your very important relationship, which will keep it from noticing most of the love, caring, and respect sent your way.

Instead, Assume Love. Take a few minutes to look at what's happened through a different set of eyes. Instead of asking if this situation is bad or dangerous, ask how it might happen even if your partner, your husband, your wife still adores you.

Don't worry. You cannot explain away truly unloving behavior. You won't buy a story that it's OK to love someone but allow yourself to lose control over what you do that harms them. You will still protect yourself from the sociopath or narcissist or drug addict. But you may well change your view of the spouse whose intense lack of respect at work leads to hypersensitivity about respect at home or the spouse whose early childhood association of lima beans and death leads to a stinging rejection of your delicious lima bean casserole.

You may check the calendar for possible explanations and correlate your guy's new interest in porn with the date of his vasectomy. You may check the 5 love languages for explanations and notice his upsetting lack of affirming words for the difficult journey you are on is accompanied by a big increase in hugs, hair stroking, and shoulder massages.

And since the most likely reason you are so fiercely affected by any loss of love is that you love your mate and value your relationship, you will not need to pretend to care when an explanation suddenly fits.

If you suddenly feel closer and more connected than you have in months after you Assume Love, your spouse may reap some benefits from this. But do not Assume Love for his or her sake.

Assume Love to help you check whether your anger or hurt comes from something real and dangerous to your relationship or from your brain's early warning system jumping to conclusions to protect you. Assume Love for your own release from the pain of these inaccurate thoughts about a situation. Assume Love for the possibility that you may feel suddenly and intensely in love again and actively enjoy doing wonderful things for your husband, wife, or life partner.

Remember that Assume Love is a technique (assume there is no doubt about your mate's love or character while you look for possible explanations). It is not an instruction to act as if you feel loved.

Your brain is hugely self-protective. It will not let you get away with pretending for very long. Once alarmed, it will keep looking for danger until you ask it to take a break and look for loving explanations. It knows you were promised lifelong love, so it will accept this as a safe possibility to explore, but it needs a plausible explanation, not just an assumption. You must use the technique, not pretend you feel loved, to change the chemical soup in your brain and let you enjoy being married.

March 8, 2012

From Furious to Deeply in Love

I received a wonderful email this morning from a new reader. She had reached out on Tuesday for help with a situation that infuriated her. Things had gone from bad to awful in the course of a couple hours. She sounded very doubtful whether she could bear a lifetime with her man.

I explained how to Assume Love. And how to avoid pretending she felt loved when she did not.

Today, she wrote, "Aha, aha, aha! I get it." And she did.

I know, because her email today included something I have heard many times from those who get it.

"I couldn't wait to see him when he came home last night."

Fed up and furious with her guy on Tuesday, deeply in love 24 hours later. Without even talking about it.

Why? Because you have to care an awful lot about someone to find a disagreement over what's for dinner that infuriating.

Fury distorts what you see and drives what you do. It's contagious, too. But you can stop it long enough to get a clearer picture when you Assume Love. If the clear picture is as bad as the original one, you are free to return to your fury. You need not accept meanness or cruelty from someone you live with.

But the real picture is often very different. And it is a very quick trip back to feeling the depth of your love, because it was always there.

March 7, 2012

One More Ray

Give this a try. Tell me what you think of the results.

Every day, your husband, wife, or life partner loves you. Some days, it's easier. Others, it's a bit harder. When he or she feels misunderstood, needy, or mistreated, it's a bit harder to love you, but you get loved nonetheless.

I am not talking about the feeling of love but the acts of love. These are conscious choices to do something to be good to you. You may never see a lot of them, like driving a little more carefully or biting a lip at work when the idea of quitting and driving off into the sunset seems like a good one.

Others you can see and hear. The good morning kiss. The coffee started in time for you to grab some before you have to leave. The underwear put in the hamper instead of on the floor. A treat purchased for you on the way home. Teaching your son to cheer for your favorite team. Fixing the storm door. Making dinner. Putting that paycheck in the joint account. Sitting through your father's same old stories. Saying "I love you." Setting everything else aside to take a walk with you or listen to your day.

Each one is a little ray of love, lighting your life. Today, try to find just one more ray, one you would not normally notice, and thank your mate for it before you go to bed.

As soon as you notice anything unusual happen because you did this, please post it in the comments.

March 6, 2012

Improve Your Marriage Singlehandedly

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Lunch Break columnist Elizabeth Bernstein offered great hope to anyone in a less-than-perfect marriage.

She reported the results of a study by Howard Markman, one of the marriage education greats I have studied with. His lab at the University of Denver followed 300 couples for five years after receiving marriage skills training. One month after training, it did not matter if both in the couple had attended or just one. The marriages were equally improved.

At eighteen months, they saw something very interesting. If only one spouse had received the training, the marriage was doing better if the one who got trained was a woman. This is great news, because it is much more often the woman who is willing to go to counseling or a marriage education program, and it is much more often the woman who files for divorce if nothing gets better.

One woman Ms. Bernstein interviewed for the article went to counseling alone. She said it took her two years before she stopped blaming her husband and started trying to enjoy being married without changing him. Two years! If you're reading this blog on a regular basis, I know you have already made the shift that led to a happier marriage for her and her husband. This makes me very happy. Thank you.

March 5, 2012

Love Language Crossovers

We all have our love languages. Before we can talk, we discover the ones that work for us. And before we know it, we're married to someone with a different love language.

Sure, you could try to explain to your mate how to love you your way, but my approach is a whole lot easier and more likely to feel like you're being loved:

  • Gift lover married to a quality time giver? Transition into your conversation or joint activity with a bit of ceremony. Take the time to see the big bow wrapped around this gift of connection. Unwrap it slowly and step into your gift.

  • Quality time lover committed to a physical touch giver? Sign the two of you up for a massage class together. Schedule a sensual weekend getaway. Take up ballroom or salsa dancing.

  • Physical touch lover partnered with an acts of service giver? Ask for sexual favors, hand or face massage, hugs, and kisses. They feel more loving to your mate when done as an act of service, odd as this might sound to you. You'll feel the extra love.

  • Acts of service lover loved by an affirming words giver? Listen to the words carefully. Hear them as a poem written just for you. As you read that greeting card, picture your mate going to the store, selecting just the right sentiment, adding that little extra touch, and making sure to present it to you at the right moment to have the most effect. These are acts of service.

  • Affirming words lover with a gift giver? Pay attention to the card that comes with the gift. Pay attention to the words with which it is presented, because gift givers delight in presenting gifts to their beloved. If the gift is given silently, ask something as simple as, "Is this for me?" The answer may be worth even more to you than the gift.

Those are but a few of the possible combinations. What would you recommend to an affirming words lover who wants to discover more of the love offered by his or her quality time giver?

March 4, 2012

You Can't Always Get What You Want

I'll bet there is something you often want from your spouse but almost never get. For one woman I know, it's gratitude. A thank you, maybe some clue that he understands how much he needs her. Assume Love and ask why someone would never say thank you to a person he loves dearly. Acknowledging the incredible value of the relationship takes a lot of guts unless you are certain it's rock solid. When a man can see his wife is missing something, it's by definition not rock solid.

For a man I know, it's a pedestal. We love each other the way we want to be loved. He puts his woman on a pedestal and wants one of his own. He wants to feel she respects the man he is, even when he trips up occasionally, and would give him the gold medal all over again. Assume Love and think of reasons for a loving wife would refuse him a pedestal. It could be her humility, her feeling limited by her own pedestal, or simply that the only thing that feels like love to her is the time they spend together doing things both of them enjoy.

For some of us, it's to be our mate's number one priority or to feel like a great lover. It might be to receive gifts so delightful that we gasp when we open them. Or to be given control over whatever it is we're good at controlling: the decor, financial investments, or landscaping, for example.

No couple grows closer repeating the old "pay the rent" melodrama:
"Pay me a compliment!"
"I can't pay you a compliment!"

"Pay me your attention!"
"I can't pay you attention!"

"Pay me some respect!"
"I can't pay you respect!"

Yes, of course your relationship would be lots better (for you) if your mate simply came up with the rent, whatever sort of rent you're demanding. But he or she feels incapable of coming up with it.

What can you do? Assume Love and actively try to understand why your mate feels incapable of this particular loving act. Look for other evidence of how much you are loved. Volunteer to fill your months with more gratitude, respect, and priority treatment. Find Third Alternatives for anything you do for your spouse that often leads to feeling something's missing.

And when your need for whatever it is arises, belt out the chorus: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes..."

March 3, 2012

The Stifling Marriage

You want to travel overseas. You're married to someone who will not fly.

You want to go back to school. Your spouse says, "We need you here." Here might be the kitchen, the office, the store, or even the bank account.

You want to spend Saturdays hiking. You married someone whose idea of a hike is getting the mail from the mailbox.

Marriage is not meant to be stifling. It is meant to provide a sturdy platform from which you can do more and be more than on your own.

Did you just mutter, "Tell that to the stick-in-the-mud I married"? Your husband, wife, or life partner does not make these decisions for you. You make them. You decide to stay on this side of the ocean, to turn down an education, to sit on the sofa instead of hiking.

You might make the choice to keep the peace or to be more supportive than your mate. Then again, you might make the same choice because there is an upside to going along with what your spouse prefers. Hiking, traveling, and education require us to come up with a lot of cash, to prepare our bodies and minds in advance, and to work hard to reap their benefits. All would be much easier if someone else kicked in part of the expense and cheered us on.

Unfortunately, marriage can feel quite stifling while living someone else's idea of a good life.

If you are ready to make the choice to do something important to you, please know that it is OK. Your spouse may experience great discomfort when you do, but this should not stop you. What it should do is drive you to Find Third Alternatives that eliminate the unpleasantness for your mate.

If you go hiking, the unpleasantness is not what you're doing while you're out of the house. It's the loss of your company or the wonderful things you do for your spouse. Find out exactly what your mate sees as the cost. The find a mutually satisfactory alternative way to replace what you will be taking away.

If you go back to school, it is likely your spouse disagrees because of the financial implications or the possibility of the two of you growing apart. Work together on a Third Alternative way to fund your schooling without denying your mate's dreams. Or find a better way to continue growing together than holding back on your own learning. They exist.

Whatever you do, please do not stifle yourself. It's bad for your relationship and your mental health.

March 1, 2012

Is Your Spouse Fair?

Many husbands and wives stand convinced they do not get a fair deal in their marriages. What do you think?

"It is not fair that I work hard to earn all our income but I cannot unwind for the thirty minutes before dinner when I get home, because the kids have all have dirty faces and sticky hands and want lots of attention."
I know how to convert euros to dollars. How do you convert forty hours a week of employment to its equivalent in child care, housework, and meal preparation?

"It is not fair that you expect me to be in the mood after cleaning up the mess you made in the den."
How do we equate something like libido, which may arrive without any effort or may require some preparation but generally leads to one of marriage's nicer benefits, with messes, which compel action for some of us and seem like no problem to others?

"It is not fair that I have to call the accountant to make our tax appointment after taking your mother to the doctor."
What's the exchange rate for phone calls to favors when you both want the call made and the favor done? Is it more or less if the favor is for someone neither of you is related to?

"It's not fair that I have to get dressed for work in the dark just because you come to bed so late."
Does the reason matter? Does the comparison change if the desire to sleep late results from chemotherapy?

Implied in all of these is a belief that our mates could easily kick in just a bit more and make things fair. So why don't they?

I think it's because they are a lot like us. They don't question what seem like objective facts.

We look at messy faces and hands and the way kids shift gears at the end of the day as an impediment to unwinding. We do not question how we might unwind in such a situation.

We look at an open pretzel bag and dirty glass in the den as a libido-dampening project that requires immediate attention. We do not question what we could do to put the mess out of mind.

We look at the bedroom as the proper place to dress for work. We do not question whether there are other, well-lit places in the house where we could dress while our mate sleeps.

They are doing the same.

"I cannot clean up or entertain kids and cook dinner at the same time, and they need to stay outside playing as long as possible, so I cannot bring them in early for cleanup."

"I don't do phone calls. Hate them. Hate talking to assistants. Hate being put on hold. Don't know what to say or how to get what I want."

"There is a lot on my mind. I cannot simply go to bed. I have to wait until I can fall asleep when I get there."

Because of this, we can never find a conversion rate. However, we can find a fair marriage. All it takes is to reduce how much our side costs us. And we have an expert available to help us, a caring person who sees right through the difficulty that keeps us stuck.

The Author

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

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