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Articles from April 2012

April 27, 2012

Changing Yourself

If you were to change yourself in some way, to face life differently, to develop a new habit or build a character strength, how would you want to do it?

Would you prefer your mate tell you what he or she dislikes about you and the things you do so you can fix them?

Or would you prefer to hear about you at your best and work to live up to your reputation?

There is a good chance your husband, wife, or life partner feels the same.

April 26, 2012

Changing Your Spouse

It's very difficult to change another person's behavior. And it is next to impossible when done through criticism instead of agreement.

If you look carefully, though, you may discover some very annoying things are done not to annoy you but to be with you. Or to love you the way he or she wants to be loved. Or to cope with stress that comes from earning money to share with you or doing things for you that you cannot do for yourself.

If you focus on the love, you are a lot more likely to change your spouse. We all love to love someone who notices how much we love them.

April 25, 2012

Date Night and Love Languages

Dating after you're married is healthy and fun, as long as you're dating the person you married! If you know your mate's love language, you can make sure your date nights increase the love he or she feels from you.

  • Words of Affirmation - Start with a compliment on his or her appearance as you head out for your date. Write about your love on the paper tablecloth over dinner. Express gratitude for a character strength your spouse exhibits during the evening. If you head to a movie or a concert, include a stop for coffee or dessert, where you can share a few affirming words.
  • Quality Time - Make it clear in advance how important the time together is to you. Be ready on time. And be totally present, delegating your concerns your work or the wellbeing of your children to someone else for a few hours. Choose activities where you can interact or share a transcendent moment or belly laugh hand-in-hand.
  • Receiving Gifts - Pay for dinner or any entertainment. Keep your eye open for souvenirs of your date and present them during the date or right before bed. Consider window shopping, museums, state fairs, and other explorations of interesting and well-presented items.
  • Acts of Service - Be helpful. Offer to fetch the car if it's raining or to carry something for your spouse. Consider dates where the two of you get to help others, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, a local school or hospital, or a group serving the homeless or shut-ins.
  • Physical Touch - Go dancing. Take a massage class. Turn a candlelit dinner into foreplay. Hold hands or put an arm around your sweetie while you wait in line for souvlaki at the Greek Festival or a ride at an amusement park.

Marriage is not just about putting food on the table and turning a house into a home. It is about connecting with another human being on as many levels as you can. Create some new special memories by using love languages when you plan your next date night.

April 24, 2012

Am I Right?

So much of the time, when married folks say they want to take their spouse to marriage therapy, it's to answer this question: am I right?

The answer is not very helpful. Referees are useful only for deciding competitions, not for making relationships more intimate or more satisfying.

A better question is this: how can we resolve this disagreement in a way that satisfies both of us?

On the way to discovering the answer is another question: what is it that I don't yet understand that leads you to choose this option I disagree with?

Before you can ask it, you must jump the net and get on the same side, in search of a solution that is neither of your first two options but delivers the important outcomes each of them would achieve.

Find Third Alternatives. Then you're both right. Better yet, you're both happy with the outcome and with each other.

April 23, 2012

Are You Doing What You Love?

Barbara Sher has been inspiring people for most of my adult life to do what they love. She's helped them tap into their talents and passions. She's helped them get around a million obstacles. She's told them not to choose between the many things that thrill them, but to use her tricks to fit them all into one lifetime. She's even helped them figure out what they love doing.

When you're not doing what you love, she says you're robbing all of us of the genius that lives inside you. More importantly, you are robbing your marriage of passion, delight, and the quiet confidence of succeeding in spite of any lousy moods and lack of character.

Over the years, I have read Barbara's books, watched her on PBS specials, become a Sher Success Teams Leader, and spent time getting to know her at three retreats and a Big Cheap Weekend.

Now I am helping her launch a wonderful new program called Hanging Out with Barbara Sher. She hopes to capture some of the delight of those moments between sessions at her retreats and weekends, when she shares some of the things she loves and nudges us with ideas so compelling that we cannot let them die when we go home again.

The launch date is April 28, 2012. That is the first day you can sign up to receive the program, in three installments a week for a full year. It is also the day of a really special launch party.

Barbara is offering a free 90-minute teleseminar and more than $2,500 in prizes during the launch party. She is also offering a free subscription to one lucky member of her mailing list on the 28th. (Add your email address at the bottom of this page.)

I am not eligible to win any of the great prizes, but and your spouse are. They will be given out to folks who use Twitter to participate in the celebration. Getting started with Twitter is really easy. And even if you don't win, every single tweet of yours will send 10 cents of Barbara Sher's money to Himalayan kids who really need them.

So, put her on speakerphone and set up face-to-face laptops with your mate on Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 2 pm EDT (time converter). You'll see my Assume Love daisy next to my Twitter name (@married) on all of my tweets that day. Make one of your first tweets Hey @married I'm here at Barbara Sher's Launch Party #BarbaraSher so I know you made it to the party.

And please let me know if you sign up for Hanging Out with Barbara Sher or if you win a prize. Every one of the prizes could literally change your life and your marriage.

April 22, 2012

What Are You Waiting For?

What are you waiting for from your spouse?

Are you waiting for more appreciation? More picking up after himself? More self-reliance when it comes to getting the computer and other electronics to work?

Are you waiting for more foreplay? Less modesty in bed? Better meals? Some landscaping? Maybe weight loss? Or perhaps vacation planning?

What would you do if you learned today for certain you will never get it? What if you could tell right now, without a doubt, you cannot and will not get it, not by nagging nor by being extra nice nor even by promising money or sex?

Can you picture yourself finding a way to accept you won't be getting what you're waiting for and love your spouse anyway?

If so, no matter how justified you might be for wanting what you've been waiting for, while you wait, you miss out on being fully in love with each other.

April 21, 2012

Stay Married for the Kids the Right Way

The wrong way to stay married for the kids.

Sleep in separate rooms, keep separate schedules, date other people, stay angry at each other, refer to each other around the kids as "your mother" and "your father."

This is not staying married. It's just staying. You and your kids deserve better. But divorce is not the only alternative.

The right way to stay married for the kids.

Look daily for things to appreciate about the kids' other parent. Show enormous respect for the person who means so much to them. Say please and thank you and you're the best to your kids' mother or father. Keep trying until you find things you can all do as a family and really enjoy them. Hug and touch each other. Ignore cutting remarks as you would if they came from Great Aunt Betty whose dementia is worsening.

Tolerate no abuse. Involve other adults, not your kids, in protecting you and the kids and creating the motivation for stopping the abuse or its cause.

Stand together on boundaries and rules for the kids, even if it means you must sometimes defend one you could live without. Use every trick in the book to resolve your differences (e.g., The Floor from Fighting for Your Marriage and PREP, massage to release oxytocin, Third Alternatives, observing The Dance of Anger and leading into a calming dance step, taking an immediate break when there's a harsh startup, flooding, or stonewalling per John Gottman's research).

And never, ever, ever play the Isn't My Spouse Awful game with your kids.

April 20, 2012

When You Want Different Things

One wants to go out more. The other would just as soon stay home. It is an incredibly common difference of opinion between couples. It would be less of one if couples recognized they have lots more options.

The person who wants to go out more assumes their partner wants to stay home to avoid the very things he or she values about getting out, whether it's new experiences, better food, or exercise in the company of friends. This is seldom true.

The person who wants to stay home may beg their partner to stay home, too, only to find that his or her idea of staying home is to get some work done or read email, not to sit quietly together, make the house and yard more inviting, or to make love.

Disagreements get really ugly when one partner expects the other to initiate going out or staying home when the other is their preference. It guarantees an awful time together wherever you end up.

How do you resolve such differences? You look for a Third Alternative. Step One, you jump the net and tell your husband, wife, or life partner, "I want you to have what you're looking for." You will never find it while holding onto the idea that only one of you will get what you want or that you will have to settle for less than what you want.

Step Two, you write up the specs for having what both of you are looking for and for what both of you need to avoid. You want one set of specs that both of you buy into. Check each one to be sure you both will know whether an idea meets it or not.

Step Three, you brainstorm the craziest things you can think of that might possibly comply with the full set of specs, gradually tweaking each idea until you find one (or more) that make you both say, "Yes! I want this."

Step One is critical but easy to master. Step Two takes practice, but mastering it makes Step Three easy. To succeed at it, you must be genuinely interested in getting past your own meanings for words and finding out what they mean for your spouse.

"I prefer wearing sweats after work." Sounds simple, but there are so many possibilities in it. Perhaps this means that going out in other clothing would be fine before work or on weekends. Perhaps it simply means that after work clothes must be comfortable to wear, but could be made of other fabrics and in other designs.

"I get bored being here all day. I need a change of venue." Good point. But is it needed when you're together? Or have you just fallen into a pattern that keeps you home during the day and itching to go out when the sun goes down? And is it perhaps possible the change of venue could be at home if you created a room at home that's totally different and reserved for time together after hours?

"I would rather have dinners at home than to go out to a restaurant and dancing with friends." This mixes several things together. Would you be interested in dancing if it were a different style of dancing than your current friends engage in? Or if you could do it at home on your own dance floor, with or without friends? Are dinners at home better because of the food? The price? The noise level? The ease of including the kids?

Once you stop defending your original plan (one of a thousand or more available to you), you can take the time to ask about the meaning behind the words your partner uses. It will improve your specs for a solution. It will also make your spouse feel known and valued.

When you get to brainstorming a way to meet your now shared specs, I expect a lot more ideas will come to you. You won't be running from a disagreement, but dancing together toward a better life for both of you. And that is the incredible power of Third Alternatives. Try it and see.

April 19, 2012

The Alcohol Explanation

When you Assume Love and ask how a truly loving husband, wife, or life partner could say those words, spend that money, or get that violent, beware of the alcohol explanation.

Many people are quicker to anger and less diplomatic in their ways of expressing it when they drink. Most, however, cannot violate their own moral code even when drunk.

If they would protect your college fund or your retirement fund from a thief while sober, most won't take it themselves when they are drunk.

If they would defend you from a stranger who hit you, threw you on the bed, or even raised a hand to threaten you while sober, most will not hit you, throw you on the bed, or raise a hand to you while drunk.

They might use harsher words. They might get angry over different things. They might be louder and more demanding. But they won't violate their own morality, their deep knowledge of what is right and wrong, their human urge to protect loved ones from harm.

For those who do, the explanation is not alcohol. The explanation is a loss of control over the connection between their intentions and their behavior when they drink.

If they have no control, no ability to act in accordance with their intentions when they drink, they cannot protect you or your relationship. When they are sober, they may express their intentions to treat you better, but this is not within their control when they drink. You might forgive them because they have such a good heart most of the time, but their behavior while drinking is not affected by their good intentions.

You and your relationship are no safer when they drink than you are standing in the middle of the road counting on that stranger driving the tractor trailer to see you and apply the brakes in time despite the pea soup fog between you. You are the only one who is going to stop this carnage. And you're not going to do it by bravely sticking one arm out like you're Superman. You must get yourself out of the road.

If the only explanation you come up with when you Assume Love is that, while drinking, your spouse cannot control his or her actions, cannot act in accord with his or her good intentions or moral code, your only loving act is to get yourself out of the road.

The only fix for a loss of control while drinking is to stop drinking or to learn new skills for managing oneself while drinking. And the latter only works for those not yet addicted, those who can drink a little and stop themselves from drinking more when they reach the point where they must depend on their broken autopilot.

Choosing either of these takes a lot of motivation and a good bit of courage. Getting yourself out of the road (leaving the house at the first drink or living separately until you see a real change) helps your mate find that courage. It also takes courage to do, so be sure to turn to the rest of your support network, so you can do it sooner rather than later.

Alcohol can explain a change in language, volume, or modesty. If you Assume Love and come to this explanation, ask for what you need when your mate is sober.

But if the real explanation is that your spouse's behavior is not under the control of his or her good intentions, insist that your spouse re-establish this control, and stay out of the road until it happens. If you have a kind bone in your body, don't let your spouse be that truck driver who cannot stop the truck in time to spare a loved one.

April 17, 2012

The Very Thin Line between Awful and Wonderful

I was chatting with a couple of friends today. All three of us have had our crazy-making moments in our marriages. Some little change or thoughtless act sends us into a royal panic that makes us wonder if we're getting a fair shake or if we ought to run for the hills.

So we Assume Love, check for loving explanations of the behavior or words that freaked us out, and suddenly see the situation a lot more clearly.

But today, one mentioned how much her husband loved hearing he's really missed while he's away. You could just hear how surprised she was and how great it made her feel to hear him "sit up a little straighter" even over the phone.

And that's how marriage goes. For most of us, the problems are never really so big. They just scare us, because we imagine they could grow bigger. What affects us is the direction things are moving in. Our negative reaction begets a negative reaction, which sets off a misunderstanding, and suddenly everything seems bleak. At other times, noticing how nice it is to share a bed leads to a positive comment which leads to a big grin which leads to feeling so very wonderful.

We are all built to love. It's what we do best. When we can see we're doing it well, it's as sweet a pleasure as biting into a ripe cantaloupe or tickling a toddler.

Yes, some marriages turn very ugly. Most don't. They just cross that very thin line between counting our blessings and returning love with more love and counting our unmet needs and hoarding our love.

April 16, 2012

I Love You But I Can't Stand This

Right before my first husband suddenly up and died, all I could think was, "I love you, but I can't stand this. I cannot stand my life with you."

I had no idea what to do. The therapist I had seen had no idea what to do. My husband certainly had no idea what to do. It wasn't until my first morning as a widow that I suddenly knew what to do.

May I share it with you?

Here it is in a nutshell: Expect Love.

I expected that when I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work and home responsibilities, my husband would pitch in. When he was in the hospital, I would call on other people to help me. After he died, I served Health Choice dinners to buy back some time to spend with my son and moved my office to shorten my commute. But while he was alive, I expected him to do something about my problem. When he didn't, I was filled with resentment.

It was the resentment that made my life intolerable.

I expected that he would not only join me in getting out of the house on weekends but suggest places to go and things to do. When he didn't, I was filled with resentment and filled my time with TV and paperwork and reading magazines full of stuff I did not actually care about.

The resentment kept me from noticing his little gifts to me, his attempts to create or continue family traditions, his time loving our son, his cooking our dinners, his kind words.

After he died, it was doubly hard to get out and do things, but I stopped waiting for him to plan them and just started doing them. Without him. Just as I could have while he was alive. And yes, I felt a bit odd doing them alone or with our son and no father. But I so wished I could come home from one of our outings and share stories of the day with someone who loved me.

I expected more sex and hugs than I was getting. Instead of exploring different ways to enjoy physical contact when his illness was active, I just stewed in my own resentment. Word to the wise: resentment is not an aphrodisiac for either of you.

I expected him to take the offers of opportunities to bring in more money. I never lived in his skin, never had a chronic disease to cope with on top of work. He was right, it turns out; his body could not handle anything more, and it failed him. But I had never turned that expectation around on myself. After he died, I did the hard work of doubling my income so our son and I could stay in our new home and he could stay in the private school where he was flourishing.

I expected him to agree with my decisions, never to express his dismay at my choices. But this is reality. What's nuts is choosing not to do something that will make your mate uncomfortable, then blaming him for your choice to deny part of yourself. Find a Third Alternative or live with the discomfort, but don't expect approval of what you need to do to be healthy and happy. I don't like counting calories, but I like the result. I am OK now with the fact that my husband may also dislike the steps I take as long as we agree on the value of the goal.

I would never give up an expectation of feeling safe in my own home, but every other expectation I give up improves my second marriage. The other night, we were short on cash when we went out, and I expected my husband to handle the situation the way I would. I found myself getting angry at his choices. I just knew doing things my way would be more sensible. I ruined my own good mood with the expectation we would think alike.

When I let go of the expectation and decided to accept him and all his differences (some of them truly wonderful), he once again seemed like a loving man I could trust and adore.

To Expect Love, you have to be willing to do some of the hard work of getting what you want or need. You have to be willing to give up total control of the assets and time you share and go with the flow. But it's no more work to get what you need as part of a couple than on your own. It's usually easier. And the control you give up is often control over what you would not even have on your own.

Each time you do it, it feels like throwing open the drapes and letting more sunlight into your life. Without the resentment, it's so much easier to feel the love and respect your spouse offers.

If you can't stand what's going on in your life together, even though you still love your husband or wife, let go of a few expectations and start changing your life. It's really easy to love someone who expects love and nothing more. In fact, it's a lot like falling in love. You might really enjoy it.

April 15, 2012

Why Be Married? For the Miracle of Love and Life

This is a guest blog post from Sue Wiygul Martin, whose unfolding story on her new blog should stir anyone who has ever felt depressed, disabled, or bedeviled. It is a celebration of that wonderful moment when we declare our intention to encounter life as a twosome. In Sue's case, it was clearer than at many weddings how big a challenge that can be. Fortunately for all of us, they are still together all these years later.

Two days before our wedding I returned from The Seeing Eye with my first guide dog. Two and a half years before our wedding I was depressed enough to attempt to end my life. The day of our marriage was a miracle.

"Ready?" said my father. He turned his head towards me and I could hear the smile in his voice.

"Ready," I said. Walking with Sadie at heel, I took Daddy's arm and we walked into the living room.

"Who gives this woman to be married to this man," intoned Grady.

"Frances and I do," and Daddy placed my right hand in Jim's and then faded back to sit with my mother.

"Please kneel," said Grady as the ceremony drew to a close. I knelt on the needlepoint kneeler that I had especially chosen. It depicted Jesus performing his first miracle, that of turning water into wine. This was a miracle.

Just two and a half years after I felt that life was not worth living, I was marrying the man I loved and I was poised to move forward into a new life. As I knelt, I discovered that Sadie had been lying quietly with her chin resting on the kneeler the entire time. With my right hand in Jim's left and my left hand resting on Sadie's head, Grady blessed our marriage.

Telling us to turn around and face our friends and family, Grady said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. and Mrs. James T. Martin."

April 14, 2012

How to Fall in Love with Your Wife

I promised this post a while ago to Ben. He wrote a heart-breaking comment on my Should I Stay Married for the Kids? post. I apologize for how long it's taken to pull this together.

The Situation

Ben has a young daughter and a wife he feels he can no longer love. He's 22 and about to start medical school. He has no time for the emotional ups and downs of a separation and divorce. He has no time for all the battles of establishing separate custody and separate time with a young child.

Ben has no time for dating to meet someone to love him. There will be no one to help him be a good father to his daughter. There will be no one to be his backstop when school and hospital demands make him an unreliable dad.

He also has no time for dealing with the grief his daughter is likely to experience dealing with this change in circumstances and in realizing the two people she loves and depends on dislike each other. And he lives in a place where his lack of an income while in school could result in losing custody of his daughter.

But he's up against a wall, and I remember that wall very well. Things at home are not good, life is very busy, and there is no obvious solution, so getting out seems like the first step to something better. It wasn't. I got full custody and all of our assets (because my husband died very suddenly of an illness), and there was nothing good about it.

My needs were not met with him out of my life. This only happens if your need is to escape harm at the hands of your spouse. Instead, there were harder to get met. And they were bigger, much bigger, without his income, his cooking, his time with our son, his wise counsel.

Is It Possible to Deliberately Fall in Love?

It looks to me like Ben's best option is to fall in love with his wife. I am sure he thinks I am a nut for even suggesting this. However, I know many people in arranged marriages, and to them deliberately falling in love with the best person for you to marry is perfectly normal and usually quite successful.

I don't come from an arranged marriage culture, so I will offer tips from our love-matched marriage culture and our researchers, OK?

Step One: Cut Way Down on Frustrations

Until you rediscover your feelings of love, you will surely face many disagreements about what to do and how to do it as a couple. If you Find Third Alternatives to the two sides you take initially, it will greatly reduce your anger and frustration. Love cannot grow in frustration.

Besides this blog, Stephen R. Covey has two books that will help you find them. The newer one is The 3rd Alternative. The better-known one is 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Step Two: Avoid Harsh Start-ups

When you start a conversation, watch out for harsh start-ups. If you find yourself or your wife getting loud or bossy or angry from the start, reschedule the conversation. Go for a walk, alone, if necessary to put a quick end to a hard start-up. They are absolute love-killers, according to Dr. John Gottman's relationship research. It's OK to argue, but if the conversation starts off without love, shut up and go elsewhere to calm down.

Gottman also discovered that couples that stay married manage to give each other five positive interactions for each negative one, even if there are a lot of negative ones. Keep count of your own negatives and wipe them out. Our sense of loving someone comes from acting toward them in a loving way.

Step Three: Learn Your Love Languages

Bestselling author Gary Chapman has explained The Five Love Languages six ways from Sunday now. If you don't know which ones each of you longs to hear, find out right away. When you want to show love, show it in her language first. Add some in your language, and you'll feel even better. And before you accuse her of being poor at loving you, watch to see how often she uses her own love language toward you. Receive these acts of love with kindness. Then you can ask for more of what will have greater meaning for you.

Step Four: Date Her

Don't expect your relationship to stay strong when all you do together is work, worry, and care for a child. Make a plan to get out together or stay home together without your child in the room once a week. It's worth the time and the money.

Combine date night with your love languages. Dress up for it if you or she gets some pleasure from this. Do something you both enjoy. Get to know each other better. Leave work and parenting behind.

Step Five: Actively Share In Her Good News

Researcher Shelly Gable says how you two react to each other's good news matters even more than how you handle the bad news. Learn to give Active-Constructive responses and to set yourself up for the same from her.

Step Six: Count Your Blessings

It sounds corny and old-fashioned, but recent research by Robert Emmons and others shows that such a simple thing, done once a day, can raise your happiness level. It's so much easier to love someone when you're feeling happy and grateful. I have a little count your blessings exercise I call One More Ray. It's pretty powerful.

Step Seven: Give Her More Opportunities to Show Her Strengths

Character strengths are powerful things. Each of us excels at a handful of them, has to struggle to live up to the others. We are happier using our best ones. We spend more time in that delicious state called flow. And we're a lot more lovable when we're in flow and at our best. Create opportunities for both of you to use yours more often. Just look at all the research that has been done in the past twelve years on what a huge difference this makes.

If one of her top strengths is Kindness, accompany her when she's doing volunteer work or helping an ailing relative. If one of hers is Judgment, ask her to explain her stand on a political issue. Instead of interrupting with your opinion, ask questions like a reporter might, to hear more of how she weighs the evidence. If Forgiveness is a top strength of hers, ask for her forgiveness of anything you now see might have contributed to the distance and friction between the two of you.

There are twenty more on the list. Just find ways to encourage her to use hers. When she does, just sit back and observe them to appreciate her at her best. You are pre-programmed (we all are) to notice when she's not, but you will find her more lovable when you give yourself more opportunities to see her at her best. When you're out on date night, consider asking her to talk about times when she feels she was at her best, whether before she met you or with your daughter.

Step Eight: Increase the Oxytocin

Oxytocin makes couples communicate better. And communicating better means lower stress levels. When your pituitary glands release oxytocin, you feel a wave of warm, positive feelings. Remember those feelings from when you first met? Increase the amount of oxytocin you both release. It will make her look a lot more lovable.

Step Nine: Change Your Expectations

I am told this is difficult. It sure was for me before that awful day my first husband died. But it has been very easy ever since. Expect Love. It's the one thing you cannot buy or trade for. Let go of all your expectations of what your wife would do if she loves you, if she respects you.

When you are suddenly widowed while raising a kid, you learn there are many ways to get your meals prepared, your bills paid, your trash removed, your bathroom cleaned. There are many people with whom you can play tennis, go skiing, dance, sing, discuss philosophy, eat dinner, and all the other things we wait unhappily for our spouses to do. You can even pleasure yourself if you need to. But there is only one way to feel loved. And most of us humans need to feel loved. We will do stupid, time-consuming, embarrassing, even degrading things to find love when it's taken from us.

If you want to feel love, let go of as many of your other expectations of a spouse as you possibly can. Put your energy into watching for all the unexpected ways you are loved and respected.

Step Ten: Appreciate the Challenge

Consider this the grad school of learning to love your wife. Harville Hendrix writes brilliantly about this in Getting the Love You Want. We become different people because of the people we love. Researcher Caryl Rusbult called it the Michelangelo Effect. No one can change us, but which of our best qualities emerge depends on the feedback of the person who loves us.

Hendrix invites us to welcome the challenges that chip away at our chunk of marble and let a better self emerge. Oprah said his appearance on her show was one of the best when she recognized "you're unconsciously drawn to your partner, because that person can heal your old unresolved wounds."

How could you not love someone who can do this for you (unless they pose a threat to you)? How could you walk away before getting the challenges you need?

Don't try to do all ten at once. Put them on a calendar. Every week or maybe every two weeks, add one to the mix. If it doesn't work for you right away, postpone it for later.

You might also want to watch the movie Fireproof or read The Love Dare, a book from the movie. If those are not your style, read Project Happily Ever After by Alisa Bowman. She succeeded at falling back in love with her husband even after mentally planning his funeral, and they are still happily together, much to the delight of their daughter.

April 7, 2012

Date Night and Your Love Language

I'm guessing you have read Gary Chapman's mega-bestseller, The Five Love Languages, by now. If not, hurry over to your nearest library or log into the Kindle Store today.

Knowing these five languages of love (gifts, acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time) will help you appreciate more of the love you're being given and ask for what you need from your husband or wife. They can also help you make your date nights even more fun.

Ed and I had a great daytime date night this week. Lunch at Jules Thin Crust Pizza (mine was Greek Salad Pizza, my current favorite) and a matinee showing of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at the County Theater, plus a great walk on a beautiful spring day through this wonderful town we live in. Perfect!

We fit in a bunch of love languages: quality time together, physical touch (we were holding hands or snuggled together except while eating our pizza), gifts (we bought lunch and the movie tickets for each other), and even an act of service when he moved the car after we discovered I had parked it in a tow away zone. To wrap up a perfect package, he complimented me on my movie choice (he's our movie buff and usually makes the picks).

Of course, you don't need all five to make a great date night. You need the one or two that matter most to the two of you. Pair a gift (maybe a new water bottle in his favorite color) with some quality time together on a hike. Open the door for her (an act of service) or let him know how proud you are (words of affirmation) of his career when you go out to dinner. Leave your smart phone and worries at home (for quality time) or bring a bunch of flowers (a gift) while you go sailing.

There are so many ways to weave love languages into your post-wedding dating. Reserve a room at a B&B for some physical touch for yourself, and start the evening with a love letter (words of affirmation) for your beloved. Team up for an evening of acts of service for others (Habitat for Humanity, your local soup kitchen, hospital volunteers) and do something special for each other to get ready (wash and wax the car, wash his favorite jeans, bring home a quick and easy meal, hire the babysitter).

Use the comments section to share with us your own date night ideas that use Gary Chapman's five love languages. Your idea may save someone else's marriage.

April 5, 2012

One Last Stand Before Divorce

What a marvelous comment I received this afternoon! It came in reply to a recent post, When to Fix a Failing Marriage. This is definitely one worth fixing.

Here is the comment. I love it because it has so many of the elements of what I have heard from both men and women when their spouse suddenly gets restless or angry.

My wife told me 10 weeks ago that she loves me but she's not in love with me anymore and wants out of our marriage. This came out of nowhere..she said I didn't make her feel special and I gave too much of my time to others and not enough to my family. Her sister, brother in law, and most recently her brother had died giving my wife a sense of mortality. She told me that there's got to be more in life than what she has. I thought we were happy for 21 years and then she drops this bomb. I love her and believe she is having a Mid Life Crisis. She doesn't see it. Help!!

A mid life crisis can be seen only in the rear view mirror. For now, she's experiencing a crisis, and she does not expect that time will fix it. But look at all the great information you have to work with!

Often, when a spouse suddenly changes demeanor or wants out, I have to ask if something has happened recently to change his or her outlook on life. Here, we know what it is: three recent deaths of folks in her own generation, three recent losses of her family support network. This is a huge disruption, almost as large as if she lost you, Larry.

In a year or two, she will have rebuilt her life without these people and without her former confidence that there is still time for her plans. She will rebuild it with people who acknowledge how much an earthquake like this has affected her and who support the dreams and plans that it has brought to the forefront. If she doesn't, you would not want to be married to the shell of a woman left by pretending this was nothing. You need to be one of those people.

She says she still loves you. Believe her. If she's not in love with you, she means simply that she cannot right now feel your love for her. But you know it's there. Protect her from her mistake. Stand tall and give it another shot.

She says there has got to be more in life than what she has. Would it not be wonderful to be married to someone who finds the rest of it? Right now, she thinks she needs to divorce you to have it. All you need to do is say, "I want you to have this." And then start looking for a Third Alternative to life as usual vs. life divorced. Those are not the only two options.

The next step, after you jump to her side of the net and agree there must be more, is to learn what she's looking for, and to do it with interest, not argument. You must be open to hearing it. Once you know what it is and you have confirmed to her that she can have it and still have you, too, you can get into the details of how to get it without scaring the bejeebers out of you. Don't bring up any of that until you know what she's after.

She has given you a really big clue to why she does not yet trust you to help her get what she now feels is missing. Have you read Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages? She narrowed down her list for you. There are two that match, and I am pretty sure you know enough about her to know which one she means.

One is Quality Time, the time you spend doing things together as a couple or a family with nothing else competing. It's time when you are not thinking about anything else, taking phone calls, checking your email, or answering calls for assistance from anyone else.

The other is Acts of Service, the helpful favors you do for people. When she says you give too much of your time to others, is it doing things for them? Are there things at home you know she's wanted your help with for a long time? If so, I would guess it's this love language she speaks, rather than Quality Time.

Here's the thing about love languages: it doesn't matter how much you offer of the other four if you withhold the one that makes your spouse feel loved. The other three are Words of Affirmation, Gifts, and Physical Touch. We all have one, maybe two, that we recognize in our gut as the measure of real love.

If you want her to include you in her recovery, try offering lots of her love language, whether it's Acts of Service or Quality Time. If you're not sure which one, give her both.

When she says things that make you feel disrespected or unwanted, stop and Assume Love. Assume she still loves you and wants you in her life, but she's been set adrift by these big losses. If this is true, how might you explain her words or her actions? For example, if she pulls away from a hug, and your love language is Physical Touch, you may at first interpret her action as a rejection of love. You might think this, because you would only ever pull away from a physical touch if you were rejecting the offer of love. But someone with a different love language can love you and pull away because she's busy offering an Act of Service to one of your children or to a grieving relative right now or trying to provide Quality Time to someone other than you.

Please know that while she's feeling unloved, she is likely to show you less respect than usual. If you want to keep her around, don't spend any time ruminating on the question of whether or not she respects you or ever respected you. Lots of men get stuck there. She's been with you 21 years, so it's a good bet she respects you, but she's female and feeling insufficiently loved, so it's almost guaranteed she will feel less respect for you. It's just how female biochemistry works.

I saw a great movie yesterday, and I was thinking about writing a post about it. It's called Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. In it, a man whose wife has been busy with her career and is headed off to work in Geneva for six weeks, to his surprise, gets suddenly thrown into a project that requires all of his skills and taps into all of his passions. She discovers too late that she misses him. He ends up living in Yemen with the woman who dumped the project on him.

What I wanted to say to all my readers, what I would love to say to your wife if she asked, is that it is NOT necessary or even practical to abandon your spouse to change your life. I know this from my days of dating as a widow in my 30's and 40's. To a person, every divorced person who dates again reports that they felt held back from doing things by their spouse. But each of them was one of those spouses, too. We form a picture of who we're married to that is trapped in earlier days. We stop even asking for changes. And then we end up divorced from someone who really knows us, divorced from our own past, separated from our children's family, because of a fossilized image of the person we married.

So, to you, Larry, I say this: drop everything, affirm your love for her even if you fear rejection, and start asking her what's on that bucket list of hers. Then figure out how to fit in into your plans. Ask for help coming up with new ideas that preserve what's good from your past and brings in what you've always wished to include in your life.

She's right; life is short. There is no time for a divorce. Get on with living. Either of you could die within the next ten weeks. Don't waste them on worrying about whether you still love each other. Don't wait for life to get back to normal. Just live them, fully together. Live them like they are your last ten weeks together. At the end of those ten weeks, sign on for ten more if you're lucky enough to have the option.

You do not need to pull out of the marriage in advance. Live well enough, intensely enough, that even if she leaves you in ten weeks, these ten will have been worth whatever extra pain you feel because you did not protect yourself from rejection.

Please let us know what happens, Larry. I wish you strength and love.

April 2, 2012

The 2 Biggest Threats When You Marry

Threat Number 1: You choose a partner who believes it is ever (ever!) okay to threaten, endanger, or harm you when frustrated or angry.

Threat Number 2: You fail to deal with your own problems, limitations, or disappointments because you believe your spouse ought to deal with them, help you deal with them, or at least give his or her assent.

You will know instantly if Threat Number 1 hits you. Beware, though, of Threat Number 2, because it's not that easy to recognize this tar pit until you're thoroughly stuck in it.

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

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