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Articles from May 2012

May 28, 2012

Marital Teamwork

We gave away a bunch of furniture last week. One couple returned three times. I loved watching them. I loved getting rid of some of the extra stuff we just don't need, but I especially loved their teamwork in maneuvering the larger items out of the house.

Not every couple works well as a team. My husband and I, for example, do not. After all these years together, we still cannot guess what must be communicated and what goes without saying. Neither of us is especially good at teamwork in other environments. This probably accounts for some of the problems.

We are also a later-in-life couple, unlike the couple I watched. Neither of us was mature enough in our twenties to have married someone as different as we are. Marrying someone with very different perspectives and experiences provides plenty of growth experiences. It's a good thing. But it's a pain in the butt when you need to execute a complex or difficult task together.

If we expected to work together as well as that couple did, we would both be mighty disappointed in each other, maybe even furious at all the wasted effort of working together without great teamwork skills.

Lots of marriage advice-givers opine that couples need to learn to work together. Unfortunately, if you believe them, you must also hold an expectation of being able to work together well. And the expectation adds resentment to your frustrations.

What makes teamwork any more important than the other character strengths? Or should we expect our mate to excel at all of them, to be creative as well as modest, spiritual as well as open-minded, optimistic as well as prudent?

I think it's OK to cooperate poorly. If you are going to expect anything from your spouse, expect love. You can hire movers or event planners. You cannot hire love and respect. If you want those, learn to laugh at yourselves as if you are part of a Three Stooges movie. Love matters more than the outcome of your joint projects.

May 26, 2012

What Would a Great Marriage Feel Like?

When you're thinking others have a great marriage and yours is so-so or worse, what do you imagine a great marriage would feel like?

I think a great marriage feels like swing dancing. It's not static and unchanging. It's being pushed away and pulled back with just the right tension in the bonds connecting you. It's being wrapped in a hold then spun back out on your own. It's never forgetting you're dancing, almost never missing the beat, always paying attention for the subtle cues from your partner, whether you're leading or being led.

It's challenging at times, joyous at others. It can be sensuous, energetic, or minimalist, just moving in tandem to the rhythm of life. You made need to duck, turn, loosen your hold, or hold on tight, one right after the other.

If you start dancing your own way, you're likely to stumble or step on your partner's toes. You must lead or follow. When you follow, you listen for cues with every part of your body, then deliver what's asked for, even if it's not what you expected. When you lead, your goal is to make your partner look like a great dancer, even if it means making your cues more obvious, doing a quick shuffle to correct for a misstep, or extending an arm to prevent a run-in your partner cannot see coming.

A great marriage feels constraining at times and joyously free at other times. It feels like three bodies: yours, your partner's, and the one you become when you're dancing well together. It feels safe, but it also pushes you to dance faster, try some trickier turns, and adjust to the music and the dance floor that the two of you have no control over.

The only reason to talk is to ask for what you need or encourage your partner, never to bemoan the dances you're sitting out. Remember to put on your dancing clothes and turn on the music often. Find couples to befriend who are even better dancers than the two of you.

If you don't like the way your spouse is leading, don't take over leading. Instead, follow well and ask for the new steps you want to add. If your spouse does not want to lead right now, you lead. But remember your role as leader is to make your spouse look like a great dancer. Call upon his or her greatest strengths. If you want to add something new to your partner's repertoire, make sure you prepare him or her for it and prepare yourself to compensate gracefully for any missteps.

A great marriage feels like a rush of uplifting endorphins from the exertion plus the trusting, binding comfort of oxytocin from brushing hands over arms and backs and shoulders. At its best, marriage feels like the joy of dancing close to each other and as one, then apart so you can feel with all your body the pull of the connection between you, then together again into an elaborate turn that elevates you or is just plain fun.

What in your marriage already feels this way?

May 23, 2012

Do You Two Have a Place?

My husband and I have a few places. One is a very comfortable neighborhood restaurant and bar with good music, really friendly service, palm trees with colored lights, lots of comfort food, and an unlimited supply of fresh, hot tortilla chips. We go there when the tension level reaches a certain level. It lets us smile at life and each other again.

In a way, it is a Third Alternative. My husband would probably find a well-run jazz club very relaxing. Not me. And I love to relax in a pool, but he finds nothing inviting about clorinated water. We both relax immediately at Poco's, and it's a lot closer than either of the others.Poco's Restaurant

We found it pretty quickly after moving here, because it's important to have a place where we will both relax back into our generous, supportive selves.

We also have a place for celebrating, a place for riding our bikes together, and a place for getting away from it all. And they are all Third Alternatives, places we sought out because we disagreed about the first few we tried.

We go other places, too, places that delight him or make me feel great. And we check out new places all the time.

It took some effort to find our shared places, the ones where we both feel uplifted or calmed down, where we can both experience flow while we exercise or feel part of something larger than ourselves. But it is so good to know we can count on them when we want to share a good time.

Tonight, as we got into our better moods at Poco's after power failures stopped our computers twice in one afternoon, I thought about the value of having our places, and I thought about you.

Telling Your Wife You're Starting a Business

While the kids were young, Tom earned most of the money he and Selena and their two girls lived on. Now that the girls are in middle school, Selena's earning a bit more. For Tom, this feels like the ideal time to start his own business if he's ever going to do it.

If it fails, he can be back in someone else's employ before the girls are applying to colleges. If it succeeds the way he hopes, they will be able to look at private colleges and not just state schools.

Tom wants to know what to consider before sharing his plan with Selena. These tips come from my online, self-study course, Enjoy Being Married When You Take the Self-Employment Plunge

  1. Consider all the ways this will affect Selena, Tom, from your schedule and employment benefits to the financial risk you two face to her freedom to make her own employment changes.

  2. Pay attention to any difference in the way you two approach decisions, so she's clear on whether you are announcing your decision or seeking her input into it.

  3. Give some thought to how she will perceive the changes in your life together, given her love language and the family she comes from.

  4. Plot a course that will bring in money quickly, because Selena will not have the hour-to-hour feedback or control you will have, and making quick money gives you and her lots of quick feedback.

  5. Expect to differ on the details, so get clear on what you want to get from being self-employed and look for Third Alternatives that let her get what she needs, too.

Put your marriage first and the new business second. It will increase your chances of success and of enjoying the fruits of your hard work. If you do not put it first, the demands of a new business can easily squeeze your marriage to death.

Are you thinking of starting a new business, too? These tips apply to telling a husband or life partner as well as a wife. Give your new business and your marriage better odds by starting off on the right foot.

I have been self-employed for much of my adult life, from part-time freelance gigs to full-time sole proprietorship and limited liability corporation (LLC), through two marriages. From personal experience as well as the available research, I can tell you it matters a lot, to your financial success and personal happiness, how you handle your marriage during and after a business launch.

May 22, 2012

What Does It Mean to Be Married?

So many of us today drift into marriage. We date. We move in together. We make a baby. Then we marry.

Or we make a baby, so we move in together and, if we can find the time, date, hoping to kindle enough of a fire to want to marry.

Or it's our second time around. We will make no more babies. We date. We live together to save time or money. Eventually we marry because one or both grow tired of being a couple without the status and protections offered to married couples.

Often, we take these routes because we have seen marriages (even our parents' marriages) fail. We hope to avoid this. We imagine that living together will give us a clue as to how well we'll work out as a married couple. Unfortunately, research says it's not much help. Those who jump in without knowing do at least as well as those who test the waters first.

Marriage, it turns out, changes very little about our relationship with each other. What it changes is our relationship with everyone else. It changes whether our mate's family considers us family or temporary guest. It changes whether folks hoping to socialize with one of us automatically include the other. It changes the reception we get from our mate's conservative religious friends and colleagues.

Unless we take legal steps ahead of time, it changes what the ICU nurse allows when our partner is in life-threatening circumstances. It changes who makes the decisions while the person we love lies unconscious on the brink of death. It changes what money we're entitled to when our mate retires and what's ours when death parts us.

It changes what we owe the tax collector, both while we're together and while we are grieving if we outlive our partner.

It changes what questions we must answer in court.

It also changes who decides who owes what to whom if the relationship ends.

What marriage does not change is our differences of opinion, our misunderstandings of each other's motives, our expectations, or how well our spouse meets them. It does not change anything about the push-pull of wanting to both be together and be ourselves. It changes nothing about our fear of abandonment and the unhappy choices we make when we worry our relationship is unraveling. It gives us no new rights or authority over our mate while married.

Getting married is about choosing to play a particular role in society together. It is a very important role worthy of great respect. If you hope to play it for the rest of your life, don't count on your wedding day helping much. Instead, learn everything you can about how to nurture your relationship. Practice daily.

May 18, 2012

How to Make Your Spouse More Lovable

Ever notice how much more lovable your husband, wife, or life partner is when life is going well for you? You smile, you get smiles back. You embrace and all is forgiven. You feel generous and in return you feel loved and appreciated.

So why is it that when we're having work problems or doing poorly at our attempts to lose weight or build muscle or finish a project, we criticize our mates? Why not put in the extra effort, make one more try, stop and write that step-by-step list of little steps to success, call Uncle Joe and ask for advice, or tackle something else we've a good shot at doing well? We have the power; why not make them all that much more lovable?

May 15, 2012

Third Alternatives to Children / No Children

I received a heartbreaking comment today.

One of my hearts greatest desires is to have a child one day. My husband is the only one that can give this to me. But he never wants to have any children... at all... ever! I have been waiting 7 years for him to change his mind.. with absolutely no change and no sign of hope for the future.

It's not all that uncommon a situation. But how do you enjoy being married to someone denying you your greatest desire? What happens to a marriage stuck in deadlock like this for seven years? It's not fair to him or to her.

This is where Third Alternatives can make a huge difference. It's so hard to see that there could be any other alternatives besides have kids and don't have kids. But this is true of almost all disagreements. We cannot see that there might be other alternatives. And we cannot see it because of the way we have framed the choices.

It is our words that get in the way. We say what we want instead of what we hope it will bring us. Our ability to find a Third Alternative depends on knowing what we hope it will bring us and what we fear it will bring us. And these are hidden in the words we use to describe what we want.

If we brought the woman whose greatest desire is to have a child an unruly twelve-year-old orphan to care for, would she feel fulfilled? Some would. Others definitely would not. "Have a child" means different things to them.

Some women would feel their desire met if they carried a child to term and got to care for it for a year before illness or accident ended its life. For others, this would be worse than having no children.

For some, adopting a child who is cared for by a nanny while they pursue a busy career qualifies. For others, having a child means natural childbirth and being an at-home mom who prepares three meals a day and stays actively involved in every aspect of the child's life.

What about shared custody of a child? Some consider this parenting. Others consider it a miserable circumstance forced upon them by the courts. But being a nanny or a foster parent or a very involved aunt or Big Sister can turn out a lot like shared custody and meet some women's "have a child" needs just fine.

So can working in a facility where you serve as several children's parent for 8 hours a day and spend the other 16 with your spouse.

For those who do not want a child, there are also many variations in what would qualify. Some do not want the financial responsibility but might accept foster parenting or being a parent with a woman who makes plenty of money.

Some fear being a child's role model. Trying out that role as an uncle or a Big Brother may reduce that fear. So might having an older father as a mentor, and there are plenty of dads who would love to be one.

Some do not like living with young children but would be fine with adopting an older child. Some do not ever want to see their wife pregnant but might consider a long-distance relationship for five months.

Some expect tasks they don't care for, like diaper changing or playing catch or sitting through soccer games. Check around at your local college. There may be many young men or women who would be pleased to work for your family taking care of these tasks, perhaps even in exchange for home-cooked meals instead of the college meal plan.

Men may shy away from children out of a belief that their sex life will suffer or their freedom to travel will be diminished. Be creative in resolving them, even if it means an overnight sitter once a week.

One man I heard of avoiding having children out of fear of being responsible for raising them in the event of his wife's death. Solving this one what-if scenario was the only obstacle to having children. It might require building stronger friendships or making more money before having them, but there is, indeed, a Third Alternative for such couples.

And one more. If your marriage is plagued by such a disagreement, it's possible that having children raises the fear of child support obligations after a divorce. The disagreement itself fuels the fear of divorce. Put it to rest and lean into the marriage, and you might find yourselves in agreement about having children.

A Third Alternative gives each of you what you sought from your first alternative (or better). Finding one starts by offering to meet your spouse's need if you can change the way of meeting it. This frees you to discuss the aspects of having a child or children you desire and the ones that frighten you.

Until you offer to do your best to provide these, you cannot have an honest discussion, because you will both still be working toward your initial alternative of children or no children. You will not see the Third Alternative until you know what each of you honestly wants.

May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

Want to be the best sort of dad? Show your children how to feel and express their gratitude on this special day. Gratitude is the one proven way to exceed their happiness set-point. And pointing out their mother's best points is a sure way to increase their security in this world and their ability to find love as adults. Be an enthusiastic supporter of your wife or ex-wife today and every day, no matter what issues you might have with her less than stellar points.

May 12, 2012

I Know Things Should Be Done a Certain Way

I received a wonderful question today by email. It came from a woman engaged to be married to a man who (surprise, surprise!) does not do things the same way she does. She wants to know how to develop more trust in him.

One of the things that makes it difficult to trust him is that, as she puts it, "[I] know things should be done a certain way to get them done correctly." Ah, don't we all?

Our definition of "correctly" is one of our most gigantic impediments to knowing we are loved, respected, and cared for.

Is dinner made correctly when it has a particular number of calories and ratio of fat to fiber or when the person making it feels great serving it to his or her beloved? Is it made correctly when the process follows all the steps some teacher prescribed or when it leaves time for reading to the kids or making love to your spouse?

Is the oil changed correctly when you cannot see the oil on the dipstick except in bright light? Or is it changed correctly when you get fresh oil plus a free safety inspection and don't need to spend an entire Saturday on it, so you get more together time?

Is the vacuuming done correctly when it includes moving every piece of furniture to vacuum under it or if it's done quickly, as an act of service for a loved one with allergies who is out of the house for a few minutes or to leave time to shop for a special gift?

While you tap your toe, impatiently waiting for your life partner to adopt your standards instead of noticing how his or her standards make your life better in some other way, you miss out on love.

If you have high standards you cannot or will not relax, by all means include them in a discussion of a Third Alternative to the ways you two approach a task. But you don't need to trust that your partner will always meet those standards. It's not likely to happen. Your expectation that it will is premeditated resentment.

The thing you need to learn to trust your partner will do is love you. That's a lot easier when you grow aware of the ways he or she shows love that have nothing at all to do with what you think you know about the certain way things should be done.

Today would have been the 39th anniversary of my first marriage. By the time our 13th anniversary rolled around, I was still tapping my toe and thinking it was his fault I was so unsure of his love. Three months later, I finally understood I was too sure of how things ought to be done. Unfortunately, I discovered this only because I had to do them all myself after his completely unexpected death. You have a chance to reap the benefits if you stop expecting your certain way and expect love instead.

May 9, 2012

I Could Do It Better

Ever agree to let your spouse handle a purchase or take care of problem? And did you find yourself backseat driving? I am a huge backseat driver. I have a lot of trouble trusting my husband will get the job done, especially if his approach is not the one I would take. And it almost never is.

We send such an awful message when we drop hints and ask for progress reports. We convey, "I don't trust you or your approach." We reveal, "This is an assignment, not a favor, not a chance to be my hero, not a chance to reduce my load of responsibilities, just something you can screw up if you don't do an adequate job."

His approach is not my approach because we have different strengths. His schedule is not my schedule because mine is imaginary and his is real. If it all goes horribly wrong, he will find a way to make it right. I am sure I will help if it does go wrong, but not because I am required to, just because I love him.

So once again, I am reminded to Expect Love. To expect he will screw up won't bring me any love. To expect he will complete the task on my schedule and to my satisfaction is to premeditate resenting him. I will expect he will love me. And because he loves me, he will do the best he is capable of doing in the time available and with the resources available.

His best won't look a lot like my best. It will be wonderful in different ways from my best. If I focus on what I do well instead of what he does well, I will deny myself the joy of being cared for. I will expect love, rather than any particular outcome. I will contribute whatever I contribute out of love, not duty and certainly not self-righteousness.

I will do it because I have seen the joy of expecting love and the soul-numbing deadliness of marriage as a barter bank.

I will do it because a man respected and trusted works ten times harder. I will do it because I want to end my days with hugs and kisses, not anger or dismay. I will do it because resentment tastes awful and love tastes so fine. If I want to do something better than my husband, receiving love is a much, much better choice than any household project.

May 3, 2012

Wow! Better Communication with Your Husband or Wife

I use Twitter a lot. Because I use it to reach out to strangers looking to enjoy being married, I track the numbers on any tweet with a link in it. I use to let me know every time anyone clicks on a link in my tweets. These show up in a list of tweets, clicks, and clicks on other folks' links to the same blog post or useful resource.

Over time, I have learned to speak the language of Twitter, to say things not the way I would want to hear them but the way others pay attention.

I cannot say to all those people, "We need to talk." I cannot say, "You never listen." These sound too much like, "Bad dog!" and they get me less attention, not more.

There is no Bitly for marriages, but I try to do my own counts. If you want to do this, too, just pay attention to how you ask for help, express your preferences, or share information. Then keep mental note of which ones work better with the person you are committed to spending your life with.

Do you get more smiles, more kisses, more help when you start a request with "While you are out, do you think you could..." or with "I need more ____; will you be able to get some for me while you're out?" or "We need more ____; get some if you can while you're out."

Do your attempts to initiate sex work best when they start with a compliment, a fond memory, a racy fantasy, or a command?

You won't find the answers in any book, because you did not marry the average guy or gal. The only answers that matter are the ones about this one man or woman. And it's easy to change the way you open conversations when you can see for yourself what works best right there in your own marriage.

By the way, the one word guaranteed to increase the attention folks on Twitter pay to my words is "Wow!" But it works only when I use it sparingly. Leave me a comment if it got your attention today.

May 1, 2012

Unnecessary Divorce

I love this phrase, unnecessary divorce. Not a single one of us who has ever considered divorce thought ours was unnecessary. Not unless something convinced us to take another stab at loving the person we vowed to love—and we succeeded.

How in the world can we tell, in the heat of our anger and fear and frustration, whether ours would be an unnecessary divorce? I have a way you might try. It comes from my own awful experience of reaching the conclusion we should, of necessity, divorce, completely unaware our marriage was only one day away from "until death do us part."

I recited to my first husband, at the age of 34 and thick into dealing with career and motherhood, my long list of unmet needs that night. I thought they justified splitting up. I believed somehow these needs might be better met if we split up. A day later, I had full custody, all the assets, and no drawn-out battle of the lawyers, and I learned how wrong I was about my list of needs.

If your list of unmet needs includes the need to feel safe from violence and psychological manipulation in your own home, skip this one. Seek help meeting those needs first. If you need to get right with your morality and cannot do so in your current marriage, skip it. But if, like me, you feel you desperately need things like emotional support, more income, mowed lawns, washed dishes, more time off the couch and out in the world, more conversation, more help with the parenting, etc., this just might change everything.

I got none of those when my marriage was over. It was eleven years until I even met my second husband. Divorced, you can get them for yourself. But married, you can get them for yourself even more easily. Divorce over such unmet needs qualifies in my book as unnecessary divorce. Once you take those needs off the table, it turns out to be a lot easier to love and be loved.

I won't write it all out here. You can download a worksheet for free from my Enjoy Being Married website. Look for "Clean Up the Clutter of Unmet Needs" on page 4. Allow an hour or so for the exercise. And please share your insights in the comments below. You might prevent another unnecessary divorce as well as freeing yourself to enjoy being married.

The Author

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

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