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Articles from June 2012

June 24, 2012

No Support for Your Interests?

I was listening again today to bestselling author Barbara Sher talking about H levels. She advises everyone wondering what they were put on this earth for or what would make them happier to check them.

When you see, hear, or taste something or picture yourself doing something, assign it an H level. On a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 10 (the highest), how happy does it make you? Pay attention to anything you rate 7 or higher and find a way to put more of it in your life.

Do you give drawing an 8? Stop right now and draw a picture of your hand. See how good that feels? Do old chairs elicit a 9 from you? Take 15 minutes to visit a nearby antique store and look for some.

Some will take a bit more effort, but don't turn them into all-or-nothing choices. If a beach on a summer day is a 10 for you, go visit one ASAP. Sure, a week would be nice, but even three hours there will lift your spirits and remind you of who you are.

If your husband or wife or life partner rejects your invitation to join you, there is nothing wrong with your marriage or your passions. It is normal for all of us to have very different H levels.

What would be awful is if you let yourself live a life of 5's and 6's as a compromise. You need the ones that delight you, and the rest of us need you to explore them.

So what do you do if your spouse does not support or share in your interest? Meet people who do, and spend time with them. Not secretly, of course, but openly, maybe even with help from your wife or husband to find them.

If you catch some of their enthusiasm (how can you not?), you may even raise your H level and find even greater passion. Then you really know it is something you should be doing.

Almost all of us, your mate included, would give a 7 or better to seeing our spouses come alive, even if joining them in whatever they are doing would get a 1 or 2 from us. Separate the two. If you cannot share the interest, share your delight. Just save the technical details of why it's so delightful for someone who shares your H level.

June 16, 2012

Does Your Husband or Wife Do His or Her Fair Share?

Many a marriage has unraveled over the issue of fairness. All we want is for our husbands and wives to do their fair share of the wage-earning, parenting, and chores, right? And it would be a mistake to overlook any shirking, no?


I contend you cannot even measure your own share, no less your spouse's. You cannot measure your own contributions because you do plenty that your wife or husband simply does not care about (polishing brass, dusting the attic, changing the oil every 3,000 miles, changing from summer drapes to winter drapes and back again, teaching your kid to tat lace, or whatever it is in your house).

There is no fair share of going after something only one of you wants.

You also cannot measure your contribution because there is no universal unit of measure. How do four hours at an exhausting job that earn $42 compare to four hours at an enjoyable but stressful job that earn $1,200? How does riding a lawn mower compare to operating a washing machine? Which is worth more: clean socks or a back massage? Which is better: a home in a neighborhood with good schools or two weeks a year of uninterrupted rest and relaxation together?

No one can answer these questions.

And if you cannot measure even your own contribution, how can you ever know if your spouse is doing less?

Spare yourself the misery of expecting a fair share. Expect love. It's available in limitless supply in most marriages when you stop creating opportunities for resentment.

And watching for it will never put you in that crazy, shoot-yourself-in-the-foot position (been there, got the tee shirt) of thinking you would be better off on your own than in a 75/25 or 90/10 split of the responsibilities you care about. Even with all the assets and full custody (I was widowed at 34), it really, truly stinks to get all the responsibilities and absolutely none of the love.

June 14, 2012

A Great Summer Read: Marriage Confidential

Marriage Confidential book coverI think just about everyone who reads this blog will enjoy Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age, which just came out in paperback. In it, author Pamela Haag explores the semi-happy marriage with the compelling writing of a master storyteller armed with a good bit of research.

I was sent a copy of this book as part of a blog tour. I found it delightful to read and hard to put down. It's a personal journey into discovering what's become in recent years of marriage, especially the marriages that stay just this edge of divorce for years or proceed barely noticed for years until one partner has an affair or announces angrily that it's over.

Haag tells the stories of people caught up in these marriages (her own included) and of those who have found alternatives. She weaves in a great deal of what research has revealed about them, and she pulls it all together in a manner that delights me.

If you, like me, find new perspectives invigorating, you will love this. Instead of one new perspective that leads to one person's prescription for fixing your marriage, this book aims to give you as many new ways of viewing marriage as possible and let you make up your own mind about them.

Over 60 percent of divorces, she reports, come from these low-stress, low-conflict marriages. Haag does not even take a stand on whether this is a problem (I am certain it is), but she wants to understand why. She shares what she learned in a form you will enjoy reading on vacation, while you commute, or (not for long, I suspect) while you sit beside your husband or wife in your no longer exciting bed.

In Part I, she looks at what has become of marriage as our work and wage-earner roles have shifted. Part II, explores at what children do to a marriage in these days of child as project. In Part III, she explores infidelity in the internet age and in Part IV what some folks are doing to deal with differences in their sex needs now that what's acceptable has changed so much.

Haag provides hundreds of new options you might consider when seeking Third Alternatives in your marriage, ones you have likely never considered because you just did not look at the problem that way. I picture hundreds of cocked heads as all of you read this book. There is a lot to think about.

For example, Lauren, who explains how living in a densely populated neighborhood in the middle of a city makes it possible to raise more children with less marriage-killing resentment. Or Jill, whose reaction to her husband's affair surprised her:

Insofar as Jill could untangle the injuries, she will say the one that hurt most was absolutely and unequivocally the lie, not the sex....If they were truly soul mates—well, best friends—they would actually share details of their lives with each other. What hurt much more, though, was the surprising sense of envy.

Or Tim, who disguises his basketball games as grocery shopping trips (even bringing back a few bags of groceries smuggled out of the house, because non-stop parenting of your children is now the focal point of so many marriages and so many expectations of married people. Haag manages to point out the correlation among his predicament, the 50% increase in the number of Boston Marathon runners in just six years, the doubling of the size of the average new bathroom since the 70s, and the large majority of people who find their commute "the best part" of the workday, despite the declines in public transportation.

There are, of course, places where I wanted to insert some of my own perspectives. For example, I see the "Tom Sawyer marriage" very differently and worth another look. I remain utterly skeptical about affairs, polyamory, or open marriages as the route to a relationship that will get you through retirement. And, being a good bit older, I am more attuned to second marriages, empty nest marriages, and guarding against the downside of widowhood a lot more than the downside of divorce. Someday, I will write my own book, and I hope you will read it.

But this week, I hope you will grab yourself a copy of Marriage Confidential. Read it to provoke your thinking and look at your marriage from different perspectives, even if you find yourself passionate about avoiding some of the options it presents. It's a lot more fun to read than most books that challenge your thinking and a lot less single-minded. Tell me about it in the comments below.

Other reviews (both positive and negative):
The Washington Post
Pruod Book Nerd
The Long Haul Project
Silver & Grace
Book Hooked Blog
Book Him Danno!

June 13, 2012

When Your Marriage is Limping, Fix Your Life

Do you have one of those marriages that just doesn't feel so great? Nothing's awful. You're not in any danger. You don't really want a new spouse; you just want to feel terrific about the one you married again.

When this happens, before you fix the marriage, fix your life.

Is there something you love to do that you no longer do? Do 5 minutes of it a day or do it for an hour once a week, whether it's writing or painting or tying flies. Do not walk away from your job or stop coaching your kid's team to make room for doing as much of this thing you love as you imagine others get to do. Just make room for it in the life you already lead. It will change you and your marriage.

If you divorced, would you lose weight, get in shape, learn to dance, get new clothes, have a drink with friends after work? Do it! Marriage does not stop you from doing any of these. Not doing them stops you from enjoying your marriage.

Do you feel you are carrying too much of the load? That you are working a crappy job so your spouse can stay home with the kids or pursue a dream or avoid asking for a raise? That you are doing more than your fair share of chores to keep up your home or give your kids the life they should have? Absolve your spouse of his or her half of the overwhelming load. Decide how much of the load you would continue to bear if your spouse dropped dead tomorrow. Stop doing the rest. If your spouse values what it provides, he or she will pick up that part of the load. Otherwise, it's your load and you are free to drop it.

Are you depressed, finding no joy or hope in anything? Go see a psychologist, talk to your doctor, or start eating better and exercising more. Your spouse has even less control over your mood than you do.

Do you appear to like the idea of getting out on your bicycle, on the dance floor, or to a restaurant more than your spouse does? Just go. You will find out if the effort of getting out there and doing it is worth the rewards to you. And your spouse will be free to join you with a lot fewer impediments, because getting out the door is usually the toughest part of doing any of these. There is nothing more deadly than discussing doing something in the abstract as a "should."

Is your commute so long that it keeps you from enjoying your mate and your family? Change jobs. I always thought my commute was a given and got angry over what my husband would not or could not do to make up for it. When he died, I changed my commute right away, because I needed to be closer to our son's school. But what surprised me was that the new office turned out to be very close to where he had worked. We could have lunched together while our son was at school, had some much needed us time, in addition to solving all the problems my commute created.

Is your business draining you? Focus the business or hire help instead of asking your spouse to take on every other chore in your life and still be thrilled to see you when you finally get home.

When your spouse feels helpless to fix what's making you unhappy, it's a huge drag on your relationship. When you resent the fact that your spouse also will not take care of the things you won't do to improve your life, it's an even bigger drag. Before you fix the relationship, fix your life.

June 8, 2012

Falsely Accused by Your Spouse?

I learned this from a colleague long ago. It works remarkably well with clients, friends, and spouses.

Instead of arguing when you are falsely accused or when someone important to you is making a mountain out of a molehill, try saying something like this:

"I really value our relationship. What could I do that would make it right again?"

If you get stonewalled ("I can't imagine anything making things right again!"), ask what would make it a little better right now. Then ask again in a few hours or days, after you do what's asked of you.

You may be as surprised as I have been. The same imagination that blew an incident out of proportion or turned an innocent action into a suspect one can imagine the relationship being fine again with very little from you.

June 6, 2012

Why Be Married? For the Wednesday Walk to Breakfast

Almost every weekday morning, I exchange to-do lists and done lists with two Success Team buddies. And almost every Wednesday morning, I break into a grin when I see "Wednesday walk to breakfast."

It's a special tradition for this woman and her husband, a break in their work days, which start very early. Traditions like this strengthen marriages. They help avoid drifting apart during the years when work demands too much of you. They make it harder to ever get tempted into an affair.

Traditions like this also strengthen lives. They add to the meaning in our lives and our satisfaction with the lives we live. This tradition combines exercise, being cared for, eating, and an opportunity for casual or deep conversation. Without a husband, a wife, or a life partner, traditions like this one are difficult to start and to maintain.

Do you and your mate have a tradition like Wednesday Walk to Breakfast? Tell us about it, please. It may be exactly what someone else's marriage (and life) needs.

June 4, 2012

The Strength of Strengths

I have done a lot of work with positive psychologists, devising ways to use the internet to collect their data or teach what they've discovered. One of the most fascinating aspects of this work for me has been the study of character strengths.

I see them at work in my marriage and in other folks' relationships all the time. An example of a character strength is a sense of humor and playfulness. Those who possess an abundance of this strength, including my husband, are wonderful to be around. They can help us transcend our fears or pains.

For those blessed with a lot of this strength, finding the humor in a situation or turning a chore into a game comes easily and feels right.

But the same is true of the other strengths. Modesty feels right and comes easily to some folks. They deflect praise, disguise their physical beauty, defer to those with greater age or authority because they cannot imagine doing anything less. It feels right and good to be humble and modest.

It is a pleasure to be around the very modest, too. They seek no praise from us. They don't compete for attention.

If you see the strength of modesty or humor in your spouse, or perhaps the strengths of social intelligence, fairness, leadership, love of learning, persistence, or curiosity, you know what a joy it can be to benefit from a strength by proxy.

What you might not see is what happens in a clash of strengths. Your own greatest strengths are irresistible. You must use them, and you are happiest when you use them. If you excel at modesty, your mate's humor and playfulness may be delicious, right up until it attracts undue attention or makes you feel overexposed.

Your mate's generosity and many kindnesses may thrill you right up until they interfere with your overwhelming urge to keep things fair and just.

Or your mate's integrity may knock your socks off most of the time but really rankle when your strength of forgiveness urges you to overlook a white lie from a loved one.

In the moment, exercising our own strength, we may feel like anyone not joining us lacks our degree of virtue. Just being aware of our different strengths lets me see two virtues clashing. It gives me a chance to look beyond my own strength and ask how I might be an even better (and happier) person with both our strengths at my disposal.

The Author

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

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