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Articles from August 2012

August 31, 2012

How to Make Yourself Unhappily Married

How to make yourself unhappily married: expect anything other than love.

Say you expect to hear "I love you" or "You look great today." Lots of husbands and wives say such things, but yours doesn't. Does this mean you are not loved or not admired? Probably not. But if you believe it does, you are going to be unhappy.

You may be married to one of the millions of people who believe "talk is cheap." You should definitely ask for what you want to hear, but your husband or wife will not feel loving when they say those words.

This is hard to imagine for anyone who has attached a lot of meaning to words like these (or to "thoughtful" gifts or kissing or any other means of expressing love). So imagine your husband or wife asked you to show love by giving gum wrappers, leftover pieces of paper from chewing gum.

When you're feeling especially loving or when you're opening a piece of gum, you might remember you have been asked for these. And you might present one to your beloved, feeling a little bit silly and not the same as when you really show your love and get that warm glow inside and that melty look on your face.

Now imagine that you have brought yourself to give one, only to discover one is viewed as stingy, so it doesn't get the response you hoped for. But you still have no clue how many it would take to get that response. When you ask, you hear, "If I have to tell you, it won't feel loving. Just do what feels right." Unfortunately, zero gum wrappers feels right, because receiving gum wrappers feels like nothing to you. But on a day when you are over the moon in love with your mate, you'll buy out the store's supply of chewing gum and give out handfuls every 15 minutes until your spouse begs you to stop.

And what makes you feel over the moon in love? To some extent, receiving whatever it is that feels like love to you, whether it's great sex, a newborn child, a shiny new Harley, an afternoon of talking about what really matters to you, praise, or help cleaning out the garage does it. But even more, I have noticed, what makes you (or your spouse) feel in love is doing loving things. If they are received with gratitude, all the better, but it is the doing that feels great.

What doesn't feel great is doing those things and then being chastised for being unloving because you failed to do something else. And that is where a lot of marriages get in trouble. Both partners feel less loved.

So, to make yourself miserable, as I did in my first marriage, expect help with some chore or a certain type of gifts or romantic words or public displays of affection as a measure of how much you are loved.

To feel loved by your wife or husband, Expect Love.

It really is as simple as that.

August 26, 2012

Why Can't You See This My Way? - Part 3

In Part 3 of this series, I want to address a comment added to Part 1. I want to address it because I remember thinking like the commenter around a dozen years into my first marriage, and it kept me from fixing my marriage or even believing it could be fixed.

Here's the first part of the comment, which Matt wrote but so many others could have, too.

Well, since this IS the assume love website, we should go back to the original question. Janice posed a loaded question to start, which on the surface seems innocent, but its also very loaded and leading. Katy should assume that Janice is asking the question out of love and respect, but I don't believe thats where the question came from.
When you don't believe the question came out of love and respect is the most valuable time to Assume Love, because this tool cuts through the crap pretty effectively. It oftens reveals truths we cannot possibly get at while angry.

But let's be clear that we're not saying, "Oh, Katy, I'm sure Janice meant nothing by her question. Don't take it the wrong way. You have no reason to be angry."

What It Means to Assume Love

What we're saying is more like this: "Katy, Janice's question really upsets you. But before you respond to her with anger, there is a tool you can use, if you want to. It's to imagine for the moment that you know she said it with an abundance of love for you, not because either of us knows this to be true, but because right now you see a threatening reason for the comment.

"Your brain is designed to protect you from threats by making you hypervigilant when you spot one. But this is your wife, who promised to love you. She might be doing that right now, in her own awkward way. So, try on the possibility that it came from love. Assuming she adores you, try to think of loving reasons for asking the question. If there are none, put up your defenses. Not everyone keeps their promises. But in your attempt to think of some, you are going to remember things your brain shuts out while you're focused on a threatening question.

"If this question is coming out of the blue, and not one of a series of similar questions, consider causes that have nothing to do with you.

"Is there anyone else in her life who might be discussing interest rates this week? Anything she's planning or dreading right now that depends on earning interest? Any friends who've gotten into financial hot water recently that might explain her interest in interest rates?

"If it's part of a series showing increasing worry, is there anything about this year, this season, this week that would heighten her concerns? Are there any changes in your mood or behavior recently that might alarm her?

"Once you have your list of possible explanations, including the one that worries you, you might feel certain one of them is a lot more likely than the others. If not, you might find yourself feeling a lot more compassionate and a lot less angry as you ask Janice if she's trying to second-guess you or get information for another reason. You might even alert her to your hot button and suggest a different way to ask such questions.

And why would you want to Assume Love? Not because you should. Not because it makes you a better wife, but because it makes you less angry at your spouse, less likely to say something that she will counter with harsh words or misunderstanding, more likely to recall something that draws you closer instead of pushing you apart."

On Being a Good Spouse

Matt continues:

The question comes from a place of doubt and angst and mistrust. So before a question like this is posed, the asker needs to better phrase the question and "give away" what he/she is getting at/driving at by asking the question.

It might indeed come from such a place. But that little phrase "needs to" reminds me of some of the worst messes I made in my first marriage. I thought I could discover and live up to more of the "shoulds" and "needs to's" of marriage and thereby turn my marriage around. It didn't work, and all that unsuccessful "shoulding" was increasing my resentment. Resentment kills marriages, and I was bringing mind down around my ears.

If Katy also believes Janice "should" present her question differently, the question will hit a nerve with her on the control/trust issue and violate an expectation she has of Janice, for double the anger.

What I love is that Matt, despite his distrust of Janice, comes to the same conclusion about what would serve her best after seeing Katy's distress:

Katy's job is to assume love and respect, and if there is confusion about the question, probe further before losing it completely. option #3 is the only option that gives the benefit of the doubt and assures the spouse of trust.

But that was the subject of Part 2, so I will resist the temptation to repeat myself.

My Wish for You This Weekend

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of my marriage to husband #2. We had a wonderful time together, and he declared it the perfect celebration, because it did not turn out as we expected, which has pretty much been true of our marriage from the start. May nothing turn out as you expect, and may you enjoy the ride as much as we do!

August 24, 2012

Why Can't You See This My Way? - Part 2

This post is a continuation of Wednesday's post, in which I asked what Janice should do next. She triggered an emotional outburst from her wife, Katy, with the question, "How much interest are we making on our savings account this year?"

The Votes are In

Here's what you thought Janice's best next move would be :

  • 1 reader chose Defend her question as an innocent one with no intent to challenge Katy

  • No readers chose Assert her right to know what interest an account with her name on it and her money in it is earning

  • 3 readers chose Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved

  • No readers chose Dismiss her request and check with the bank to be sure Katy is not mishandling their money

  • 6 readers chose Give Katy information she might not have about a new bank in town with interest rates that might be higher

  • 2 readers added Acknowledge Katy's distress and ask questions to understand what's behind it before doing anything else

  • 1 reader added (by email) Reassure Katy that she (Janice) would not recall the interest rate off the top of her head either and the query was poorly worded. Then the two of them could look up the current rate and together match it against other banks. This query could be a start point for a discussion of how money is such a core issue that it is best that time be apportioned monthly to this and both parties be involved in money matters.

Not everyone who commented could choose just one, so there is some double-counting in this list.

Is the Most Popular Choice the Best Choice?

Giving Katy information about the interest rate at the new bank was quite popular here, just as it is in real life. Let's talk about that, because I believe it will backfire.

Janice is dealing with information--and probably a request she has not yet revealed. Katy is dealing with emotions. Emotions are the result of beliefs about whatever happened to trigger them. In this case, that would be emotions about being asked by her wife for an interest rate. We'll get back to those beliefs in a moment.


First, let's talk about emotions, because what we sense in our bodies as an emotion is the result of the release of chemicals into our brains and bloodstream, a different mix for each emotion. And the purpose of those chemicals is to save our lives. They give us a burst of energy for running away or fighting or staying alert (fear does this and so does anger) or they make us lethargic so we'll be less adventurous while we mend or figure out a new strategy (sadness does this).

At the same time, the chemicals focus our thoughts. If we're angry, it will focus them on boundaries and rights. If we're frightened, it will focus them on threats. If we're shamed or embarrassed, it will focus them on our standing in a relationship or group. If we're sad, it will focus them on losses.

In a marriage, angry almost always comes mixed with frightened. We're frightened of losing our spouse or frightened of losing our independence within the marriage.

So Katy will be focused on boundaries, rights, and threats. Her mind will not be focused on managing the finances. It will be bouncing around like a pinball from dish washing to dog walking to income earning and recalling every word Janice has ever said that sounds like she wants out, wants to run the show, or does not care. She'll be thinking about how awful it felt to be dumped in her first relationship as a teenager or how small she felt when another partner called her stupid.

Throwing Information at Emotions

What will a brain like this do with the information that there's a new bank touting its interest rate? What will it do with the information that Janice is thinking about money while Katy's being overwhelmed by unwelcome thoughts? We are all extraordinarily good at making up scary stories about any information that arrives at a moment like this.

What we believe about the information accentuates the emotion or starts another. Angry (I believe it's wrong for you to treat me like this) can quickly turn to despairing (I believe I have lost your love or respect). Katy needs time to cool down or a sign that she and her rights are valued by Janice before she can treat information as just information.

Janice's defense of her question won't do it. Neither will Janice's assertion of her own rights. And if Janice just drops the comment and changes the subject, it's not likely Katy will stop the current line of thoughts.

Defusing Emotions

So, the suggestion from two readers to acknowledge the upset and seek to understand it could definitely help. But this is about a perceived difference of opinion, and there is another approach that works very well. It is to find a Third Alternative. And to start this process, we jump the net. Instead of acknowledging Katy's distress, Janice would acknowledge what she says she wants: "Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved."

Go for a Third Alternative When You Disagree

One reader feared Janice would not get what she wants if she does this, but jumping the net and looking for a Third Alternative is quite often the only way, short of being a bully, to get what she wants. Remember, a Third Alternative is quite different from a compromise. In a compromise, you accept some pain or loss in return for the promise that your beloved will experience just as much pain or loss. With a Third Alternative, you throw out your first two competing ideas for how to get what each of you wants and seek out a way to get what both of you want.

What is it that Janice wants? One reader was sure an ulterior motive lies behind her request. However, it could be as simple as wanting to improve her reputation at the place where she volunteers by coming up with a bank with a better interest rate for their money. She might want to feel more secure by getting more information from Katy even as she leaves everything in her hands. And she might want to know more about the financial decisions now because a close relative just lost a spouse and discovered she was going to lose the house and car, too, and the fear is eating into her ability to trust and love Katy.

The Third Alternative might involve a monthly time for discussing money matters, as the one reader suggested. However, proposing a solution--before (1) jumping the net (agreeing to give Katy what she's after, just not the way it's currently happening) and (2) creating the list of specs for a solution that pleases both of them--can easily create a second disagreement instead of a Third Alternative.

So that is my pick: jump the net and start a search for a Third Alternative, one that leaves Katy feeling trusted and appreciated as she tackles a large chore but also meets whatever Janice's need might be. And the first step in this is:

Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved

In Part 3, I want to get into what you do when you fear an ulterior motive in your spouse's request or outburst.

But first I want to hear from you. Have you reconsidered your choice? Do you want to defend one of the others? I would love to hear from you.

August 22, 2012

Why Can't You See This My Way? - Part 1

Janice asks, "How much interest are we making on our savings account this year?" It's a simple question, but the reply from her partner of 13 years and now her wife could inadvertently start World War III.

"I don't recall. But why do you care? You asked me to handle our finances. I'm handling them. Are you supervising me now?" The question hit a real nerve for Katy.

At this point, Janice has a few choices:

  • Defend her question as an innocent one with no intent to challenge Katy

  • Assert her right to know what interest an account with her name on it and her money in it is earning

  • Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved

  • Dismiss her request and check with the bank to be sure Katy is not mishandling their money

  • Give Katy information she might not have about a new bank in town with interest rates that might be higher

If Janice is human, the one she picks first will likely have nothing to do with the real reason behind her question. Instead, it will be a reaction to what Katy's reply triggers in her. For this, reason, I am not going to reveal right now what Janice really hoped to get. But I am going to ask you to pick her best response and tell us why you think it's best.

When we have at least 3 comments, I will post part 2 of this tale.

August 20, 2012

Hold Onto Happy Times a Little Longer

Whether your marriage is good or bad today, I am sure you can recall times when it was happy. Perhaps on your wedding day or the day you moved into your first house. Maybe you two gave birth to a child with those tiny little fingers gripped around one of yours and a smile you just knew was real because those baby eyes were locked on yours when it happened.

Happiness shows up during vacations, job promotions, or working together to open a store. It might show up the day you pay off the mortgage or send the last child to college or the day the hot tub gets installed.

And then it's gone again. You're still married, you still own the house, you still have a kid to feed, the hot tub still whirls and bubbles on demand, but the happiness has gone flat.

And then, even though you were recently so happy, your marriage seems less exciting, less likely to last, or--worse--already past its expiration date.

This is why it's important to learn how to hold onto happiness. Fortunately, positive psychologists are studying ways to do this. One of my favorite reporters of positive psychology news, success researcher Heidi Grant Halvorson, reported last week on research by Sonia Lyubomirsky and Kennon Sheldon into where happiness goes and how to slow its departure.

They found two ways happiness evaporates and studied what works to slow down each of them.

The first is decreasing positive feelings about a change. My husband and I recently moved to a place with incredible views and gorgeous sunsets. For the first month or new, every day brought a new and different experience of nature's glory. Now, unless a line of wild turkeys struts across the yard or the setting sun lights up the underside of a cloud in pink, I am more likely to notice the Japanese knotweed that needs to come out than the light on the other side of the valley, less likely to wander out onto to back porch behind him and stand there with our arms around each other's shoulders, admiring what we see.

What Sheldon and Lyubomirsky found is that happiness lasts longer when there's more variety in the positive events the change brings with it. I'm watching now for the deer and the birds and the crabapples, and we've set up a table and chairs on another side of the house.

If we were dieting together, I would want more than one measure of our success, like weight, clothing sizes, running speed, blood sugar, and blood pressure. We could even roll a die to pick a different one to measure each week. If we bought new furniture, I might add variety with throw pillows, new arrangements, sitting in different seats, and swapping holding hands for touching toes, curling up together, or stretching out separately.

More variety gives us a longer run of happiness from the same change.

The other way happiness gets away from us is increased aspirations, aka the What Next disease. "I love our new house, but don't you think it deserves new bedroom furniture?" Worse yet, "This house is so much better than our old one; I can't wait for when we can afford something with a guest suite."

The antidote to increased aspirations robbing you two of your happiness is appreciation. As Dr. Halvorson reports:

Appreciating can mean paying attention or noticing, but it is even more powerful when you take it further - when you savor something, delighting in its qualities and relishing how it makes you feel, or when you experience gratitude, a sense of being fortunate for being in your current circumstances compared to others, or compared to where you have been in the past. When we appreciate our positive experiences, when we turn our mind's eye toward them again and again in joy and wonder, we don't just make our happiness last - we kick it up a notch, too.

When the two of you move a sofa or make a meal together, stop to appreciate your teamwork and success before you start anything else. If you can remember being happy to marry your husband or wife, think about why. Then compare what you've got today on those dimensions to what you had before marriage, not to what you had at the peak. Savor it privately, then write a note to your mate expressing your gratitude.

Hang onto your happiness. Add variety to every change if you expect it might bring happiness or if it already did. And use appreciation to prevent increasing aspirations from making you miss out on what you've got.

August 9, 2012

Miley Cyrus Tries to Figure Out Marriage

As I read it in the second-hand press, Miley Cyrus is pretty sure she'll be with Liam Hemsworth for a long time. I definitely hope so. But I don't buy her reasoning.

Her interview in Marie Claire is being widely quoted before it hits the newsstands. In it, she talks about her recent engagement to the man with whom she shares the house and bedroom her parents recently moved out of.

She says, "Life is too short not to be with the person you want to be with. I don't really care about the wedding or the piece of paper as much as I do the promise we've made to each other. And we want to have a long engagement."

So many couples wander backwards into marriage, and here are a couple of young role models showing how it's done. Live together, then make the promise, then take a long time with the engagement.

When you do it backwards, the engagement, short or long, does not give you any time to get to know the character of the person before making a promise to them. You run the risk of being forced to choose between the integrity behind your promises and the freedom to choose again.

When you share a home together before you make the promise, especially at 19 and 22, you run a real risk of becoming parents of children who sense very early that you two chose each other with no concern for their long-term security and trust.

Miley adds, "Liam and I have a really good relationship... neither of us is super-jealous. We know each other and would never do anything to hurt each other."

Dear reader, know this if you haven't yet discovered it: You will do things to hurt each other, even though you adore each other. You will also sometimes be super-jealous of the time or attention your partner gives other people. Don't make the mistake of assuming there is something wrong with your relationship when it happens. If you want a really good relationship, learn how to handle those times and feel close again.

And if you want an even better relationship, never, ever delude yourself into thinking you know each other. People are always changing. What your partner believes is changing. What you're capable of understanding is changing. And getting to know each other, over and over and over, marks the sort of relationship that will sustain you and delight you through decades of marriage.

I wish Miley and Liam--and you--many wonderful years of marriage.

August 7, 2012

Did I Write That?

I was feeling rather low this morning, so I started reading old posts, looking for inspiration. Instead, I ran into a few nice surprises, posts I had forgotten I wrote, very nice ones. They surprised me and cheered me up. I thought I would share a quote or two from each of them with you. The titles link to the posts, in case they grab you, too.

What Would a Great Marriage 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 challenging at times, joyous at others...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.

How to Choose the Perfect Partner

Your perfect partner is not frightened or disgusted by your past or your dreams. You cannot know this, and you cannot find your perfect partner, until you reveal your past and your dreams, ideally after the first date and before the first orgasm, because all that oxytocin will bond you and make it harder to leave if you have found the wrong partner for you.

The Hard Work of Marriage

Loving more is hard work when we feel unloved. When we feel loved, though, it's a joy, almost a compulsion. And when we feel loved, we don't keep score, like we do when it feels like hard work.

From Tiger Woods' Announcement: 48 Words We All Need to Hear

At some point in your marriage, there is a high probability you will reach a point where temptation hits at the exact same moment you feel you have worked hard to make money your spouse takes for granted, worked hard to care for a mate too ill to meet your sexual needs, worked hard to stretch a dollar year after year for a partner who won't even buy you a bunch of flowers on your anniversary.

You just might feel entitled. You might even feel getting what you deserve would reduce the tension in your marriage. And you might run straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by.

If I'm Not the One Thing You Can't Stand to Lose...

Reba McEntire's hit song Consider Me Gone expresses a feeling many of us have experienced in our relationships. "If I'm not the one thing you can't stand to lose...consider me gone." Feeling unimportant to someone we love and want in our life is intolerable. Our natural first impulse is to run.

Earthquakes and Extramarital Affairs

Earthquakes and the discovery of your spouse's extramarital affair have a lot in common...You can live in a place for decades before an earthquake big enough to cause damage occurs. Day after day, even though you know the odds of an earthquake in your lifetime are high, you live your life normally. To do otherwise would keep you tied up in knots.

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? ...
  • 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.

If you found one that spoke to you, too, today, I hope you will leave a comment on it to let me know. I read all of your comments and am grateful for the time you take to add them.

The Author

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

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