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!

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Wow, I didn’t know you’d address my comments directly… thanks!
    My experiences in life have driven my comments, obviously, but in my case, when i probe a question and assumelove before losing it, it turns out that the questions have mostly come from a place of distrust, angst, inadequacy etc. Yet, it seems that more often than not, my spouse has not assumedlove and given me the benefit of the doubt and gut reactions to my questions lead to the resentment that you are talking about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve begged to have my spouse assume that I wasn’t doing “x” out of “y” emotion, but actively considering her needs in a different way than she was thinking. The problem here is that what you have described as the right “tack” to take by asking probing questions and assuming love and thining about the positive side to a question takes a HUGE AMOUNT OF EFFORT. IT TAKES WORK. When that effort is not put forth…well…you know… the resentment builds and the spouse becomes the enemy. Its the sentiment of “just for once, can you imagine that I was trying to do something nice rather than TRYING to hurt you?”
    I hope these comments clear up my previous ones and given perspective. Assumelove is great, and I read it all the time, mainly because its one of those things I have been hoping for in my marriage. Thanks again Patty!

  • It can be easier to Assume Love and think about a recurring problem when you’re calm and not under attack. And you’ve definitely got a recurring problem:

    “just for once, can you imagine that I was trying to do something nice rather than TRYING to hurt you?”

    Almost every marriage runs into this a few times, so we all understand your frustration when it happens, but it sounds like it happens a lot for you two.
    Assume Love. Try on the idea that your wife is not doing this from spite or laziness but with love for you. (I know this might not be true, but you must treat it as true while you do the exercise to get real value from it.) Now list a few other reasons why she might do this.
    When you hit on one or two that have the ring of truth to them, try changing your way of doing nice things or your response to her accusations a little bit, to lessen their effect.
    If you need help coming up with any such explanations, these comments are a great place to ask for that help.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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