Assume Love (TM): How to have a happier marriage without waiting for your spouse to change (daisy logo)

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Articles from October 2012

October 31, 2012

The Need to be Appreciated

Do you ever find yourself wondering whether your husband, wife, or life partner appreciates your efforts ? Do you ever get angry, wanting some gratitude for all you do? Me, too.

It's human. And it's manipulative. And it has a funny boomerang effect of making it harder to appreciate you. If you feel underappreciated, do less. Free yourself to be loved and appreciated for who you are instead of what you do. And when you feel good again about the relationship, do the things that make you feel loving and giving and generous and compassionate, because you are already appreciated before you do them.

October 30, 2012

A What If Marriage

What if you could have the marriage you really want? What would it be like? How would you feel? What could the two of you create together? How willing would you be to give your all for such a union?

How much of what you're trying to change in your current marriage would actually take you there? In the marriage you really want, is it necessary to keep score on who took care of which chores? If not, all your worries about this score just get in the way of that marriage.

If you had that marriage, if you felt that much love between you, if you were offered love and gratefully received it all, if you woke every morning wanting to give all the love you could to your spouse, would it matter if you conveyed your love and intentions through conversation, through sex, through love letters, or through body language? If not, why are you keeping score of how much you do any of these?

The way to great love is through creating possibilities, never through setting limits.

October 29, 2012

Teamwork between Partners

Are you good at teamwork? Do you communicate goals and strategies well? Do you dig in and do whatever needs doing? Can you take direction as well as giving it? Do you enjoy a job well done even more when you share the glory with others?

Guess what? Not everyone does. Some love to be a star. Others can't imagine that there might be some other goal or strategy than they one they are dutifully carrying out for the team. Some give direction well but don't cede the position to anyone else. Some take direction well but flounder when it's missing.

And it's not because they are bad people. It's because they were busy developing other strengths while you were learning to be part of a team. Or because their education on being part of a team was under the tutelage of some narcissist or pedophile or bully.

You can expect good teamwork from them and be disappointed. Or you can expect love in whatever forms it is offered and look for ways to combine your teamwork strength with your life partner's different strengths to get things done with a maximum of love, instead of a maximum of efficiency.

October 28, 2012

Berating Your Beloved

There are so many times when we believe the person we committed our life to should do something but doesn't. It happens even in the best of marriages.

After Brenda bought Christmas gifts for all of Gary's nieces and nephews, she was dumbfounded that he refused to even accompany her to her cousin's caroling party.

When Gillian grew up, all the men in the neighborhood raked leaves on Saturdays in the fall. Giovanni watched football instead. She knew the deadline for the town's pickup was coming up soon, and she was panicked.

Bart thought it was not at all unreasonable to expect sex with his wife, Monica, at least once a week, but she had a different excuse every time he tried.

When Rashid's wife went out, leaving him with the baby, he wanted to know exactly when to expect her back. Even when she was willing to name a time, it seemed to mean nothing to her. She came home when she was good and ready. By then, he was seething.

Our beliefs about what should happen are every bit as responsible for our anger as their actions. Those actions would not upset us if it were not for what we expected should happen.

Unless we are open to the possibility that our expectations are wrong, we are in great danger of berating our beloved for wrong actions. First we expect them to see things our way, then we expect them to understand that our meanness and wiser-than-you attitude are warranted by breaking rules they knew nothing about.

Brenda's Gary sees buying gifts and attending parties as things you do if you feel like doing them, not as obligations. Why would he feel obligated to do something he won't enjoy just because Brenda did something she felt like doing? The berating will come as an unhappy surprise to him, and it will surely get tacked onto his feelings about her cousin.

In Giovanni's neighborhood, leaves were used for compost and mulching. No one picked them up before all were on the ground. And when it was time to move the leaves, everyone from grandma to three-year-old toddlers joined in and made a fun time of it. Gillian's sulking and unkind behavior will ruin both his football game and the leaf cleanup for him.

Bart's wife does not see sex as an obligation. She says no when she doesn't feel in the mood, and she hardly ever feels in the mood since he stopped pursuing her. If he berates Monica for not punching the ticket often enough, she'll be even less interested. And she really, really misses wanting to make love to her man.

If Rashid berates his wife for being late, it will be an unpleasant surprise for her. She cannot imagine anyone who takes care of a baby even occasionally not understanding the joy of being out from under schedules and demands for a few hours.

So what can any of them, or any of us, do when we're furious about our dashed expectations? We can Assume Love.

Assume Love does not mean tell yourself, "I'm sure my beloved meant no harm." It won't work. You're working from a belief about how the world works that says in no uncertain terms that you are getting a raw deal.

What Assume Love means is to ask yourself, "What might lead a good person who loves me a lot to do this odd and annoying thing to me?" If you get really stuck and cannot think of things like the second set of stories above, try asking, with love, for the explanation.

For example, Bart might ask, "Is anything making sex less interesting for you now than it used to be?"

Gillian might ask, "I am getting anxious about the leaves, but you don't seem to be. What makes them less anxiety-provoking for you?"

Rashid might ask, "I notice you have a hard time scheduling your time away. Is the lack of a schedule something that's important to you?"

Brenda might ask, "How do you decide whether or not to attend a party? I get the feeling it's pretty different from my way, and I would like to understand it better."

Berating your beloved won't bring you closer together, and there is no set of rules that will ever make your relationship more enjoyable than it is when you feel close. Save it for a last resort, when you feel so distant that you need to set a protective boundary around yourself. Until then, Assume Love and see if you can't change your upsetting belief about what happened by getting a little closer to the truth.

October 27, 2012

A Book Recommendation

I have a great book to recommend to you if you're trying to Assume Love and enjoy your marriage more.

I was reading a post on Scott and Jenni's Surrendered Marriage blog about assuming love this week, and one of the comments mentioned it. The commenter is another marriage blogger, Sojourner, writing the Not Easily Broken blog.

The book is The Art of Possibility by Ben and Rose Zander, and I downloaded it to my Kindle as soon as I read the description. It's a perfect accompaniment to Assume Love. If you find this blog helpful in letting more love into your life, I think you'll love it. It doesn't hurt that it's a quick and easy read and written by the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and his psychologist wife, who apply what they teach in both their jobs as well as in their marriage.

I am still shooting to complete the Ultimate Blog Challenge of 31 daily posts in October 2012, but a gal named Sandy is threatening to stop me. Wish me luck in keeping an internet connection throughout this unpredictable storm. I cannot preschedule posts, because I use a software setup that works instead to send you each page as quickly as possible, just in case you arrive here in tears or ready to throw in the towel.

I hope you enjoy these annual writing bursts. They are a good challenge for me, and I love all the extra comments when I'm doing them. Hearing from you makes my day.

October 26, 2012

When We Disagree about Our Disagreements - Take 2

On Tuesday, I revealed a problem sent in by a reader and asked for suggestions from all of you. As she sees it, and I must agree, the problem is how they address their disagreements. Neither is happy with their approach.

As an example of the sort of disagreements they are addressing, she offered one spouse asking the other not to interrupt when the other is speaking slowly. As it turns out, this was not her request (as I reported) but his. But even this request hit a nerve with some of the commenters.

Here is my take on the request. First, it is not only OK, but an excellent first step to ask for what you want. In many cases, what one views as an annoying habit is nothing more than a non-meaningful choice made while living among other people, one fairly easily changed to please a loved one.

If it is a deliberate choice or a compulsive one your spouse is not willing to change, it is also OK to stand your grand and insist that the habit is a bad one, even one you cannot tolerate. However, you might want to limit the number of these judgments, because each one distances you from your life partner and mate and increases your anger. Looking for ways to better tolerate the habit, as one reader suggested, is a great idea.

But the real issue here is not the request for a habit change. It is a big difference in the way these two want to deal with such requests. It will come up again every time they discuss taking out the trash, diaper-changing intervals, driving speeds, and a host of other issues.

Their first two options (I ask nicely / you change and let me tell you why you want me to change) are not working for this couple, and both of them are frustrated by it. Frustration turns into resentment. Resentment corrodes a loving relationship. It affects every other part of the relationship. It is a marriage killer.

And it is SO easy to get sucked into. At first, we cannot see any other options, so we argue for or against the ones we have at hand. Those we ask for help usually stick to the two options, too. A number of commenters jumped in and supported or argued against one of these. And this is where things go so very wrong.

These options do not work for this couple. One or the other of them might be right for another couple, but neither is right for this couple. Simply asking for a change does not work for them, because it feels to him like intimacy and connection are lost and there are minefields to be avoided in what should be an open and loving relationship. Analyzing family of origin dynamics and past history when a request is made does not work for her. It feels like an insulting attack. Others (especially graduates of Imago training) might enjoy this. She does not.

Here is how you get away from the first two options when neither of them works for you as a couple. First, you jump the net. You agree to discard your approach, because it doesn't work. And you agree that whatever your mate's approach offers your mate is important and desirable and therefore something you want. You reject his or her first take on how to get it, but you want to get it somehow.

Next, you create the specifications for a Third Alternative, one that makes both of you as happy as the ones you were proposing. The specifications need to include two things: what you thought you would get from your alternative that matters to you and what you feared or disliked about your spouse's alternative.

I am working with limited information, but here is my best guess at the specs for our reader and her husband:

As I understand it, what she wants is to be able to ask him to change a few behaviors to make her more comfortable. While she's willing to hear no when her needs conflict with his, most of the time, she expects a gradual change in these distressing behaviors. What she wants to avoid is feeling that she, her mother, or other family members are dysfunctional because she wants these changes.

What he wants is to be able to contribute to her emotional growth by using his analytical skills and insight into people. He most likely wants to discuss the causes of his own preferences and annoyances, too. What he wants to avoid is any off-limits topics in their marriage. I will go out on a limb and say he also wants to avoid changing his behavior in a way that enables her to stay stuck in an old problem.

Notice that what he wants to avoid does not include giving her a yes or a no. It does not include making the changes she asks for. They can both agree on what she wants, just not the way she pictured getting them.

Notice, too, that she wants to avoid feeling insulted or put down for asking for what she wants or for saying no to things he asks for. But she does not object to talking about difficult subjects or taking advantage of his people skills. It's only tying them to requests and ending up at the conclusion that she or her family are dysfunctional that she wants to avoid.

Put these together, and we are looking for a way to avoid making any topics off-limits and avoid pronouncements of family or personal dysfunction while allowing each of them to ask for what they want and get a yes with change or a no, allowing discussions that might lead to emotional growth for both of them, and allowing a 'no' to a request because it feels like enabling.

Here are some ways to achieve this:

  • Create a new way to ask for changes that makes it harder to slip into analytical discussion, perhaps a handwritten letter (a love letter that includes praise, too, might be great, because, as Barbara Sher writes frequently, praise makes us brave). Or cut out letters from magazines and make it look like a ransom note. Or sing your requests. Anything to signal that the manner of responding should now be a yes or no, saving any discussion of reasons for another time, should help.

  • Initiate discussions of how you each came to be the people you are at times other than when discussing a request for a change.

  • Have a private signal to use when one of you feels attacked instead of helped by these discussions. Stop the discussion and take a 10-minutes break apart, hug each other for a few minutes before continuing, or have a pillow fight. Emotional flooding won't help your relationship. Nip it in the bud. Don't try to ride it out.

  • Deliberately focus on character strengths as you try to understand each other. Remedying weaknesses turns out to be a less successful strategy than using our strengths more. And a lot of weaknesses are simply the result of overly focusing on something that became a strength.

  • Come up with a follow-up question to use whenever you reach one of those "dysfunctional mother" or "cruel sister" or "raised by wolves" dead ends. Maybe, "And now that that's over, in which direction does happily ever after lie?"

Don't use any of these unless they give both of you what you're looking for without raising any new fears of trap doors. If they feel wrong, go back and tweak the specs to reflect what you learned, then resume brainstorming. If you're not getting anywhere, try hot-dogging, coming out with outrageous, even fantasy approaches to meeting your specs. It clears out the rust in the pipes and helps get ideas flowing again.

And do not, I repeat do not, judge any of the ideas as they are flowing. Just write them down until you are done. Then check them against your specs and your gut.

Our inquiring reader may need to tweak the specs and brainstorm a few more ways of meeting them, but I hope this provides a useful example of how to tackle even a big, oft-repeated disagreement with a Third Alternative.

October 25, 2012

Married with Problems

If you think there are problems in your marriage, you are probably right. Unless the problems are out of your control and threatening your wellbeing, you won't move toward a solution by announcing there are problems.

Instead, move closer. Look for things to love and admire about your spouse. Take a few extra seconds with your kisses, your compliments, and your thank yous. All three will make you feel closer and probably happier.

Let go of your expectations about how your mate would or should behave. Instead, find what you can to appreciate.

If something's missing, take the steps to add it. Don't mention that it's missing. Your spouse knows. If he or she also wishes it were not missing, your steps will be met with a huge sigh of relief.

When you mention what's bothering you, don't compare it to what you think is right. Compare it to what your spouse does wonderfully and make it clear you are asking for a favor. You are. Neither of you can lay claim to being right about how marriages should work. They only work when they work for both of you. Then follow up with gratitude for a past change or an expression of hope for a better tomorrow.

Not successful: "If you were a real man, you would have finished the bathroom renovation project by now. Don't even think about going hunting before that is done!"

A lot more successful: "I think you did a great job with the tile in the bathroom. It looks great now. It would mean a lot to me to have the new toilet in, too, in time for Thanksgiving. I know I'm asking you to change your way of doing things again, and I really appreciated when you did that for me while we were driving to Michigan. If you can, I think I'll be a much calmer hostess when your folks come to visit.

Will it get you a new toilet, less time on the computer after dinner, and a little more romance on your anniversary? Maybe. Maybe not. But it will get you a lot more than talking about your problems or snooping to confirm them will.

October 24, 2012

No Bathroom, No Bride

On The Times of India's View\Counterview page today, there is an interesting issue up for discussion.

India's rural development and water and sanitation minister, Jairam Ramesh, has proposed a "no bathroom, no bride" rule. According to the most recent census, 53% of all Indian households have no toilet. This generally means there is also no septic tank, septic field, or sewage system to hook one up to, either. In rural areas, up to two-thirds of the population uses ever-diminishing open spaces to relieve themselves. For women, it means relief only when it's dark out.

By tying bathrooms to marriages (most of them arranged marriages), the minister is attempting to get the nation's young men involved in changing longstanding practices.

I have no idea if he'll get his way. When you're grumbling about problems with the home you share with your spouse or what you have to go through to get married in the US, UK, Canada, or Australia, you might want to thank your lucky stars doing without a toilet or being forced to add one isn't on the list.

October 23, 2012

When We Disagree about Our Disagreements

I received a great question from a reader not much enjoying her third year of marriage because of a disagreement about how to handle disagreements.

The example she gave is requesting not to be interrupted even when she's speaking slowly. She wants time to get her complete thought out.

I suspect the same problem could emerge over other issues you and I have run into, such as a request to leave more braking distance between cars when driving at high speeds. A request not to set sneakers on the kitchen counter or leave rakes tines up in the grass might be similar. So might asking for less pork and more chicken in their dinner menus.

Her problem is not with making such requests but with the way he prefers to handle such requests.

She would like to make the request, politely and without any accusation that there is something wrong with his way, then patiently wait while he changes his behavior to provide what she needs.

If you're thinking he doesn't want to change for her, this doesn't seem to be the case. What he wants to do is root cause analysis, a little bit of at-home therapy. He wants to help her see where her needs come from and give her the chance to change the need instead of his behavior.

Is this just a creative form of passive resistance? Probably not, because he says a degree of intimacy would be missing from their marriage if they were not free to discuss such things. He wants to be quietly heard out on his views. And he's clear it's the discussion he values, not necessarily any particular outcome.

So she tries to hear him out. She can now listen for up to twenty minutes before she's too angry to continue.

His analyses often sound to her like insults to her mother or other family members. They stem from descriptions of her behavior or thoughts that she does not acknowledge as valid. They feel to her like he wants to change who she is, while she asks only that he change what he does. She would like to do without any of this therapy-like discussion. It decreases intimacy for her.

I am asking you to help. Let's imagine she's ready to jump the net and tell her husband, "I want you to have what you're looking for, but I cannot give it to you this way. Let's find another." Let's give them some ideas to try out, some questions to ask each other, so they can find a Third Alternative.

Their Third Alternative Specs

As I understand it, what she wants is to be able to ask him to change a few behaviors to make her more comfortable. While she's willing to hear no when her needs conflict with his, most of the time, she expects a gradual change in these distressing behaviors. What she wants to avoid is feeling that she, her mother, or other family members are dysfunctional because she wants these changes.

What he wants is to be able to contribute to her emotional growth by using his analytical skills and insight into people. He most likely wants to discuss the causes of his own preferences and annoyances, too. What he wants to avoid is any off-limits topics in their marriage. I will go out on a limb and say he also wants to avoid changing his behavior in a way that enables her to stay stuck in an old problem.

To the gal who so generously offered up the question, I thank you, and I know my readers will have some great answers for you. Some are marriage therapists or fellow marriage educators. Others just have years of trial-and-error learning in their own marriages. And a few are just brilliant, creative thinkers when it's someone else's problem and not their own.

So, good reader, please post your ideas in the comments section online.

Obviously, their first two options (I ask nicely / you change and let me tell you why you want me to change) don't work for this couple. Neither is the right method for them. What other approaches to getting both sets of wants met and both sets of avoids avoided might they consider as their Third Alternative? And what questions might help them find their way?

October 22, 2012

Is It Too Much to Ask to Stay Married Until the Kids are Grown?

Let me tell you what my answer to this question was. I believed it was too much to ask. I was married to a good man and a great father, but I felt angry, overworked, stressed out all the time. It definitely felt like too much to ask.

I would do whatever it took to make it easier on our son. I even used my experience with unhappily married parents to convince myself divorce was the better of his options.

This miserable existence vs. life as a single mom with shared custody? Bad choices, but I knew which one I wanted.

It's not what I got. My husband had been ill for a long time with a serious, chronic disease. Sick enough to require multiple hospitalizations and a few surgeries. Sick enough to be getting IV feedings twelve hours a day at home. But well enough to teach his classes at the university during the other twelve. Or so I, my husband, and his doctor thought. We were wrong. I came home from work and found him dead. He died the day after after I suggested shared custody. Our son was visiting friends 1,200 miles away.

I really thought I wanted out. I was filled with resentments, overwhelmed with responsibilities, and tired all the time. Now I was out, and I owned our new house and all our other assets. Social Security provided a lot more child support than most non-custodial fathers do. I don't know what I thought divorce would be like, but this had to be better, no? And it was awful. Our son was still safely in the care of good family friends, enjoying the beach, but already it was overwhelming. Stressful beyond belief. And scary.

And then morning came, my first as a widow. I woke up and recalled the list of unmet needs that had led me to believe it was too much to ask to stay married until the kid was grown. And now I knew there is no right answer to this question. And it hurt.

Getting unmarried does not get your needs met. Your needs are your own, whether you are married or not, and you deal with them or not. Getting unmarried does not make things more fair. It just takes away the source of help that deludes you into thinking you deserve less of a burden than an unmarried parent. Getting unmarried does not make you feel any less unloved or unappreciated. It only accentuates these feelings.

And that is when I cried even harder than I had when I discovered the lifeless body of the man I still hoped would once again love me the way he did when we were college students newly in love. I cried because my stories of unfair treatment, needs a husband should have paid attention to, and burdens I did not deserve washed away like a sandcastle at the ocean's edge. What they left behind was a solid core of evidence that the love was still there but his responsibilities and challenges, like mine, had grown a lot since then.

No one should stay married. Stay implies more of the same. Unless it's great, who would want more of that? Our kids don't want us to stay that way. And they don't want us to divorce. They want us to love, respect, honor, and cherish their other parent, and not just until they are grown but until their children's children are grown. For most of us, except those with violent or out-of-control mates, this is what we want, too. We want to feel in love again. We want to look at our husband or wife and feel as impressed and honored as we did when they first chose us. And we want the daily overwhelm of our lives to be replaced with happy moments in the arms of such a person.

Without anyone else to blame for not shouldering the rest of the load, I learned to let go of a lot of the load. I stopped cooking and served TV dinners for a year. I put in a lot more effort at work and used the extra income to pay people to do chores I don't enjoy doing or cannot do well. I said no to extra work that would not produce extra income. I took piano lessons because several people told me it's calming to play. (Perhaps, but it's not so calming to hear the piano the way I could play it.) I got rid of my long daily commute.

My widow status made me brave. I said no to a lot of things, including bureaucratic annoyances and those tasks my friend Rachel calls vanity items, the ones you do just to look good. When I tried to put our son in Cub Scouts, they told me they had too few leaders for all the boys applying, but if I would lead his den, I could make any rules I liked about how much of the work the other parents had to do. They even suggested I require a parent be present at every meeting because of the numbers of two-career couples who show up late to pick up their boys. So I did, and we did a lot together as families.

And I did it all willingly, on top of my very busy work and house schedule, because it was my choice. In the past, I would have felt put out if my husband did not choose to do it. I would have listed all the other things on my schedule, paying attention to the wrong things instead of the right one: I felt it was important. I was surely not the best person for the job, but it mattered to me, so I did it. And I skipped some other tasks that were less important to me. And I told anyone with a story about why they could not lead two meetings a year and bring refreshments to two more meetings, and stick around while their kids got to be Cub Scouts to find another den for their son.

And what I learned was how to be married without being miserable. Do what's important. Make time for what de-stresses you. Stop doing what's making you miserable. If you don't like a chore, do something you like better and use the money or favors it earns you to give the chore to someone else. Because your relationship with your spouse is for love, and every chore or expectation or "it's only fair" you throw at it pours sand over that love and hides it until your big wave comes in.

Don't stay for the kids. Pour some water over this big, unhappy sand castle you've built and start over. See if maybe it's possible to love, respect, honor, and cherish your wife or husband or life partner again. If the kids make it worth taking a shot at this, you are very lucky to be a parent.

October 21, 2012

Two Thoughts about Love

Two thoughts about love:

  1. It is important to know how to show your love.
  2. It is equally important to know how to receive it.

Few of us have mastered both.

October 20, 2012

Why Doesn't My Mate...?

Did you write a letter or email to a friend when you first met your husband, wife, or life partner? Did it read anything like this one?

Anthony is incredible! He seems to know everything, and if he doesn't, he just learns what he needs to know. And he's got guts. He stands up for his beliefs and even once dove into a lake to rescue another kid who had trouble swimming. But the thing that most amazes me is how he just never gives up. He picks a goal and goes for it, slogging through stuff that would bore me silly, ignoring rejections, paying no attention to anyone who says he cannot succeed.

Or perhaps like this one?

Brianna's not a crazy risk-taker. She's careful with her money, with her time, and with her words. And if she gives her word, she really means it. There's nothing phony about her, and nothing flashy. She's no show-off. She's down-to-earth, true to herself, and scrupulously fair to everyone she meets.

Maybe this one?

Carina is an artist. What beautiful paintings! And she plays the mandolin, too. And the digiridoo! I don't think she's ever been depressed a day in her life, either. She's always upbeat, always sure today's great and tomorrow will be even better and why don't we go do something interesting right now? I have the best times with her.

Or this one?

Dave is the most loving man I have ever met. He loves every living creature, especially me. And he's easy to love back. He's really spiritual, filled with grace and gratitude. He tells me he feels blessed that we met on that hike. He's had a lot of hard times, but he sees the silver lining in every cloud. And he's funny! His jokes are never mean-spirited, and he has me laughing all the time.

Relationships go bad when we ask:

  • Why doesn't Anthony ever acknowledge the things I do for him? Would it kill him to be grateful? Look at Dave! He's always grateful. Was Anthony raised by wolves?
  • Why doesn't Dave ever want to try new foods or travel to other countries? Why didn't I marry someone more like Carina?
  • Why doesn't Carina do what she promises to do? She says we'll go somewhere together but when it's time to leave, she's busy doing something else that came up. She promises to cook dinner but won't leave her painting until long after the sun goes down. If only she were as reliable as Brianna!
  • Why doesn't Brianna ever finish any of her projects? She never finished redecorating the living room. It looks awful. And she bought that course so she could change jobs, but she's only finished two of the lessons.

If you find yourself asking why your husband, wife, or life partner doesn't do something, go find those early letters. Or ask your friends to help you recreate them. Because you really were downright lucky to meet such a person. And if you ask for the right things, you'll get them by the truckload. It's only when you ask for something else that you're both so disappointed.

October 19, 2012

Doing Things with Friends

I took an overnight trip this week to Old Sturbridge Village. I met up with a long-time girlfriend there. We had a great time, talking, eating, watching the presidential debate, and showing her around one of my favorite places on earth.

I had lots of time to think on the long ride there and again on the way back, too, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fall scenery along the way.

One of the things I thought about on the way back was a very sad article in the Huffington Post when they first started their Divorce section. A man who had recently divorced was asked what was better now that his marriage was over. The only thing he came up with was this: "Now, if I want to go have a beer with my friends after work, I can."

Our expectations shape our marriages. The only thing keeping him from having a beer with friends while married was his expectation about the consequences. His expectations probably grew out of what his wife had to say about her expectations of married life, which grew out of watching imperfect adults through the eyes of a child. They let their love die rather than examine those expectations and find a way to love each other that nourished both of them.

I had a great time on my trip. My husband reports watching a marathon of movies he knew I would not enjoy while I was away. We both had stories to share with each other when I returned. It was good for our marriage.

Today, I learned that Chris Peterson, the incredible University of Michigan psychology professor whose research into character strengths I was lucky enough to get to help with and have often cited to you, died last week. Chris was only two years older than I am. I was reminded once again that we don't have forever to get this love thing right.

As I read several reports of his passing, I was also reminded repeatedly of his slogan, his summation of all the research findings of positive psychology: other people matter.

If you're trying to hold your marriage together by avoiding spending time with your friends (or by avoiding spending time with your spouse), please don't. Other people matter. Spend some time with them. Do things with your friends, both as a couple and on your own.

October 18, 2012

It Doesn't Happen Very Often

Mentally healthy people don't hit, push, punch, or throw things at loved ones who could be seriously hurt.

Mentally healthy people do not ever have sex with an unwilling partner through force or threat.

Mentally healthy people don't load their kids or their spouse into the car and drive drunk.

Mentally healthy people don't stay in the vicinity of those they love when they cannot control their angry words or actions.

Mentally healthy people don't have unprotected sex with someone who might be infected with HIV, HPV, herpes, syphilis, or gonorrhea and then go have sex with their life partner.

Mentally healthy people don't blow the mortgage money or food budget on betting or shopping for things they don't need.

They don't. They know how to stop themselves, and they stop themselves before they do something that could hurt those they love and cause them great shame.

Mentally unhealthy people do these things, feel ashamed, and promise it won't happen again. When it happens again, they invent stories about why they did what they did. These stories usually involve blaming their victim. It reduces their shame.

What mentally unhealthy people need is not a second chance or a third or a fourth. They need help finding the courage to get mentally healthy, to admit they need to learn new approaches to old problems, to do without the alcohol or drugs they are sure they cannot live without, to get surgery to remove a brain tumor or bleed, to take the drugs that will stop cravings or thoughts they cannot otherwise control.

Even if the awful consequences don't happen very often, these people are mentally unhealthy all the time. Living with this takes an awful toll on the mental health of everyone around them, because no one can predict when the fear and the shame will return. Children grow up anxious and with no basis for trusting others. Spouses grow overly cautious and self-protective. Those with the problem may start to see their spouses and children as the problem, because the consequences would be less without all the shame of hurting loved ones.

Not every mental health problem can be cured or managed, but many can. It takes courage, though, to choose to get treated. It may take even more than allowing an amputation or a mastectomy or a prostatectomy. To find this courage when death is not the alternative, it helps to know it is their only option to keep their loved ones in their lives. Second chances say otherwise.

It is definitely not easy to separate to protect you, your mentally unhealthy mate, and your children while your mate finds that courage. It is often very expensive. It requires protection from an out-of-control reaction. It calls for lots of support for you and the children. This, too, takes courage.

Many wait to find their courage in the anger that propels them toward divorce. This is understandable, but the message it sends comes out a lot like this: "I no longer see you as a man or woman with a treatable mental health problem that affects all of us but as a defective individual not deserving of love." Not many of us would find the courage for an amputation if told we would die with or without one.

"It doesn't happen very often" is the first step to writing someone off as a defective person who cannot be loved. If it happens even once, it's a serious problem. If it happens again because neither of you took precautions to prevent it from happening, the second step is likely to be a very slippery one that hurts both of you and any children you share.

October 17, 2012

Three Ways to Feel More Respected

Here are three ways to notice a little more of the respect your spouse or life partner holds for you:

  1. Listen to what he or she reports to you about other couples. Negative comments about the abilities or reliability of friends' mates probably mean yours are more impressive to your mate.
  2. Look beyond the words. Sure, driving tips sound like your driving skills are not respected, but when offered by someone who voluntarily and repeatedly gets in the car as your passenger, they are more likely just an outlet for nervousness.
  3. When listening to a complaint or warning, mentally make a list of bigger things your spouse or partner does not complain or warn about. As I picked up a babysitter years ago, her mother yelled after her, "Don't run on the wet grass; you'll slip and fall!" She groused about being treated like a baby. I pointed out that she was going off to be responsible for another person's home and a child, alone away from her parents, and the only warning her mother felt she had to offer was don't slip on the grass. That's a huge degree of confidence.

October 16, 2012

2 October Date Night Ideas

You can't always go out for pizza and a movie, can you? Here are two more ideas for spending time together as a married couple.

Miss the cool fall weather from where you grew up? Pack some soup, some bread, and some coffee or hot cider and head for your nearest ice skating rink. Don't forget your mittens. Get some exercise on skates, then open your cool-weather feast at a table or on the skate-changing benches. (If you now live in this month's cool weather, drive to a great daytime or nighttime view and have your soup in the car.)

Or send the kids off to someone else's house for the night and have your own Halloween party. Buy some cheap costumes from the dollar store or gather up your own bits and pieces of clothing. Then take your time turning doorbell-ringing costumes into for-your-eyes-only variations. Try out a few fantasies. French maid? Sexy clown? Romance-novel pirate? Famous, corrupt politician in bikini underwear and fishnet tights? Be sure to have your favorite Halloween candies, lots of candles, and your favorite slow-dancing music.

October 15, 2012

What If You Don't Marry Your Soul Mate?

When ecstatic people tell you they have found their soul mate, you may well wonder if you could do better than the person you fell in love with. I believe the answer is no.

The difference between a soul mate and another beloved is a feeling of great similarity and agreement, a meshing of values, interests, and approaches to life. But people are people. Interests change, values change, approaches change. Preventing change takes a lot of energy and seldom succeeds. It takes a lot of talent, understanding, and cooperation to avoid the pain of dashed expectations for couples who start out as soul mates.

So you are probably better off without that soul mate feeling at the start. Aim for it in your golden years.

Don't marry just any jerk who will have you, but know that you can have a great marriage, even a better marriage, with someone whose interests and values differ from yours, as long as your core values match and you have at least one way to enjoy each other's company.

October 14, 2012

Did You Marry the Wrong Person?

During an unhappy stretch in a marriage or life partnership, you may wonder if you chose the wrong person.

You Probably Chose the Wrong Person If:

  • Your mate is vicious

  • His or her morals require that you ignore your own

  • He or she cannot find the strength to fight or seek treatment for long-lasting or life-threatening depression, mania, addiction, hallucinations, or other physical or mental diseases that negatively affect you

  • You are with someone who treats you in ways others would protect you from if they knew

You Very Likely Chose Someone You Can Have a Happy Life With If:

  • He or she supports your dreams but will not join you in the hard work of achieving them

  • Your mate is generous and loyal instead of optimistic and able to set a goal and reach it

  • He or she says all the wrong things but takes good care of you by being helpful and giving of his or her time

  • You found someone highly creative and always happy but useless as a team member and unable to read other people well

  • Your mate won't ask for a raise but will cheer you up when you're down and help you see the beautiful side of life when you lose track of it

If you're feeling helpless right now in the second group, the trick is to focus yourself on noticing the good stuff and ask yourself how you would get the missing stuff if you were alone and on your own. Let go of your expectations that are not working for you. Instead, Expect Love. There is usually plenty of it in these marriages, and the unmet expectations block it out.

October 13, 2012

Laughing Out Loud (an Odd Request)

Laughter is such a great defense against depression and self-pity. My husband laughs a lot: big, deep, belly laughs at TV shows, jokes on the internet, unexpected sights, or a good pun. I once watched him slide off a sofa onto the floor involuntarily while a friend kept adding to an invented story about a flaming cow, unable to catch his breath or unbend himself because he was laughing so hard.

I absolutely love to watch this. Sometimes, he gets me laughing pretty hard. He's incredibly funny. But usually it's just a titter or a giggle or a grin.

I don't seem to have an easily accessible belly laugh switch. Or at least that's what I believed yesterday. And then I was reminded of mine. I could not catch my breath. When I did, I glanced at my computer screen and started again. And it lifted my spirits. Guess who I couldn't wait to tell? I was grinning a big grin at him the moment he walked in the room.

I am a sucker for typos. Not misspellings, but genuine typos, where the finger hits some other key and types "lover function tests" instead of "liver function tests" or the ear hears what others intend to sound like "Lead On, Oh King Eternal" and it ends up on paper as "Lead On, Oh Kinky Turtle."

I cannot stop myself when I see one of these. I burst out laughing. I can't wait to repeat it, but I can't get it out before the belly laugh begins again. If I close my mouth, my abdomen quivers, my shoulders twitch, and suddenly I hear a snort I don't recognize as my own. I have no idea why. But who cares? It works!

Except for the first five times I read Eats, Shoots and Leaves, moments like reading the already delivered proposal to a key client earnestly promising to "thoroughly profread every document we submit" have been pretty far between. There are often one or two of these in Jay Leno's Headlines segment, but I don't get to see it very often.

And that's why I am making my odd request. We've got some tough months ahead of us, in a new home far from others on the top of a mountain, after several years of piece-of-cake condo living. We know the snow and wind will make some days pretty rough, and our first snow shower was yesterday! The TV will keep my wonderful husband laughing, but I want to find a daily source of belly laughs for myself.

Who better to ask than you? If you know of a daily email with misunderstood titles, a funny typo hashtag on Twitter, someone I should follow on Facebook, or a new book like Eats, Shoots and Leaves, I beg of you to share it. It could strengthen our marriage. How can you resist?

October 12, 2012

3 Quick Ways to Improve Your Marriage

When the two of you draw farther apart each week or the marriage feels more unfair every day, you can change your experience of it. Here are three quick ways to improve your marriage.

  1. Do less of whatever makes you angry. If it's something you can't get out of, like filing taxes or changing diapers, do less of something else you don't enjoy, like washing dishes. (Paper plates work just fine when you have important work like improving your marriage.)
  2. Tell a good listener the story of how you two met, when you fell in love, and how long it took you to say so.
  3. Plan a wickedly great date night with things you absolutely love to do and your spouse or life partner will go along with.

Don't let a good marriage slip out of reach! Act right now. Tomorrow may be too late.

October 11, 2012

Growing Up without Dad

I have no doubt that there are children who are much better off with their fathers out of the house. Children cannot protect themselves from violence, sexual predation, or the carelessness and neglect of some alcoholic or drug addicted fathers. I salute the mothers who take on the difficult work of raising children alone when this is the case and the selflessness of the step dads who assist some of them.

I also know firsthand what it's like to be thrust into single parenthood through the death of a spouse. It's not easy.

But can these cases possibly account for the fact that today one in three children is growing up in homes without their biological fathers? I suspect not. I fear it's some awful offshoot of the women's liberation movement I have been part of and will continue to support. After World War II, when our mothers had to work, they were sent home to make room at work for all the men lucky enough to return from the war. We Baby Boomers were the result. We became our mothers' important work. And there is no doubt that raising children is some of the most important and meaningful work we can ever do.

Twenty years later, our mothers were restless, and so were we teen girls as we looked at their lack of choices. We created new choices, lots of them. We also created some awful expectations, like the one that we could "bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let him forget he's a man" simply by wearing the right perfume.

We Baby Boomer women divorced in large numbers. The divorce rate is a good deal lower now than when we were all deciding that fried bacon was enough, that our kids would be fine on our incomes and our schedules, that marriage was just too challenging, that sex was a bother when we were not being wooed and had to make time in a very busy day for it.

And now our daughters and daughters-in-law are facing life with lots more options automatically available to them. And many more are doing it without the experience of having their biological father in their childhood home than in our Boomer generation.

And our sons and son-in-laws, too, see lots of evidence of people growing up without fathers. As women define roles for them around their own choices, they may feel marriage now allows them choices almost as limited as their post-war grandmothers had.

Marriages can be very painful when they stop meeting our expectations. It is easy, when dealing with this daily pain, to make a plan to live on your own income and whatever a judge will grant you of his, so you can raise your child or children in peace. If you are anywhere near that point, I really hope you will work on the expectations and create a new marriage. It's possible. Every time I watch someone come back from that brink and fall back in love, I get all choked up. It's a beautiful thing.

And while I deal in this blog with finding our way back to a loving marriage, I really feel for anyone who won't consider marrying because they expect the pain.

And this is why I want to send you to an incredible new web page on the National Fatherhood Initiative's website. Before you consider single parenthood, check it out. There is nothing on it about what you should or should not do. Instead, it summarizes the findings of 65 studies on the statistical differences between children who grow up with both parents and those who grow up with their mothers. I did not know any of this when I was facing the pain in my marriage and weighing my pain against our son's. It would have made a difference to me. Maybe it will to you, too.

October 10, 2012

The Most Important Appointment of Your Day

Do you have a stress-filled day of calling on clients, seeing them in your office, interviewing job candidates, or running casting calls? Do you look forward to heading home for peace and quiet without any more demands?

Before you go, consider treating this last appointment of the day as the most important one. Take a moment to prepare yourself for it as you prepare for the others. How would you like it to go? What do you need to do to prepare for it to go that way? What attitude on your part will guide it to where you'd like it to go? What is likely to be expected of you?

If it's always hectic, could you make a phone call earlier in the day that would reduce that feeling upon arrival? Or schedule a weekly lunch date with your spouse?

Is there a hand-off, with your spouse or children leaving as you arrive? Could it be made simpler with a calendar or a "things you should know" notebook or pocket-size video camera?

Would it help to meet your mate for drinks and dinner one night a week while a babysitter feeds the kids?

What about a special family tradition that makes your arrival an event? We kids always knew when payday was, because Dad would bring home Chuckles. Remember them? Five large, flat gumdrops in a cellophane pack? Licorice was always in the center, and I always traded mine to my brother for one of the other flavors. Lemon and orange were my favorites, but licorice was his.

When you know what you want, turn it into a pleasant game with your spouse and children. Buy yourself goofy slippers and a bubble pipe for your kids to bring you when they hear the theme song from My Three Sons or The Flintstones playing on your cell phone as you approach the door. Invite your husband to join you.

Or make it a daily ritual to have a 90-second kiss just inside the front door or to do yoga together in silence for 20 minutes right after coming home.

If you're usually too stressed for any of this, park your car two or three blocks from home and get in some walking before you reach the door.

Need to make a pickup at the daycare center or karate class on your way home? Get your kids memorizing poems or songs to practice on the way, while you clear your head. Or clear your head first, with a nightly stop at your favorite book or music store before you get them.

You can do a lot of damage in a few short minutes by ending your day annoyed to see your more important appointment of the day. You can say things you'll regret or miss an opportunity to be supportive or grateful or admiring.

Make your homecoming the most important appointment of your day.

October 9, 2012

What I Believe About Marriage and How to Enjoy It

I've been blogging for quite a while now, since Valentine's Day of 2006. If you're new to this blog, the Assume Love Archives must seem a bit overwhelming. So let me try to sum up the basics for you.

First, I write about marriage and committed life partnerships, not about relationships in general. I write for people with a mutual and public commitment to love each other, an intention backed by one's personal integrity. If you're with someone for as long as you both feel love for each other, you may find some of my approaches counterproductive, even when the problems you face are similar to those faced by committed life partners.

Second, I think communication and compromise are highly overrated as techniques for improving your marriage. Save compromise for a last-ditch solution to your unresolvable differences. No one enjoys compromising, and it's seldom necessary. If you had no complaints about communications while you were falling in love, you can expect good communication to return as you enjoy being married more.

Third, I think marriage is for love. You can earn your own money. You can pay or barter with other people to do your household chores and yard work, watch and teach your kids, travel with you, support you in your new endeavors, or listen to you. You may want a life partner to provide these, but you don't need one. Love is different. If you push love away while waiting for help with your taxes or a clean floor, you cannot easily replace it.

Fourth, if you want to enjoy being married, I believe you will should master these three key techniques:

  • Assume Love When someone vows to love you, there is a good chance your distress comes from a misunderstanding. Check it out before you retaliate or pout.

  • Expect Love If you're expecting something else, you will overlook it when it's offered or convince your life partner not to offer so much.

  • Find Third Alternatives Don't get stuck on the first two that come to mind if you disagree about them. Marriage is not a contest. The only way to win is by making sure your spouse wins.

And fifth, I respect whatever religious beliefs about marriage you hold, but I won't be bringing any of mine to this blog or to my teleclasses.

October 8, 2012

God and Your Marriage

I won't pretend I know what God expects of us married folks, but I like to hear what others believe about this. So, back in August, I listened to a webinar on the subject by Ustadha Hedaya Hartford. It was an intro to an 11-week webinar course on The Successful Islamic Marriage.

Unfortunately, when I went to publish this review a day after writing it, everything I had written had vanished. I had really wanted to tell any Sunni Muslim readers about it in time to sign up, because I really enjoyed this sample of her work, but it was gone. Last night, the missing post suddenly reappeared. If you're interested in the course, please contact or do a web search for Hedaya Hartford, as she appears to teach for other organizations, write books, and even show up on YouTube.

What was especially interesting to me was that much of what she said sounds like it should apply as well to Christian or Jewish marriages, even though she based everything on her own religious texts. If you are familiar with the sacred writings of Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion, I would love to hear from you on how her ideas fit with what you believe.

One of her frequently repeated points was that if you cannot protect your spouse from your angry outbursts, your addictions, or your parents' meddling, you don't meet the criteria for getting married. You are not fit to do what is required of a spouse. If you marry anyway, your temper or inability to control your parents' role in your marriage is no excuse for what happens. "Fix yourself," she said.

Another was that in the wedding ceremony (nikkah), you make promises in front of witnesses and acknowledge that God (Allah) is the best of those witnesses. Your marriage thus becomes a way of worshiping God. When you swear, belittle your husband or wife, behave unkindly, withhold generosity, or hurt the person you married, there are no excuses. How badly your spouse behaves should never dictate how you behave.

Under Islamic law, you concern yourself with your own character and should not to try to change anyone else's. This includes your wife or husband. It also means wives accept their husbands' decisions, up to the point where doing so would require them to disobey God's other rules.

Her answers to questions from women all over the globe were great. I am paraphrasing here.

Q: My husband wants to take a second wife, and I don't think I could ever get along with her.
A: Islam allows him up to four wives. It does not require that you remain one of them. Talk to him about how you feel. Some women can handle this situation, but not many.

Q. I want to get married, but I am a strong and independent woman. Must I really submit to my husband?
A. I, too, am a strong and independent woman, but this does not give me permission to invent other rules I think would be better than the ones handed down to us. I made sure I found a man who likes my strength and independence and is willing to discuss things before making decisions. With any other husband, I would have a very difficult time doing what is required of me.

Q. A man wants to marry me, but he says he will only marry a virgin. I want to marry him. Must I tell him I am not a virgin?
A. No, but you must tell him you are not a suitable marriage partner for him. You cannot start a good marriage by lying or pretending you know better than he does what's right for him.

Although she got there from religious texts and I got there through trial and error, I found myself agreeing with her quite often. If you are currently incapable of protecting your spouse from your problems, fix yourself. Don't react to your spouse from your gut; behave in a way you'll feel good about. Do not try to change your spouse to fit your expectations. Don't stay married if you cannot abide the life it offers you, but do look for a Third Alternative before you go. Don't marry under false pretenses; choose someone with whom you can enjoy being married.

I don't think I expected to agree with so much. I was almost tempted to sign up for the course just to learn whether she gets into the how-to. That is what I try to offer you. How do you behave in a way you'll feel good about when you don't like your spouse's words or deeds? How do you deal with a husband (or wife) who needs to fix himself? How do you stop expecting different character strengths? How do you choose someone with whom you can make a good marriage? If you take her course, please let me know.

And if you're from another religion, please leave a comment about how her beliefs about marriage mesh with those you have been taught. And please let me know about webinars where I can learn more about what's expected of married folks by your religion.

October 7, 2012

Socks on the Floor

Sure, they are ugly. Stinky, too. And you might be right that this is not where they belong. You could probably take a poll of other people to prove you're right.

But none of this would make you happier. Want to be happier? Take 15 extra seconds when you enter a room to remove any socks from the floor Then thank your guy or gal for your hippopotamus-free home.

October 6, 2012

How to Be a Great Dad

How to be a great dad? How to have happy, secure, loving kids?

Make their mom feel extremely lucky to know you.

Don't just stay married for your kids. Stay loving.

October 5, 2012

Endearing You

Do you know what makes you endearing to your husband, wife, or life partner?

If you do, consider yourself extremely blessed. You know how to pull the two of you closer when you begin to drift apart. (And it's so very much not, "We need to have a talk.")

If you don't know what makes you endearing, why not make it your project for the month of October to find out? Think back to those days when you were falling in love. What sides of yourself did you reveal? What colors did you wear? What did you talk about? What did you eat? What words did you use? What did you do then that made you feel childlike, full of wonder and grace, free to play or pretend, alive and happy? What did you especially like about your mate? What did you say that got a big smile or a relaxed sigh? What gifts or favors or kind words did you offer up?

Try them all over the course of the month and rate each one on a scale from one to ten. If any get a 7 or better, try them again in a few days. If the score goes up or stays at 9 or 10, write it down in your little black book of ways to reconnect.

Expect love. Nobody doesn't like giving love. They just need to be reminded from time to time why they choose to save their love for you alone.

October 4, 2012

Inexpensive Marriage Education

I now record all of my marriage education teleclasses, and you can listen to these 45- to 70-minute recordings for just $6 each.

  • What Should You Expect from Your Husband or Wife?
  • Are You Suffering Needlessly?
  • When Your Spouse's Hobby Drives You Crazy
  • How Dare You?! Moments in Marriage
  • Should I Seek a Divorce?
  • What to Do About Your Spouse's Bad Habits
  • Open Forum: You Choose Our Topics
  • 7 Ways to Stop a Fight
  • How to Get What You Need When Your Spouse Says No
You can also be part of the audience for the next one free of charge. The topic for October 2012 is Making the Most of Your Spouse's Strengths. For more information, sign up for my Enjoy Being Married Newsletter on the same page.

October 3, 2012

How to Tackle Life's Problems Together

Matt asked a very interesting question in his comment on Not All Your Problems Are Marriage Problems:

What happens when other problems get in the way of the marriage and one spouse is better at dealing with them than the other?

Marriage problems are the ones that end if your spouse suddenly dies. They are problems between the two of you, like whether 4 am sex is enjoyable or not and whether Saturdays are for family, golf, or landscaping.

The ones Matt is asking about are the problems that stay with you, like providing what your children need, bringing in enough money to buy the housing you want, finding someone to share a hobby with, or getting snow off your front sidewalk and trash out of your kitchen.

How do these problems get in the way of the marriage? Usually by telling yourself a story about what's fair. For example, "There are two of us, so each of us should do half of what needs doing."

Each of us has some must-do items we just don't like to do or believe we cannot do. These tend to be the ones we think it would be fair for our mates to do.

Each of us also has some items on our must-do list that don't show up on our mate's must-do list. They might include things like "grow fresh, organic vegetables" or "keep the garage neat and clean." Even though we married someone who is fine with going a decade or two without doing them, we still believe they figure into our spouse's fair share. Then we fail to include their "take kids apple picking every fall" and their "dust under the bed daily."

If you would be upset if your spouse earns more than you and uses some of the money to pay someone to do his or her share of this work, your story might go like this: "There are two of us, and it's only fair that we each put in the same amount of effort."

Add in something out of your control, like a dip in the economy, and your story might be this: "When your income drops, you cut expenses to match." But your life partner's version of the story might be more like this: "When your income drops, you take on more work." But this leaves less time and energy for cost-cutting measures.

The result of any of these stories? We convince ourselves we are being taken advantage of by an unfair spouse. If we keep it up long enough, we may find out the truth: Fair is you responsible for everything on your must-do list, and marriage is delightfully unfair, because there is bound to be a good bit of overlap to enjoy.

What happens when real problems get in the way is resentment and distance from someone you love. But you possess the power to stop all that. Just drop your story and do what you would feel needs doing if you had no unfair spouse.

You'll start noticing the unfair advantages of marriage, and your husband, wife, or life partner will be hard-pressed to accuse you of doing less than your share. When the old story creeps back in unwanted, as it did for me, start singing, out loud, "All You Need is Love." Love is so much richer (not to mention more abundant) without the overlay of resentment.

Who's The Better Problem-Solver?

And that brings us to the other part of Matt's question, about one of you being better able to deal with problems than the other.

It's not true. No, really. It's not true. Not even if you're married to someone deaf with no hands and an IQ 20 points lower than yours. It's just not true.

If your way of solving problems is perseverance, trying one thing after another until something works, your assessment of someone's problem-solving ability is simply an assessment of his or her perseverance. If your way of solving problems is to solicit advice and help from your vast social network, networks and social intelligence are your measures.

If your approach is to pray, agnostics and atheists probably look like dreadful problem solvers. If your approach is to look at the problem from many different angles until you can see the forest as well as the trees, those folks on their knees, on the phone, or doing a Thomas Edison impersonation probably don't look like they could possibly succeed.

If you often hop in the car as part of solving a problem, you may never notice that blind people find other ways to solve the same problem.

Just about every strength provides an effective way to solve tough problems. If you want more help from your spouse with the ones facing both of you, try a sandwich request:

  • Admire one of his or her strengths that you have a lot less of. I have always been so impressed by your ability to find bits of extraordinary beauty I would overlook.

  • Ask if there is any way to apply it to this problem. Can you think of any way this talent of yours might help us get Jake the special care he needs?

  • Admire the strength again. I'm happy to support in any way I can, but I admire your talent and I know others do, too. Maybe it's exactly what we need to fix this problem.

People using their best strengths often get into a flow state. You may get a long string of possible solutions, and they are bound to amaze you. They are not ones you can get to with your learned knowledge or your analytical skills. And if you are not the more conventional problem-solver in your relationship, they are also not the ones you will come up with using your prayers, your people skills, your leadership abilities, or your great sense of humor, all of which are other ways to solve a problem.

Marriage is doubly unfair: not only is there overlap between your lists of must-do items, but you get a lot more strengths to draw on in figuring out how to do them.

If you want a great example of just what sort of unfair advantage marriage can give you, check out the blog of a recent commenter on Assume Love: The Great Jollyhoombah. Theirs is a story of very successfully tackling life's problems together.

October 2, 2012

Let Go of the How to Find the Why - Part 2

Third Alternatives almost always exist, even when it looks like there are just two options and each of you can stand only one of them. And to discover them, you let go of the how to find the why.

For example, think of Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages.

One thrives on Quality Time together, especially time spent in meaningful, soul-revealing conversation. When they first met, there was quite a bit of this as they revealed themselves to each other. Now it's stopped. One craves it. The other has nothing to say.

One says she craves it because she's home alone with the kids and had few adult conversations, but when asked if spending more time alone with friends would satisfy her, she knows it won't. Deep down, at a level she cannot reason with, this sort of conversation makes her feel loved and she feels unloved without it.

The other has nothing to say. Why? Because processing his own day-to-day feelings takes a lot of unfamiliar effort with no apparent payoff. And listening to her feelings makes him feel rather helpless. How do you fix a bad feeling? And now she wants to talk about her bad feelings about him not fixing her bad feelings? No thanks. Whether or not she feels loved when he does this, he feels loving only when he's doing something helpful for her, the Acts of Service Love Language.

What Third Alternatives are available for them? What will give her the satisfaction of connecting with him in deep conversation and let him feel competent, helpful, and valued?

  • Start their own private book club and discuss the ideas of the great philosophers or of today's political and social reformers.

  • Find and make time for friends who will work through her thoughts about her personal feelings with her, so they are not so near the surface when the two of them talk.

  • Get him into an Active Listening course, so he can learn to be helpful to her by asking good questions.

  • Schedule time for Quality Time together, including conversations, so she's not trying to start conversations when his mind is elsewhere.

  • Mix conversations with things that say love to him, like watching her prepare his favorite meal or helping her with the heavy lifting in her garden.

  • Have conversations by email or online chat if he finds these more comfortable and she can still appreciate the one-on-one time this way.

What do you think? If you and your mate share this difference, would any of these work for you? Have you found your own Third Alternative that both of you can enjoy?

October 1, 2012

Let Go of the How to Find the Why

When you are looking for Third Alternatives (win-win endings to your disagreements), you must let go of the how to find the why. Let me show you what I mean.

One wants to go by car. The other wants to go by plane. Why?

One wants to go by car to see the countryside between points A and B. The other wants to go by plane to avoid being the driver on such a long drive. Third Alternatives?

  • Ask a college student with a good driving record to drive in exchange for free transportation.

  • Take a bus or train.

One wants to go by car because flying is scary. The other wants to go by car because it will save almost $1,000 in lodging, meals, and gas. Third Alternatives?

  • Take a flying anxiety reduction course before the trip.

  • Raise the $1,000 through overtime work, a cake sale, or selling unused camera equipment and skiing gear.

  • Find folks to stay with along the route and bring food from home to bring the price difference down to one easier to bear.

One wants to go by car to avoid feeling stuck with the in-laws when they get there. The other wants to go by plane because it means less lost work time during a busy season. Third Alternatives?

  • Fly and rent a car.

  • Fly and find a local friend to take them away from the house.

  • One drive, the other fly.

Same disagreement. Same sense at the beginning that it's an either-or choice where one will win and the other will lose. Lots of options to make both happy, once they get at the why for either and or.

Ultimate Blog Challenge website in new window
This is post 1 of 31 this month, when I am going for the Ultimate Blog Challenge as I did (successfully!) last year. I will also be joining the Christian Marriage Bloggers Association (of which I am not a member, as I write for people of all faiths) in their 1/2 Marathon Blog Challenge for the first 13 days of the month. I hope you will check out some of the folks in the marathon, as there are some great blogs in the CMBA.

There is something about the gorgeous autumn colors and the chill in the air that makes taking it up a notch feel so right. I hope you enjoy the extra posts and find something valuable in them.

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

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