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Articles from January 2013

January 28, 2013

Yelling, Cursing, and Slamming Doors

Another great question in the comments on another post sparked this post:

What if you can find the evidence that your spouse loves you by what he has said, but the way he says it is delivered in a frightening way, such as by yelling, cursing, and slamming doors? How do you handle that behavior?

Special Situations

Yelling, cursing, and slamming doors are ways to feel better inside (they are a great physical release for anger), to get your attention, or to feel more powerful. They are inappropriate in a loving relationship, but we humans sometimes do inappropriate things, and if we're lucky, we're still loved anyway.

If the only time your spouse shows love for you is while yelling, cursing, or slamming doors, I would strongly recommend seeing a marriage therapist, together or on your own.

Also, if these ever escalate to violence, the best thing you can do for yourself, your spouse, and your relationship is to find a safe place to live while your mate gets professional help with whatever underlies this anger and loss of control. Often, it is addiction to drugs or alcohol. Sometimes, it's mental illness or damage to the brain. Sometimes, it's a lack of tools to use to manage anger. Always, it's nothing you can fix for your spouse or make easier to fix by waiting.

If you are in danger of violence, find a psychologist or social worker and some strong friends or relatives or a shelter to help you. But put enough space between you to make it nearly impossible for your spouse to hurt someone he or she loves while finding the courage to make the changes needed to regain self-control.

More Usual Situations

OK. We've addressed the dangerous situations. Let's say you have a spouse who shows love in other ways but often yells, curses, and slams doors, too. You might try some things on your own.

If you can discover the source of the anger, the need for attention, or the feelings of power imbalance in your relationship, you have the power to change the triggers for outbursts neither of you likely enjoys.

The first is to look for patterns.

  • Do these outbursts generally occur soon after coming home from work? If so, check your coming-home conversations for things that trigger a work problem. One woman found that declaring her sovereignty in the kitchen when he made dinner suggestions right after work was closely tied to the horrible lack of respect he was getting from customers at work. All she needed to do was stop when he came in and remind him how important he is to her, and he could keep his work problems from becoming marriage problems.

  • Do they occur mostly on non-work days? If so, listen more carefully. Are you inadvertently giving orders to get chores done or ignoring invitations to play? A more direct approach to chores or play might draw you closer and stop the noise.

  • Do they generally occur in a particular room of the house? If so, try shaking things up in that room. Change what you talk about there. Change who initiates things there. Change the level of neatness or comfort or personality there.

  • Did they start right after some significant event, like an operation, a parent's death, or the loss of a job? You know your spouse well. What issue might have welled up into something big and nasty then? What does your spouse need to tame it again?

  • Do they follow or precede doing something you enjoy that your spouse does not or is not included in? Look for a Third Alternative that meets both your needs and not just yours.

If there are no patterns, check whether you pay attention and cater to your spouse's needs or do things you resent doing when these things happen. If so, see if you can ignore the noise and go about your business, then pay attention to your spouse's needs or do nice things at a different time, like right after a kiss or after a kind word. It will feel awkward at first, but you will both learn the new dance fairly quickly.

And remember that your marriage can be a great one even with a good bit of nastiness as long the good stuff outweighs the nasty stuff by a ratio of 5 to 1. When you add nastiness to nastiness, you never even the score. Instead, you add another 5 measures of good stuff to what it takes to have a happy marriage.

January 25, 2013

Adventure-Seekers Who Marry Comfort-Seekers

If you are an adventure-seeker, someone who loves to try new things and test your nerves whenever you can, you may find yourself attracted to and then married to your opposite, a comfort-seeker.

At some point, you may think you married the wrong person, that you have nothing in common with this person and would be better off with another adventure-seeker.

But there is a reason we're attracted to our opposites. We just need to learn how to stand their opposite-ness, maybe even gain from it.

A pair of adventure-seekers will probably get out of the house more often and try more new things. However, they won't see eye-to-eye on what's an adventure and what's more foolishness than adventure. While they might both get excited about skiing out of a helicopter down virgin snow, one might think taking salsa lessons in Miami would be a great next adventure while the other has no interest in dancing except with Asian villagers who have just fed them the lamb's eye or some dung beetle soup.

A comfort-seeker will not challenge your self-image as an adventurous person. A comfort-seeker also will not leave you worrying about their safety.

When you come home from an adventure with a fellow adventure-seeker, you toss a coin to see which of you will throw some sheets on the bed so you can rest your weary muscles or bruised joints. If you live with a comfort-seeker, it's likely there will be somewhere to unwind in warm water, a delightfully cushy, already made bed to sink into, and delicious things on hand to eat. If you haven't ticked off this mate of yours, there may also be something more comfy than a wetsuit or tuxedo to change into.

After a string of "no thank you's" to your invitations to try the local Ghanan restaurant, hit the rock-climbing wall after work, and go tent camping, you are likely to stop noticing how nice things are for you post-adventure. You might even start fantasizing about a partner who shares your excitement for these activities. But there is something better to try.

Find ways to make adventure more comfortable. Do the research to find an exotic restaurant where your spouse will feel comfortable with the service, the ambiance, and at least a couple of the menu choices. Think of an activity to pair it with that will enchant your mate. If it goes well, return a few times until it feels comfortable. Then you can suggest other places with now-familiar dishes and more options for you to explore.

The rock-climbing wall might look great to you, but if it's not your mate's cup of tea, find a friend (or make a friend) who will challenge you to climb higher or faster and follow your rock-climbing with some special time with your spouse, whether it's a standing date for sex, a night out at a comfy, familiar restaurant, or just a TV show you both enjoy and make a point to watch together. Bring your great mood from climbing home with you, so you both look forward to it.

Want to go tent camping together? It's likely your comfort-seeker cannot imagine it being comfortable. But that's your challenge, and you like a challenge. One fellow I know took to heart his lady's objection that she would need a U-Haul trailer to bring the things she needs to start the day right on a camping trip. He provided one. When I headed up a den of Cub Scouts, we went family camping with all of the kids and some of the parents in tents and the rest in rented trailers with air conditioning.

If you do such things, when it's time to take a hotel vacation, you just might find your comfort-seeking spouse looking for places to get pampered and try new challenges. And he or she might feel safe enough to try some of them. And there is a good chance some of them will be challenges you never thought of trying, ones that expose you to different transcendent moments than mountaintops offer or to understandings you will not find in any competitive activity.

And should you ever go too far and need to rebuild your health after one of your adventures, a loving comfort-seeker is just about the best companion you could ever have. Especially if you have avoided mocking comfort to justify your adventure-seeking.

January 20, 2013

Interviewed on Romance Never Dies

This was fun! Grace Pamer interviewed me for her blog Romance Never Dies. She's a sucker for marriage proposals and endlessly curious about how love begins. She asked me about both of my wonderful husbands.

While you're there, look for Adam and Aubrie's proposal. It's a lot of fun, and I don't really think such fun ought to end when we marry. Let's propose a vacation!

January 18, 2013

Married Young and For All the Wrong Reasons

I received a comment this week on my very popular Should I Stay Married for the Kids? post.

I think it's an important one, so I am replying to it in this blog post. If you have kids and are considering divorce or do not currently enjoy being married, I hope you will read the whole thing.

It's from someone who gets what it means to kids when parents divorce but must make a difficult choice to stay or go. He begins:

Most of the advice I see on the topic of stay or go boils down to "There was love, love is gone (perhaps now replaced with evils of resentment and all its displays), do I leave or do I stay?" In fact, science even has statistics that help make this choice easier: if your fights are loud, violent, and frequently in front of the kids, and anger management doesn't help, divorce is a BETTER option for the kids. If you can keep the kids near-oblivious to your situation, staying together is in long term better for the kids. In fact, happily married parents did not necessarily raise happy kids, so your happiness means very little for kids, as long as they have the both of you, and no clear fighting and violent unhappiness. The absolutely BEST advice I've ever received on repairing a marriage is "you cannot get your marriage back - it wasn't working to begin with if you got here, but if you remember how you once loved each other and wanted to be together, you can find the desire to build something new together, something that works." I agree with that statement VERY MUCH!

Generalities never describe our own situations perfectly, and the kids we're all concerned about are always our own. And by the time we're trying to figure out what's good for them, we're usually in over our heads, frantic for a solution to our own problems. I have an awful lot of empathy for him as he deals with whether to end the marriage or stay.

He continues with words surely familiar to many:

But what does one do in an odd situation when two people were married young and for all the wrong reasons? My wife and I have very passive aggressive fights - no violence, no yelling that kids can hear (VERY rarely anyway), no thrown objects. We're just ridiculously incompatible. Never have been. VERY wrong for each other. It's not that I resent her now, it's that given another pass, I'd never marry her in the first place, nor she me, and I'm fine with that.

In my observation, one does not need to marry young to marry for all the wrong reasons. In Western culture, at any age, we may marry because we're crazy in love and can't imagine the obvious differences between us ever getting in the way, and then they do. We marry for someone to live with other than the parents or spouse we're currently living with, and then we discover it's no easier living with the new person. We marry because we are so flattered to be asked by someone with such fame, money, or respect, and then they lose it or aren't so happy sharing it. We marry because it's the only way to get the sex we want or because it's the only decent thing to do after the sex we wanted leads to the pregnancy we didn't, and now the sex is a good bit less exciting.

We each get to this place of feeling "I would be happier elsewhere" in our own way. And it always feels unique, because it is.

However, we seldom get there overnight. I am writing this to anyone who might be putting up with what they don't like or checking out of the marriage into a career or hobby because they don't know what else to do.

He writes (and I am omitting his name because he really could be any of us who have ever considered divorce):

Her core passion is comfort - she loves a state of minimum activity, so long as everything is in-place. I am an adventure seeker, to whom a chaotic turn of events is just another adventure to adapt to. She's ultra-punctual, and I'm not. She doesn't love through touch, and I cannot live without touch - it's a 12 for me (5 love languages reference). Kisses are awkward, sex is virtually non-existent (1/month on average, but as rare as once every 3-4 months happens).

Oh, wow. I could write a month-long series of blog posts on ways to thrive with such differences. Maybe I will. But not today, because unless we get him back from the ledge, they won't be helpful to our commenter.

We recently escalated things to the point of discussing divorce. She wanted to leave. At first I had every intention to save the marriage, then I realized that it cannot be saved since there was never love. And as different as we are, building anything new would be hard. I have a life list mile long of things I want to do with my life, she wouldn't come up with 1-2 things we could enjoy doing together.

"Building anything new would be hard." No question. Once it's gotten to this point, building is always harder than leaving. It's like being 275 pounds overweight, knowing it's reducing your life expectancy and doubling or tripling your chances of being disabled, and staring at a plate of brownies. It's hard, really hard. It takes time, and the brownies are always there. No one can answer for him or any of us whether it's worth doing.

Only three things seem to make rebuilding a marriage worth doing for most people: money, God, or kids.

All would be simple without kids, but we have 2 amazing boys: 6 & 4. They love each one of us very much and we love them back. In different ways, but with our full hearts.

Oops. It will be at least 2028 before those two are both old enough to go their own way. Until then, at least one of them will be dependent on and dealing with both mom and dad. They will be trying to keep mom comfortable and dad convinced they love his adventures. And they will be listening to ultra-punctual mom seething every time dad is late to pick them up.

Kids are a good reason to do the work. Not just to stay married, but to find a way to really love those kids' other parent, as they do.

The last straw was the fact that I never knew love before this marriage, and thought that it's a myth, or something that I can create, fake, live with a "cup half full",

Just pausing here to get the attention of anyone not yet married who might be thinking the same thing.

but in my search to fix the marriage, I discovered a lot of materials on fixing my own confidence, my own world views, my understanding of male/female roles in a relationship, female psychology, sexual/seduction approaches that got me attention from the opposite gender that I never dreamed of having.

My first thought was family-bound: how do I seduce my wife? How do I get her attracted to me? And I managed it... a little bit anyway. Our sex life got better, things go a little bit smoother... but it required a LOOOOT of work, and I didn't like who I became doing it. I was basically someone else. I felt she was attracted to what I did, not to who I was. I realized even more strongly she felt no acceptance towards the real me, she didn't want the real me.

I'll bet this is familiar to a lot of readers, too. Maybe you did not improve your seduction skills. Maybe you became a vegan or took cooking classes or got fit and when things got better in your marriage felt your spouse was attracted to what you did, not who you are. Ouch!

In my psychology research I found a type of woman that matches me far more, and accidentally one day ran into a woman of just that type... in fact, not only her type was a match, but everything from her Briggs-Myers personality to our life interests. She also had a life list, and it was similar to mine. This woman inspired me and was inspired by me. I took 2 weeks away from family life to get a perspective and spent them with this woman. I should probably feel guilty, but I do not. I didn't cheat, I just wanted to research what I was missing.

Note to anyone else whose marriage is going downhill: change your definition of cheating. When you research what's missing, it's like pouring hot fudge and whipped cream over those brownies you're staring at as you decide whether you can find the will to lose those 275 pounds. You are cheating yourself, your kids, and your spouse.

Our conversations were amazing, way she put her hands on me felt incredible, even in the most unsexual of her intentions, it sent electricity down my whole body. Our life goals are identical, she thinks my sweat smells sweet. What does that even mean?!!! I'm still baffled by that phrase! It sounds so incredible. I think I flew up a little when she just took my hand and told me "I'm so happy right now". We ended up kissing, and her kiss feels like heaven, no less. I feel through touch, and the way she feels I've never felt before with any of my ex's (and I'm not the most experience-deprived man in the physical department).

Our reader is quite smitten. It's like taking the first brownie from that platter. Making the choice to lose the weight is now much, much harder than it was before. So, note to anyone else, move yourself away from the brownies until you've made your decision.

The truth about affairs (even affairs where you carefully refrain from actual intercourse) is that they mislead you into focusing entirely on the brownies. When you're craving them (or researching them), they are wonderful, but you forget how unexciting they are when you're in the mood for crab cakes or tomato soup. And you forget how awful it feels to shop for clothes after eating a lot of them and how much you long to run beside your kid the first time they fly a kite.

If you're looking for love, and you're married, an affair is going to make it harder and riskier to find it.

Before you go to criticize... I sat down with my wife and tried to work out a way to fix our marriage and she completely refused, that happened before I met the new girl. I told the new girl that I am married and have kids and probably will get divorced. So no one had been lied to.

I am not criticizing. I am empathizing. I know how painful it is to decide whether to leave your spouse and whether to put your kids through divorce.

However, I am not going to agree that he told either of them the truth. He is half in and half out, and it's a really, really awful place to be. But until he makes his decision to work on the marriage (without his wife's cooperation if necessary) or end it, he is leading both of them on. And he's making either choice harder to make.

Cheated on? I don't know... lately my wife has once again expressed an interest to try to work on our marriage, but her idea of "us working" is "me changing myself", and her enjoying the benefits of me becoming more like what she wants me to be.

If you've read much of Assume Love, you know I think she's in an awful place. She believes the only way to improve her marriage is to get him to change. I am sure she gives lip service to needing to make some changes herself, because "it takes two." That's the myth.

But I have seen quite a few marriages on the brink of divorce become loving again without either spouse getting the changes in their spouse that they expect would make them happy. How? By making changing the way they participate in the marriage until they enjoy being married. Other people find it a whole lot easier to be married to someone who enjoys being married.

We've been together for 7 VERY LONG years. Most of those were spent in fighting, unhappy, just committed to raising kids, and content that there's nothing better out there - this is my life, and I must live it. Plus some legal things until recently made our divorce impossible. But those things are about to pass and won't stop us anymore. AND I SO WANT FOR MY KIDS TO BE HAPPY!!!!!!! But are fighting and violence really the only two things that decide if they'll be happy or not?! No, they're not exposed to those... but will they grow up to be happy men?!

Many things determine how happy they will be, and we have no control over a lot of them. Right now, all he has control over is whether he's all in for building a new and different life with their mother or not. And it cannot be easy to even consider choosing that when he has a fantasy future with someone whose life goals, touches, and kisses thrill him to contrast it with.

Would they not be better off seeing their dad love to the fullest and be loved by someone? Would they not be better off with a model of what acceptance and wanting look like?

Absolutely. If he can give them any part of this, he should. But he's not headed in that direction.

I respect their mother, we're very unlikely to have any sort of custody battles..... uncomfortable meetings in the future? maybe, maybe not... or maybe she'll meet someone she can fall in love with too and she'll be happy?! I would really like that for her. She admits she never loved me, and she also says she's loved before, and knows what that feels like for her, and that she doesn't feel it with me (never has). Given that a future full of love is really possible for each of us separately, SHOULD WE REALLY STAY TOGETHER JUST FOR THE KIDS WITH 99% OF NEVER BEING LOVED BY ONE ANOTHER?

In my opinion (since I am not one of those who believe we make our marriage vows to God rather than to fallible humans like ourselves), absolutely not.

I would not tackle the very difficult task of rebuilding a marriage if I thought the chances of success were just 1%. I would leave and do what I could to minimize the effects on the boys of living apart from their other parent.

But, as most reading this know, I don't believe a non-violent couple has such a small chance at rebuilding. With a few new skills, I think it's a better than 50-50 bet he can do it.

This is a lot higher than the percentage of people who actually marry and stay married to the person they fell in love with before their divorces. It's not only his wife who may not find a happy marriage after the divorce.

I would caution his to be sure he chooses divorce for the kids whether or not he finds a loving partner for himself.

Please understand that I would never ask if I wasn't willing to bite the bullet and just stay. But I hope someone out there with more worldly wisdom can offer another point of view or words of experience, or just words of support. My heart is breaking... to know love, to know it's SOOOO CLOSE, and to possibly never be able to love or be loved in a way I was meant to be. I made a mistake marrying the wrong woman and making children with her. But now that they are here, it's not just about me anymore. I want what's best for all 4 of us. I want my wife to find love too, just not at the cost of raising heartbroken kids. Do kids really suffer if their divorced parents do not badmouth each other? respect each other? speak kindly of each other? Just live with a new partner...

Many don't. But some do. All live their lives very differently, either living two completely different lives in different places (unless Mom and Dad swap homes every week) or living with a single parent and being a visitor with their other parent. All live their lives loving two parents, increasingly different in goals and values and interests, who no longer make any attempt to develop ways to bridge them.

And I'm still young. I could have more kids, the new girl is amazing, and thinks the world of my kids. So it's not like they'd have an evil stepmom. Instead they'd gain an adventurous beautiful stepmom who grabs the life by its horns, and lives it to the fullest, she and I together could teach my kids to live without fear of failure, to go start a business, to go learn to dance ballroom, to go fly a paraglider off a mountain... these are things I'm afraid they'll miss out on (most of them anyway) in the company of their present parents staying together. PLEASE HELP! ANY ADVICE IS APPRECIATED!

His children will still have the same two parents they have now. He can do these things with them now, just not with his wife.

Do not mistake what you need for what your kids need.

His kids will almost certainly not be happy about sharing him with her when they do these exciting new things. They will not likely be happy being the stepkids who show up in their half-siblings' full-time home for a few days a week.

And the civil relationship he has with their mother will be affected by the perception that their stepmother is the reason her kids are now doing things that scare the bejeebers out of her. It will also be affected by whatever reason there might be for this other woman already knowing his kids well enough to think the world of them.

I am aching for the author of this comment. Either direction he goes in now will be a huge risk for him and an unknown risk for his kids.

Had I heard from him before the research project put that a huge platter of brownies in front of a person in dire need of a big change, this is what I would have advised him to do.

Do everything you would do after a divorce, except break your vows. Take a ballroom dance class without your wife. Take your six year old to one for kids, too. Try paragliding, and make your wife as comfortable as possible by taking out an insurance policy that covers your boys' futures against paragliding accidents. Take your boys skiing. Join an adventure club. And come home from each of your adventures with some way for your wife to enjoy where you've been in the comfort of her living room.

Had I met him before he had the kids, I would have suggested a condom until the wrong reasons for marrying were just a funny story about the start of the great relationship they built by loving and being wide open to being loved.

And if he's no longer willing to fall in love with his sons' mother, this is what I would suggest.

Keep them and your new love apart and use two methods of birth control with her until your divorce is final and you have had a real chance to learn who she is outside of an affair. Do not let them fall in love with her or even learn to look forward to seeing her while there is such a big chance of another painful separation they have no say in.

But I am secretly hoping the new gal does something to break his heart and give him one more chance with their mother, because no one should have to choose between risking everything on the brownies (or even trying to continue to stay put and resist all brownies) and getting healthy by losing the weight.

January 8, 2013

Give Your Spouse the Benefit of the Doubt?

The guiding idea behind Assume Love has been described as "give your spouse the benefit of the doubt." Close, but it would be much more accurate to say "give yourself the benefit of the doubt."

I'm not here to turn you into a better spouse. I am here to help you enjoy being married. The benefit I care about is your satisfaction with your marriage and your life.

I don't think either of those will be improved by putting up with anything unpleasant or frightening, so when you Assume Love, be sure you actively check for evidence you are still loved, respected, cherished, and safe and that what initially upset you is a temporary or limited misunderstanding or the result of a simple disagreement you can resolve with a Third Alternative.

This is when you get the benefit of doubting your initial explanation of what happened between you.

January 4, 2013

Grab It by the Antlers

My husband dared me to make this advice today's blog post after I offered it to him during dinner out with my mom last night.

Just grab it by the antlers and gnaw.

Here's hoping you, too, find something it applies to today.

By the way, he located his spoon before the mousse arrived but not before we both had pictured switching from dainty spoonfuls to a good gnaw on our biggest make-life-better projects.

January 3, 2013

The Worst That Can Happen

What's the worst that can happen to your marriage? I think it is a build-up of resentment.

It is next-to-impossible to show love to someone when you resent what they've done or not done. Even if you try, your actions will be suspect. Your body language will give you away.

Resentment is what allows the thought process that justifies emotional affairs, infidelity, and deliberate overspending or overeating.

Resentment is what leads to badmouthing your life partner to your family and your friends. In long lasting marriages, spouses speak even better of each other than their friends do.

How can you get rid of resentment in your marriage? Find Third Alternatives to your disagreements, Expect Love and drop the rest of your expectations, and Assume Love while you consider alternate explanations for the stuff that bugs you.

Or you can sit and simmer until your spouse or life partner falls madly in love with this miserable, seething version of you and chooses to do everything you expect a life partner ought to do.

January 2, 2013

Save Your Marriage in the Next 3 Minutes

All is takes a little pessimism or resentment to hang a cloud over your marriage. The cloud can get you wondering if it's worth sticking around. Want to know just how easy it is to change that? Watch this video.

[Thanks to my cousin Don for the link and the joy.]

January 1, 2013

Never Assume? Hogwash!

Let's kick off this brand new year with a comment on the most frequent objection to my advice to Assume Love from your spouse or life partner.

Assume Love triggers a warning phrase we've heard many times: never assume. And why does it trigger it so easily in so many of us? Because our default assumption as humans is that at any moment, we may be in danger. We take warnings to heart. They protect us. They support our default assumption.

If you live in a jungle filled with dangerous wildlife, in a nation engaged in civil or genocidal war, or in a place where hurricanes or earthquakes hit many times each year, a default assumption of threat is a life-saving assumption.

If means what you do, instantly, at the first sign of real danger is to look around you for more signs, so you can decide what to do. If you live a dangerous life, never assume means never assume you are safe without testing that assumption. Act on threat of danger, investigate anything that looks like safety.

Don't assume one dead lion means no more lions; keep looking for tracks and scat. Don't assume a frozen river is safe to use as an escape from gunfire; test how much weight it can hold before you need it. Keep testing any optimistic signs against what's more likely, that you are still in danger.

However, if you choose a worthy partner who vows to love and protect you, and it's just the two of you, change the assumption. Act confidently and immediately on signs of love, charity, and respect. Take your time before responding to what look like signs of unfairness, rejection, or selfishness, in case you have overlooked the loving reason for them.

It is OK to Assume Love when someone chooses you and pledges to love you. Sure, some people turn out to be evil, preying on the person they choose. You will not need to keep score, weigh the good against the bad, to spot them. In fact, you will spot them faster when you look for the love in their unfairness, rejection, or selfishness instead. They may be good at faking love, but the love will not be there in their bad acts. And when you see it's not there, the manipulation behind the rest will be a lot more obvious, freeing you to leave.

If you are with one of the good guys, and they far outnumber the bad guys, when you Assume Love, you don't put yourself in danger. Instead, you enjoy a lot more love, a lot more kindness, and a lot more respect.

The Author

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

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