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Articles from October 2013

October 28, 2013

Is This What It Looks Like?

We all have different gifts and strengths. When a spouse's behavior upsets us, it makes sense to check if this is just a surprising use of a talent.

Running late? Watch to see if your artist mate is admiring a sunset or incoming storm clouds rather than simply ignoring the clock.

Upset by flirting? Watch to see if your mate's social skills and enthusiasm are being applied to everyone or only to those who seem to be your sexual competitors. Just because the recipient could interpret the behavior as flirting does not mean your spouse has any intention of focusing these skills on any one person.

Feeling embarrassed by your mate's center-stage position? Watch your spouse's eyes. Is he or she entrancing others by being fully into using a gift of music-making, dancing, or juggling, or is this a plea for attention? The eyes will tell you. If it's the first, join his or her adoring public.

Wish your mate were dressed differently for an event? Look around for others dressed similarly. Are they the very people your mate likes to be around? If no one is dressed like this, is your mate standing a little taller or exuding a bit more self-confidence in this costume?

Always Assume Love when you find yourself upset with your spouse. Try on the assumption that you are still loved by the same wonderful, gifted, good person you fell in love with and see if there is another explanation than that initial knee-jerk story that you married a jerk who loves to see you squirm. Because if you can see the gifts, see the happiness they bring your mate, maybe you can get over your discomfort enough to look on this special moment with love.

October 27, 2013

Take a Marriage Class in November

November seems like a great month for marriage education. Too many separations and divorces emerge from holiday stresses. Maybe one of these is near you.

October 31 - November 4, 2013 - Galveston/Cozumel - Texas Better Marriages Cruise

November 1-3, 2013 Atlantic Beach, NC Marriage Encounter*

November 1-3, 2013 Billings, MT Marriage Encounter*

November 1-21, 2013 Chattanooga, TN First Things First (a variety of workshops almost daily)

November 1-3, 2013 Columbus, OH Marriage Encounter*

November 1-3, 2013 Milwaukee, WI Marriage Encounter*

November 1-3, 2013 Rochester, NY Retrouvaille Weekend*

November 1-3, 2013 St. Louis, MO Retrouvaille Weekend*

November 2, 2013 Boulder, CO Within Our Reach

November 2, 2013 Fort Worth, TX Military Marriage Enrichment

November 3-7, 2013 Austin, TX Relational Care Intensive*

November 3-7, 2013 Branson, MO Relational Care Intensive*

November 3, 2013 Richmond, VA Strengthening Deaf Marriages: Biblical Solutions*

November 8-10, 2013 Austin, TX Emergency Marital Seminar (Affair Recovery)

November 8-10, 2013 Long Island, NY Retrouvaille Weekend*

November 8-10, 2013 Los Angeles, CA Retrouvaille Weekend*

November 8-10, 2013 Los Angeles, CA Retrouvaille Weekend (Spanish)*

November 8-10, 2013 Modesto, CA Retrouvaille Weekend*

November 8-10, 2013 Newport, OR Marriage Encounter*

November 8-10, 2013 Oklahoma City, OK Retrouvaille Weekend*

November 8-9, 2013 Parker, CO Within Our Reach

November 8-10, 2013 Paterson, NJ Retrouvaille Weekend*

November 8-10, 2013 Peoria, IL Marriage Encounter*

November 8-10, 2013 Phoenix, AZ Retrouvaille Weekend*

November 8-10, 2013 San Antonio, TX Retrouvaille Weekend*

November 8-9, 2013 Sherman, IL PAIRS Essentials

November 8-10, 2013 Sylmar, CA Retrouvaille Weekend (Spanish)*

November 9, 2013 Highlands Ranch, CO Within Our Reach

November 9, 2013 Houston, TX Do Married Well Workshop (Spanish)

November 9, 2013 Littleton, CO Within Our Reach

November 9, 2013 Louisville, KY Experiencing Forgiveness in Marriage

November 9, 2013 Southport,NC PAIRS Essentials

November 10-14, 2013 Amarillo, TX Relational Care Intensive*

November 10-14, 2013 Branson, MO Relational Care Intensive*

November 10-14, 2013 Winshape Resort, Mt. Berry, GA Relational Care Intensive*

November 10, 2013 Richmond, VA Strengthening Deaf Marriages: Movie*

November 12, 2013 San Rafael, CA Marriage Meetings: A Special Workshop for Couples

November 15-17, 2013 Edmonton, Alberta Retrouvaille Weekend*

November 15-17, 2013 Louisville, KY Weekend to Remember*

November 15, 2013 Meredith, NH PAIRS Essentials

November 16, 2013 Houston, TX Do Married Well Workshop

November 17-21, 2013 Winshape Resort, Mt. Berry, GA Relational Care Intensive*

November 17, 2013 Reston, VA PAIRS Premarital

November 22, 2013 Columbia, SC PAIRS Essentials (free to veterans and their partners)

November 23, 2013 Boulder, CO Within Our Reach

November 26, 2013 - November 19, 2014 Glenn Dale, MD Core Values Workshop for anger regulation and family abuse (16 sessions)

December 6-8, 2013 Gaithersburg, MD Love Without Hurt Boot Camp

October 26, 2013

Sloppy Spouses

Sloppy is not really a lifestyle anyone aspires to. It just happens, usually while we're feeling down or while we're totally engaged with the rest of life.

Sloppy dressing, sloppy piles of unfinished business, sloppy storage of clothes and dishes awaiting washing can drive a more organized partner -- or one more attuned to physical beauty -- up the wall.

If you are that partner, please know that shaming is likely to do more harm than good. Focus on the effort:reward ratio instead.

If a clean desk delights you, the reward side of your ratio is probably higher than your mate's. If you tend to deal with each piece of mail, each note, each project, each sock right away, the effort side is surely lower, too.

To encourage your spouse, either decrease the effort level by setting up storage spaces that are handier and easier to use or increase the reward level by adding a basketball net over or a target in the storage space.

For sloppy clothing, consider gifts of clothes that fit better, go together better, look better, and share the comfort level of sweats or ancient tee shirts. Those will lower the effort level. Raise the reward level with compliments, hugs, or help removing those great-looking clothes at the end of the day.

And if you still need to pick up a few items to make the place look the way you like it, count your blessings while you do it. Think of one great thing about being loved, sharing a home, or being part of a family for each item you remove from where it does not belong.

October 25, 2013

Why Be Married? Because Loving Feels Good

Have you even taken your husband or wife for a scary medical test or for surgery, chemo, or radiation? These are some of the longest days in a marriage, especially if you must sit in a waiting room, alone, wondering what's happening.

Usually, it's a relief just to get through the day, but it will be days or weeks before you know what's really happening and how much danger your life partner faces and how your life could change.

Several of my friends are dealing with this right now. It always takes me back to the days of doing this for my first husband, who was gravely ill or possibly gravely ill on so many occasions.

First, I remember my fears and my sense of helplessness. But then I remember something else, that great feeling of just being there for someone I loved. That "for better or worse" promise suddenly hits home. You grow up a little. You discover your strength. You renew your love. And then you let that strength and love shine through every pore in your body, because you are part of the way through this difficulty for your spouse.

This is marriage. This is love. And it feels good.

October 24, 2013

Help! My Husband (or Wife) is Overweight and Flabby

If you are one of those life partners who feels angry or let down by the shape your spouse is in, this one's for you.

First, we need to know if being out of shape and overweight is a deal-breaker for you or an unmet expectation. If it is a deal-breaker, set a date for when you will leave if you don't get what you want.

If it is an unmet expectation, a problem of your own making, let's get to work on fixing this, because the resentment will kill your relationship.

Step one with any unmet expectation is to ask for what you want, and to do so with no hint of disapproval. If you have already heaped disapproval on your spouse about this issue, we'll skip this step.

Step two is to translate your expectation into a statement of why you want it: what's in it for you. You'll have to get brutally honest with yourself and maybe dig down a few layers.

Perhaps it's all about libido. You are turned on by muscles or by that can't pinch an inch look.

Or it could be about the respect you get from others when you are seen with your mate.

Or perhaps it affects what you can do together on your weekends and vacations.

It might be about your fear of fat or an unexercised heart bringing about an early death for your spouse.

Or you might discover you say it's about your mate's health when what you really mean is you want to protect your own health and you want your spouse to support you by dieting or running or going to the gym with you.

Be honest. You can't fix this until you are.

Step three is to find other ways to get what you need instead of telling your spouse what he or she ought to do. Do you have any friends who would exercise with you, or could you find some? Are there other things you can do to prepare for the possibility of outliving your spouse: life insurance? a strong network of friends? enough money in savings to take time off from work? better relations with your children or your siblings' children? Can you find other ways to boost your libido: new techniques? practice fantasizing? pay more attention to your mate's eyes or lips? become more playful? redecorate your bedroom? Are there other ways to earn respect as a couple? Are there things you have not tried yet for vacations and weekends that might replace the ones your spouse has opted out of?

Sometimes, there is a surprise step four, when your spouse sees you taking care of yourself and no longer feels dragged down by your resentment and nagging. Just when you know longer need it, you get what you thought your spouse owed you. That is because all of us really enjoy doing loving things far, far more than expected things.

October 23, 2013

How to Find Someone to Marry

I know that some of you are not yet in a lifelong relationship. Here are a few tips on how to get there, assuming your parents won't be arranging your marriage.

  • Meet a lot of people, male and female. Those who are not potential mate material know others who are.
  • Try to avoid falling in love too fast. It's so much harder to break up if you're already feeling in love.
  • Don't Assume Love when dealing with someone who has not promised to love you. Now is the time to be skeptical.
  • End the relationship as soon as you discover a problem you could not live with. If you cannot bear to see butchered animals, date only vegetarians. If smoking disgusts you, date no smokers or recent quitters.
  • Don't date anyone with an active addiction to drugs, gambling, or alcohol.
  • If you have a strong preference about whether or not to have children, don't date anyone who does not share your preference. You might fall in love and need to face a tough choice.
  • If you have a strong preference for putting down roots or living adventurously, don't date anyone who does not share your preference. It's not easy to merge the two.
  • Pay attention to how anyone you date treats others they love: parents, grandparents, siblings, children, nieces, nephews. If it is not how you want to be loved, end it.
  • Don't expect you will be wooed after the wedding. But do take note of whether you are wooed most often with words, time and attention, gifts, helpfulness, or touch, because that is probably the way you will be shown love most often, too.
  • Marry for character and the ability to thrive with or without money or good health, not for money or health.
  • Marry someone whose family you like.
  • Never, ever, ever propose or get pregnant to bolster a failing relationship.
  • Develop hobbies you can do with other people. It's the best way to meet people and a great way to ensure you will spend time together for decades.
  • Practice gratitude. Happy people meet better potential mates, and gratitude makes you happier. It also goes a long way toward getting through the challenges in your marriage.
  • Learn about marriage.
  • Make loving a habit.

And remember, once you vow to love someone, your job is to love them, not to fix them. Choose wisely.

Those are my tips. If you're already married and enjoying it, please add more.

October 22, 2013

When Not to Stay Married for the Kids

It is quite honorable to stay married for your children. It is also honorable to split if you cannot give them enough to benefit from married parents or if staying together puts them in danger.

  • Children benefit from the sort of home two parents can afford to provide, one with better schools, safer recreation, safer neighbors.
  • Children benefit from long-lasting relationships with the adults in their lives, rather than a string of strangers spending time with them.
  • Children benefit from seeing both of their parents respected, praised, and loved by the important people in their lives, especially their other parent.
  • Children benefit from observing a couple practice affection, a healthy 5:1 or better ratio of positive:negative interactions, and positive-constructive responses to their accomplishments and good fortune.

Balance these against the unhealthy things that can go on in a household:

  • Children are damaged by seeing a parent abused or manipulated.
  • Children are damaged by being physically or sexually abused.
  • Children are damaged by a parent denying the harm done to those children by the other parent just to keep the family or income intact.
  • Children are damaged by living in fear of unpredictable and harmful behavior by a parent with an addiction or other mental health problem.
  • Children are damaged by being asked to keep secrets from their other parent or hearing accusations against their other parent that cannot be discussed openly with that parent.

That's my take on it. What's yours?

October 21, 2013

What to Talk About on Date Night

Remember dating? One of the best parts was getting to know each other better. Whether you were dining out or waiting your turn at the bowling alley or miniature golf course, the best part was the talking.

You needed no prompts. There was nothing more interesting than learning about this person you were falling in love with. Today, after a few years or decades of marriage, you may find that when you turn off the talk about your jobs, home, and children, there is little to say.

This is a dangerous sign that you believe there is nothing more to learn, nothing to make you fall more deeply in love.

So here are some topics to try on your next date night:

  • What makes you happy, especially what Barbara Sher calls H levels. Assign a number to everything you see and do for a couple days before date night, from 1 (awful) to 10 (extremely happy). Talk about anything that rates a 7 or higher, whether it's a sunset, the shape of the seeds growing in a sunflower, the taste of turmeric, or the way you feel pulling back the string on your bow (or your bow on a string).
  • Who you are grateful to from the year you turned 13 and why.
  • A time before you met when you were at your very best.
  • An item on your bucket list that you have never shared with your spouse.
  • What you most admire about your favorite cousin.
  • What sort of book you would write if you had time to write a book.

I promise you that you don't know all there is to know yet about the person you married, and what there is to know has changed since you were first dating.

Let us know what you discover.

October 20, 2013

Marriage Benchmarks

What do you use as the benchmark for judging your marriage? I have two that work pretty well for me and one that I used to use and no longer will.

Benchmark One - The Minimum

Let's start with the bare bones minimum benchmark: You have no reason to fear rape, broken bones, dislocated joints, bruises, pain, or uncensored angry or contemptuous words from your spouse. You have no reason to fear your spouse will spend or give away money needed for basic living expenses. And you have no reason to fear retaliation by others or a visit from law enforcement for illegal or unethical acts committed by your spouse against your will. And your children are safe when alone with your spouse.

You are not safe around anyone committing any of these acts. Nothing you do causes them. And no apology excuses them. Get yourself to a safe home elsewhere or bring in someone who can protect you until your spouse is successfully treated for the real cause (which might be addiction, brain tumor, dementia, mental illness, or a personality disorder).

If you are free from these fears, your marriage is still alive. But how good is it?

Benchmark Two - Suddenly On Your Own

Imagine that tomorrow morning your spouse dies without warning. There is nothing more to fight about or worry about, and you get all of your shared assets. You also get all of your shared responsibilities. You also lose whatever optimism, kindness, social intelligence, learning, leadership, teamwork, gratitude, forgiveness, playfulness, adventurousness, awe, bravery, love, respect, gifts, camaraderie, and sex your spouse provided. If it's a net loss, then right now, with your spouse alive, you have a very good marriage.

This can be a tough benchmark to adopt for anyone currently using the one I gave up, because of our fantasies about marriage.

Benchmark Three - Fairness (The Misery Maker)

My old benchmark was this: does this marriage offer me a fair allocation of responsibilities and assets?

Let me tell you why I gave up this benchmark. And it wasn't easy; I was sure fairness was key to a good marriage. I gave it up because it made me really unhappy, and it threatened to kill my marriage.

It made me unhappy because it's really not possible to define fairness in a loving relationship. The very same chore that feels dreadful when I think it is unfair has me beaming when I feel in love. If I do it while I feel dreadful, it saps my energy and makes me resentful. If I insist my husband do it, instead of me, it makes me feel spiteful, not loved.

One day while I was shoveling snow off the sidewalk because I felt it must be done quickly and my husband had no intention of hurrying his Sunday morning, I felt that anger growing in me. For the eleven years between husbands, I had been shoveling snow and watching other women's husbands shovel the other walks on my block. And this sidewalk was even longer, but I was still the one shoveling it.

The shovel suddenly weighed more and the wind felt colder. I thought about going back to my shorter sidewalk in the house where I had lived alone (benchmark #2, that is), and I knew I did not want that. What I had now was so much better. I had love every day and shoveling maybe ten times a year. And with that, I began shoveling to the tune of All You Need is Love.

My mood lightened. The snow got lighter. And then, like the bluebirds showing up in a Disney movie, a neighbor got part of our sidewalk with his snow blower and the fellow who shared our driveway asked me to toss him our other shovel, so he could get what the plow had pushed into the driveway. My son, who had just arrived jet-lagged from overseas, got up and started cleaning off the back steps and a path to the car while his wife enjoyed her first ever snow.

And when I came in for a break, my husband met me with a cup of hot cocoa. Later, after a few more inches of snow had fallen, he did the second shoveling, and my son, my daughter-in-law, and I joined him to play in the snow. Play. In the snow.

For eleven years, I had felt cheated because I was a widow and had to shovel my own snow while the other women in my neighborhood stayed indoors. And now, because I let go of my story about what's fair and met him with a sunny attitude instead of my resentful one, I was playing in the snow with a man who really knows how to laugh and have fun. And I had to shovel less than half the snow.

I have noticed it a bunch more times. If I look for fairness, I can always find a way to see myself as the angry victim. If I look for how much better I am doing than I was on my own after my first husband died, I feel happier, more loved, and more loving. And when I feel more loving, the chores and earning a living actually feel easier to do.

What's your benchmark for a good marriage?

October 19, 2013

How to Have More Fun with Your Husband or Wife

Life falling into a rut? Finding yourself whining that you two don't do much any more? Some simple tips for more fun:

  • Invite or accept with enthusiasm.

  • Mentally rehearse what could go right, not wrong.

  • Give yourself time to shift gears before you go.

  • Be fully present while you're together.

  • Watch for moments you want to remember.

  • Savor the best parts of your time together later.

Activities that involve exercise, like dancing, swimming, skiing, skating, or climbing, hold the most promise of a good time. But a shared experience as observers of a great performance, like jazz, tango, film, opera, or a soccer game, can be pretty wonderful, too. Just leave your wet blanket in the laundry room, please.

October 18, 2013


I am trying hard to post daily for the month of October. Today, there were so many comments to reply to that I've run out of day. Just a few minutes left.

So here is my post of the day: I love each and every one of you who comments on this blog. I love it when you tell me something I said hit home. I love it when you ask me questions about your situation. I even love Arnie for pointing out my typo this week.

I wish this blog were my day job. It makes me so happy to write it and to answer the comments.

October 17, 2013

Trying Out Divorce

If divorce is looking like a tempting option, I recommend you give it a try. But don't start with a new sex partner or a new home. Start with a new you.

One fellow interviewed for the Huffington Post's section on divorce said the best thing about divorce was being able to have a beer with the guys after work. If you would, too, this is the place to start. Try not to come home drunk or abusive, but make the time in your day for this thing that you would really enjoy, even if it makes your spouse unhappy.

If you're thinking you'll lose weight and get in shape after you divorce, give it a try now. Put some time and effort and money into it, even if it makes your spouse unhappy. Be the happier you while you're still married.

I thought I would learn to dance if I got divorced. After I became a widow, I discovered married folks learn to dance -- without their spouses -- all the time. If you would learn to dance (or paint or sing or go ocean kayaking), don't delay. Just go do it.

If you would be delighted not to pick up after a messy spouse after your divorce, stop picking up after him or her now. If the mess bothers you, get a large basket with a lid for each floor of your house. Stick it in the corner of a room and simply toss the stuff you don't want to look at in there. If tossing it in there bothers you, hire a teen in your neighborhood to do the tossing on their way home from school. They will appreciate the money, and you'll be off the hook.

If you would save more if you were divorced, increase your 401K contribution at work or have money automatically deposited from your paycheck into a savings account. Don't ask for your spouse's consent, unless the money's needed for taxes, rent, a mortgage, or a debt obligation. Just start saving.

If you feel better doing these things, tell your husband or wife or life partner. Avoid your nyah-nyah tone. Go for the life-is-good tone. And add a thank you.

Expect your spouse to object to your doing them at first. No one likes a surprise. No one likes change they did not initiate. But no one likes a divorce, either. And almost everyone loves a happier, more grateful spouse.

Some of these changes will happen a lot more easily than you ever expected. Some will cause a ruckus. Once you know if it's working for you, offer a Third Alternative to your upset spouse. How can you have the good part of your change while relieving your spouse of the upsetting part?

Maybe the two of you could schedule dinner later, so you're not late to dinner when you have a drink with the guys. You might even offer to make dinner on those nights, even if you have to cook ahead on the weekends or start a crockpot before work.

If money for the new you is an issue, maybe the two of you can find a place in your lifestyle where you can cut back on expenses. Or maybe you can sell hobby gear you no longer use. Or you might even look for a small, part-time job, like something you could offer on

For eleven years after I was widowed, I spent a lot of time with divorced people. Their certainty that their spouse was incapable of change was pretty much universal. And yet there they were, looking for change. All of them. Married people are capable of change. Divorces happen when they think the other spouse should initiate or approve of the change. Before you divorce, try out the changes you're looking for. The discomfort involved is so much less than the discomfort of divorce.

October 16, 2013

The Road Back to Love

When your husband or wife pulls back from your relationship, gets distracted by work or a hobby, or says, "I love you, but I am not in love with you," that's scary. Your lifestyle, your family, your home, your wealth, and your self-esteem may all feel on the line.

And you may very well feel it's unjustified, unfair. This makes you angry.

You may even feel you have no control as things go downhill. This makes you sad.

And so you withdraw or you attack. Suddenly, there is no "we," just a "me" in need of protection.

But there is no way back to love except through love. Defensiveness does not work. Criticism does not work. Contempt does not work. Stonewalling does not work. Withdrawing does not work.

What works is looking for all the reasons you are grateful to have this person in your life. What works is creating brief moments together when everything is great, while you stare at the stars together, laugh at something funny together, savor a victory together, or create something together. What works is saying thank you, reaching out with a tiny, gentle touch, staying fully present in a conversation, and showing up even when you fear you might get hit with anger or, worse, ignored.

The only road back to love is through love.

October 15, 2013

Is This Working? (Find Third Alternatives)

This is part three of my mini-series that began on Sunday on how to tell if you're correctly using my three favorite techniques for a happier marriage:

  • Assume Love

  • Expect Love

  • Find Third Alternatives

Today we look at Find Third Alternatives. This is a very handy technique when a disagreement puts you on the defensive or when you still want what you have decided you cannot really expect your spouse to provide.

A Third Alternative is one you each like as much as or even more than your initial proposal, the one your spouse argued against. One of you might like the cap put back on the toothpaste immediately after squeezing out the toothpaste. The other may insist no cap is needed or wanted. This tiny difference of opinion provides enough content for a full semester of debating class exercises.

If you want to see a bigger, more distressing disagreement, try on "we said we would start a family when we turned 30" vs "we did, but I have changed my mind about having kids."

You get a difference of opinion (and hurt feelings, resentment, criticism) because the two proposals, as stated, contradict each other. Third Alternatives are possible because those statements are usually shorthand for something else, and the two of you have filled in the details differently.

If "put the cap back on" is shorthand for "keep the germs out of my toothpaste and don't let it dry out because I can't stand clumpy toothpaste," then it is not actually incompatible with "the cap is not needed." There is no reason the cap that's left off needs to be on the same tube as the germ-free, ever-fresh tube. And no reason why a cap is needed if the toothpaste inside is protected another way.

But if "put the cap back on" is shorthand for "when my home is not neat and orderly, it raises my anxiety level," then it's still not incompatible, but the solution cannot be a capless tube out on the sink. It has to go in a drawer. Toothbrushes with toothpaste stored in the handle would be fine here, too, but not for someone looking to keep out germs and prevent drying.

So the first step to Find Third Alternatives is to jump the net. Agree that you want your spouse to have whatever his or her proposal is shorthand for, just not in the manner proposed.

The next is to create specs for what your everyone-is-pleased alternative needs to accomplish. Start with the "I wants" and then the "But I want to avoids" for one of you. Then do it for the other. Make that shorthand clear.

Do you really want no children? Or is it that you want to avoid becoming a single parent if your spouse dies or leaves? Or maybe that you want to avoid diapers; an older child would be fine? Or you still want to see the world? Or perhaps you want to avoid having a wife who is smoking and doing drugs carry your child?

For the other spouse, do you want to avoid having kids still in high school past a certain age? Do you want to avoid some of the birth defects whose rates go up with the years? Do you want your own children or might you be happy as a foster parent, overnight group home parent, or adoptive parent of an older child? Do you need to share the diapering? Is so, do you need to share it with your spouse?

There should be four boxes on your page of specs: A wants, A wants to avoid, B wants, B wants to avoid. If there is still a want that contradicts a want to avoid, dig a little deeper into why it's wanted, until the conflict is gone.

Now you need to brainstorm together to come up with an option that meets all four sets of wants. Remember that brainstorming is mistake-filled, off-the-wall, and never, ever met with criticism. When you finish, check the list of ideas against the specs and cross off any that don't match. If you find one you just don't like, even though it matches, figure out what "want to avoid" is missing from your specs.

If none match the specs, set a time to take another stab at it on another day. This time, get crazier, with ideas like hiring someone to dispense toothpaste twice a day or carving a toothpaste plug in the shape of a heart.

When you run out of ideas, ask other people, especially people who have been married a long time and people who work in the area you're dealing with (for the toothpaste, a biologist, someone who designs packaging, someone who works in disease control, someone in toothpaste manufacturing).

Instead of getting upset when your spouse does not do as you expect, you can use the Find Third Alternatives technique to get help figuring out how else you might get what you want. You start by listing what you expected. Now ask what's in it for you? What is it you actually want?

For example, if you expect your spouse to want to spend New Year's Eve with your parents, why? What do you get from it? A certain image for your siblings or Aunt Ida or your parents' friends? Someone to endure a difficult event with? Or someone to have fun with who will be safe to kiss if you're drunk at midnight? Or maybe a trip to your hometown on a weekend when other friends are there?

And what part is it that your spouse wants to avoid? Is there any part of it that your spouse wants? Get your specs together and brainstorm, remembering that there are many other people besides your spouse who can help and many ways other than this party to get some of those wants filled.

You know Find Third Alternatives is working when you discover one of your brainstormed ideas actually matches all the specs, and you can give your spouse what she or he wants while getting what you want. But you also know it's working when you are coming together to look for a solution instead of pulling apart out of fear you will have to make do without what you want, even if it takes a long time to find your Third Alternative.

Find Third Alternatives is not working if you find yourselves compromising more than once in a blue moon. Compromise means accepting disappointment but requiring as a condition that your best beloved be hit with just as much disappointment. Third Alternatives bring each of you at least as much pleasure as getting what you originally proposed or asked for.

October 14, 2013

Is This Working? (Expect Love)

Yesterday, I began a mini-series on how to tell if you're correctly using my three favorite techniques for a happier marriage:

  • Assume Love

  • Expect Love

  • Find Third Alternatives

Expect Love is the second technique. There are two parts: (1) when someone promises to love you for the rest of your life, expect him or her to be trying most of the time to show you love, and (2) don't drive off that love by expecting any one particular sign of love.

Keep your eyes open for signs of respect, nurturing, kindness, generosity, or sacrifice. Don't take for granted the gifts you get, the help you are offered, the time together, the kind words, the sharing of chores, the income earned and shared, or the physical pleasures of a relationship. Before you respond to something upsetting, Assume Love and check that you are not overlooking a loving action like respecting your time even though you long for a longer conversation or helping you with something you're more comfortable doing for yourself.

One of the biggest distractions that will take your eyes off the love you are being offered is expecting something else. Some people show love through thoughtful gifts, while others have no clue what sort of thought might result in a good gift. Some show love through love songs, while others cannot compose music, write lyrics, or play an instrument. Some join in on preparing a big holiday meal while others despise adding this stress to a special day.

While you're tapping your foot waiting for what you are convinced anyone who actually loved you would do, you're driving off dozens of other loving gestures, both the small ones and the large ones.

When tapping your foot turns to resentment, you make it nearly impossible to experience that stimulation of the vagus nerve and release of oxytocin that Barbara Frederickson's research shows occurs during moments of feeling in sync over something funny, beautiful, calming, or pleasurable. Without this, you may love your spouse, but you probably will feel less "in love." And this leads to more resentment.

Resentment kills marriages.

If you're critical of your spouse for not showing love the way you expect, things get worse. A healthy marriage needs, on average, five positive interactions for every criticism, ever sneer, every put-down, every roll of the eyes. Criticism and contempt are two of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the signs John Gottman discovered pointed toward divorce. They convey a lack of respect, and other research shows men are biologically attuned to look to respect as the basis of any good relationship, the foundation on which all the rest sits.

When talking about expectations, we are not talking about personal boundaries. You should not expect things like being safe from physical or sexual assault, emotional manipulation, or misuse of money needed for survival; you must demand them and insist upon them and protect yourself from them if your spouse doesn't.

But it is silly to demand, for example, a fair division of chores. It's silly because if the relationship fails, almost all the chores are yours. It's silly because your list of needed chores almost certainly has only a small overlap with the list your spouse would make. And it's silly because there is no fair way to compare chores. You know there are chores that would take just two minutes for your spouse that you cannot bring yourself to do except in an emergency (spider killing, asking for a raise, cleaning up vomit) and others that take hours but can be fun (cooking your special dish, raking leaves on a beautiful fall day, taking your kids to the park).

And yet most of us have our moments of feeling certain our division of chores is unfair. And if we Expect Love, we set aside a few chores rather than let resentment build.

So, how do we know if our attempts to Expect Love are working? Our distress over not getting what we want is temporary. We feel resentment or the fear we are not loved or the worry that there is no me, only us, rise up like a wave and pass away again in minutes or sometimes hours, but it does not take days or weeks or years. And we can rattle off a pretty long list of the ways our mate shows us love.

Expect Love is not working if we find ourselves asking other people to confirm that what we expect (beyond protection of our personal boundaries) is reasonable or fair.

To make it easier to Expect Love and accept that it won't always come packaged as we expect, we have a third technique to use. We can Find Third Alternatives, ways to get what we seek without forcing our life partner to provide it or develop a skill that doesn't come easily. That will be our topic tomorrow.

If you receive this blog by email, I apologize for writing this one too late to arrive a day after the first one in this series. I also remind you to visit to add your comments, rather than replying to the email. Thanks!

October 13, 2013

Is This Working? (Assume Love)

My three favorite techniques for a happier marriage are

  • Assume Love

  • Expect Love

  • Find Third Alternatives

I thought it might be interesting this week to do a short series on how to tell if you are doing them correctly.

When you Assume Love, you are deliberately counteracting your default assumption. Because you are human, most sensory input first passes through a filter whose assumption is always that you might be in danger. If it senses that you are in danger, it compels your brain into an assessment of your current threats.

If your spouse's behavior matches one of your warning patterns, you get upset, and your thoughts narrow to past transgressions and current clues about overlooked or future transgressions. Depending on what's happened in your earlier relationships or those you know about through observation or conversation or watching them on TV, there are many actions that can convince your brain that you need to watch out for rejection/abandonment, suppression of your individuality, or physical harm.

You know this is happening because your spouse's late arrival, choice of bedtimes, idiotic hat, raised voice, use of physical force, or decision to go buy new underwear an hour before your guests arrive angers, frightens, or deflates you.

Now you Assume Love: you ask yourself what might possibly makes a good man or woman who loves you dearly do the very thing that has alarmed your danger-spotter?

When might a person raise their voice while speaking to someone they love? What else besides you might affect your mate's choice of bedtime if you are still very much loved?

You look for one or more explanations and check them against the evidence.

If it's working, one of three things happens. The first is that there is an intriguing enough possible explanation to turn off the sirens and flashing lights in your head so that you can calmly, without accusatory body language or voice tone, ask for more information: "Will you be back with the underwear in time to help me bring the chairs up before 2:30?" Or: "What's up with the hat? Something special happening today?"

The second, even better, is that everything suddenly makes perfect sense: "Oh, right, that's the hat your colleague's son gave you, and he'll be at the soccer game; how sweet of you to wear it."

The third, also possible, is that you recognize that what happened is nothing a loving person could do to someone they love except as a result of brain damage or mental illness. Funny hats and emergency underwear runs don't fall into this category; emptying your joint back account and leaving town unannounced the day before the mortgage is due counts. Physical intimidation counts. Locking you into your house or driving off from a highway rest stop or screaming at you to go shovel the snow while recovering from surgery or a heart attack all count.

So, if it confirms love (or the ability to act on it) is gone, if it provides a more believable and positive explanation, or if it makes you genuinely curious to learn more, Assume Love is working.

Assume Love is not working if you are still upset and trying to convince yourself you ought not to be upset and should instead pretend you are loved. If it is not working, you might want to try again or to try one of the other two techniques next.

October 12, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mom!

My mother's birthday is coming up shortly. Will you help me give her a great birthday gift?

She started a blog about alternative medicine and old-time remedies this year, and she's a really good writer, but she's not yet getting many comments. Unless you write a blog, you may have no idea how great those comments feel. Comments that ask a question are better than double fudge brownie ice cream. But even if you look and have nothing to say, it shows up as a beautiful multicolored spike in the visitor count and the number of pages visited.

The great photo in the blog's header is her at 85, at a timber framing class she took just to learn how. This year, she's taken up archery. Not so many years ago, we thought we were about to lose her, so the photo's pretty special to me. And so is she.

We're heading out now to celebrate her special day a bit early, so I'm sending this out to you. The link to her blog,, is up above. If I have timed it right, maybe she will see some comments before she sees I posted this. Thank you, my wonderful readers! Back to marriage topics tomorrow.

October 11, 2013

Taken for Granted

Do you ever feel taken for granted? Do you long for a thank you? For more in return? Or maybe for some help with all your responsibilities?

I know I do. And I know a bunch of other Boomer women who do. We grew up expecting we would be supported by a husband. Then we fought for the right to get a good education, to work at something jobs not open to our mothers. We worked at breaking those glass ceilings. And we had a good bit of success. We did not expect to out-earn our husbands, but many of us do. We did not expect the last recession to put more men than women out of work. We did not expect our longevity advantage over men would mean we would be the ones who should hold off on taking Social Security. Now, many of us support our husbands, who find themselves redefining unemployment as early retirement because they can.

But it is not just Boomers. It's younger women, too. Taking care of kids and a home is a lot of work! Doing it on top of a career is a huge amount of work.

And it's men, too. They put in long hours at work, then come home to plenty of chores at home. Many of them are very active dads, coaching soccer, attending school plays, doing homework with the kids while Mom's off at a meeting or a class.

And it's not just the employed men and women. Work expands to fill the time available, and scary work, like applying for jobs or teaching your kid to drive, can exhaust you just thinking about it. It may look to your spouse like you're relaxing when you're actually just trying to take the edge off your fears so you can dig in.

And so we get angry or frightened, wondering how someone who loves us could depend on us to work this hard without rewarding or even appreciating our efforts.

In my first marriage, I was caught up in this all the time. In my second marriage, the feeling lasts only a very short while. Here's what I do about it:

  1. I remember that day after my first husband died, when I had to come to terms with what adult life really entails. Could I really say I had been doing those things for him? Almost everything I had been doing still needed doing. And so did almost everything he had been doing: not just cooking dinner and washing clothes and reading to our son, but earning his game theory professor's salary, too. For some crazy reason, I had always stuck the two lists side-by-side and proclaimed mine longer. Now I saw that almost all of his list had been chopped off of mine and was a major blessing, even if I was right that it was shorter.
  2. I let my husband know what I need. If it's less to do, I will ask him to tackle one of my chores. Most times, he will say yes, unless I have just implied he's not pulling his weight. Somehow, he's never in a generous mood after I do this. If I want a thank you, I will announce completion of a chore: "And once again, our floor is clean and ready to start the day!" Or, as I cross the room to my desk (since I work from home these days), I will announce, "Off to make the donuts. Got a lot of work to do today to feed our hungry mouths." It usually gets a smile and a hug, often a thank you.
  3. I pay attention to what my husband does. When he was commuting to a tough multi-month consulting gig, I would make a mental note when his long drive was over and his day beginning. I would recall if he had a meeting today (those were the worst) or if he had said what he would be working on. I would picture the uncooperative people there failing to return his calls or answer his questions. And as I started cooking dinner, I would picture him getting in the car for that long drive home. It made his daily to-do list look as full and challenging as my own. I felt less taken for granted and more grateful as he limped out of the car twelve hours after setting out, dressed for success, with his travel mug of strong coffee.
  4. When his work load is less, I still pay attention, just in case he is not paying attention to mine. When we pay attention only to our own list, it's way too easy to feel taken for granted. I try to remember that what is easy for me is hard for him, and vice versa. He may turn a simple phone call into a major event, but he moves and stacks firewood as easily as if it were carrots. And when he does, I am relieved of a chore that I find really hard work. When either of us remembers to be grateful, it's likely both of us will.

If you, too, get bogged down by feeling taken for granted, I hope one or more of these will help you shake it off and enjoy the good times with your husband or wife even more.

October 10, 2013

What Do You Want from Your Husband or Wife?

I write a lot about expectations, not so much about wants. But it can be so important to make a distinction.

If you expect to go out with your spouse and tango, watch a play, bowl, or listen to a soulful saxophone, you feel hurt when it doesn't happen. This is what couples do, you might believe, and not doing it brings into question how permanent or how deep your connection really is. When you ask, you ask with contempt or pleading. Often you don't even ask, you just accuse.

If, instead, you want to go do one of these with your spouse, you ask differently. You understand that we all have many competing interests, many prior experiences that affect our current expectations, and different tastes. You know that you can go do this together if it appeals to and works for both of you. You ask with anticipation, generosity, and enthusiasm.

What you want may not be what your spouse wants, and you may get turned down. But because you have allowed a no answer and respected the differences between you, you may discover how much you are truly loved. Your spouse may help you find someone else who would go with you. Your spouse may offer to do what you want on a different date. Your spouse may use the information about what you want to plan a gift or a celebration for you or even just to brag about you to friends.

The thing we can't see when we grasp at love, when we fear it is not there if it is not as we expected, is how very much a spouse wants to show us love.

October 9, 2013

How Much Damage Does an Argument Do? Depends on Your Genes

An interesting research study out of the University of California at Berkeley and Northwestern University this week highlights another possible difference between you and your spouse. It has to do with the 5-HTTLPR gene, one that has been studied a lot over the last decade.

This gene helps regulate the transport of seratonin (aka 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) as messages are relayed along your nerves, especially within your brain. You might know that many antidepressants are selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), because having less seratonin available for one neuron to signal the next seems to correlate with the likelihood of serious depression.

You get one copy of the gene from each parent. And like all genes, they vary a bit. The two alleles (variations) of the 5-HTTLPR gene are called Short and Long, named for their length, of course. There are slightly more long ones around than short (around 55% vs. 45%). If both are of the short variety, a person is more prone to depression and binge drinking, but also to empathy (emotional and physiological) for others experiencing distress.

So here is what the new study this week adds. People with two short HTTLPR genes are more sensitive to the emotional climate of their marriage. They are more likely to change their assessment of the marriage based on the emotions experienced in recent dealings with their spouse, whether verbal or through body language or even choice of what to talk about.

In their study, 17% of the study participants had two short genes, while 83% had at least one long one.

If you are the sort who lets an argument or a bit of contemptuous behavior wash right over you or can easily survive a lack of closeness and positive emotion for a few months, be aware that you may be married to someone with a different genetic makeup. Your spouse may be re-evaluating your entire marriage based on such events.

If you are the sort who is highly attuned to emotional events in your marriage, both positive and negative, be aware that your spouse may not be making any repair attempts because he or she is genetically predisposed not to notice. If repairs are needed, ask for them.

On average, according to research done by John Gottman and his lab, it takes five positive interactions for every negative one to keep a marriage healthy. But this new research suggests we might want to shoot for a higher ratio with a spouse who is highly sensitive to emotional tone, highly reactive to movies showing people in distress, or prone to bouts of depression.

The research appears in this week's Online First releases of the journal Emotion, published by the American Psychological Association. The title is The 5-HTTLPR Polymorphism in the Serotonin Transporter Gene Moderates the Association Between Emotional Behavior and Changes in Marital Satisfaction Over Time. The authors are Haase, C. M., Saslow, L. R., Bloch, L., Saturn, S. R., Casey, J., Seider, B. H., Lane, J., Coppola, G., & Levenson, R. W.

Please let me know if research reports like this one interest you. I write this blog for you.

October 8, 2013

My October Challenge

This October, I am once again challenging myself to write blog posts daily. It also serves as a challenge for my marriage: I cannot write when I am upset with my husband or he with me. I need to practice what I preach or no words come out.

This makes me wonder about my first marriage, back when I had no idea I could do anything about my unmet expectations or that my first impression of what happened was usually wrong because it ignored most of the facts available to me. I wonder what my anger and fears kept me from doing--and who I would be today if I had done something about them.

Ever wonder about this yourself?

October 7, 2013

How to Avoid Growing Apart

Couples who do things together that both of them enjoy don't grow apart. Over time, though, the things you each enjoy change. You injure your knee, and suddenly tennis is less fun. The crowd at your favorite dance club changes, and you want to go less often. You've taken three Spanish classes together, but you still don't have the money for your trip to Argentina.

Sometimes, it your schedule. One of you must work later, and the other is just too tired to start an evening of playing music together. At other times, it's your level of disagreement on other things, like meals or parenting.

It is so tempting when this happens to go play online by yourself or with distant friends, to catch up on your reading, to take the kids out somewhere, or to text your friends. And that's a perfectly fine alternative once or twice.

But then you find yourselves growing apart. The alternative is now competing with the thing that used to get you laughing or exercising together. Then your conversations start going downhill. You have sex less often. And soon you are like roommates sharing a house but not a life. Then one of you says, "I love you, but I am no longer in love with you."

Love needs shared activities. It needs time apart, too, but it doesn't survive without those things you do together that make you feel good, because you're learning, laughing, moving, sharing, playing.

What doesn't work is complaining to your spouse: "We don't do anything together any more."

What doesn't work is inviting and getting rejected over and over.

What does work is finding new activities. And you may have to try them on your own first, until your spouse sees they make you happy and wants to be part of that. If you don't like trying new things alone, find a friend whose marriage is also suffering. Make sure it's a friend you're not likely to develop sexual feelings toward, though, because you're going to be having fun together and the two are a dangerous mix.

How do you find new activities to try? You talk to your married friends, check community calendars and course catalogs, see which YouTube videos make you giggle or feel good, walk into new social clubs or dance spots, check out menus for restaurants, even visit your local tourist welcome center. And, I hope, you will find some in the comments below as people add the surprising things they love doing with their mates.

October 6, 2013

Why Be Married? For the Grandkids

I am looking at photos of my grandkids today. I adore them, and they live far away, so I treasure the photographs I receive and our time on Skype video.

The photos got me thinking of some of my male friends who fathered children with women they did not marry or women they divorced before the baby's second birthday. One woman friend, too. She left her child in his father's custody and moved on with her life, convinced she could not earn enough to offer her child the life her boyfriends' parents were offering. They have no relationship with their grandchildren.

The pictures got me thinking of one of my grandfathers, too. My grandparents were divorced. I saw my grandfather only twice that I can recall from the time I was born until he died. He was a stranger to me. He had no reason to think of me as an extension of him. His second batch of kids were my age.

The photos are interesting. My first husband and I looked quite a bit alike, and our son looks like both of us. He married into a very different gene pool. It is hard to see the individual contributions of the four grandparents in these photos. The grandkids look a bit like me but very different. Even so, I am magnetically drawn to them. I can't take my eyes off them. I cannot imagine any grandchildren I could want more than them. They are family, even when they are far away.

No matter what mistakes I have made in life, when I look in their eyes, I know the good I have done will go forward with them, that their lives will be more secure and creative and kind for what I have managed to get right.

Back when I thought of divorcing their grandfather, right before he died at the age of 35, my attention was only on the present and my stress, my dashed expectations, my unmet needs, not on what we were creating for these incredible human beings to come. Now I wish for every parent in that awful place where I was then an outstretched hand, a guide, so that they might know this feeling of peace and love and continuity as they grow old.

October 5, 2013

Date Night in the Afternoon

You and that guy or gal you married need time to laugh and play and have fun, time when you do not talk about work or the kids or whether to replace the clutch or the car.

Often, when play is an option, we drag along children or friends. So go twice if you must, but get out and have some fun with your sweetie. Tickle each other's vagus nerves.

Here is some fun scheduled for next weekend:

I'll bet you know of more. Please share your recommendations in the comments.

How Does Your Marriage Look to Your Kids?

Growing up, our home was peaceful for 11 hours a day, 5 days a week, while Dad was off at work or commuting. The rest of the time, it ranged from tense to bitter to surprisingly enjoyable, almost like those TV families.

It was easy to believe Dad was at fault, at least until I was old enough to head into New York City and see Dad during his work day. He was a different person there.

Why? Because he and Mom had lots of unmet expectations, lots of resentments, and an intimate knowledge of each other's vulnerable spots for evening the score.

A lot of parents reaching the end of their rope in their marriage ask how they can minimize the harm of divorce for their children. It's such an honorable and generous question to ask. But I cannot hear it without wondering why I almost never hear, "How can we minimize the harm of our unhappy marriage for our kids?"

When my parents announced they were divorcing (although they changed their minds), I was in the ninth grade, I think. It was, first and most, a relief. Moving bothered me a lot more than breaking up the family. But I was old enough to choose which one to live with, and I could not imagine living with either of them once their presumed source of unhappiness was removed. Both of them knew my vulnerable spots really well, too, and it was pretty clear divorcing would not bring relief from their disappointments in life.

I went on to repeat their mistakes. My expectations were different ones, so I thought they were better ones. And my resentment level did not reach the boiling point until we went through two horribly challenging years of a cross-country move, two job changes, school problems, two life-threatening illnesses, one major surgery, the unexpected loss of our new home, four temporary housing situations while the builder building our new home lied to us, a long commute, and very long hours at work for me.

Our son was seven when we made the move, nine when his father dropped dead, out of college when I remarried. Now he is the father of three, and I keep hoping he remembers enough of the good years to help him through his tough ones. Or that maybe he reads my blog on the right days.

If your expectations are unmet, please don't tell your children there is something wrong with their other parent for not meeting them or that you chose the wrong partner. Tell them your marriage is not what you expected, and you are working on finding different ways to get what you need while you watch for unexpected signs that you are, indeed, loved.

Teach them by example to actively look for loving acts, not to judge your mate (or their future partner) as a good or bad spouse. Show them marriage requires constantly learning and growing, not luck in picking a mate. The body of research into this is growing daily, and it now appears very likely this one belief will save your children -- and your grandchildren -- from tons of unhappiness.

October 3, 2013

What to Do with an Angry Spouse

Do you know what makes people angry? People -- all people, not just husbands and wives and life partners -- get angry when they feel they are being denied something they sincerely believe they have a right to.

When your spouse is angry...

Do you know what rightful thing or act you have denied your spouse? If not, try asking. Gently. Gingerly. Generously. As if you can't possibly be hurt by the answer, because you know what to do with it. (Read on if you don't yet.)

Do you agree it's a right and that you screwed up? If so, try asking, lovingly, how to make your relationship right again. If you have an explanation for your actions, save it until things are good again.

Do you disagree it's a right? Then you two need a Third Alternative. That's an option that pleases each of you as much as what you're asking for and not getting. The first step there is to let go of your first alternative and assure your spouse you have every intention of satisfying him or her, even if you don't do what's being asked of you.

Not on the list of useful things to do with an angry spouse? Arguing about whether what's expected of you is reasonable or comes close to being a right. The cleverer your defense, the greater the distance you put between you.

Also not on the list of useful things to do with an angry spouse? Pretending you can't tell the difference between the right your spouse is claiming and the specific situation. If you promised to bring home milk and you come home empty handed and the person who cooks your meals for you is yelling about not keeping promises, you don't need milk or a Third Alternative for getting milk. You need a better way of handling promises.

What's the difference between an expectation and a right? A few rights are demands, also known as boundaries. Ignore them, and your relationship falls apart. All the trust leaks out and there's nothing left to hold it together.

Most are expectations. The difference between these expectations and the ones I suggest you let go of? They are not your expectations. You are not the one who gets to choose whether to let go of them or not.

Nonetheless, they create anger, which becomes resentment. The resentment makes it harder for your spouse to notice your loving acts or treat you lovingly. The anger and lack of appreciation makes it harder for you to be loving. You can go get a beer and let all that happen, blaming your spouse for causing it, or you can take action and fall back in love with each other.

October 2, 2013

You Go Get It, Hon - Anything I Choose Would Be Wrong

What a lovely question today on an earlier post. Here's what Susie asked.

Hmm, just wondering about a phrase my partner uses and, by the way, so
does my father to my mother! It goes like this:

Him: Are you going out for lunch today?

Me: No, why?

Him: I saw something for the house this morning. If you go out at
lunch time, you might want to get it.

Me: What is it darling?

Him: A fireguard. I told the guy in the shop I would send you in as
whatever I chose would be wrong.

Me: ?

Why do men (in my experience) "do" this to women? I have heard
friends' boyfriends/partners/husbands say the same sort of thing. It
seems like a cop out, and puts them in "victim" role, because they are
damned if they do and damned if they don't!

Let's Assume Love and try to answer this. In other words, I'll leave out explanations like he's a manipulative jerk who despises shopping and thinks it's fine to make you do it or a leech trying to get you to pay for what he wants. There are a few men out there like that, but not nearly as many as our Old Brains fear. Most are trying their best to love their women.

Some loving explanations:

  • He wants you to have the best. He's happy to pay for it, but he's noticed that you're a much more observant shopper than he is. You notice more about how things work or look. You're more likely to spot before bringing it home whether they will fit in or not. So the only way to give you the best is to send you to pick it out. If this seems to fit and you don't want to go pick it out, assure him you will be happy with any of the available options and greatly appreciate his care to get your input. Then ask him nicely if he would be willing to make the run to the store for you.
  • He thinks it's a lucky fluke you agreed to marry him. Men have been known to harbor for decades the awful thought that you will discover at any moment you deserve much better and leave. He wants a fireguard, but when he looked at the ones in the store, they looked like a set of doors with a happy marriage behind one and an empty, bleak future of rejection behind all the others. If this rings a bell, you might as well go select a fireguard. Then check whether you've become more critical lately or switched the way you show your love or even whether he's feeling less successful in general and in need of a little extra respect and appreciation from you.
  • Competence matters a lot to him. He doesn't do what he can't do well. He envies the way you can pass judgment so quickly on movies, meals, paint colors, crown molding, men's slacks, even garage door tracks. And if someone comes along and tells you something new you ought to pay attention to, you change your judgment without even blushing. He can't. Sound familiar? Buy him a copy of Carol Dweck's book, Mindset. He's shooting himself in the foot. But this is something he has to work through on his own, and he won't get it done before someone needs to go choose one of the fireguards. Don't push him to do something he fears failing at if it's as insignificant as choosing a fireguard.
  • He's got a legitimate reason to fear he's stepping on your toes in this area. You may have reacted strongly to a choice he made that seems related to him even if it doesn't yet to you. If you've been a bit touchy about his choices, acknowledge this. Then ask if he really thinks he would choose the wrong one or only that he would be accused of doing so. Offer to cheerfully accept whatever he wants to pick up today or go make your own selection in a day or two.
  • He tried this in the past to get out of spending time choosing, and he appears to believe it's a win-win that makes you both feel good. If you suspect this is the case, you can say, "I really don't want to go shopping for a fireguard. Can we come up with a Third Alternative that meets both our needs?" You might shop online together or choose a dollar amount and phone the clerk to set aside the one closest to that price for one of you to pick up while out.

Not everyone has a heart of gold. But if any of these describe what's really happening between you two, imagine what harm you would do if you accuse him of trying to manipulate or cheat you.

So, guys, are there women who do this, too? And gals, are Susie's father and partner anything like your guy?

October 1, 2013

On Sharing a Television

Do you and your beloved love the same TV shows? Not us! Of course, there are some we agree on. The Good Wife is one, not one I would expect, as most relationship dramas are all mine. Glad it's back. Royal Pains is another. And we're both nuts for The Newsroom on HBO.

Tonight, my husband is re-watching the finale of Breaking Bad. While I was able to sit through a few episodes, and I had to agree it was excellent acting, I was pretty sure the finale would distress me. So I skipped it. But I did sit through Talking Bad, the show where they discuss Breaking Bad, after it was over. After all, he'll be mourning the loss of these characters for a while.

We live in a small house. There's no sleeping while either of us is watching, and he's always sleeping when Sunday Morning and Fareed Zakaria's GPS, two of my favorites, come on. It's certainly easier when we want to watch together or turn it off. But it's not going to happen that often. My husband is a film and television production major who had his own TV show in high school. He loves TV.

And that's why we've found a couple of Third Alternatives: some technology to let me comfortably read a book while he watches and a DVR to record shows for watching on our own schedule.

Our relationship is too important to get someone else's TV scheduling get in the way.

The Author

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

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