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.