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 AssumeLove.com to add your comments, rather than replying to the email. Thanks!