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Articles from January 2014

January 31, 2014

When Love Goes Missing

Eight years ago, when I first launched this blog, I defined what I mean by Assume Love and gave a lengthy example. But I left something out, and it is very important.

Assume Love is a technique you can use every time your spouse does something or fails to do something and you feel anger, resentment, hurt, fear, shame, frustration, or superiority taking hold of your emotions. Any of these reactions is likely to send your mind off on a search for other past and present indicators that you are not loved, respected, or safe.

How many of these does it take to come to a fair conclusion? This question is what gets people looking for marriage advice. They have noticed a lot of upsetting behaviors. Is it time to call it quits?

I do not think this can be answered by looking for the negatives. It is better answered by self-disputing your first take on the current threat and any still stuck in your head from past threats. Here are the first four steps to the Assume Love technique for doing this.

  1. Assume you are completely loved by a wonderful person.
  2. Attempt to explain how such a person might come to do what just happened.
  3. If you can think of one or more explanations that might possibly apply to your real life situation, too, decide whether you choose to react to the negative explanation or to one of these positive possibilities.
  4. If you choose one of the positive ones, check whether it teaches you something new about how your spouse loves you.

Sometimes, it can be very hard to find a positive explanation, one that fits the assumption that you are loved. I recommend you ask others for help and read about all the differences in the ways people love each other.

And then I have a fall-back explanation you can try. Addictions, other brain diseases, brain tumors, and brain damage can render a person incapable of behaving in accordance with their intentions. For example, a person with Alzheimers may hit or shove a spouse who momentarily reminds them of an enemy combatant from their time in a dangerous part of the world. A gambling addict may deplete a joint bank account, leaving a spouse in jeopardy, to get that next high that will rescue them from their current withdrawal pains.

Of course, if this one is valid, you must find a way to protect yourself. You will also be protecting your loved one from the great shame of harming a loved one. And if the cause might be a treatable one, you do everything in your power to get your beloved to someone who can treat it.

But what if the fall-back explanation does not fit? What if your spouse is charming much of the time and mentally fit enough to earn a living, engage in hobbies, and dream of a promising future but puts you in harm or puts you into constant stress about what will set him or her off enough to seriously harm you? And then shrugs off what he or she has done?

What then? You leave. You stay married or not, depending on your religious beliefs, but you get yourself well out of harm's way, because you are not loved and you are not safe and you are going to turn yourself inside out trying to get love from someone who does not want to love you.

You do not need to count up the good moments and the bad and weigh one against the other. You see if what's going on might possibly be consistent with loving you. If not, and especially if it's a danger to you, you get out.

It might help to think of a continuum from bright green to bright red. At the green end are the things that so clearly convey love that no one could miss it. At the red end are self-serving acts or threats of violence. In between is a very large gray area of acts that might distress you but might be done with or without loving you.

The untrained way of looking at things is to automatically count all of the gray items as light red ones. The Assume Love way is not to put on green glasses and pretend they are not gray or red; it is to check if they look gray because you have your red glasses on.

When you're searching for things your spouse has screwed up, you have red glasses on. When you're looking for signs your spouse has stopped respecting you or caring about you, you have red glasses on. When you pay attention only to how the upsetting behavior affects you and not to all the things you know about your mate, you have red glasses on. When you expect your spouse to read your mind, you have red glasses on. When you expect your spouse to love you the same way you would love him or her, you have red glasses on.

Assume Love invites you to take off the red glasses, not to put on the green ones. It invites you to see the love you are being offered, not to pretend what upsets you doesn't.

But when you take off the red glasses by Assuming Love and the behavior is still quite red, you will know it's over and you must put yourself first again.

January 29, 2014

Managing What You Expect from Your Husband or Wife

I recently read an anecdote in hedonic adaptation researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky's latest book. She had talked to a couple in an arranged marriage and asked how they had managed to stay happily married for so long. Both said they entered the marriage with no expectations at all. Everything good or even okay was a pleasant surprise. She praised them but could not imagine letting go of her expectations.

I can. Not perfectly, of course. They creep up on me. When I recognize them, though, I send them packing. Expectations robbed me of a lot of love in the two years right before my first husband unexpectedly died. I was 34. He was 35. We were in our 14th year of marriage. If I were to look back farther, I expect I missed out on much more than I am now so keenly aware of. My frustrated expectations made a real mess of things in those awful last two years, after our cross-country move to our new jobs and our son's new elementary school and before his death. And I could not see this until that first morning I woke up as a single mom and widow.

Here is what I know. It is reasonable to expect your husband to take out the trash, initiate sex, hold a job non-stop until he's 66, kiss you instead of grumbling as he arrives home, buy a non-housework-related gift on your birthday, go to counseling with you, take you dancing, bring home flowers, wash dishes if you cook or cook if you vacuum, show up at your child's rugby games, compliment your twenty-pound weight loss, repair the hole your doorknob put in the wall, or put on a clean shirt and button it right when company's coming. We have all seen a friend's husband or a television character or dad do these things.

But if you expect one husband to do ALL of these, you're in way over your head. You're putting all the good traits of all the men you know on one score card. Most men would get a failing grade. And if you expect any particular one of them, there is a very good chance it has the same effect on him as giving him the entire list to perform.

Male, female, same-sex or opposite-sex, we are all tempted to believe whatever it is that we expect is reasonable to expect of the one and only entirely unique person we married.

As I have heard they say in many AA meetings, every expectation is indeed a premeditated resentment. We try to define the person we marry and then we get angry at them, not ourselves, when we get it wrong. We cannot be loving while we are being angry or resentful. And we cannot feel love then, either.

Even if our expectation turns out to be correct for the very man or woman we married, we still lose something. We lose the opportunity to be delighted or at least pleasantly surprised. And then we do not recognize it as loving, and we are not inspired to return the love.

Even unexpected delights or help or kind words eventually lose their ability to please, once we grow used to them. When we get things we expect, they have already lost it. We are not pleased by what we expect and receive. And when we don't get what we expect, our resentment gets in the way of noticing or appreciating the unexpected ones. It also stops us from being the one offering the unexpected boost to our mate.

Many fear that without their expectations, marriage would become awful to live with. The way I see it, our expectations are what create most of the unbearable marriages.

Your marriage is not going to go the way you expect.

When you stand there tapping your foot, waiting for, demanding what you expect, you don't prevent it from being worse. You prevent it from being better.

I am definitely not saying you ought to let another human being walk all over you. But not doing for you the things you would need to do for yourself if you were not married is not walking all over you.

If you have the work you would have on your own and a great sex life, you are well ahead of most of your single friends. If you have the responsibilities you would have on your own plus a shoulder to cry on and someone to cheer your victories, that's actually pretty terrific. If you have to work AND do most of the childcare, like a single parent, but you notice you also have the home and vacations and extra safety afforded by having two incomes, in-laws who treat you like family, and someone else to do the taxes, you have a lot to celebrate.

When you stop expecting all the rest, continue to expect one thing: Expect Love. If you are not shown love in any way, or if you or your children are not safe around your spouse, your marriage is dead. But I think you will find it is much more alive than you thought when you stop trying to demand just a few of the millions of ways a person can love you.

If you have trouble noticing the love because you want more, try living today as if your husband or wife died in a bus accident four weeks ago today. No one is still comforting you or bringing you food or taking care of your pets or kids or lawn. You are on your own now. Do without the other income, maybe even shop for a house or apartment you can afford. Do without the other parent to talk over problems with. Do without his or her share of the household chores -- give your spouse the day off. Take notes on everything you must do and the choices you must make when you cannot do it all. On another page, take note of every kindness your spouse shows you throughout the day.

This is how you manage your expectations. This is how you keep resentment out of your marriage. This is how you let in the delightful surprises that keep your marriage from going stale. This is how you get to be one of those people who is still amazed by and in love with the man or woman they chose to marry.

Expect Love. Throw away your horribly short-sighted score card and just enjoy the surprises.

January 27, 2014

How to Get Your Wife or Husband to Love You Again

A lot of people find this blog while looking for the answer to this question: how can I get my wife (or husband) to love me again? The answer is pretty much the same way it happened originally. But perhaps you were not so aware then as you are now.

For starters, you can stop doing anything that frightens your spouse. This often includes drinking too much, doing anything illegal or especially dangerous, letting your temper get out of control, using street drugs or legal drugs that turn you into someone unfamiliar, or staying in touch with someone you had an affair with. You won't get anywhere while his or her guard is up.

But let's say you're not doing any of those. What next? More kisses and hugs, if they are welcomed. More understanding and comforting touches. More hand holding, even if just for a moment to help your spouse out of a car or up from the floor. More compliments or praise. More thank you's. At least five pleasant interactions for every one unpleasant one.

Ready for the next level? Create more opportunities to laugh, relax, or say ahhhhh -- together. Make yourself available. Make the plans. Arrange the babysitter or picnic lunch or car rental. Invite your spouse, invitingly. Get out to a comedy club or a movie. Get into a hot tub or hammock. Go find yourselves a gorgeous spot in nature, a seat in a grand music hall, or a tour of an art museum. Love happens while you are sharing positive emotions.

Become more seductive, less demanding. If you're having sex only once a week or once a month, you have lots of time for some very slow foreplay. Put it to good use. Don't rush.

Listen for your mate's good news and amplify it. Show your enthusiasm, praise the efforts that led to it, skip the what-ifs. Let your good news or remembrances of past successes wait until you both have savored the latest good news in your spouse's life.

Notice what your husband or wife is good at. Create more opportunities to employ these strengths. Talk about the ways your life is enhanced as a result. Say thank you.

When you're talking, give your beloved your full attention. Put your phone away. Close your book. Turn off your computer monitor and television. Pay attention to his or her breathing and breathe together. Inconspicuously match your movements: lean in or sit back when your spouse does, return each smile with one of your own, uncross your arms or cross your legs in sync. Gaze gently into his or her eyes and hold it for a minute or two if your mate gazes back.

Avoid asking if it's over. It's not. Don't encourage your spouse to make a premature decision he or she might then feel obliged to stand by.

If your spouse is thinking of moving out, don't help with the packing or the expense. Instead of making you seem helpful, it makes you seem disinterested in restoring your relationship. Make it clear you want to start the second phase of your marriage, more aware and more willing to learn than you were in the first phase.

Don't involve your children. Don't use their wellbeing to guilt your spouse into staying. Don't use them to communicate with your spouse. Don't use them to get information about your spouse. You cannot sneak or bully your way back to love.

Don't enter into a competition with anyone your spouse may have turned to for sexual excitement or emotional comfort. You have a huge advantage as the person your mate chose to wed and promised to love. Focus on restoring your relationship and let anyone else fall by the wayside.

Know that faded passion for each other is normal. It is simply hedonic adaptation, the same very human condition that makes the eighth spoonful of ice cream a lot less enjoyable than the first one and makes lottery winners no happier after a year or two than before their big win. But passion is not gone forever. A big shakeup like you are experiencing can create enough change, enough surprise to restart it.

Two of your best tools for fanning the flames are taking the time to savor all the good moments and keeping surprise into your relationship by going new places and trying new things together. The third is patience. It takes time to let all the resentments out of a marriage and restore the healthy expectation of being pleasantly surprised by love.

Wishing you long-term success at encouraging your wife or husband to fall in love with you all over again.

January 23, 2014

Loving a Spouse with an Autoimmune Disease

Recently a friend who has been working very hard to relieve the pain and other symptoms of her husband's autoimmune disease said something that got my attention. She mentioned his latest problems and wrote, "I'm starting to get that this is probably always going to be a part of our life, this autoimmune disease."

She gave me permission to share with you our conversation, just in case you, too, face an autoimmune disease in your marriage.

I wrote back:

You can look at it that way: this will always be part of our life. Or you can look at it the other way: how remarkable that we get this day/month/year together in spite of his body always trying to kill itself -- thank God and a whole lot of scientists for modern medicine and the days when he can get some work or loving done.

I went with the first one for fourteen years and often felt oppressed by it until the reality of the second one hit me in the face.

(In case you haven't read my bio, the disease somehow won and left me a widow.)

She wrote:

I just thought that the work we were doing was going to help him go into remission, and I'm starting to reconcile myself with the idea that maybe it's not going to go into remission. Some days I don't know how to shrug off the idea that the guy I love is in so much pain and there's nothing I can do.

My empathy meter went to full-tilt. He had been through a lot more than just this disease in the last few months, and she had been with him through it all. For many weeks, she had done all the work of creating healthy juices for him from fresh fruits, vegetables, and plants, and it had helped. Now the darn disease had both of them feeling powerless.

I replied, and I share it with you in case you are in a similar situation:

So it didn't get his body healthy enough to withstand the simultaneous stresses of one parent's death, the other's fatal illness, an urgent deadline, food poisoning, the flu, and pneumonia. It DID give him a bunch of comfortable days, and you can repeat them when you have the money, time, and energy to do so.

He probably would not have bothered to try juicing on his own, because his symptoms are so familiar to him.

What I am trying to caution you against is feeling defeated when his body reacts to stress or imagining yourself working as hard as you did with the juicing or living with his current mood for every day of the rest of your life. The resentment (whether toward him or the Fates) will screw up your marriage.

Be grateful he's there, in pain or not, do what you can when you can to alleviate the pain if you can, and stay madly in love with him. Now that we know love actually strengthens the heart, improves breathing, and regulates digestion by toning the vagus nerve, know you're making a real difference in his health even when you're not chopping up vegetables or researching the next possible symptom reliever. And the release of oxytocin that love brings is likely to improve his mood.

Almost all of us will face serious chronic or acute disease or injury eventually, which means all of us will at some point be a loving spouse who feels powerless to help. This is a normal part of life. Ride it like a wave. Your role is to love, not to cure or to rescue. Resentment that it's your turn to feel helpless now will only get in the way of fulfilling your very important role in your husband's or wife's wellbeing. Let it go.

January 15, 2014

When His Family Dislikes You

I received a request for advice last month from a woman who was preparing to walk into a very difficult holiday gathering. Sometimes, when I read your requests, I think, "I am so glad I am not in this person's shoes!" And then I put myself in your shoes to try to get a different perspective on the situation, one that might help.

She and her husband had hit a rough patch in their marriage last year, then gotten things back on track. But while things were bad, his mother had received a call from an old flame of his, asking how to contact him. Mom gladly provided it, a near-affair ensued, and his brother's girlfriend became friends with the old flame.

When she had asked her mother-in-law if she was glad to hear her son and his wife were now back in love, she replied snarkily that he was a big boy now, old enough to make his own decisions.

And now it was time to spend a weekend with the mother-in-law, the brother's girlfriend, and the rest of his family. Could she just stay home, she wondered? Was there anything she could do to make it more palatable?

Here was my answer, just in case you face anything similar.

You have one point of agreement with your mother-in-law already: he can make his own decisions. You have another, too: you both love him. Your husband did not get involved with the other woman because your mother-in-law passed along the phone number. He did it because he was temporarily uninvolved with you.

Staying involved with him means staying involved with the woman he calls mom, warts and all. You don't have to like her, but showing her respect in spite of her failings will mean a lot to your husband. Treat her the way you would the maniacal Chairman of the Board who shows up at your office twice a year. He may be crazy, but you respect the position and look forward to the other 363 days of the year when he's off at a distance.

To men, it is the respect that matters, not who is wrong or right. It's built into the testosterone (really -- it goes away when they are given estrogen). And many men have very little skill at relationship issues. If forced to side with one or the other of you, he'll be miserable. And if he's miserable, he's likely to resort to childlike behavior, and she was all that stood between him and death when he was a child, so you know where that is going.

Investing in a long-term relationship with your mother-in-law on this visit is one of the best ways to demonstrate your intention of a long-term relationship with him. (Feel free to take your smart phone into a rest room and Facebook message me with whatever you wish you could say instead of being respectful.)

As for the girlfriend, if she brings up the other woman, try this: "I feel sorry for her -- I know what a wonderful catch my [insert husband's first name here] is -- but I prefer not to hear how she's doing without him." If necessary, repeat it word for word if she returns to this subject or pretends not to hear you.

You might also want to make plans with your husband before you go if, for example, you will be there long enough for it to be appropriate to go out to breakfast or lunch or a walk with just him. If it's planned in advance, he'll have a chance to prepare his response to any comments from the peanut gallery, and it won't look to him like you are responding negatively to the people he loves when you ask for a break from them.

I think we women react strongly to the childish ways men can behave around those they were children with, while we're interacting as adults with adults and reaching around for the hand of that other adult who usually has our back in social situations. Going back to being your two adult selves for a while is a refreshing break and a reminder that it's normal and only temporary.

January 8, 2014

The Secret of a Happy Marriage

This post is part of the Happy Wives Club Blog Tour which I am delighted to be a part of along with hundreds of inspiring bloggers. To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!

Fawn Weaver's book hit the bookshelves yesterday, and it is a great read. She traveled the globe looking for happily married women and asking them how that happened. Then she turned it into a very readable travelogue about a world filled with love.

Fawn, in case you don't know, is the founder of the Happy Wives Club, her personal contribution to dispelling the bleak picture of marriage currently on TV and in the media. This online club now has half a million members in 110 countries, and it is growing daily.

Happy Wives Club: One Woman's Worldwide Search for the Secrets of a Great Marriage tells of Fawn's trek across six continents and through eighteen cities to visit some of these members and share with us what they have learned about marriage.

Since Fawn did not visit me for this book, I want to add what I strongly believe is the secret of a happy marriage. It's not who you marry: it's your skills. How do I know? Because I married a really great guy and really blew it, thinking he was the problem. When he suddenly dropped dead, I got a crash course in who was causing my "marriage" problems, and she was still right there in the mirror.

So the three techniques I teach are not about how to please your husband or how to change him. They are about how to handle your disappointments and frustrations, so you can free yourself to see all that is good about him.

Assume Love

First, when you are upset by something he does or says, Assume Love. As soon as you get upset, your brain will assume you are in danger, and you need to counteract this. So ask yourself this question: "How might I explain what just happened if I had absolutely no doubt that my husband loves me fiercely and is a good man?"

Come up with a few explanations. One of them is likely to fit. It is also likely to jog your memory, so that you recall his plans and childhood experiences and important dates and have that great aha moment of understanding him and falling even deeper in love with him. (And if you can come up with none, even after asking others for help, please proceed with your fear or anger and take action. A small number of husbands truly are dangerous. The rest are generally still trying to love us.)

Expect Love

Second, when it feels like something is missing or you are wanting him to do something he keeps putting off doing, Expect Love. By which I mean, stop expecting those proxies for love that you got from watching your grandparents or some TV sitcom and start paying more attention to how your husband actually shows his love. When those get some appreciation, they tend to multiply.

When you stand there, arms crossed, tapping your toe, waiting for him to shovel snow or take a dance class with you or buy you flowers, you create a boatload of marriage-corroding resentment. You have a right to expect love from your spouse, but the moment you believe "if you loved me, you would _____," you chase it away.

You will still have all your needs and wants whether he stays or goes, lives or dies. If you learn to take care of most of them for yourself, you'll have a really great time while he's in your life.

Find Third Alternatives

You two are going to disagree. It's a given. How you deal with this changes everything. You can Find Third Alternatives you both like for almost all disagreements. Getting locked into either-or thinking about the first couple of options you two thought of may hone your debating skills, but it won't do anything good for your marriage.

Your spouse is on your side. Keep him there by letting go of your first option if it conflicts with what he wants. But don't compromise. Instead, find the Third Alternative both of you like at least as much as your firsts.

What do you like about yours? (Not why is it better, but what attracts you to it?) What does he likes about his? And what does each of you hope to avoid by rejecting each other's preference?

When we were building our house, I really wanted our laundry room separate from our family room, to avoid the smell of detergent and machinery noises. Did I reveal this? No. Instead, I argued for the window it would have where I wanted it. He argued for having it where we were required to put a sump hole and pump, "just in case."

To find a Third Alternative, we both needed to come clean about what really mattered. He did not care if it was off the family room. He cared that we not need to walk through "a creepy unfinished basement, like at your parents' house" to get there. If he could have that, the window would be a nice bonus, as it was for me. We moved the family room wall on the blueprints to add a brightly painted hallway with an oak floor and some artwork leading to a laundry room with a window, and we were both very happy with the house and each other.


Should you learn about Love Languages, Love and Respect, making and receiving bids, the Four Horseman, Active-Constructive Responding, Active Listening, the Dance of Anger, and Love 2.0, too? You bet. Each of them will help you think of loving explanations when you Assume Love, recognize the love you rightfully expect to come with marriage, and keep your cool when it's time to look for a Third Alternative.


Here's the trailer from the book, where you will read lots of other opinions on what makes a marriage happy as part of Fawn's highly engaging tale:

This post is part of the Happy Wives Club blog tour with Fawn Weaver
Fawn Weaver, the founder of the Happy Wives Club wrote a book about the best marriage secrets the world has to offer. If you are looking for inspiration for your own marriage, whether deliciously happy or temporarily less so, you will find it in the stories she shares from around the world. You can grab a copy HERE.

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

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