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.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Patty — This is brilliant! I’ve been doing some guest blogging on marriage and discovered how easy it is to trigger other women’s abuse sensors.
    I’ve been perplexed about how to tell the difference between actual abuse (which many women do experience) and annoyance (which has been my problem and, thus, what I write about). I was coming to the conclusion that every marriage is so different that there’s no way to tell.
    We may all see red and green a little differently, but the idea of taking off the red glasses while not putting on green is a paradigm that can work for all marriages.
    Thank you!!!

  • I concur with Ms. Gregory…this was brilliant. I discovered Becky Blanton’s blog on setting boundaries with addicts and she suggested your blog. I am so grateful to both of you for sharing your wisdom. I’ve been married for 30+ years yet am just recently becoming aware of the deep waters surrounding an alcoholic relationship. All life lines are welcome!

  • Yes, I’ve been to 3-1/2 Al-Anon meetings now, have devoured related literature and live by the tiny “just for today” bookmark. And now I will remember to Assume Love. Thank you.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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