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Articles from February 2014

February 22, 2014

Requests vs. Expectations

As you've probably figured out, I write about how to enjoy being married, not how to be a great spouse or how to turn your husband or wife into one.

One of the greatest keys to having a wonderful marriage is to Expect Love and let go of all those other expectations about what it means to be married. When you expect only that you will be loved, and the snow's piled two feet deep in your driveway, you accept that it would be there whether or not you were married, so it has nothing to do with your marriage.

When you don't expect your spouse to shovel the driveway, it's a delight if he or she does. Or it's a delight to sit by your fire drinking hot cocoa while the money your spouse earned helps pay for that nice fellow with the plow. Or it's a delight to be thanked for doing it or paying for it. Or maybe it's even a delight to have the opportunity to delight your spouse.

If you expect your spouse to do any particular thing because you're married, you're disappointed if that doesn't happen and not all that delighted if it does. If you let go of the expectation, there are many more opportunities to be delighted.

But does this mean you'll need to do all the housework and all the yard care and all the child care and all the car maintenance and all the income earning for the two of you? Not usually. And if there is some part of it you don't want to do, I highly recommend asking your mate to do it.

When you make a request, it's easier to show you love, easier to earn your gratitude. What's the difference between a request and an expectation? The difference is that there is no penalty for saying no.

Showing the person you love how much you love them and earning their gratitude is one of the most enjoyable things any of us get to do in life. Watch any couple that has just met. Receiving love is great fun, but being loving is even more gratifying.

If the person who loves you says no to a request, then there is more to doing it than you imagine. Your spouse expects the personal cost to be too high or the reward for doing it to be too low. Nagging or whining won't change either of those. Find another way to get out of doing what you don't want to do and wait to be surprised with some other form of loving you.

I won't pretend this is easy. It's hard to get up and go to work while you're spouse is unemployed or sleeping late. It's hard to come home from work and realize your children really need all that children need. It's hard to finish repairing the broken bathroom light, mowing the lawn, organizing a bake sale, and still need to cook dinner. But these things need to get done whether you're loved or not. When you see an out (if only my spouse did these, if only I got rich quick on the internet, if only my fairy godmother would get some mice and dancing teapots to do them...), it just adds resentment to duty.

And no one can delight you while you're busy nursing resentment.

February 14, 2014

Congratulations and a Free Book

Today marks the 8th anniversary of Assume Love. When I started it, I never imagined I could still be writing, would still have anything to say, eight years later. So I must congratulate you, the folks who show up in my visitor counts and especially those of you who leave comments, for those are the things that keep me writing. Thank you for these eight years and the ones to come.

The free book comes from Lois Hjelmstad. Today and tomorrow, you can get the Kindle version of This Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage for free at You can find a review I wrote when it first came out.

February 6, 2014

Husband Improvement Projects

This question was left as a comment today, and I think it warrants its own blog post. I hope you will, too.

Sue wrote:

My husband and I have a pretty good thing going. There is a cultural difference (he is Scandinavian) we have bridged with humor and has even helped us both to stretch and grow. He was raised on a very poor farm and did not learn any table manners. He is now highly educated and in corporate America. I was stunned when we went out to eat with his colleagues that he speared an entire long asparagus and shoved it vertically in his mouth, chomping on it like a horse on a carrot, slurped his coffee noisily, etc i.e. the same bad table manners he exhibits at home. I could see his boss was put off. This might be a contributing factor to his lack of advancement. He is sensitive about coming from a humble background. I was thinking of hiring an etiquette person to teach us both better table manners. Should I surprise him with this as a gift or discuss it beforehand? Or just leave this alone?

How perfectly awful, Sue! Did everyone else eat the asparagus the proper way? Miss Manners and many other etiquette experts say asparagus spears, unless covered in sauce or limp, are finger food. A fork and knife should be used only to spare other less well-bred diners at the table from embarrassment.

(Confession: despite knowing this, I have never once picked up an asparagus spear with my fingers unless served as an hors d'oeuvre, wrapped in prosciutto and tied with a pretty green bow.)

Coffee slurping is actually a proper sign of appreciation in some cultures. So is burping. Some keep the left hand in the lap except when needed to spear the item being cut. At least one insists both hands stay on the table at all times. Still others don't want that left hand anywhere near the food, thank you very much.

It is true that having different table manners from the boss can hurt a person's advancement opportunities. But this is true even if the boss's table manners don't come from an etiquette guide, or from the US version.

Ah, but I am not here to advise about table manners, but about marriage. Expectations breed resentments in a marriage. Whether your expectation is that your spouse have good table manners or seek advancement on the job, this is still your expectation, your judgment of what your husband should do.

So I would ask, why does this matter to you? What is it that you need? Because it is okay to ask for what you need. It's not okay to expect your spouse to adopt your priorities (job advancement) or your methods (table manners).

And when I say not okay, I mean not likely to help you enjoy being married. When your kind offer (or surprise) of etiquette training is taken as criticism or nitpicking or even ignorance of his career field, expecting him to better himself is going to leave you resentful and feeling like the one with superior habits. And both of those will make it harder to love and feel loved, to respect and feel respected.

It is perfectly appropriate to ask for what you want. That is very different from expecting your husband (or wife) to do as you say or implying there is something about your mate that is not good enough for you.

You could say, "I was raised with some pretty strict U.S. table manners, and even though I respect and adore you, when we're at formal dinners or trying to impress clients or employers, I feel uncomfortable with some of the things you do, even when others say nothing about it. I know it's because I was corrected over and over as a child. Would you be willing to invest some time in learning some of the more formal rules for dining from a book or video or expert? If not, I will work on dealing with those particular tapes in my head."

It is also appropriate to say, "I think you are so talented, but I noticed something the other night that could unfairly thwart your career, and you might be unaware of it. Do you want to hear more?"

If he says he would like to learn more about table manners, then hiring an expert or buying a book or video will be a welcome gift. But the decision to learn about this is all his. If you want to learn more, go ahead. If he joins you, great. If not, also great, because you are learning for you. But if you are planning to learn more as a way to manipulate his behavior, that's quite likely to diminish your enjoyment of your marriage.

If you want to be happily married, Expect Love, not sliced asparagus.

(If I were better at graphics, I think I would make that line into a badge for Pinterest and Facebook.)

February 3, 2014

Loving is a Choice

Wish your spouse or other life partner would show you more loving?

  • Loving is a choice, but intuiting what you want is a talent. If you want something, ask for it.

  • Loving is a choice, but there is no choice if you demand what you want or nag, throw temper tantrums, or sulk when you don't get it. Make sure your mate is not your only source for what you want or need.

  • Loving is a choice, but it stops being a rewarding one without a show of gratitude.

  • Loving is a choice, and it's one most of us make a lot if not thwarted in our efforts.

February 1, 2014

Ever Wonder Why Your Man Reads Faces So Poorly?

Some men have Social Intelligence nailed. They can recognize people they've met and read and adapt their actions to the most fleeting facial expression. But many do an awful job of this.

Ladies, before you roll your eyeballs (a serious no-no for a woman who loves her man) when your husband misses cues that are obvious to you, consider this new research into facial recognition.

Now that researchers can measure facial recognition by watching for increased blood oxygen in the right fusiform face area (FFA) in the brain, as well as by testing them, they are learning a lot about us. Women in general show more activity in the FFA when looking at faces than men do. Women in general show more activity here in the middle of their menstrual cycles, when their estrogen levels peak and they can get pregnant, than while menstruating. And women taking birth control pills (which contain estrogen and progestin) show more activity than other women at both points in their cycle.

Just to rule out a possible non-brain explanation, they checked the eye movement of women on birth control pills and not. They found no difference. So it is pretty likely that estrogen enhances the brain's ability to recognize a face.

I hope the next study tells us whether we retain most of this advantage after menopause because we learn from the experience it gives us. But in the meantime, don't expect your husband to be as good at this as you are. You have a female advantage, probably there to help you choose who gets access to your monthly eggs.

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

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