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Articles from July 2016

July 28, 2016

Bathroom Battles

What drives you nuts in the bathroom you share with your spouse? What problems did you have at first that you've found a clever solution to? Pantyhose in the shower? Wasting water? Not replacing the empty toilet paper roll? Leaving wet towels on the floor? I'm sure there are a million more.

It's a funny thing about bathrooms. We learn about them when we're so young. The words often come with such a strong sense of right and wrong or with shame for failing to understand or follow the rules. They form implicit memories that associate emotions with whatever happens in that room in a way that defies us to revise them with logical arguments.

And not many couples have the luxury of separate bathrooms when they first start out, when they are still assessing each other's values. One room can provide a lot of stress, a lot to disagree about.

So I'm betting you have some great stories of bathroom battles or, perhaps, shocks you've chosen not to make an issue of but still think about.

I hope you'll share them with me, because I'm writing a book: Love Like You Don't Share a Bathroom. And I'd really like to include your story. Thanks!

July 15, 2016

For Men: Protect Your Health by Protecting Your Marriage

A study published online two days ago (in advance of the journal's printing) offers one more reason for men to Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives: better health.

Everyone's heard that married men are healthier than unmarried and divorced men, but this study offers a bit more detail. Once they reach middle age or older (when ailments begin to increase), only men with satisfying marriages take better care of themselves. Older men dissatisfied with their marriages experience a boomerang effect, taking even less good care of themselves than those without spouses.

While you cannot control your spouse's behavior, you have a good bit of control over your satisfaction with your marriage, which is what this blog is all about.

First, when something your wife does upsets you, override your amygdala's very primitive threat management system by looking for other possible explanations for what happened. To do this, Assume Love: set aside any doubts you might have and look for explanations consistent with your mate still loving you, still possessing the character strengths you married her for. You know far more about the person you married than your amygdala will let you recall while pushing your body to fight or flea a threat to your physical safety.

Second, don't let resentment build up. Expect love, but don't dictate that love will show up as picking up your dry cleaning, earning a certain income, or wearing something in particular, because, as my friend's AA leader says, "every expectation is a premeditated resentment." And resentment corrodes a marriage.

Third, when the two of you disagree on a choice you must make together, Find Third Alternatives. Don't debate the first two. Don't look for a compromise between the first two that makes you both equally dissatisfied. Look for another alternative that makes each of you as satisfied as going with your first alternative.

I promise you'll find your marriage more satisfying, and if you're anything like the 506 unionized male workers in Canada in the Spousal Positive Social Control and Men's Health Behaviors and Self-efficacy study, you'll probably take better care of your health.

July 12, 2016

Did I Marry the Wrong Person?

Some people manage to marry a skunk. The rest of asking this question keep mistaking guinea pigs, ground hogs, and even rabbits for skunks. Here's the difference.

A few spouses, male and female but usually male, congratulate themselves on acquiring a slave without the usual financial, social, and legal costs of such an arrangements. Instead of the lash, they may use misappropriated lines from whichever religious text you hold dear to justify their domination of you or threaten you with harm to your children to keep you doing their bidding. They may also punch, burn, or throw things at you. They are firmly convinced you are their personal property, never their equal.

Your money is theirs. Your time is theirs. Your talents are theirs. Your body is theirs.

These are bona fide skunks. Your time with them is not marriage. It's bondage.

Then there are the skunks whose stripes emerge only after you've been married a good while. They become famous or wealthy and convince themselves it's all due to their own personal talents. The benefits are theirs to bestow on you or keep for themselves. They feel entitled to use the bodies of men or women impressed by their success for their own pleasure, oblivious to their marriage pledge of fidelity to you. You become nothing more than another part of their career to be managed.

They are too blinded by their own gleaming capped teeth to notice they achieved what they did because they chose a partner with different ambitions, one who took care of day-to-day problems with the house or children that could have grown into career-interrupting bigger problems. They forget who made it possible for them to get the education or take the financial and emotional risks that started their snowball of a career or bank account rolling. They forget the dips in fortune when their spouse's income was what allowed them to try again.

These are skunks, too, but they are possibly salvageable as spouses if the two of you, or even just you, get help bringing them back down to earth.

But you know what? These two categories make up a very small slice of all the spouses accused by their wives or husbands of being bad people who must change because those wives and husbands are desperately unhappy in the marriage. The rest are not skunks.

Here's how to tell if you're just seeing a shadow on a groundhog or guinea pig when you think you're looking at (and married to) a skunk.

First, pretend your husband or wife died yesterday. How many of the things that have been bothering you got better? If you've been demanding more help with the yard work or the kids, do you have it now? Is picking up the dry cleaning or your prescriptions any easier? If you've been pushing your spouse to work more hours or ask for a raise, do you have more income coming in? Are your kids getting more of the sort of attention you've been asking for?

Notice that if you've been under someone's thumb, bullied or hit or raped by your spouse, things get better, not worse, when it's over.

If that's not the case for you, you do not have a marriage problem. You have a life problem. If you've been infusing your marriage with resentment as a result, you've created a marriage problem.

This can sound harsh. When we're frustrated by a problem, the first place we look, the first place we ought to look for help is our spouse. But if it's also the last place we look, we create our own unhappiness.

When you're deciding what to expect of your husband or wife, Expect Love. It's the thing you were promised, and it comes in many forms. Some people feel loving while running errands for their spouse; others don't. Some people feel loving whlie choosing gifts for their spouse; others don't. Some people feel loving while they spend quality time with their children; others don't. Some people feel loving while they're encouraging you and acknowledging your achievements; others don't.

Second, if something happened that alarmed you and made you worry you might have a skunk for a spouse, you need to know something. Your thinking is seriously constrained by the very fact that you're alarmed. Once alarmed, your brain focuses almost exclusively on assessing the threat level. It turns off access to a lot of helpful information you've stored that would help you determine whether you're dealing with a skunk or not.

When this happens, it helps to Assume Love. Again, it takes a bit of temporary pretending, but the pretending is not the point. What it frees your brain to do is the point. Pretend you know for certain you're not married to a skunk, that you are still well-loved by a good person, and make the effort to find another possible explanation or two for what happened, explanations consistent with loving and respecting you.

Just by setting aside the question of whether you're in danger, you'll remember a lot more about who your spouse is, what motivates him or her, and what's happening is his or her life. And you just might figure it all out and breathe a sigh of relief as you understand what happened.

And this will keep you from doing or saying something alarming to your innocent and baffled spouse.

It might even rekindle your love for the wonderful person you chose as your partner in life. Try it.

The Author

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

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