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Articles from October 2019

October 30, 2019

Don't Take It Personally

A friend contacted me recently, upset. Or pre-upset, if we can declare this a word. Her husband would be miserably uncomfortable the next day, doctor's orders, and she knew this would make him say mean things to her. It always did.

Her Love Language is Words of Affirmation. There would be none tomorrow. Instead, there would be grumbles, complaints, calls to hurry up or move aside, maybe even snide remarks. She was already hurt, and they hadn't even started yet.

I almost said, "Don't take it personally."

I heard this advice when my marriage was going sideways, when I was taking everything personally. But it was useless. How could I not take it personally when it was driving me crazy and coming from the man who promised to love me until death do us part?

So, instead, I said, "Did you ever work with someone with Tourette Syndrome? Did you ever listen to the unexpected words or sounds, watch the twitches, and realize it was just the way their body shakes off stress, that it wasn't aimed at you or a response to anything you were doing?" She had. She'd had a client with Tourette Syndrome. She assigned no more personal meaning to these symptoms than to an accidental cough, sneeze, or fart from any other client.

Everything she was fearing from her husband the next day was predictable and a reaction to following the doctor's orders. It was going to happen whether she was there or not, whether she was helpful or a nuisance. It was just something that happens. It was nothing personal.

And she asked me to share this with all of you, even before they survived their thoroughly predictable next day that turned out so much better than all the ones before it had.

October 24, 2019

Why I Write this Blog

It's so good to back online. I was starting to think the blog would never work again. Since the end of January, comments and adding new posts has not worked. After a lot of wrong turns throughout a very busy year, it's great to be back!

I thought I would resume by telling you why I have been writing this blog for 13 years. And it's the same reason I wore an Urban League "Give a Damn" button fifty years ago, when I decided to go study city planning and save the world.

It turns out that the percentage of us who are married and the length of those marriages influences crime, poverty, education, mental health, the environment, the cost of health care, the safety of our children, the productivity of our workers, and the availability of wealth to invest in innovation. In other words, marriage improves our quality of life, and not just the quality of our married lives but the quality of our societal lives. It's important.

I believe in marriage. I also believe in divorce. People need a way out of a bad match, a way without shame and without long waiting periods. But the answer to messy divorces is not to do away with marriage by creating more fluid relationships, more short-term cohabiting, more friends with benefits. Marriage matters.

The answer is to make staying married easier. If you're happily married, you stay married. And we all owe you a debt of gratitude for staying happily married. But if you're like me, you didn't grow up with any role models for a happy marriage. And you did grow up in a society that has gradually stopped viewing staying married as an obligation and started removing some of the impediments to living on your own if you're a woman or a parent.

And that's why I write this blog: to make staying married easier by making it happier and a lot less stressful. For you. Without changing your spouse. Without becoming a better person in hope that this will somehow change your spouse.

Does your husband or wife need improvement?
I'm convinced both of you know how to be wonderful to each other when you choose to. Why else would you have chosen to marry?

Does you two need to get better at communicating?
I'm willing to bet you've already communicated a lot and well, sharing your joy in each other early on. If one or both of you now won't communicate, it's to avoid criticism, not because you don't know how.

Is compromise the answer?
I hope not. Who would agree to less than they need or want on the one condition that the person they love most suffer just as much? That's just crazy.

Your happiness is what matters.
If you're happy about your marriage, your spouse is going to feel more secure in the relationship, more successful as a spouse, and more like the person who showed you so much love and joy when you first fell in love. It probably won't change a thing about how they handle money, dirty socks, or your in-laws, but it will definitely change your relationship.

Unfortunately, our natural instincts are great for dealing with predators but not good ones for a marriage. So, if you imagined being happily married depends on what your spouse does (unless there's violence or psychological torture involved, it generally doesn't) or on your behaving like the good spouses you've watched on TV (it's more likely to build resentment than happiness), figuring out marriage as you go is likely to backfire for you, the same way it did for me. You need tools for turning resentment into accomplishment, disagreement into winning without bullying, and outrage into deeper intimacy or at least calm problem-solving.

And those tools are why I write this blog, so all of us can have happier marriages we don't want to escape from.

The Author

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

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