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Articles from July 2021

July 27, 2021

Why Do I Need to Arrange Everything?

Some of us are natural-born planners. Some of us are natural-born worriers. I am both. Perhaps you, too, are the sort of person who makes lists of criteria and starts calling housekeeping services weeks in advance of when you'll need them. Or the sort who vets enough babysitters to know whom you will call if your favorite is not available on your birthday. Or the sort who gets an idea to travel and starts comparing airfares, hotel prices, beach access, and average temperature in a spreadsheet even before committing to which state or country you'll go to.

If you are, let give offer you a tip for staying in your happy place: there is a good chance your spouse doesn't care. When you get tired of doing all this all the time, expecting your spouse to take over for you will almost certainly lead to self-inflicted resentment.

And your spouse won't feel one bit ashamed, because he or she will not have a clue why you are not satisfied with the approach to these tasks that other people take.

No babysitter available when I call the morning of our dinner out? No problem! I'll ask a friend or relative or reschedule dinner. All fixed. We need a cleaning service? What's wrong with calling the one who advertises on the place mat where I'm eating lunch to see when they can come do it? As long as the place is relatively clean when they finish, what's the problem? And if I woke up picturing us on the beach in Aruba, why don't we book a flight and then see what hotel is available?

I'll be there to empathize with you when the only place available in Aruba looks like it won't survive a hurricane and wants to rent you a couple of bicycles to ride the mile to the nearest beach. I'll offer you a hug when your birthday dinner gets delayed or when you stress over your obligation to your last-minute babysitter. And I'll give you a Care emoji on Facebook when you report the ketchup left on your cabinet door by the cleaning service. (I'll watch your kid, but I'm really not a fan of housework, even to help a friend.)

But if you want to moan about how you get stuck with all of this work of making arrangements, I will point you to the research reported in Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice. He discovered those Satisficers are, on the whole, happier and wealthier than us Maximizers. It's hard to believe, because we feel so good about a choice that turns out well or a backup plan that saves the day. But you know that getting there took work, and you often wonder (unhappily) why you always get stuck with this work.

Feel free to do the work for those moments of blissful success. I do. But please do not imagine for one moment that your spouse not doing it is a sign that he or she is lazy or taking advantage of you or not really in love with you. Instead, try being grateful he or she tolerates your hobby, which looks a lot like skillful foot-shooting to a Satificer. And let go of your unhelpful expectation of help doing it.

July 20, 2021

When Your Spouse Won't Use Your Love Language

I'm sure you have heard of Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. Lots of us have read the book. Others have learned the languages from magazine articles or workshops.

If you and your husband or wife share a Love Language, it's easy to show your love for each other. For the rest of us, there is a giant pitfall you might want to avoid.

If you expect your spouse to use your Love Language just because you shared which one means the most to you (Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Physical Touch, Quality Time, or Acts of Service), you are setting yourself up for resentment. And resentment is one of the most corrosive things you could bring to a marriage.

Why would your spouse not even try to use your Love Language? Well, first, because it doesn't feel loving when your spouse does it. We've all been raised with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. What your spouse wants done unto him or her is not this.

If Quality Time feels loving to your spouse, it's likely that performing Acts of Service feels like time apart, doing chores. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about doing it. Doing it doesn't feel like he or she is showing you love.

If your spouse was raised by someone disingenuous or manipulative, Words of Affirmation are probably highly suspicious. Delivering them without any real sense of why you long to hear them probably feels phony, not loving.

Another reason your spouse might not want to engage in your Love Language is the risk factor. First, there is the risk of failure: how do you do something well if you can't even understand the value of doing it? How does someone who dislikes gifts or who grew up receiving gifts with strings attached or gifts that tried to push them to be someone other than who they are even begin to choose a gift you will love? It's like asking a blind person to choose a painting for you.

And then there is that bigger risk: doing it so badly that they lose your love. They know how much this matters to you. The stakes are huge. I am married to someone whose Love Language is physical touch. He's a master at massage. I stink at it, even after taking several classes. I cannot tell what I am feeling under the skin. I simply don't feel the differences someone good at massage feels. And before me, my husband was engaged to and living with a massage therapist, so I know he knows how bad I am at this. It feels like I am trying to show love by calculating his rocket trajectory without any knowledge of physics. I feel tested, not loving. And I feel like I am failing the test, no matter what he says.

A third reason for not using a wanted Love Language is an inability to do so, thanks to neurological or physiological differences.

So, what can you do if your spouse can't or won't learn your Love Language? First, never, ever try to manipulate your spouse into using it. Don't invest days or weeks in showing your love their way and expect this obligates them to use yours. It doesn't. Sure, you can end a relationship over this (or over any other expectation) if you feel shorted, but why would you want to?

Instead, learn to recognize when your husband or wife is showing you love in his or her own language, and show that you noticed and appreciated this loving. As you have probably already noticed, it's pretty frustrating to show love that goes unrecognized. Eventually, you just quit trying and pull away. You don't want your spouse to do that, do you?

Then, with your relationship chugging along healthily, take charge of your needs. If you need Quality Time together, schedule it. Accept that you may get turned down on some of your invitations, but keep making plans and don't blame your spouse for not making any. If you feel the need for words of reassurance or celebration or kindness, speak them out loud and ask for an "amen" from your spouse.

If you long for Gifts, get creative. Ask a good friend to take charge of choosing them for your spouse whenever the urge to show you love hits. Or ask your spouse to pay for your order of monthly flower delivery. If you are married to someone whose Love Language is Acts of Service, request whatever you would like as a gift and asked that it be delivered in nice wrappings, turning it into an Act of Service. Or ask your spouse with a Words of Affirmation Love Language to put them in a frame or a song or on a cake, so they look like a Gift. And be sure to also exchange gifts with your friends and family members who will get a kick out of choosing something surprising for you now and then, the cherry on top that your spouse probably will never be able to come up with.

If your language is Physical Touch, schedule yourself for frequent spa treatments, even if it's just exchanging them with a friend who also enjoys them. Then find hobbies to try with your spouse that involve lots of touch, like couples dancing or bobsledding or some forms of exercise. Go ride the Scrambler together! And make sure you make sex fun for your spouse.

Want more Acts of Service? Don't wait for them to be offered. Ask for what you want. And take no for an answer. Nagging will just push you two apart. Hire help. Or barter for it. Ask your Gift-loving spouse to give you gift certificates for chores. Ask your Quality Time-loving spouse for an afternoon of working together, and let him or her choose which jobs to tackle.

Remember, not speaking your Love Language is not a sign that you are not loved. And it is not a sign that you are getting less than you deserve. You deserve love. And you will get less of it if you reject loving acts that don't fit the model you adopted as a toddler.

The Author

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

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