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How to Assume Love

October 9, 2012

What I Believe About Marriage and How to Enjoy It

I've been blogging for quite a while now, since Valentine's Day of 2006. If you're new to this blog, the Assume Love Archives must seem a bit overwhelming. So let me try to sum up the basics for you.

First, I write about marriage and committed life partnerships, not about relationships in general. I write for people with a mutual and public commitment to love each other, an intention backed by one's personal integrity. If you're with someone for as long as you both feel love for each other, you may find some of my approaches counterproductive, even when the problems you face are similar to those faced by committed life partners.

Second, I think communication and compromise are highly overrated as techniques for improving your marriage. Save compromise for a last-ditch solution to your unresolvable differences. No one enjoys compromising, and it's seldom necessary. If you had no complaints about communications while you were falling in love, you can expect good communication to return as you enjoy being married more.

Third, I think marriage is for love. You can earn your own money. You can pay or barter with other people to do your household chores and yard work, watch and teach your kids, travel with you, support you in your new endeavors, or listen to you. You may want a life partner to provide these, but you don't need one. Love is different. If you push love away while waiting for help with your taxes or a clean floor, you cannot easily replace it.

Fourth, if you want to enjoy being married, I believe you will should master these three key techniques:

  • Assume Love When someone vows to love you, there is a good chance your distress comes from a misunderstanding. Check it out before you retaliate or pout.

  • Expect Love If you're expecting something else, you will overlook it when it's offered or convince your life partner not to offer so much.

  • Find Third Alternatives Don't get stuck on the first two that come to mind if you disagree about them. Marriage is not a contest. The only way to win is by making sure your spouse wins.

And fifth, I respect whatever religious beliefs about marriage you hold, but I won't be bringing any of mine to this blog or to my teleclasses.

September 30, 2012

Hidden Influences on Your Marriage

We all have both explicit and implicit memories. The explicit ones we can generally retrieve on demand: who taught our 9th grade Algebra class, what the weather was on our wedding day, what we ate for breakfast this morning. Alzheimer's erodes these memories, and we have none from our earliest years because our brains could not form them yet.

The implicit ones are the hidden influences on your marriage. We cannot intentionally retrieve implicit memories, but we recall them constantly.

A large group of implicit memories are about processes. For example, unless you had to relearn how to walk after a stroke or brain injury, you cannot intentionally recall the entire process of standing up and walking, but every time you wake or leave your chair, it all comes back to you perfectly. Every habit is made up of implicit memories, too.

Good luck trying to change an unconscious process your spouse developed decades ago. You can change your own (see Charles Duhigg's wonderful book, The Power of Habit), but not without willing yourself to pay close attention to what you're doing unconsciously. If you're trying to get a change while your spouse is paying attention to a new job, a difficult client, perfecting a golf stroke, or mastering the art of keeping a 2-year-old safe without a leash, fat chance.

Another group of implicit memories affects your marriage even more. These are associative memories that link a sensory experience with an emotion. Many of these come from before we could form explicit memories, others from emotionally overwhelming events since then. And some of them are pretty weird.

Ever find yourself horribly suspicious and on alert based on just a whiff of aftershave? Are there sounds that instantly make you feel safe? How about a texture, like satin, that makes you sad?

I suspect my son would feel instantly powerful if he ever got a taste of a dill pickle like the one from Aunt Fanny's Nosheria in Pittsburgh. It was his first ever solid food, snatched from the kitchen table in a high speed hit-and-run by rolling baby seat, and he loved it!

Had I not told him the story and added explicit memories to the implicit one, he would never have a clue why.

So why do I bring this up in a marriage blog? Because if you're going to Assume Love, you have to get in the habit of considering explanations for your mate's behavior that are nothing like your own reasons for doing things. You have explicit memories of many of his or her implicit memories. You can retrieve them, even when your spouse cannot. And you just might put them together while you are looking for an explanation.

If not, make note of the unusual sounds, smells, sights, textures, and tastes when you get caught in your mate's sudden mood shift, so that next time it might all make sense. For this time, just recognize the mood shift quite possibly has nothing at all to do with you and everything to do with Uncle Charley's pipe tobacco, smelled while Aunt Sarah inflicted a brutal and unwarranted punishment on your mate as a toddler and again, a moment ago, while waiting on line for something he's suddenly no longer willing to do, even though it's important to you.

Why is it good to recognize this? Won't it lead to sweeping your own feelings under the rug? No, not if you keep going. Once you realize it's quite likely not about you, your fears for your marriage should subside, allowing you to ask questions without an overlay of accusation that triggers your mate's fears. You can try a gentle, "What was that about?" Or perhaps, "Did you smell [hear/see] that?"

You're not done with the Assume Love technique until you have at least one explanation compatible with loving intentions that seems plausible to you and suggests what to do the next time this upsetting thing happens or how to prevent a next time.

If you've gone through enough of a search to conclude what happened upsets you and could only be done by someone who does not loves you, don't wait for a next time. Get yourself to safety.

Help your fellow readers get better at considering implicit memories when they Assume Love. Which colors, sights, textures, smells, sounds, tunes, or tastes trigger implicit memories that make you feel safe, happy, or strong? Which make you less fun to be around?

September 27, 2012

When You Know You're Right

Have you ever had one of those discussions where you just know you're right and your wife or husband is wrong? Not the sort where you debate whether Bigfoot exists or not, but the sort where you think it makes sense to buy a bigger lawn mower or to stay away from Aunt Zelda's third wedding and you're getting an argument.

There are two ways to handle these. The most common seems to be what I call the "Tell Me My Spouse Is Awful" game. You phone a friend or corner folks in the kitchen at work and ask them which of you is right. Nine times out of ten, you hear what you wanted to hear: of course you're right!

Now you can continue the discussion, this time with ammunition in case your spouse does not yet agree you're right. Of course, if you're married to someone else who plays the "Tell Me My Spouse Is Awful" game, you had better hope you asked more people. They almost certainly heard from their people how right they are, too.

Nobody else cares as much about your husband or wife as you do. They care what you think of them, and you let them know what you wanted to hear: "Yes, your spouse is an ignoramus and you are much wiser." If they are any good at this, they even came up with at least one story to back you up. They went to a wedding they knew they should skip and they broke a leg or had a flat tire. They know a couple who bought a bigger lawn mower and now they have time to build beautiful zithers together.

Is your marriage better for this? You're no closer to making a decision you both can live with. And if the two of you work this out and find a Third Alternative that makes you both feel wise beyond your years, you're not likely to go back and correct the impression you gave of your mate. Years from now, when you really need friends to help you weather a storm in your relationship, they'll still be wondering how you can stand to stay with such a fool.

So what can you do instead? Assume Love. Assume you married a good man or a good woman who loves you and has your best interests in mind. Try to make sense of how he or she may have come to this choice, because there might be something to your spouse's thinking, even if you don't like his or her conclusion. After all, this is the person who chose you out of all the people in the world.

Before you offer any counterarguments, try asking what leads this man or woman who loves you to an option that doesn't immediately appeal to you. Are you being misunderstood, or are you overlooking something that hasn't yet occurred to you?

Remember that you should never lie to yourself when you Assume Love. You don't dismiss your own thoughts about the disagreement. You test the assumption that your mate is acting with love to see what you can learn or recall from this and to avoid acting on your lizard brain's (limbic system's) first take until your cerebral cortex gets up and running on this disagreement.

No matter what those folks trying to stay on your best side might say, neither of you is right if you disagree. It just means you've limited yourselves to two options that are not right for you two as a couple. If you argue for either of them, your relationship suffers. If you drag others into the debate, your support system suffers. Assume Love. Then find a Third Alternative.

August 26, 2012

Why Can't You See This My Way? - Part 3

In Part 3 of this series, I want to address a comment added to Part 1. I want to address it because I remember thinking like the commenter around a dozen years into my first marriage, and it kept me from fixing my marriage or even believing it could be fixed.

Here's the first part of the comment, which Matt wrote but so many others could have, too.

Well, since this IS the assume love website, we should go back to the original question. Janice posed a loaded question to start, which on the surface seems innocent, but its also very loaded and leading. Katy should assume that Janice is asking the question out of love and respect, but I don't believe thats where the question came from.
When you don't believe the question came out of love and respect is the most valuable time to Assume Love, because this tool cuts through the crap pretty effectively. It oftens reveals truths we cannot possibly get at while angry.

But let's be clear that we're not saying, "Oh, Katy, I'm sure Janice meant nothing by her question. Don't take it the wrong way. You have no reason to be angry."

What It Means to Assume Love

What we're saying is more like this: "Katy, Janice's question really upsets you. But before you respond to her with anger, there is a tool you can use, if you want to. It's to imagine for the moment that you know she said it with an abundance of love for you, not because either of us knows this to be true, but because right now you see a threatening reason for the comment.

"Your brain is designed to protect you from threats by making you hypervigilant when you spot one. But this is your wife, who promised to love you. She might be doing that right now, in her own awkward way. So, try on the possibility that it came from love. Assuming she adores you, try to think of loving reasons for asking the question. If there are none, put up your defenses. Not everyone keeps their promises. But in your attempt to think of some, you are going to remember things your brain shuts out while you're focused on a threatening question.

"If this question is coming out of the blue, and not one of a series of similar questions, consider causes that have nothing to do with you.

"Is there anyone else in her life who might be discussing interest rates this week? Anything she's planning or dreading right now that depends on earning interest? Any friends who've gotten into financial hot water recently that might explain her interest in interest rates?

"If it's part of a series showing increasing worry, is there anything about this year, this season, this week that would heighten her concerns? Are there any changes in your mood or behavior recently that might alarm her?

"Once you have your list of possible explanations, including the one that worries you, you might feel certain one of them is a lot more likely than the others. If not, you might find yourself feeling a lot more compassionate and a lot less angry as you ask Janice if she's trying to second-guess you or get information for another reason. You might even alert her to your hot button and suggest a different way to ask such questions.

And why would you want to Assume Love? Not because you should. Not because it makes you a better wife, but because it makes you less angry at your spouse, less likely to say something that she will counter with harsh words or misunderstanding, more likely to recall something that draws you closer instead of pushing you apart."

On Being a Good Spouse

Matt continues:

The question comes from a place of doubt and angst and mistrust. So before a question like this is posed, the asker needs to better phrase the question and "give away" what he/she is getting at/driving at by asking the question.

It might indeed come from such a place. But that little phrase "needs to" reminds me of some of the worst messes I made in my first marriage. I thought I could discover and live up to more of the "shoulds" and "needs to's" of marriage and thereby turn my marriage around. It didn't work, and all that unsuccessful "shoulding" was increasing my resentment. Resentment kills marriages, and I was bringing mind down around my ears.

If Katy also believes Janice "should" present her question differently, the question will hit a nerve with her on the control/trust issue and violate an expectation she has of Janice, for double the anger.

What I love is that Matt, despite his distrust of Janice, comes to the same conclusion about what would serve her best after seeing Katy's distress:

Katy's job is to assume love and respect, and if there is confusion about the question, probe further before losing it completely. option #3 is the only option that gives the benefit of the doubt and assures the spouse of trust.

But that was the subject of Part 2, so I will resist the temptation to repeat myself.

My Wish for You This Weekend

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of my marriage to husband #2. We had a wonderful time together, and he declared it the perfect celebration, because it did not turn out as we expected, which has pretty much been true of our marriage from the start. May nothing turn out as you expect, and may you enjoy the ride as much as we do!

July 27, 2012

Two Great Reads

I loved these. I think you might, too.

Grace Full Mama blogger Joy wrote a post about her missionary pilot husband recently that just warmed my heart. He actually said he would rather his wife assume love than bake fresh bread for his sandwiches or clean the house! [Thanks to Lori, The Generous Wife for linking to both of us in the same blog post, because I had never seen Joy's blog.

Also, Harriet Lerner, author of The Dance of Anger (and a bunch of other books, but this is her best, in my opinion), wrote a blog post recently on why demanding an apology might not help your marriage or your mood. Her explanation might come in handy if you ever need to Assume Love after your spouse's misdeed.

Comments on either of them?

July 12, 2012

Finding Sense

"Why doesn't he lend a hand when I'm obviously overwhelmed?"

"How could she spend money on this when we're trying to save for a house?"

"Why can't he see the consequences of putting this off?"

"What is she thinking when she leaves these here instead of putting them away?"

In every marriage, good or bad, and quite frequently, questions like these arrive. Often they come with rising rage or with a great sinking feeling about the relationship.

Don't run with those feelings.

Your brain is designed to protect you from some really huge threats, and it's doing its job. When it sees something that makes no sense and doesn't fit your picture of the way things should be, it aims to make sure you focus on the possibility of an immediate threat.

That's great news if your life partner is flinging the TV set your way or about to drive off and leave you and your young children alone in a tent far from civilization. It could save your life.

But the chemicals that create those feelings get released before you have time to assess whether this mysterious behavior poses a real threat or not. And they serve to keep you vividly focused on assessing the magnitude of the threat instead of finding sense in what happened.

To counter this, I have learned to Assume Love. This does not mean to act as if you know you are loved well, but to think as if you knew it, to help you find the sense behind what happened.

Let me give you an example.

"How could she spend money on a giant coffeemaker when we're trying to save for a house?"

Until you find the sense, it seems like she's (a) selfish, (b) sabotaging the effort to buy a house, or (c) practicing wishful thinking that will get in the way of every goal you might set together.

So, you change the question to this: "What might make a truly loving life partner of good character spend money on a giant coffeemaker when trying to save for a house?"

This does not rule out any of the first three explanations, but it tells your brain it's OK not to act on them just yet. You start to calm down as soon as you silently ask it.

Then pair up the words and see what memories this jogs:

  • Is money the only way to get a coffeemaker? Did she actually spend money on the coffeemaker? Could it be borrowed or a gift?

  • Was it money available for the house, or Is there a chance she spent money already allocated for it, e.g., as a gift to someone with whom you always exchange gifts?

  • Is there any way a coffeemaker could help buy a house?

  • Is money the only way to get a house?

Next, check the date:

  • Is anything coming up on her calendar that might relate to a coffeemaker purchase, maybe a shower or a church event?

  • Is the date or month she bought it linked to a childhood event that might be connected to coffee or a coffeemaker?

  • Is anything coming up on your calendar that might be made better with a giant coffeemaker?

These may seem like silly questions. They are not. Some of the biggest Aha! moments I have seen in teaching people to Assume Love have come from checking the date something happened or began. But even if the date questions do not help, they get you tapped into a lot more memories that might relate.

Consider the payoffs next:

  • What is she likely to do with a coffeemaker? How would this benefit her?

  • Is there a possibility it is a conspicuous purchase to draw you back into a discussion of the house-buying goal?

  • Is it a revenge expenditure? Have you done anything recently that might have seemed selfish or ill-advised to her?

  • Is there someone who matters to her who will admire or be envious about this coffeemaker?

  • Will she be one step closer to a dream of hers with this pot?

If you still do not see an explanation that makes sense here, reach out:

  • Ask people you know to tell you about coffeemaker purchases and what they led to, what made them feel good.

  • Ask your wife, with love and with the expectation she offers you only love in return, what led to the coffermaker purchase. Then listen well and confirm what you think you heard.

Finding sense can be an enormous relief and the start of greater intimacy and love.

July 6, 2012

When to Leave

Yesterday, I wrote about how to handle the annoying things your husband does. For two of them, ones that put you in danger, I suggested leaving.

Leaving is different from divorcing. Leaving is putting yourself out of harm's way. It also puts your spouse out of harm's way, preventing them from injuring or killing their spouse before they regain control over their mind and morals.

Husbands are not the only ones who can become dangerous. Wives can, too.

Bravo to 20-year-old Gabriel Burklund. reports:

Gabriel said that he had asked his father to walk away from the marriage as the fighting worsened, telling him that "it might end up with someone dying." His dad refused to go, he told the judge.

Whether you're refusing out of stubbornness, anger, or concern, not going is unlikely to lead to a good outcome. Gabriel was so right to encourage his father to stop his battle with a woman who was losing a grip on herself.

Gabriel's father, Michael, was described by his mother and siblings as a loving husband who "tried everything he could to save his marriage." Everything, that is, except stepping out of the line of fire.

Now, Michael is dead, killed by his wife Dorleen with five bullets and three more in the back after she reloaded and he lay on the floor. Dorleen was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison plus one to five years for her weapon. She came across as delusional and "twisted" but guilty of a cold, calculated murder despite her claim of self-defense.

As Gabriel said:

"This didn't happen because of one act. This happened because two people were in a war for years," he said. "It could have been solved if they'd just separated. But neither, neither of them backed down."

July 5, 2012

Why Your Husband Does Those Annoying Things He Does

Here are seven reasons why your husband does those annoying things he does:

  1. He has no idea it annoys you. It's never occurred to him that burping during a meal or tossing underwear off with abandon or using baby talk to express affection could possibly even be seen as annoying. If he knew (well, if he knew and did not feel attacked for failing to read your mind or intuit social norms), he would change.
  2. He has no idea it annoys you. You told him long ago, but he's forgotten. Tell him again, with compassion for a less than perfect memory and different manners training than you received.
  3. He knows it annoys you, but he's pretty sure it won't harm you. He's got a bone to pick with you and either you're ducking the issue or he believes tracking mud through the living room is a better means of getting your attention than telling you he's upset. Ask if anything's bugging him.
  4. He knows it annoys you, but it feels so good he can't imagine why you won't let him have the simple pleasure of watching TV with his pants unzipped or taking his time getting ready for a visit to your parents. Propose looking for a Third Alternative that gives him his pleasure without robbing you of yours.
  5. He knows it annoys you, but he thinks you will be a better person when you get over being annoyed by things like friends dropping by unannounced for something to eat or toilet seats left in whatever position they end up in. Become that better person. Let go of being annoyed, whether it takes creating a space in your home with a mini refrigerator full of salami for those guests or adding a big, pink handle to your toilet seat for lowering it. Is there really any point killing off any of your love for this man over a difference in opinion?
  6. He knows it annoys you. He knows it costs you significant time or money, causes you pain, or frightens you. And he apologizes or spins an explanation for doing what he did not intend. He may have lost control of his behavior through addiction, mental illness, brain tumor, or football injury, in which case you are the only person who can protect the two of you. If so, get help from a support group like AlAnon and live apart or with others who can control him until he gets treatment. He may instead have a furious anger. If it's because you hurt him, appeal to his compassion, work hard on regaining his trust, and separate temporarily if necessary, because revenge does not bring marriages back together. If he's angry over something else and taking it out on you, look for professional help for both of you.
  7. He knows it annoys you. He knows it costs you significant time or money, causes you pain, or frightens you. And he has no remorse, whether for raping you, gambling away the rent money, or ripping down your redecorating job. Get out. Get yourself and your children to safety today. Do not stay, even to protect your assets, as you will be losing something far more valuable, your ability to love and possibly your life.
If you, in an earlier marriage, before your husband's rehab, or during your childhood, dealt with the sixth or seventh of these, be especially careful to start with the first as you try to understand now.

April 27, 2012

Changing Yourself

If you were to change yourself in some way, to face life differently, to develop a new habit or build a character strength, how would you want to do it?

Would you prefer your mate tell you what he or she dislikes about you and the things you do so you can fix them?

Or would you prefer to hear about you at your best and work to live up to your reputation?

There is a good chance your husband, wife, or life partner feels the same.

April 26, 2012

Changing Your Spouse

It's very difficult to change another person's behavior. And it is next to impossible when done through criticism instead of agreement.

If you look carefully, though, you may discover some very annoying things are done not to annoy you but to be with you. Or to love you the way he or she wants to be loved. Or to cope with stress that comes from earning money to share with you or doing things for you that you cannot do for yourself.

If you focus on the love, you are a lot more likely to change your spouse. We all love to love someone who notices how much we love them.

April 23, 2012

Are You Doing What You Love?

Barbara Sher has been inspiring people for most of my adult life to do what they love. She's helped them tap into their talents and passions. She's helped them get around a million obstacles. She's told them not to choose between the many things that thrill them, but to use her tricks to fit them all into one lifetime. She's even helped them figure out what they love doing.

When you're not doing what you love, she says you're robbing all of us of the genius that lives inside you. More importantly, you are robbing your marriage of passion, delight, and the quiet confidence of succeeding in spite of any lousy moods and lack of character.

Over the years, I have read Barbara's books, watched her on PBS specials, become a Sher Success Teams Leader, and spent time getting to know her at three retreats and a Big Cheap Weekend.

Now I am helping her launch a wonderful new program called Hanging Out with Barbara Sher. She hopes to capture some of the delight of those moments between sessions at her retreats and weekends, when she shares some of the things she loves and nudges us with ideas so compelling that we cannot let them die when we go home again.

The launch date is April 28, 2012. That is the first day you can sign up to receive the program, in three installments a week for a full year. It is also the day of a really special launch party.

Barbara is offering a free 90-minute teleseminar and more than $2,500 in prizes during the launch party. She is also offering a free subscription to one lucky member of her mailing list on the 28th. (Add your email address at the bottom of this page.)

I am not eligible to win any of the great prizes, but and your spouse are. They will be given out to folks who use Twitter to participate in the celebration. Getting started with Twitter is really easy. And even if you don't win, every single tweet of yours will send 10 cents of Barbara Sher's money to Himalayan kids who really need them.

So, put her on speakerphone and set up face-to-face laptops with your mate on Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 2 pm EDT (time converter). You'll see my Assume Love daisy next to my Twitter name (@married) on all of my tweets that day. Make one of your first tweets Hey @married I'm here at Barbara Sher's Launch Party #BarbaraSher so I know you made it to the party.

And please let me know if you sign up for Hanging Out with Barbara Sher or if you win a prize. Every one of the prizes could literally change your life and your marriage.

April 19, 2012

The Alcohol Explanation

When you Assume Love and ask how a truly loving husband, wife, or life partner could say those words, spend that money, or get that violent, beware of the alcohol explanation.

Many people are quicker to anger and less diplomatic in their ways of expressing it when they drink. Most, however, cannot violate their own moral code even when drunk.

If they would protect your college fund or your retirement fund from a thief while sober, most won't take it themselves when they are drunk.

If they would defend you from a stranger who hit you, threw you on the bed, or even raised a hand to threaten you while sober, most will not hit you, throw you on the bed, or raise a hand to you while drunk.

They might use harsher words. They might get angry over different things. They might be louder and more demanding. But they won't violate their own morality, their deep knowledge of what is right and wrong, their human urge to protect loved ones from harm.

For those who do, the explanation is not alcohol. The explanation is a loss of control over the connection between their intentions and their behavior when they drink.

If they have no control, no ability to act in accordance with their intentions when they drink, they cannot protect you or your relationship. When they are sober, they may express their intentions to treat you better, but this is not within their control when they drink. You might forgive them because they have such a good heart most of the time, but their behavior while drinking is not affected by their good intentions.

You and your relationship are no safer when they drink than you are standing in the middle of the road counting on that stranger driving the tractor trailer to see you and apply the brakes in time despite the pea soup fog between you. You are the only one who is going to stop this carnage. And you're not going to do it by bravely sticking one arm out like you're Superman. You must get yourself out of the road.

If the only explanation you come up with when you Assume Love is that, while drinking, your spouse cannot control his or her actions, cannot act in accord with his or her good intentions or moral code, your only loving act is to get yourself out of the road.

The only fix for a loss of control while drinking is to stop drinking or to learn new skills for managing oneself while drinking. And the latter only works for those not yet addicted, those who can drink a little and stop themselves from drinking more when they reach the point where they must depend on their broken autopilot.

Choosing either of these takes a lot of motivation and a good bit of courage. Getting yourself out of the road (leaving the house at the first drink or living separately until you see a real change) helps your mate find that courage. It also takes courage to do, so be sure to turn to the rest of your support network, so you can do it sooner rather than later.

Alcohol can explain a change in language, volume, or modesty. If you Assume Love and come to this explanation, ask for what you need when your mate is sober.

But if the real explanation is that your spouse's behavior is not under the control of his or her good intentions, insist that your spouse re-establish this control, and stay out of the road until it happens. If you have a kind bone in your body, don't let your spouse be that truck driver who cannot stop the truck in time to spare a loved one.

March 25, 2012

Burnt Peas

How easy it is to get bent out of shape over burnt peas.

There you are, waiting for your dinner, and suddenly you smell them scorching. Once even one is scorched, it's pretty much too late to rescue them. And now the giant wheel of fortune begins its wild spin. Where will it land for you?

  • I feel so bad for my mate. What an awful, last-minute thing to happen while cooking dinner.
  • Oy! How long will this delay dinner? Will we get to the movie on time?
  • How stupid are you, spouse of mine, to put too little water in the peas and to leave them unwatched?
  • Who needs a green vegetable? Let's eat!
  • Are you trying to burn the house down?!! Why do you always try to do four things at once? Why can't you pay attention to what you're doing?
  • Should I go into the kitchen and make sure my beloved is OK?
  • I love my mate's creativity! We must be having blackened peas. Should be interesting.

Here's the thing. Even after the wheel of fortune makes its stop, if the thought it lands on does not improve your relationship, you are free to take another spin.

March 11, 2012

Love Cannot Explain

When we Assume Love, we do it to help us look for alternate explanations for an upsetting incident. Finding them helps us bounce back emotionally and often grow closer to our spouses.

Some things, though, cannot be explained as the acts of a loving person with a sound mind. Among them:

  • Putting your freedom, food, or shelter in jeopardy by committing felony acts, spending more than disposable income on personal whims or addictions, or making your home unsafe to live in.

  • Physically harming you, your children, or your close family members, or repeatedly threatening physical harm to any of you.

  • Tapping into your worst fears repeatedly to keep you anxious, frightened, or depressed, whether with verbal put-downs, threats, exposure to things you are phobic about, or open violation of your sexual fidelity or privacy.

Get help to physically separate yourself from or protect yourself from any spouse engaging in these acts. Once you are safe from harm, you can better judge whether to remain loyal or not, married or not. You cannot help nor make such decisions while dealing with the danger in person.

Some of these can be explained as the acts of a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol, dealing with dementia, brain tumor, or brain damage, or subject to an addiction. In these cases, you need physical protection or separation not just for yourself but also to protect your spouse while ill. Being in a position to commit unintentional harm to a loved one will only interfere with their recovery or peace of mind.

You can continue to support and love from a safe distance or with trained help by your side. I believe you help a good deal more this way than by staying close.

March 9, 2012

Avoid Pretending to Feel Loved When You Do Not

Here's my take on how to enjoy being married. You don't work on the relationship. You work on enjoying it.

Remember when you enjoyed it? Remember when you were thrilled about getting married? Remember those times you felt so close and so in love that you spent half the day thinking of ways to delight your mate? It wasn't work then, was it?

Well, that's what I mean when I say Enjoy Being Married.

So, when I say Assume Love, you can be sure I do not mean ignore that awful, frightening doubt and act as if you feel loved, respected, safe, or happy.

Assume Love is a technique you can use when you stop feeling that way. And I offer it to you because you will not get back there by accusing your committed life partner of causing those awful feelings. If it was his or her intention to make you unhappy, the accusation won't lead to change. And if it was not his or her intention, you have evened the score by pulling your mate down to your unhappiness level, and you have done it intentionally. Not helpful!

You will also not get back there by being extra sweet, helpful, generous, or sexy while you feel unloved, disrespected, unsafe, or miserable. You are the one who feels awful. You will feel more awful, increasing your resentment level, unless your spouse feels inspired by all these extras to do more for you. Each bit of additional resentment raises the bar for what he or she will need to do in return to please you. At the same time, the resentment leaks out between efforts, demotivating your mate.

Working at being married fails miserably unless the two of you are working with a therapist who makes sure you can both see and appreciate each other's efforts.

So, please do not pretend to feel loved when you feel unloved, unsafe, unhappy, or disrespected. When you feel this way, your very human mind will take the very human precaution of watching intently for all other threats to your very important relationship, which will keep it from noticing most of the love, caring, and respect sent your way.

Instead, Assume Love. Take a few minutes to look at what's happened through a different set of eyes. Instead of asking if this situation is bad or dangerous, ask how it might happen even if your partner, your husband, your wife still adores you.

Don't worry. You cannot explain away truly unloving behavior. You won't buy a story that it's OK to love someone but allow yourself to lose control over what you do that harms them. You will still protect yourself from the sociopath or narcissist or drug addict. But you may well change your view of the spouse whose intense lack of respect at work leads to hypersensitivity about respect at home or the spouse whose early childhood association of lima beans and death leads to a stinging rejection of your delicious lima bean casserole.

You may check the calendar for possible explanations and correlate your guy's new interest in porn with the date of his vasectomy. You may check the 5 love languages for explanations and notice his upsetting lack of affirming words for the difficult journey you are on is accompanied by a big increase in hugs, hair stroking, and shoulder massages.

And since the most likely reason you are so fiercely affected by any loss of love is that you love your mate and value your relationship, you will not need to pretend to care when an explanation suddenly fits.

If you suddenly feel closer and more connected than you have in months after you Assume Love, your spouse may reap some benefits from this. But do not Assume Love for his or her sake.

Assume Love to help you check whether your anger or hurt comes from something real and dangerous to your relationship or from your brain's early warning system jumping to conclusions to protect you. Assume Love for your own release from the pain of these inaccurate thoughts about a situation. Assume Love for the possibility that you may feel suddenly and intensely in love again and actively enjoy doing wonderful things for your husband, wife, or life partner.

Remember that Assume Love is a technique (assume there is no doubt about your mate's love or character while you look for possible explanations). It is not an instruction to act as if you feel loved.

Your brain is hugely self-protective. It will not let you get away with pretending for very long. Once alarmed, it will keep looking for danger until you ask it to take a break and look for loving explanations. It knows you were promised lifelong love, so it will accept this as a safe possibility to explore, but it needs a plausible explanation, not just an assumption. You must use the technique, not pretend you feel loved, to change the chemical soup in your brain and let you enjoy being married.

March 8, 2012

From Furious to Deeply in Love

I received a wonderful email this morning from a new reader. She had reached out on Tuesday for help with a situation that infuriated her. Things had gone from bad to awful in the course of a couple hours. She sounded very doubtful whether she could bear a lifetime with her man.

I explained how to Assume Love. And how to avoid pretending she felt loved when she did not.

Today, she wrote, "Aha, aha, aha! I get it." And she did.

I know, because her email today included something I have heard many times from those who get it.

"I couldn't wait to see him when he came home last night."

Fed up and furious with her guy on Tuesday, deeply in love 24 hours later. Without even talking about it.

Why? Because you have to care an awful lot about someone to find a disagreement over what's for dinner that infuriating.

Fury distorts what you see and drives what you do. It's contagious, too. But you can stop it long enough to get a clearer picture when you Assume Love. If the clear picture is as bad as the original one, you are free to return to your fury. You need not accept meanness or cruelty from someone you live with.

But the real picture is often very different. And it is a very quick trip back to feeling the depth of your love, because it was always there.

March 4, 2012

You Can't Always Get What You Want

I'll bet there is something you often want from your spouse but almost never get. For one woman I know, it's gratitude. A thank you, maybe some clue that he understands how much he needs her. Assume Love and ask why someone would never say thank you to a person he loves dearly. Acknowledging the incredible value of the relationship takes a lot of guts unless you are certain it's rock solid. When a man can see his wife is missing something, it's by definition not rock solid.

For a man I know, it's a pedestal. We love each other the way we want to be loved. He puts his woman on a pedestal and wants one of his own. He wants to feel she respects the man he is, even when he trips up occasionally, and would give him the gold medal all over again. Assume Love and think of reasons for a loving wife would refuse him a pedestal. It could be her humility, her feeling limited by her own pedestal, or simply that the only thing that feels like love to her is the time they spend together doing things both of them enjoy.

For some of us, it's to be our mate's number one priority or to feel like a great lover. It might be to receive gifts so delightful that we gasp when we open them. Or to be given control over whatever it is we're good at controlling: the decor, financial investments, or landscaping, for example.

No couple grows closer repeating the old "pay the rent" melodrama:
"Pay me a compliment!"
"I can't pay you a compliment!"

"Pay me your attention!"
"I can't pay you attention!"

"Pay me some respect!"
"I can't pay you respect!"

Yes, of course your relationship would be lots better (for you) if your mate simply came up with the rent, whatever sort of rent you're demanding. But he or she feels incapable of coming up with it.

What can you do? Assume Love and actively try to understand why your mate feels incapable of this particular loving act. Look for other evidence of how much you are loved. Volunteer to fill your months with more gratitude, respect, and priority treatment. Find Third Alternatives for anything you do for your spouse that often leads to feeling something's missing.

And when your need for whatever it is arises, belt out the chorus: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes..."

February 29, 2012

How to Assume Love After a Long Day at Work

In response to my recent post, Angry at Your Inconsiderate Husband or Wife?, I received this from "Sam." I could definitely relate. It is harder to Assume Love when we're frazzled.

I am pretty good at doing this early in the day and in the middle of the day, it's at the end of the day when I'm tired after a long day at work that I find I can't ignore what I believe are inconsiderate acts. I try to tidy the house up before I leave for work and when I arrive home, most of the time I arrive home after Mr. Sam, my tidy home is no longer tidy. There will be socks on the floor, a belt on the dining room table and dishes in the kitchen from his dinner prep. So I spend the first half an hour of arriving at home cleaning up the house that I cleaned up in the a.m. and I really don't do well, because I'm tired, assuming love. Rather I assume he is inconsiderate, he knows the puppy will eat his socks yet he leaves them on the floor, he knows the dish washer is empty b/c he saw me emptying it that a.m. but he can't be bothered to rinse and put the dishes away, he knows it drives me up the wall to have a belt on the dining room table yet he leaves it there to spite me. How to I assume love at the end of a long day?

When we Assume Love, we look for what might cause a good, loving person to do the things that drive us nuts when our spouses do them.

Who leaves dishes on the table, instead of putting them in the dishwasher he saw his wife empty before he left for work? Besides a miserable and uncaring man with no couth, that is?

  • A loving man who notices nothing before his second cup of coffee soaks in. He would be astounded to learn his wife emptied the dishwasher right in front of him nine hours ago. Accidentally putting dirty dishes in among the clean ones right before dinner is a mistake he has vowed never to repeat.

  • A thoughtful man who figures dinner is coming up, and it would be a lot smarter to clean up once instead of twice. Used dishes hold no creep-out factor for them the way they do for a partner subjected to nightly lectures on the proper way to set a table. You have no idea how disappointed he will be when you not only fail to praise his ingenuity but call it thoughtless.

  • A caring man with a very different sense of timing than yours. When he gets home from work, not rushing is one of his top virtues, one you might appreciate in the bedroom or when he helps the kids with their homework.

What could possibly drive a loving man who craves your respect to leave his socks on the floor as he enters the house and toss his belt on the dining room table when he gets there?

  • It might be a man whose return home is filled with distractions: kids, phone calls, notes to read, chores to do. Loving men, like the rest, tend to be really bad at multitasking.

  • It could be a man who adores you but feels he's being taken for granted, especially if the socks and belt are ones he wears only for work. Putting these symbols where you cannot miss them is his way of communicating with you.

  • And then there are the loving men who try to break you of your perception of things like dining room tables even as you try to do the same in reverse.

How to change things?

  1. If it seems possible the mess in your house is the act of a loving spouse and not deliberately inconsiderate acts, start by asking for what you want. Hints do not count as asking. And requests get drowned out by even a wee bit of sarcasm or disgust.

  2. Check the act for a message, especially if he's just started doing this or your roles have recently been changed by a new job or new responsibilities. If you think it might carry a message, try offering what your spouse is looking for. If you can't tell, ask.

  3. If neither of these works on your first attempt, offer to find a Third Alternative together, a solution that makes both of you happy. While you might be certain the only good place for a belt is in the bedroom closet, your real goal is not to be grossed out. You could agree on another place near the door or put hooks in the coat closet. You might throw a plastic tablecloth on the table in the morning and move it and everything on it into a convenient basket when you get home. Or you might stop somewhere on your way home to shake off the day, spend the first five minutes after you get home hugging and kissing your guy or dancing with him, and find that you don't mind the mess or the picking up nearly as much as you do when frazzled.

February 23, 2012

Angry at Your Inconsiderate Husband or Wife?

You're rushing to prepare dinner for the family. You won't be eating with them. You have an important meeting to attend. But it's your responsibility to feed them, and you're running late.

The vegetable peeler is nowhere to be found. Not in the drawer. Not in the sink. Not hiding behind the chopping board someone left out. (And you know the kids don't bother with chopping boards.) Where is it?

There it is. It's in the dishwasher. Not washed. Not with any hope of getting washed before it's time to prepare dinner. Someone (and you know it was not the kids) stuck it in here to save 20 seconds of washing up. And now you must wash it if they are to eat the carrots and potatoes you planned.

You feel mistreated, invisible, annoyed. You recall other annoyances that were surely thoughtless acts: moving your magazine to another room, forgetting a dinner at your friend's house, showing up late to your parents' 25th anniversary party a decade ago.

(That's how memory works. Annoying events are connected to other annoying events, not to last night's great sex or that encouraging pep talk before you left to make this morning's presentation at work.)

This is exactly the time to Assume Love, to ask, "Why might a good, loving person stick the vegetable peeler in the dishwasher between breakfast and dinner?"

One possible reason: you are no longer expected to make dinner today. Check the message board. Check the kids' calendar. Check for prepared food in the refrigerator.

None of those? How about distraction? How busy was this day for your loving mate? Anything big or urgent going on?

No? How about one of those fast cleanups where you stick everything in the dishwasher just to make the kitchen presentable on short notice? Maybe. The room's pretty neat, and so is the family room. But why hide the peeler and not the cutting board?

This might be where you remember doing your own fast cleanup this morning. Was the peeler out then? Not sure. Not likely, though.

So, maybe it really was done without consideration for you. But while you were running through the possibilities, it's likely you automatically washed the peeler. It's possible, too, that you recalled this morning's kind words while you were making your quick cleanup.

Even when you do not find a loving explanation, it still helps to Assume Love. It shifts you attention away from what anger focuses it on. It lets you recall the loving moments you chose this mate for. It puts what happened into a more realistic perspective. And it calms you enough to assess the situation more accurately, so you can take action if action is needed.

While it might spare your wife, husband, or life partner from a tongue-lashing or retaliation, these are not the point. The point is allowing you to enjoy your marriage, no matter how different you two are.

February 9, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 5

Yesterday, in Part 4 of this series on how to explain a loving spouse doing something that upsets you, I wrote:

"I am not talking here about pushing, shoving, hitting, cutting, damaging something especially dear to you, making remarks known to bring you to tears or render you helpless, or repeating angry outbursts or making threats until you fear being in the same room as your mate."

Today, I want to talk about all of these. Abuse happens, and fear of becoming its victim is probably our biggest obstacle to even considering loving explanations for distressing acts.

When you Assume Love, you try to explain how a loving person might come to do whatever your wife, husband, or life partner just did that upset you so. How do you explain acts like these?

My guess is that your husband or wife would try to stop a stranger who did any of these to someone he or she loved. Most people would.

This leads me to a conclusion that there are only two explanations for such behavior. One, there is no love. Two, there is love but no self-control, no ability to act as he or she intends.

The first is dangerous. Living with someone violent or manipulative who has no love for you risks your life and sanity. It often also risks the wellbeing of those you love, including your children, siblings, and parents.

However, this is the only dangerous situation. If you Assume Love and find explanations for your spouse's other behaviors that leave you feeling safe and loving, even if you are wrong about them, it will do you no harm. In fact, you could stay happily married, giving your husband or wife time to fall back in love with you.

Pushing, shoving, hitting, cutting, damaging something especially dear to you, making remarks known to bring you to tears or render you helpless, or repeating angry outbursts or making threats until you fear being in the same room as your mate? These are dangerous. Don't tough them out. Don't pretend they did not happen just because your mate apologizes a day later or says you deserved them.

Instead, check whether you can explain them as an inability to act in accord with his or her intentions toward you.

  • Is your spouse also unable to control his or her consumption of alcohol, painkillers, other prescription or illegal drugs, porn, sex, food, or gambling? If so, you and your relationship will be safe only after he or she deals with this problem. Only he or she can make the choice to get help dealing with this. If you overlook or buy into the notion that you caused the unloving behavior, you make this choice harder. Love your spouse from a safe distance to make the decision easier.
  • Does your mate have a brain tumor, stroke damage, Alzheimer's, uncontrolled bipolar disorder, severe depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, other brain disorder, or recent head injury? If so, and the problem is not immediately treatable, you may need to find one or more caretakers strong enough to handle the violence or abusiveness so that you can focus on loving your mate and your mate can stop feeling remorse or shame for what is beyond his or her control.
  • Has your partner lost jobs or friends due to difficulty controlling his or her anger? If so, and it is not due to any of the things above, it may be a lack of training in techniques for controlling resentment and anger. One great source for this training is Steven Stosny's Compassion Power.

If any of these are true for your mate, you have a shot at a fix, but only with others' help. If not, I urge you to find others to help you safely separate yourself from a non-loving and dangerous spouse. You should not give up your life, your health, or your sanity for love.

But let's come back to something else here, because such intentional cruelty is not all that common. Most of us have witnessed a victim of unintentional cruelty and cringed when he or she accepts the blame or the apology for the second or third or twentieth time. We become highly self-protective in our own marriages and overreact to any behavior we don't like, from arriving late for dinner to cutting the kids' hair too short, hoping to stay in control of our own marriage or recognize when it's time to bolt.

It is impossible to enjoy being married while staying this guarded. If you Assume Love, you do not need to remain so guarded. If you can explain an act as possibly loving, there is no harm in doing so, whether you are right or wrong.

If the act is undeniably unloving, as the ones discussed here are, there is only one explanation for a loving person doing it: he or she cannot control his or her behavior for some reason. This loss of control does not happen because you were not vigilant enough. It happens because something messes with your beloved partner's brain. And it puts the job of protecting you on your shoulders, at least for a while. Do not pretend that love will protect you.

If your partner appears to be in full control of his or her actions, an undeniably unloving act will be a very clear sign it's time to put yourself first and enlist everyone else who cares about you in doing so, too.

As long as you can recognize an undeniably unloving act, you can let your guard down and enjoy your marriage the rest of the time. You can actively look for and enjoy whatever love you are offered. If you overestimate your spouse's good points, you will be in good company. Most happily married people do.

And this is why I think it's so much better to Assume Love than to vigilantly keep score or to sweep your anger under the rug and pretend you feel loved until you no longer can.

February 8, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 4

When you Assume Love, you try to explain how a loving person might come to do whatever your wife, husband, or life partner just did that upset you so. This series offers some tips to help when you just cannot get beyond, "It's awful, I hate it, it must be intentional meanness."

First, we looked at Love Languages. Next, we looked at genetic differences in our ability to read each other's moods. Yesterday, we looked at our spouse's calendar. Today we look at intentional acts, things that appear quite unloving at first glance.

Let's draw a line first. I am not talking here about pushing, shoving, hitting, cutting, damaging something especially dear to you, making remarks known to bring you to tears or render you helpless, or repeating angry outbursts or making threats until you fear being in the same room as your mate.

I am talking here about brief, intentional acts like rolling the eyes, making a snide remark, raising the voice, banging a fist on the table, dumping dinner in the trash, slamming a door, or throwing something that poses no threat to you.

I do not recommend doing any of these to your spouse. When done to you, though, you may want some help seeing how to explain them when you Assume Love.

These acts are the adult equivalent of a temper tantrum. No one, not even a two-year-old, throws a temper tantrum unless they feel horribly frustrated, unhappy, and unable to effect any change, and believe they are in the presence of someone who cares.

Many of them are actually done as loving acts, a frantic attempt to fix your marriage.

For example, if your husband has never raised his voice in the decade you have been together, the one time he does it is significant. If you have ever lived with someone whose raised voice was followed by violence or intimidation, you may want to Assume Love before your knee-jerk response kicks in.

Why? Because a rarely raised voice is a strong bid for your attention. Shrinking away or turning it into a fight will be counterproductive. Stop and think about what you are doing or saying, because it is quite likely severely frustrating your mate. Does this make you to blame for his out-of-character and unmannerly behavior? No. But it presents you with a great opportunity to get closer and strengthen your marriage instead of pushing the two of you apart.

Let's say you are packing for a trip when your mate's frustration reaches the boiling point. Where will the trip take you? Who will you see on it? What dream of yours does it feed? What might your mate dread about any of these? It's big, and you probably need an immediate Third Alternative to calm your partner's fears.

Or perhaps you are nagging, telling your spouse what to do or asking one more time why she will not do it. The frustration should be your sign that what you ask has much larger obstacles than you can see. And not seeing them makes your spouse feel unseen. Feeling seen is one of the key benefits of marriage, and you may be unintentionally taking it away from your mate.

Remember, the opposite of "I love you" is not "I am angry at you." It is "I don't care." Occasional anger can come from great love. Returning anger for anger requires, on average, five positive, loving acts to restore the marriage to a healthy path. Returning love for anger, because you hear the caring through the anger, can bring the marriage closer almost instantly.

February 7, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 3

When you Assume Love and try to explain your husband's or wife's behavior as a loving act, do you draw a blank? We continue our series today with more tips for finding that explanation.

On Sunday, we looked at Love Languages. On Monday, we looked at genetic differences in our ability to read emotional cues. Today, we look at the calendar.

Are there days in your year with an emotional impact? My first husband's birthday almost always puts me in a sad and reflective mood, even though May is my favorite month of the year and cause for unexpected delight in all sorts of things.

On the anniversary of the day our son was born, I am almost always cheery and optimistic. The first week of September still puts me in a book-buying mood.

My husband has such a calendar, too. When looking for a loving explanation, it helps to recall anything I have learned about the effects of this month or date on him.

If children are involved, think back to what you know about the same time of year in his or her own childhood or to when your spouse was the age of each of the children. Was your spouse hit at a young age with the deployment, hospitalization, or death of a parent? Was he or she sent off to camp each summer? Was the start of the school year a happy or sad time? When did a sibling or friend die?

The more recent calendar can be helpful, too. One wife trying to explain an initially upsetting change in her husband tracked its start back to a particular month. When I asked what else had happened that month, she remembered his vasectomy. The context suddenly made sense of the change. He was dealing with the surgery, not being mean to her.

A husband realized after his wife was out the door in the morning that today was the day she was to see the doctor about something seen on her most recent mammogram. He was still trying to figure out why she seemed so unhelpful when he could not find the thumb drive with his book draft on it. It's amazing how quick the tables turn when you realize it wasn't about you after all. He went to send her a supportive text message and found his thumb drive behind his smart phone on his desk.

February 6, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 2

When you Assume Love and try to explain it as a loving act, do you sometimes draw a blank? This series offers some guides you can use. Yesterday, we looked at using Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages. Today, we will apply some new research on emotions.

Let's imagine you just shared some news with your spouse, but the reaction is hardly the one you expected. It's as if he or she does not even notice whether you are delighted or anxious about it.

Well, it might not be callousness. This turns out to be one more thing our genes very likely control. People with two copies of one version of the serotonin transporter gene region 5-HTTLPR (the long allele, in case you're into doing your own genetic testing) are less sensitive to emotional information in the environment than those with one or two copies of the short allele.

A study from UCLA (see the last section of the press release) looked at 96 couples over eleven years of marriage. They found that such partners are less likely to pick up on their husband's or wife's positive or negative emotional state.

When you Assume Love because your spouse's reaction to what you just shared seems callous, give some thought to how often this happens, because it just might be genetic. If it is, before you express your outrage, try being a little more obvious about how the news affected you. If you get an empathetic reaction, it could protect both of you from the effects of unleashing your anger about the initial response.

The study is due for publication in the American Psychological Association's journal Emotion. View the study abstract here.

February 5, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 1

Are you one of those people who can't make the shift from all the awful explanations for what your spouse did? When you Assume Love and try to explain it as a loving act, do you draw a blank?

If so, the series of posts that begins today may help.

One of the best guides is Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. You can run down the list and see if what happened fits into any of them.

I watched this happen one night at the Yellow Rose Saloon, a country-western dance hall. I was out front, clearing the smoke from my lungs on a beautiful evening. A younger woman came out with tears in her eyes. She was soon followed by a young man I had seen there many times.

Apparently, he felt she had badly misinterpreted whatever he had done on the dance floor. But when he put his arms around her, she let out a scream and ran out into the unlit side parking lot. I asked him to stay put and hurried out to the lot myself.

Turns out his love language of physical touch is definitely not hers. In her childhood, hugs like his (a full-on bear hug) were the start of physical abuse. She had been seeking words of affirmation inside and hoping he would follow with some when she came outside. She hated his playful verbal teasing, because she needed to hear he loved her, admired her dancing, liked the effort she put into dressing up for him.

Were they hopelessly mismatched? Not at all. He could learn to resist the urge to comfort her with bear hugs and still make physical contact. She could learn to recognize his physical contact as a sign of love. She could learn to hear his teasing as a sign of one of his top character strengths, the strength of humor and playfulness. She could also come up with a signal to offer him when she needed him to stop and speak seriously with her. He could come up with one to signal her words were not enough and he needed to be held.

If you two have been life partners for a while, you know his or her Love Language: quality time together, gifts, acts of service, physical touch, or words of affirmation. As you try to explain an upsetting event, start by checking whether it involved your mate's love language or might have been a misdirected attempt at speaking yours.

More tomorrow, in Part 2 of this series on looking for loving explanations.

January 29, 2012

A Faster Route to a Happy Marriage

The slow and uncertain route to a happy marriage looks like this:

  • Do the things a good wife or a good husband should do.

  • Make sure your spouse knows what you expect him or her to do.

  • Schedule time to talk about your distress when you're unhappy.

  • If things get tense, make sure you protect your assets and your feelings, just in case there's a divorce.

  • Always check whether your friend or therapist agrees that what your mate does to upset you is as unfair as it feels.

  • Avoid marital conflict by spending more time with your kids or more time working to support them; if you don't have any kids, have one now, before the relationship gets any worse.

  • See a therapist who can help you reach a good compromise if you disagree about anything important.

A faster route to a happy marriage has three simple steps:

  • Assume Love: When something your spouse does upsets you, recall that you married a good person who promised to love you. Take a second look at what happened. Try to figure out why a good person who loves you might do this thing. It will jog your memory, just in case nothing bad (and perhaps even something very good) was intended by it.

  • Expect Love: Instead of putting energy into earning your mate's love, put it into noticing all the loving things he or she does for you daily. Once you see them, you will not need a list of "shoulds" to inspire your own loving acts. And you won't let another list of "shoulds" keep you from recognizing what a great person you married.

  • Find Third Alternatives: Welcome disagreements as a great opportunity. A Third Alternative is at least as satisfying as your original position, but it comes with the extra bonus of delighting the person you love. No need to avoid conflict. No need for heavy, accusatory discussions. Just another chance to discover another way to grow happy. If you involve your friends or therapist, ask them to help brainstorm Third Alternatives, not to put a magnifying glass to your wife's or husband's faults.

Marriage is not a competition against your spouse. If the results seem fair, it's probably not yet as good as it could be.

January 14, 2012

Love Rankings

I am a big fan of the Thumbshots website, where you can see how one search engine's site rankings compare with those from another search engine for the same term. Imagine if we had the same thing for our different takes on how loving an act is.

Link to Thumbshot site comparing two sets of website rankings

The top row here is Google, the bottom Bing, for a search for sites about a particular keyword. But let us imagine the top is me and the bottom is my husband. And let us pretend the circles are not links to websites, but to actions the two of us would view as more loving (on the left) to less loving (on the right). Thumbshots shows us where there are matches with those blue lines. The red dots are for a particular one I am interested in. Let's say he patted me on the back.

I rank it 59th on my list of nice things to do. It's my 59th favorite way to say thanks or I love you. Now follow the line from my 59th to his list. He ranks it 22nd, which is pretty high on his list.

If I had just served him a special snack, which is 24th on my list, I might find this pat on the back patronizing, a weak, disinterested gesture that made light of my kindness. I might feel hurt, pull away, maybe serve myself more of the snack than I gave him.

But I won't, because I make it a practice to Assume Love, to stop and ask myself whenever I am upset how my loving man might come to do this upsetting thing.

When I Assume Love, I picture something like the Thumbshots display. Look at my number 24, the special snack. It ranks 44th on his list, and he responded with his 22nd ranked gesture, the pat on the back. He was deliberately amplifying the love he felt from me.

Had I stuck out my lower lip, grabbed a bigger snack, and sat on the other side of the sofa from him, he would surely see it as a big rejection. He might even think twice about amplifying my love the next time he has a choice.

Unfortunately, there is no Thumbshots website for our love rankings, like there is for search engine rankings. However, when I Assume Love, I have some information to go by. Any form of physical touch ranks pretty high with him, while gift-giving of all sorts ranks high for me and low for him. I might not see he's amplifying my love, but I can see this is a loving response.

It's good to know what's so far down in your ranking that it's hate, not love. For me, that's pretty much anything another decent person would protect me from if a stranger did it to me. If my husband does any of them, I will move out of his reach.

But such acts are not what end most marriages. Instead, it's not realizing that our rankings tell us very little about what our husband's or wife's acts mean. Look at all those little circles with no match at all in each of our top 50 or 60 rankings. Every one of them is a resentment waiting to happen, if we don't Assume Love.

December 23, 2011

How to Love Your Mother-in-Law

You and your mother-in-law want the same thing. You want the best for the man or woman you married. You also want to feel loved by this same man or woman.

My grandmother's mother-in-lawYour relationship with this person goes sour when you disagree on what is best and believe only one of you can be right. And it makes you miserable when you believe your mate has only a little love to go around and you must compete for it.

Want to love your mother-in-law? End the disagreement about what's best for your spouse. Either defer to your spouse on this one or, if you and your mother-in-law really believe you know better what spouse needs, combine your specs and come up with a Third Alternative you can both support.

Then deal with the jealousy. Check your Love Languages. If your mother-in-law seeks quality time with her child, make some room for this, some time when you are not simultaneously asking for what makes you feel loved.

If your mother-in-law seeks word of affirmation or hugs and kisses, join your spouse in giving them instead of viewing them as evidence you are not as much loved. If your mother-in-law seeks gifts or acts of service, offer your spouse assistance in providing these.

Then be sure you ask your spouse for what makes you feel loved, especially if it is different, because your mother-in-law's way of loving is the one he or she grew up with and knows best. When you stop expecting any particular act of love and simply Expect Love from your marriage, it likely to look a lot like the best parts of your mate's childhood.

Once you stop competing, you may find you have an older, wiser woman who will be your ally in life. She is probably also better than almost anyone at helping you explain your spouse's unexpected behavior when you Assume Love.

December 22, 2011

5 Tips to Get More Out of Gift Week

This is gift week for anyone who observes Christmas or Hanukkah. Time to give gifts and receive gifts. It is a week filled with joy, annoyance, and outrage.

It is the thought that counts, sort of. The problem lies in whose thought counts. Recipients invent a story about the giver's thoughts. If you are a recipient, and if your spouse is the giver, you might want to prepare yourself to Assume Love if you feel at all disappointed with your gift.

  • If your Love Language is gifts, try to remember that artful gift wrapping is an acquired talent. It adds to a relationship, but so can lots of other talents you probably excuse yourself from mastering. Your mate can love you and still wrap a gift in a wad of white tissue paper with a ribbon around it.

  • Try not to guess how big an effort shopping was. Shopping time may be part of your gift if your Love Language is acts of service, but to someone focused on quality time together or physical touch, more time shopping means less time loving.

  • If you spend any time at all on whether the gift required any thought, spend it looking for ways this gift is perfect for you. You might discover parts of yourself that delight your spouse, even if they seem unextraordinary to you.

  • If you lean toward the tangible side of gift-giving, listen carefully for words of affirmation from a mate whose Love Language places these way above blenders and Snuggies®.

  • In the past, unusual gifts may have seemed more thoughtful than a gift you could pick up at your nearest gift shop. Not so true any more, with all of the internet at our fingertips.

Do yourself a favor. Avoid any overall evaluation of any gifts you receive. Instead, look at each one with an eye toward the good things it reflects about the giver and your relationship. Each one you find will add to your own joy and to the love you reflect back to your husband or wife.

December 14, 2011

Wives Who Don't Cook

You have been working a brutal schedule, and you expect a little extra help from your mate. After all, you both benefit from the overtime or the raise that comes from your efforts. However, it's dinner time, and nothing is ready to eat. What do you do?

You can focus on the work. You do more. She should do more. Doing less? Unfair! You are mistreated. You deserve better! She has no respect for you!

Or you can focus on your wife. Assume Love. Ask yourself what might keep someone with a lighter schedule than yours who loves you dearly from cooking you a meal.

Here are some possibilities.

Cooking feels like drudgery, harder than other chores. She puts her energy into less unpleasant shared chores. You two need a Third Alternative, a way to get an evening meal with less of a burden on your wife.

Cooking must be done at the lowest energy point in the day. She wants to feed you, but often finds herself curling up with a book or heading to the gym for more energy. Again, a Third Alternative, like cooking together on the weekends and reheating in the evening, might help.

Cooking seems pointless, except to please you, and something has happened recently that makes pleasing you less pleasing. Repair the relationship. And consider a Third Alternative like eating a big, cooked, midday meal, followed by a salad you can both enjoy in the evening.

Your wife is doing something else for you in return for all your extra effort, and you have not yet noticed. Look for what it is. Or ask. Then take your turn at cooking or discuss a Third Alternative that works for both of you better than this mismatch does.

You can tell yourself you are owed a home-cooked meal if you work harder or more hours. You can find other people to agree with you. But in the end, you might want to ask how this story works for you. Does it make you happier or angrier? Does it make you powerful or helpless to change things?

I discovered after my first husband was dead that I could have gotten rid of my long commute. But for two years, I focused on what I felt he owed me because we lived near his job and far from mine. I made him miserable. I made myself miserable. Expect Love. When you expect cooking—or anything else you wish you did not need to do—you make yourself unhappy.

December 11, 2011

When Your Spouse Blindsides You

It happens at least once to every married person. Life seems fine and then you discover your husband put in for retirement without telling you or bought a $6,000 lawn mower for your quarter acre yard. Your wife spent $3,000 on a new wardrobe to look for a job, or she redecorated the living room in black and purple while you were on a business trip. You thought she was using birth control and now she's pregnant and delighted. He gets a wax job on parts you think should stay hairy.

You have been blindsided. You did not see it coming, and there is not much you can do about it now. What now?

This would be an excellent time to Assume Love. Your initial reaction is to what this change means for you. But if you ask yourself what would make someone who loves you too much to want to put you through an uncomfortable change do something this crazy, you may find yourself forgiving easily.

What makes a loving man retire without asking for his wife's input? A reason so compelling that no opinion, no argument would change his mind. As soon as you realize this, it frees your thinking. It lets you recall all of the clues that something was coming to a head at work or that something bad happened to friends who did not retire. If nothing comes to mind, at least it allows you to ask a loving question about what led up to it, instead of "What were your thinking, you fool?!!"

What makes a loving woman redecorate, badly, behind your back? A big need for a change. Is she keeping up with some twist in high fashion you have not yet heard of? Is she dealing with depression? Is she seeking to get your attention, convinced you appreciate none of her decorating efforts? Is she at the end of her rope for ways to convince you to stop inviting the guys over for poker in the living room? Once you ask about what a woman who loves you would do, you allow in all the rest that you know about her and don't immediately associate with paint and slipcovers.

Who needs a $6,000 mower for a tiny yard, denying his spouse all the other things $6,000 can buy? Perhaps someone with an unfulfilled passion for farming or a longing to relive a childhood experience. So what set it off this month? Was it a death of a family member or friend? Perhaps a son's reaching a certain age? Or is this perhaps an alternative to the $60,000 vehicle your spouse truly longs for, leaving $54,000 for your needs? You know lots more than comes to mind when you focus on the lawn mower instead of the person.

Stop. Assume Love. Ask yourself what might lead a person who loves you dearly and has not suddenly changed character to behave this way. When you see the real explanation, your reaction to it changes dramatically. It just might bring you a lot closer together, even if your wife's or husband's actions seemed outrageous at first.

November 29, 2011

The Assume Love Philosophy

This, in a nutshell, is the Assume Love philosophy: put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

In other words, don't work on your relationship. Help yourself enjoy being married. What you do for your relationship when you enjoy it will never feel like work.

Save your ideas for making your spouse a better husband or wife until you have fully opened yourself to receive the love already offered you, even if it does not match what you expected.

Don't ask a friend or therapist to choose which of you is right. You are both right, even when you disagree. Ask instead for help finding Third Alternatives to make both of you happy.

Assume Love. Expect Love. Find Third Alternatives.

That is it in a nutshell. If you have just discovered this blog thanks to Stu Gray's Top Ten Marriage Blogs contest or the article in this month's Working Mother magazine, welcome! I am so glad you have joined us.

Please use the Comments section to ask a question, share a tip, or just say hello at any time. So glad you have joined us.

November 25, 2011

Assume Love? Why?

At first read, a lot of folks think I must be daft to encourage anyone to Assume Love. It sounds like it would let a spouse just walk all over you.

I am not the sort of person who lets anyone walk all over me. But I was, for my first 34 years, the sort who unknowingly walked around assuming a few things that robbed me of the great marriage I could have had. When my husband rather abruptly dropped dead in the middle of a really bad spot in our marriage, it tore open the curtains hiding my assumptions.

Those assumptions had caused me an awful lot of pain. They robbed us both of many of the blessings of marriage. On my first morning as a 34-year-old widow and single mother, I saw them for what they had done to us. Over time, I saw them making a mess of a lot of other marriages. And when I started working for Martin Seligman and learning about his research, I realized that others knew what I learned that bleak morning but had not yet applied it to marriage.

When you look at the things your husband or wife does or fails to do, you see them through your own assumptions, the ones that work all the time, like it or not. These assumptions are built into what Seth Godin call the "lizard brain" and Daniel Kahneman calls "System 1." They are the Beliefs that lead to the Consequences in cognitive psychology's ABC (or ABCDE) Model.

See if you recognize any of them as your own.

  • If you love me, you will do what is fair. When I do a lot of work for this family, you should do the same. When I put time and thought into getting a great gift for you, I deserve the same in return. If I show up on time, you should not show up late. If my commute is longer, you should take care of more of the stuff at or near our home, if you love me.
  • If you love me, my needs should be important to you. I should not have to beg for what I need. I should not be alone when I am afraid to be alone or bored being alone or sad being alone. If I want sex, you should initiate it at least some of the time. If I like boating or skiing or hiking or dancing or finger dancing, you should make time for it. If it frightens me, you should never raise your voice around me. I should not feel unable to pursue my goals for lack of support from you, if you love me.
  • If you love me, you will respect me. You will always defend me against outsiders and your family members. You will always speak to me with respect. You should never disagree with me in public. You should never dress in a way that embarrasses me, if you love me.
If you hold these beliefs, you will keep score and feel angry, maybe even scared for your marriage, when your spouse accepts your acts of service without reciprocating them, when any of your needs go unmet, and whenever you feel invisible or disapproved of. And you will feel this way even if your spouse still adores you and is dreaming up newer and better ways to love you.

Because you feel angry or scared, you will frantically look for other signs that it is time to forget your marriage and protect yourself. It is just the way the human brain works.

When I say Assume Love, I don't mean tell yourself you are not angry or scared, because it will not work. I don't mean ignore any signs of real danger (that flower pot coming across the room at you or that fast-draining bank account or the insistence that you let your mate drive you and your kids home while drunk), because that would be insane.

What I mean is assume you are loved as much as ever by a man or woman of the same character as the one your married and ask yourself what might lead such a person to behave the way your spouse is behaving. Do it because the way you are feeling (angry, scared, hurt, sad) results from your assumption about the cause of what happened, not from what happened. And your assumption just might be wrong. So try out this other assumption (still loved, no sudden selfishness or recklessness or lack of integrity) and see if it leads to an explanation that fits better.

  • Loving spouses behave unfairly all the time. They do it when they place a different value on the outcome or effort involved in a task. They do it when they feel you did not notice their other contributions. They do it when they feel overwhelmed by responsibilities or illness. They even do it when their nose is out of joint because they think you should be doing something about their need or showing them greater respect.
  • Loving spouses often want to do something about your need, but feel incapable of doing it. After all, if you need it, it's probably something you yourself feel incapable of taking care of. When Rod died, and I had to meet my unmet needs myself, while taking over for many that he had been meeting, I was embarrassed to discover just how hard what I had been asking for really was.
  • Loving spouses often feel so comfortable around you that they show disrespect and have no idea how awful it makes you feel. Or they get so frustrated by the unfairness they perceive that they compare you to a child just to get your attention. Or they believe you to be so strong, so self-assured that they fail to support you when they could.
I have to Assume Love all the time in my second marriage. I am not completely rid of my beliefs, not immune to being surprised or displeased. But I know now that my underlying beliefs, the hidden ones, often lead me to inaccurate explanations.

Those inaccurate explanations lead me to hurt and anger, which result in my doing things that hurt and anger Ed. When I Assume Love and consider what might make the loving man I know him to be do the things he does, it stops the automatic focus on threats and lets me recall a lot more relevant facts.

It works wonders, and not just for the small stuff. It has stopped people on the verge of divorce. I love hearing, just a few days after they have announced they want out, that their marriage is now the closest it has ever been, because they Assumed Love.

If you want to read more on how to use this technique, check out How to Assume Love in the categories list over there in the right column.

November 21, 2011

Rose-Colored Glasses and Marriage

If you Assume Love when upset by your mate and you Expect Love to show up in forms you never dreamed up, you will inevitably overlook one or two of your spouse's failings.

You won't overlook crushing debt or being shoved or burned with a cigarette, but you might overlook an unkind word intended as an insult. You might overlook a missed anniversary or a failed promise to pick up your dry cleaning or be home by 7:00. You might even overlook a brief affair if it eventually brings you closer and more certain you want each other.

You will most likely think more highly of your husband or wife, because your attention will be on his or her strengths and loving acts, instead of analyzing whether you are getting all you deserve or tiptoeing around to make sure you won't be left.

And while it might give you an overly positive view of your husband or wife, this is perfectly normal, nothing to worry about. Research shows happily married people tend to have an even better impression of their mate than their mate's closest friends do. So enjoy!

November 20, 2011

When Marriage Really Stinks

People have two big fears about marriage. The first is that they will trust their spouse and then be abandoned, whether literally or in other ways. Those other ways might include infidelity, overly long hours at work or with friends, or silent time in front of a TV or computer. They might also include failure to be supportive in the face of challenging in-laws or children. They worry even when their spouses have no intention of doing any of these and promise to stay by their side.

The second big fear about marriage is losing their freedom. They fear they will not be able to do things they love to do, go places they long to go, or dress as they damn well please. They feel marriage as a ball and chain. Even when they are doing what they want, they fear they might be stopped by their spouse.

For those with both fears, life is lived on a ping pong table. To avoid abandonment, they deny themselves freedoms out of fear their spouse might deny them. Then they complain about the restrictions or act out against them, driving their confused or offended spouse to avoid them, triggering their fear of abandonment again.

Many of us have just a little of one or the other of these fears. Others have an overdose of one or both. These fears form in our minds even before we can speak. We have little control over them. They will arise during a marriage. When they do, marriage really stinks!

It stinks because we see our husband or wife as the thing causing our fear. Spouses are not supposed to cause us fear, so we feel anger and attack, or we feel hurt and withdraw.

But we are no longer children who cannot speak or reason. We may feel the initial wave of fear, but we can decide to do something other than react to it.

The thing I do is Assume Love and look for a different explanation. If I am not in immediate physical danger and I am not so emotionally overwhelmed that I cannot think straight even after a short walk, I Assume Love. I remember my husband promised to love me. I remember I could once see and feel his love. I remember he was not unthinking or uncaring, a liar, or an idiot then, and I know people don't change personalities so radically without a medical cause or a lot of drugs or alcohol. So I ask myself what if he has not changed? What else could explain his actions if he were still that man?

For example, why would a loving man leave the house for a meeting with a prospective client and not be home yet eight hours later? And not call? I have a long list of reasons why an uncaring man might do these things, and they are making me create a laundry list of evidence out of perfectly normal things he has done or said over the past month. But why would a loving man do this?

I ask this question almost instantly now.

And that is when I recall he's driving in a state that does not allow cell phones unless you pull out of their awful traffic, and he's carrying a cell phone that is poorly served in the area he's visiting. And he is not a multitasker. He seldom stops doing one thing (like meeting with someone or driving) to do another (like giving his wife an update). It's not that he rejects calling me. He just won't even think of it until the first task is done.

I realize the client is in the IT business, where the normal work day clock has no meaning and where people drop everything, even interrupt a meeting, for a hardware or networking emergency. And that the client is located in a town where my husband used to work and might want to stop and revisit a favorite restaurant or store.

"Don't take it personally" is a lovely saying, but we are hard-wired to take everything personally until we will ourselves to think of causes that have nothing to do with us.

If you find yourself anxious because your wife had a hush-hush phone call with a colleague and giggled in the middle of it, Assume Love. If you find yourself angry because your husband objected to your plans to take a week-long writing course, Assume Love. If you freak out when you discover your life partner has just started downloading pay-per-view porn, Assume Love. If you are enraged that your wife committed you to a Thanksgiving gathering without consulting you, Assume Love.

If you just go with your initial gut feeling, driven by things that happened before you could speak, you will confirm you are married to a ball and chain or a walk-away Jo(e). If you ask friends or strangers what they think, they will side with you and often even scarier stories about what your spouse might do next. But if you Assume Love, you might discover you already know you and your relationship are most likely just fine, and you can just let events play out without a crisis or discuss them without exploding.

November 17, 2011

How to Explain It?

When my son was little, he had a book I loved. It has a lot to do with assuming love.

I just looked it up to give you the official title, which was Sherlock Hemlock and the Great Twiddlebug Mystery: or The Mystery of the Terrible Mess in My Friend's Front Yard. Sherlock Hemlock, a Muppet detective, tried to deduce what had left behind birthday candles, crumpled wrapping paper, paper hats, and more in the front yard.

Little Betty Lou thought maybe a birthday party.

Sherlock Hemlock's answer? Twiddlebugs. Everywhere he looked for evidence of twiddlebugs, he found some.

When we try to explain the unexpected—who would want to explain the expected?—we have to start somewhere. Most of us start in some rather predictable, if misguided, ways.

We might ask, "What would make my loving wife complain right now that I never do anything for her?" But we don't. Instead, we think, "I don't know why she married me if she thinks I am such a screw-up. Maybe that rich jerk she was dating before me dumped her and I just came along at the right moment. All she does is complain, about my driving, about household chores, about schedules. I make a living. I take her out to eat. I do the taxes. But I am nothing to her. She despises me."

All we see are signs of more twiddlebugs, instead of a woman at the end of her rope, hurrying through some huge project with too little time left. Without a big, red circle on an oversized calendar, our obsession with those twiddlebugs keeps us from remembering why she's overwhelmed today.

We might ask, "Have I forgotten anything he said that might explain why he is late coming home tonight when we need to leave here by 7:30?" Instead, we ask, "Is he cheating on me? Is this related to his claim he had to brush before kissing me this morning? What did he charge on last week's business trip? Should I use his password to read his email? I'll just put his dinner in the refrigerator. No point waiting for him tonight!"

We see twiddlebugs when we look for twiddlebugs. When we put down the magnifying glass and take a look at the whole picture—when we Assume Love—we see more plausible explanations for what happens in our marriages.

Assume Love and look for an explanation that fits with it. Twiddlebug invasions are a lot rarer than love.

November 7, 2011

In Sickness And In Health? Alcoholism, Too?

drink.jpgAlcohol abuse and alcoholism harm a lot of marriages. When we take those wedding vows, pledging to stick together in sickness or in health, do we also accept the drunken rages, lost wages, and self-inflicted depression?

If staying and leaving were our only options, I would say no, we do not vow to accept all this harm. Fortunately, staying and leaving are usually not our only two options.

Al-Anon, that wonderful, free support group for those affected by someone else's alcohol abuse, offers this answer the to question What Is Alcoholism?

Alcoholism is widely recognized as a disease of compulsive drinking, which can be arrested, but not cured. It is a progressive illness, which will get only worse as long as the person continues to drink. Total abstinence from drinking is the only way to arrest the disease. Alcoholism affects the entire family; indeed, everyone who has contact with the alcoholic is affected. Unfortunately, the only person who can stop the alcoholic from drinking is the alcoholic himself or herself. [emphasis added]

Some of the other options:

  • If you do not have enough money because of what your alcoholic husband or wife does, find some money and a safe place to keep it..

  • If you do nothing to bring joy into your life because your alcoholic will not join you, take your attention off the problem you cannot fix and pursue that joy.

  • If you do not feel safe in your own home, fix this, without waiting for sobriety. Set limits. If your wife or husband violates the limits, create a safe place for yourself and your children, whether a locked room, a separate apartment, a strong friend you invite to live in your home, or an abused spouse shelter.

  • If you have been buying alcohol or manufacturing excuses for your guy or gal, stop. Almost every serious illness comes with an unpleasant treatment we need courage to accept. We need the lifestyle consequences of the illness to motivate that courage. Getting in the way of the consequences of drinking is a lot like sabotage.

  • If you have been avoiding contact with friends or family to avoid feeling shame, invite them over and remind yourself you have and have always had almost zero control over your mate's drinking. Keeping touch with reality is especially important when you live with an alcoholic.

What does it mean to Assume Love when you are married to an alcoholic? It means you understand that the disease creates a disconnect between your spouse's intentions toward you and his or her actions. It means you can see and appreciate the intentions, but you are the only one who can protect yourself and your relationship from those disconnected actions that hurt you physically, emotionally, or financially.

At first, you will see the intentions in sincere apologies offered while sober for what happened while drunk. Take this as a serious sign that you need to act to protect yourself and your children.

As the disease progresses, you will see the intentions in the excuses invented to preserve your mate's self-perception as someone who cares for you. It is likely your spouse will blame you or outside factors for provoking his or her shameful behavior. You might want to find a therapist to help you with an intervention at this point, closing off the avenues of escape from the many consequences of the problem for your spouse.

If the situation reaches the point where your spouse loses all shame for what he or she does to you, remove yourself and your loved ones as far as you can from your spouse. Keep your distance until you learn he or she is sober and seeking to show love for you again.

November 6, 2011

More on When to Assume Love

I was so glad to receive a comment about yesterday's post, wondering if I was injecting a bit of sarcasm.

I was glad to receive it. I know this technique is a bit difficult to grasp. I welcome any opportunity to make it clearer, because I think it helps enormously. All by itself, and in just a few critical minutes, it can be the difference between divorce and renewed love for your spouse.

At first glance, Assume Love looks like I am suggesting you give your spouse the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Avoid blowing up over little stuff. Avoid carrying grudges.

But Assume Love is so much more powerful than that. In fact, if you just give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, you might miss out on the real power in this technique.

Assume Love is not, like most marriage education techniques, a way to make things better between you and your husband or wife. Everyone else pays attention to the relationship. I pay attention to you. Assume Love is not about a better relationship. It is about you and whether or not you enjoy being married.

All three of my techniques—Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives—are about your experience of your marriage. They work a lot faster than fixing your spouse does and create a lot less resentment than changing yourself for your spouse.

Imagine this. You are self-employed. Lately, your revenues have been way down. Your husband has been unemployed for six months. He hardly even checks the web for openings any more. You read of an opening in his field. Your hopes go up. Maybe, maybe, you will pull through this financial crisis before you lose the house.

He says, "There's no point applying for this one." First, you are crushed. Your hopes shatter on the floor around you. Next, you get angry. You have, after all, been looking for clients for your business day in and day out while he watches TV. This feels so unfair! Next, you feel abandoned. You cannot believe he would turn this down when it leaves you so vulnerable. To lose your house when you are both less than ten years away from retirement is unthinkable. You are sad, angry, and scared all in a big, crazy bundle. And maybe you contemplate just walking out on him, certain you would be safer and happier single and on your own.

This is where you Assume Love. Sure, you practice with it when he puts the vegetable peeler in the wrong drawer or borrows the book you're reading and doesn't return it. But moments like this are the ones where it makes all the difference in the world. You cannot pretend this doesn't matter to you. You cannot just give him the benefit of the doubt.

Now you ask yourself, "if this man still loves me completely and still possesses his best qualities, and I had no doubt of this, how might I explain what he just did?"

Your first answer is likely something like, "He doesn't care if I lose my home!" And you recognize that the man you married, when you were sure he loved you fiercely, would care. A lot. You are looking for an explanation of why a good, loving man would do this.

And do you know what's happening as you do this? The chemical soup released in your brain as you got sad, then angry, then scared begins to clear up. And this is very important, because the soup is designed to focus your attention on threats. But you know that a husband refusing to apply for a job is hardly the sort of threat our bodies are designed to handle. No immediate escape is required. You will not be called upon to fight for your life, as you might if this were a tiger or a fire. Instead, you need to broaden your focus. And to do this, you need to dissipate the chemical soup.

So you try again. "Perhaps he's afraid to apply after all this time out of work." And then you think back to the man you fell in love with. Courage is one of his greatest strengths. Fear does not explain this one.

So you think about the way he said it, "there's no point applying for this one." This is a clue. What's different about this position? Your thinking is getting clearer. More things are popping into your head now. You remember him saying this about an earlier job, months ago. Where was that job? Could it have been at this company?

No, it was a different company. But did you notice how you stopped being furious and began to be curious? Feels better, doesn't it?

So you look again at this job ad, and the company name looks oddly familiar. Your husband has mentioned this company before. When was that? He was still working then. When was it? Was it when he was ordered to let two of his people go, as the company was going downhill? It was! Now you remember. He let them go and one quickly landed a job at his level at this company. And ever since, his disgruntled former employee, Leonard, has taken every opportunity to show him up, hiring one of the employees he tried to hold onto, getting himself put on the same panel at that conference. The advertised job would surely report to Leonard.

When you check in with your feelings, the sadness and the anger are gone. You're still scared of losing the house, but you know that applying for this job would be a lot to go through with a very small probability of getting a job. It may have even been painful for your husband just to read that Leonard's hiring. And when you realize how much you care about this, you wonder how in the world you thought you could leave this man.

But you could have. You could have added to his pain over the job offer with accusations that he does not care about your well-being or is not as courageous as he should be. His response probably would have increased your fear. Your fear would have stung him like any loss of respect. One of you would have rejected the other. The other of you would have withdrawn to avoid further pain. And you, too, could have ended up divorced over a job ad at a difficult moment in both your lives.

Those are the very moments at which to Assume Love. If there is an explanation, you are much more likely to find it or find yourself willing to ask gently for it after you Assume Love. If there is no explanation, you are much more likely to recognize this with a clear head after you Assume Love.

Unless you have married someone incapable of loving you, you will spend less time angry, scared, and hurt. You will find yourself with more respect for your man, and most men respond very, very well to respect from their spouse. You will spend more time feeling tender toward the man you married and receiving the rewards of tenderness.

And this is what it means to Assume Love. You bring yourself back from the strong emotions of your initial explanation of an event and reap the benefits of a more accurate explanation.

It works well for the little stuff, too, the things you could just overlook by giving your man the benefit of the doubt. But if you use it for the little stuff, you will be ready for the big stuff: the porn, the surprising raised voice, the big decision made without consulting you. And you just might enjoy being married in spite of the surprises.

November 5, 2011

When It Helps to Assume Love

notMyFault.jpgAssume Love is shorthand for a little technique that can turn your distressing marriage into a great one. Try it whenever you find yourself wondering if your mate could possibly still love you or be worthy of your love. All you do is ask yourself, "if this person still loves me completely and still possesses his or her best qualities, and I had no doubt of this, how might I explain what he or she just did?"

Doing this little thought experiment frees you from the intense focus on threats and problems that your distress forces on you. It lets you recall relevant information and connect one bit of information to another. It lets you see love you might otherwise overlook.

Some good times to Assume Love:

  • When your partner says no to your plans [because it is likely you already know enough to understand why and realize you are not being thwarted, that you just need a different way to get what you want]

  • When you discover your husband of a decade or more is suddenly into porn [because you might then connect the onset with something like a vasectomy or a disappointing performance in bed with you]

  • When your wife starts going out with friends after work [because you might recognize how it's improving your relationship or helping improve her sales or turning her into a better mother instead of seeing it as a rejection of you]

  • When your usually quiet and calm husband raises his voice [because it just might be a last-ditch effort to draw your attention to an urgent problem]

  • When your mate refuses to do without an expensive, name-brand product [because it taps into some very important memory or helps relieve some deep pain]

  • When your wife refuses to take a job offer, even though you two really need the money [because she knows she cannot do the job in a way that will keep the job or lead to a good reference when she must move on]

  • When your spouse does something with the kids that scares or disgusts you [because he or she is protecting them from a threat you have never faced but your spouse has]

  • When your husband demands to drive the two of you home while drunk [because the only loving explanation for this is that he intends to protect you but has lost the ability to turn down a drink that interferes with his good intentions, in which case you'll need to protect him and yourself from his addiction until he find the strength to deal with it]

  • When your spouse beats you up or empties your bank account to punish you, rather than as a result of addiction or mental illness [because you will find no explanation for a decent, loving person doing the sort of thing he or she would protect a loved one from if anyone else tried it, and you will know you are not loved by or safe with this person any longer]

October 16, 2011

Is It Possible to Enjoy Being Married?

Marriage brings with it responsibilities, disagreements, and unpleasant surprises. Some of them don't make themselves known until you divorce or your mate becomes addicted to something. Thanks to the recently high divorce rate, marriage often means stepchildren, too, not to mention stepparents-in-law and your new half-brother-in-law's son and stepdaughter. Lots of family drama potential.

So, is it possible to truly enjoy being married? I believe it is. You can feel loved, respected, and cherished if you are married. You can feel part of something bigger and longer-lasting than yourself as a married man or woman. You can get more sex, more affirmation, more self-understanding, more relief from daily chores, and more wealth with a spouse. You can savor the good times much longer when you stay with the same person, and you can confidently weave together a shared life.

How do you manage it, especially if things have been less than enjoyable recently?

I believe you Assume Love whenever your husband's or wife's behavior upsets or worries you.

I believe you remember to Expect Love and not any of its many proxies. Letting go of what you think love should look like to pay attention to all the other surprising forms it takes reduces a lot of resentment, eliminates a lot of stress, and leads to a lot of growth.

I believe you Find Third Alternatives for the things you disagree about. By definition, they will please you, and the process of looking for them will strengthen the bond between you.

Please share. What else do you do to Enjoy Being Married?

October 1, 2011

What is a Third Alternative?

I have decided to accept the challenge from Stu Gray of Stupendous Marriage: Love, Sex, and All the Rest to participate in this month's Ultimate Blog Challenge. The challenge is to post something on Assume Love daily for the month of October. It was this or give up chocolate for the month, and I think this will be a lot more fun.

This week's teleclass is on Third Alternatives, so let's start there.

For me, discovering Third Alternatives put an end to so much frustration and disappointment that I love sharing them with anyone who will listen.

Let me draw you a picture of them. First, one of you gets an idea. For example, let's put the laundry room in the basement of the new house. Then the other has a "better" idea: let's put it off the family room.

Or one of you says let's spend the money on a better lawn mower, but the other says times are tough and we had better keep it in our savings account.

On a simpler, but just as frustrating level, one of you says let's put the toilet seat up or down as we need to, but the other thinks it looks better or reduces middle-of-the-night risks better if it's always down.

Those are the first two alternatives. The first is a happy "I have a good idea" suggestion. The second, designed to prevent whatever unhappiness that good idea offers, turns it into a disagreement.

Unfortunately, at this point, most of us forget we're on the same side. We forget how much we love being able to give our spouse what he or she wants. All of a sudden, we feel threatened, afraid we will not get what we want at all.

And we forget that these two are not the only alternatives available to us. It's "what I want" versus "what I really don't want." So we begin the opening arguments for our defense of our great idea.

Of course, there are almost always more than two alternatives. We can have what we want most of the time and get the bonus of giving our beloved husband or wife the great treat of getting their way. All we have to do is find that Third Alternative that has the elements we like about our great idea and the elements our mate likes about the opposing idea, but none of the negatives of either of them.

For example, together you find a way to have a better lawn mower without losing any of your savings. Instead of convincing your partner to compromise or give in, you work together to find a Third Alternative that pleases both of you.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about how to do this. You can make this month of 31 posts a lot easier for me: just ask questions using the Comments form — or send chocolate!

September 23, 2011

How to Stay Married for 33 Years and Then Some

When my wonderful friend Gill Othen celebrated her 33rd wedding anniversary in August, she added this comment on Facebook: "It's funny — very few of my 'gang' at Durham have divorced, yet there seem to be very few people my age who haven't been otherwise."

I asked her for a guest post, then I clumsily never noticed it slip into my inbox until now, almost 3 weeks later! I am posting it right now, because I know lots of you read this blog over the weekend. Enjoy!

How did we do it?

Last month my husband and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary. That's amethyst, in case you're interested. We weren't. A solid amethyst tea service (we are English, after all) wouldn't suit our décor, and anything less than that would have been chickening out. In any case, according to Wikipedia, it's only a modern US thing, along with improved real estate for the 42nd and desk sets for the 7th, so we were excused participation. We had a meal out and one of our daughters was home for the weekend. What more could you want?

Well, lots more really, I suppose — wealth beyond imagining, a mansion big enough to hold all the books in the world, instant matter transporter so I could see my friends all over the planet. But none of those are going to happen, and our lives won't be impoverished without them. We know what we want by now, and what suits us. We know each other well enough to be aware when something material is important enough to fight for, and when it really isn't. Each of us has a quirk — I have to convince myself that I really want a particular purchase first. If I succeed there — and it's hard, because I argue back a lot — then I can persuade my husband, no problem. And vice versa. Each of us tends to see the mild wishes of the other as more important than our own, which helps a lot — except when we become fixated that our partner must have what was only a passing whim.

So, how did we get here? Firstly, we chose our families well. We had role models in front of us: our parents stayed married for 39 and 49 years respectively, ending only with the death of one partner. None of our relatives had break-ups either — not even our own generation of siblings and cousins. A presumption that marriage is for the long haul and that problems are there to be worked through is no bad thing to have, we've found.

We chose our friends the same way. Not that we knew it at the time — we were just a bunch of geeky students together in the magnificent cathedral city of Durham, with a lot of shared interests and shared senses of humour. We dated in different combinations, but, somehow, many of us paired off within the group, which has stayed close enough over the intervening three and a half decades for us to know all about key events in each other's lives. None of them have been divorces.

Am I sounding smug? I don't mean to be. We are very, very lucky as a group. I think I can identify a few common factors, though. We met each other through a common interest and found others. We were all in our late teens, hormones coursing through us like nobody's business, with single rooms in our colleges and precious little impediment to any activities we chose, when we chose. We lived in close proximity to each other; Durham doesn't have a campus as such, but colleges grouped together in two areas, with an enormous amount of traffic between them. We shared other things too — our backgrounds were different, sometimes very much so, but we all enjoyed learning, and not just about our own subjects. We shared knowledge, information, understanding as well as jokes. Sharing is important in any relationship, I think.

We all waited before getting married; all of us were "an item" for at least two years, in several cases more than four years before marriage. You can't keep parts of your temperament secret for that long. You are going to lose your temper, make a fool of yourself, get stupidly drunk — you will reveal something of the worst of yourself as well as the best. If a relationship survives several years of this before marriage it has a good chance of surviving many years longer.

We stayed in touch — we always had friends at the end of a phone who had known us as singles, who knew both of us, who could listen without judging. And when the children came along, as they did, we stayed close still, with holidays en masse and offspring who grew up as extra cousins of each other. When my father died, these friends gave me the space to talk — and not to talk. The same when my father-in-law died. We could share the burden with a spouse but also with a friend. A support network, even online or on the telephone, makes a heck of a difference when things are rocky.

It's not been a serene idyll. There's been unemployment, more than one, mental and emotional issues, worries about parents and children, money and housing. We had to move house, away from friends, jobs, networks, once with small children to protect through upheavals. What got us through the rough parts? We talked. A lot. And, even more important, listened — not just to the words. The set of a shoulder can tell a story if you observe closely enough, and so can the curve of a back. Sometimes silent presence or a hug is all that is needed, sometimes gentle questions. Sometimes, because we are far from perfect, a blazing row was needed, before apologies from both sides and a halting start on talking it through.

We talk about lots of things, though. Shared TV viewing — "Dr Who" or "Torchwood", my regrettable love for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", the science and history programmes we both adore. Politics and the news; our summer holiday in Italy this year was enlivened by fascination with scandals in the media. Our shared passion for history and travel; he knows way more than I do about castles and fortifications, but I know about the people who lived in them and the languages they spoke. It works for us. We both still enjoy learning, though we do it in different ways. And share what we have learned, what matters to us, why we want to know.

So, after just over 33 years, I consider myself incredibly lucky. I am that cliché — married to my best friend. Wish us luck for the next 33 years!

Much to learn from Gill, her husband, and their gang of college friends, whose marriages have all weathered many storms. Please join me in wishing them another 33 years of mutual support and friendship.

September 21, 2011

3 Tips for a Much Happier Marriage

Seems about time to summarize what I learned when my first marriage died. I learned three really key things that help me enormously in my second marriage. They have also helped a lot of other husbands and wives rediscover the best parts of their marriages.

  1. When you find yourself distressed by something your mate does or fails to do, Assume Love.
  2. When you find yourself needing more than your marriage provides, Expect Love.
  3. When you disagree with your mate, Find Third Alternatives.

I am doing a free teleclass on how to Find Third Alternatives on Wednesday, October 5, 2011. The time is 6pm PDT / 7pm MDT / 8pm CDT / 9pm EDT.

How frustrating is it when you realize the two of you are on opposite sides of a decision? There is a way to an agreement, not a compromise, but an option that will please you even more than winning. It's called a Third Alternative, and this class is all about how to find yours.

To receive email notices of all of my upcoming teleclasses, and to get the phone number for this one, please add your name to my mailing list at

May 31, 2011

Marriage, the Journey

So much of what we do in life has a goal. We convince ourselves we will be happy when we reach the goal. We work hard to get there for as long we believe the goal lies within our reach. When we no longer believe it does, some of us double down and look for a better route to the goal. The rest of us move on to a different goal.

We pursue happiness.

When we marry, we set the goal of loving each other until one of us dies. Although moments may come and go when we believe we will indeed be happy to become a widow or widower, if we stick to the other part of the goal, loving each other until then, we do not expect to be happy when it happens.

In marriage, we hope happiness will pursue us.

We hope that if we love a spouse, he or she will make us happy. If not, many of us move on to another spouse or another source of happiness. The rest are not blessed with better spouses, but recognize that it was always loving, not being loved, that brought us happiness.

Positive psychology keeps discovering that what makes us happy is the stuff of loving: being part of something bigger than ourselves, feeling more gratitude, getting more opportunities to use our character strengths (because our partner has different ones), nurturing an intimate relationship, becoming more optimistic (because we see more clearly through another's eyes that our first explanation of upsetting events is not the only one), and finding so many opportunities for altruism.

We create our own happiness. Having someone to love makes it easier.

Once we figure this out, we hope for a long, intense journey on the way to our goal. Our differences add to the intensity. Our challenges make the journey more interesting. Our periods of day after day sameness signal success at extending the journey. Our new relationship skills promise to help us not to avoid divorce but to embrace and savor a wonderful trip.

February 16, 2011

What If You Could Change Everything?

About your marriage, that is. You can. The three secrets I discovered a day too late put a lot of power in your hands.

Secret #1: Assume Love. When something happens that makes you wonder if your wife has no respect for you, if your husband no longer cares about you, or whether you ought to stay together, Assume Love.

Your lizard brain, the one that protected so many of your ancestors who lived in tougher times than yours, always assumes danger. It does not want you doing any thinking. If you might be in danger, if the situation even looks similar to dangerous, it takes action. It narrows your thinking. It focuses your attention on threats. It gets you ready for a fight for your life, the fastest run you've ever taken, or a complete freeze to fool your enemies. Not particularly useful for dealing with your life partner unless yours is violent or cruel.

So tell your lizard brain kindly that you are safe and just want to try on a different idea with your new brain, your very clever prefrontal cortex. Assume you loved as much as ever by a man or woman who is just as wonderful as ever, then try to explain what happened. That's it. Come up with a few different possible explanations for how a loving person might do the same thing that upset you so because it looked unloving. Think about what else is happening or has happened to the person who vowed to love you and how it might relate to what upset you.

Maybe all it will get you is an understanding that what looked mean could also have been kind and the choice of which to believe or act on is yours. Maybe it will put you in a position to ask your mate to explain something, and you get you an honest answer because you are able to ask kindly and without accusation. And sometimes it will shock you right out of your shoes and turn your I-am-out-of-here fury into compassion and a much more deeply intimate connection with your spouse.

Secret #2: Expect Love. Stop expecting everything else. All those other expectations are getting in the way of feeling loved and respected. Expect Love. If you receive none, I will help you pack your bags and get away. But you receive a lot less love when you are busy watching and waiting for anything else, whether it is Valentine's candy, getting the garbage to the curb before the trash truck arrives, a hug, or a fair share of the chores. Take your attention off what you expected love meant and use it to learn what love really means. I think you will like it a lot more than you expect.

Secret #3: Find Third Alternatives. If you disagree about any two options, just toss them out. They are no good for you two as a couple. Join hands to spec out what would work for both of you and start brainstorming. You would be amazed at how often a disagreement blinds you to something you will like as much or more. And if you have ever given your spouse something that was just what he or she wanted, you may have an idea how much better a Third Alternative is than just getting what you want.

With these three secrets—Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives—you have to power to really change your relationship and rediscover the intense love of your early days together.

February 13, 2011

Michelle Obama Says Laugh with Your Spouse

Michelle Obama says a lot of laughing and finding ways to have fun together keeps her bond with President Barak Obama strong, according to Yahoo News. They have been married for 18 years, balancing two careers, one of them in some pretty tough political arenas, and parenthood.

Humor and playfulness is one of the Transcendence strengths studied in the VIA (Values in Action) Classification of Character Strengths. The other Transcendence strengths seem to lead to stronger marriages: Hope (optimism), Religiousness (spirituality), Gratitude, and Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence (awe, wonder, elevation).

Yet people in failing marriages more often complain of their spouses lacking what are called the Humanity strengths: Capacity to Love and Be Loved, Kindness, and Social Intelligence.

What do you make of this?

January 25, 2011

A Reminder to Keep Your Marriage Up-to-Date

It was a huge hit when I had been a widow for just three years, but I had not heard it in a long time. Tears streamed down my face as I listened to Garth Brooks singing his first #1 hit again today.

If tomorrow never comes, will she know how much I loved her?
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face the world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes

December 9, 2010

Losing the Baggage

What if you planned a special time with your mate — a meal, a weekend in a cabin, a quiet time after the kids are in bed — and stayed fully present in the moment? What if you acted as if — and spoke as if — nothing at all, good or bad, had ever happened between you and all of your current problems were completely under control?

What if you ignored your husband's or wife's anxieties about the future or baggage from the past and paid attention only to the sound of your life partner's voice, the solidity or lightness of this other body near yours, the feel of your hands touching, the unplanned synchronizing of your breaths, the pleasure of eating or stoking the fire or playing Scrabble together?

Could you keep your own baggage, your fear of abandonment or being controlled or hurt, your worries about scarcity or your need to defy it, in some other room for this special time?

What if you did this once a month or once a week?

December 6, 2010

Three Perfect Gifts for Your Husband

Everyone says men are so hard to choose gifts for, so I thought I would offer some assistance. These three gifts will suit him perfectly.

One that helps him do more of what he does best, whether it's paint, make music, lead a team, learn something new, or be kind to animals.

One that speaks his love language, whether it's tickets for the two of you to an activity he loves, an act of service that makes his life easier, a night of great sex, a poem expressing your respect for who he is, or a beautifully wrapped reminder of how special he is.

And one that reminds him of a special moment in your marriage and lets him know how much it meant to you to share it.

Hey, those wouldn't be so bad for a wife, either. What would your perfects gifts be?

November 26, 2010

Husbands Whose Driving Frightens their Wives

When I get into the car with my husband, I am often frightened. And I know I am not alone. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from women is that they don't always feel safe riding in a car driven by their husband. And from men, a big complaint is that their wife doesn't even trust him to drive a car without giving constant instructions.

What is this about? Do all men drive awfully? Not really. Are all women nervous nellies? Not really. My husband drives just fine. In 42 years of driving a car, he has had just one accident, one in which he did not even dent the bumper of the woman who slammed on her brakes in front of him, mid-intersection, in rush-hour city traffic. That's it. He's driven fast, he's driven closer than I care to drive, he's changed lanes with less clearance than I like to give myself, and he's kept himself and his loved ones alive and well.

Per mile driven, men are 1.5 times as likely as women to be involved in a fatal accident. That's scary. But most of those fatal accidents occur to fairly new drivers; the risk tapers off over time. By age 60, men and women have the same risk of a fatal accident.

And this is only fatal accidents. Per mile driven, women are 1.16 times as likely as men to be have an accident reportable to the police and 1.26 times as likely to have one involving injuries. This difference does not taper off. In every age group over 25, women are the ones more likely to have a non-fatal accident while they are behind the wheel.

One reason I get nervous when my husband drives close behind other cars is that I am one of those women who has been following a bit too closely in heavy 30 mile per hour traffic and ended up part of a multi-car pileup. It was years ago, but it was unforgettable.

When I get nervous now, I close my eyes and pay attention to the sunshine on my shoulder or the music playing in the car. My husband may not take care while driving in the same ways I do, but there is plenty of evidence, years and years of it, that he does take care and that he takes even more care when he has his beloved wife in the car with him.

It matters to me that he loves me so much. It matters to him — and this is another real gender difference — that I respect that he is a man of his word and capable of providing the care he promised to provide. He needs no advice to keep me safe in traffic.

To any woman who feels truly unsafe riding in the car with their life partner, I say swap seats or drive separately. Don't ride with someone whose driving record, blood alcohol level, or drowsiness poses a real risk. But when you feel safe enough to get in the car, find another way to deal with your situational fears, because disrespect — failure to receive the love you are offered — only distracts the driver.

Statistics cited in this article come from a 1993 study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

September 26, 2010

Not in Sync with Your Mate Just Now? Listen!

A wonderful Bruce Springsteen waltz for all of us who have vowed to love another, If I Should Fall Behind. Wouldn't this be great to dance to every anniversary?

September 9, 2010

Why Can't My Husband Be More Sociable?

Someone who has participated in my Enjoy Being Married teleclasses - we will call her Joan - wrote me last week with a long-running problem. I think it may sound pretty familiar to a lot of us.

Her husband - we will call him John - is a serious man, quiet, hard to read, off in his own world at times, and not very good at telling a story. He's not a people person. He's more at home with numbers. Happy on the inside, he says, unconcerned that others think he should smile more.

Joan, as you might have guessed, is a people person. She loves being around people. She enjoys family gatherings and socializing with friends. She has many friends of her own, and she invests extra time and energy into cultivating couples friendships so that she and John can socialize together.

She has done this for the 39 years they have been married. Even after all this time, she can get pretty upset when John fails to initiate any friendships on his own or acts like a lump on a log when they are out with mutual friends. Worst of all is when a friend or family member tells her instead of him that they can't tell if he's enjoying himself or, worse, that he scares them. Joan wants John to carry more of the weight of maintaining their social life.

So what can we do for Joan, using our three tools, Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives?

Assume Love when Upset
When Joan gets upset because John blows off a chance to connect with an old friend or because a friend expresses concern that he doesn't enjoy their get-togethers, she can try the primo tool for dealing with upset feelings, Assume Love.

It should not be hard for Joan to make this assumption. She admits John is a good man who loves her. But it is the next step that is so important. You make the assumption, and then you try to explain your mate's behavior from this assumption. How could a good man who adores a woman to whom socializing is so important do such a poor job of holding up his half of the stick?

If they just married last year, I might buy that it is because he does not know how important social life is to his wife. However, 39 years in, I expect John knows full well how hurt she would be if they lost their circle of friends because of his inaction.

If we assume he knows this matters to her and that he loves her fiercely, what would explain his failure to make a dinner date with a friend of theirs, to make plans to visit an old college buddy whose town they will be passing through, or to make an effort to chat with their barbecue guests? I can think of just three possibilities:

  1. He has no clue how to do this, even after all these years of hoping for one.

  2. He understands what is needed, but it is so horribly unpleasant for him that he is willing to let down the woman he loves, the woman whose respect matters most to him in the world, rather than try.

  3. Doing what is required would violate one of the pillars of his character, for example, his incredible integrity will not allow him to tell little white lies like "your tomato aspic is superb, Martha!" or his perseverance in pursuit of his goals makes spontaneous plans with friends feel dishonorable and unfair to his family.

Perhaps Jean, reading this, will know exactly which of these is true of John. And perhaps it will help her feel John's love, even when her social life is threatened by his behavior. This is what we hope for when we Assume Love. We aim to take the sting out of baffling behavior. But this won't change the fact that Joans needs to feel less threatened that they (or she) will have no friends just when they are needed most. Or that she still longs to feel proud of her husband when talking with her friends.

Expect Love when in Need
Expect Love is the tool she needs next. Expect Love invites us to let go of expecting our favorite love measures so that we can feel all of the love we are offered. There are at least a million ways for one person to love another. Even so, we pick one and say, "If you loved me, you would show it by doing this one that I chose out of the million available to you." Then we tap our foot and wait for the one, oblivious to every other sign of love we are offered.

Joan has been tapping her foot for a very long time, waiting for John to make her place in her social network more secure. She has left the responsibility for her needs in someone else's hands, even if it is only half of the responsibility. Even if she understands he can love her dearly and still be unable to take care of this for her, she will feel hurt and vulnerable when it goes undone, until she takes it back.

How can she make her place more secure if he goes on being quiet and a passive partner in the friendship game? She can devote more energy to it -- and less to something else, something where John's strengths mean he will gladly step up and take charge. She can cultivate more female-only friendships and limit the couples they socialize with to those with strong enough social skills to make room for John's limitations.

She can fend off some of the negative feedback by creating opportunities for John to contribute in different ways, perhaps managing the barbecue grill or bartending instead of chatting or trying something like geocaching or visiting museums with friends instead of dining together or going out for drinks.

If Joan takes back ownership of the problem, she can discuss it with John without incrimination. She can learn if he would like help reading other people through their own personal sign language or if he would appreciate help deflecting requests to violate his own strongly held values. She might also learn if he is aware of others' comments about him and feeling hurt when Joan fails to stand up for her husband when her friends criticize him, so withdrawing even more when it happens.

Letting go of expectations is not easy. For me, finding myself suddenly widowed and still needing the same things helped me separate what I need from what I expect from my husband. I invite everyone to consider if their need would remain if their spouse were suddenly gone and what they would do about it with no one else to expect anything from. You can read about my own struggle to let go of a big expectation in my All You Need is Love post.

Find Third Alternatives when You Disagree
John says he enjoys himself when they get together with friends, but he and Joan are stuck on just two ways to behave while enjoying oneself, two they cannot agree upon. There is no point continuing to discuss the first two alternatives once you realize each of you strongly prefers one over the other.

To get to a Third Alternative that delights both of them, Joan will need to learn more about what John enjoys about these gatherings. It is probably not at all what she notices about them. She will also need to share why John's behaviors make her uneasy, which means letting go of the idea that she already knows the best way to behave, so they can find some new ways that work well for both of them.

I hope you found this post helpful, and I welcome the opportunity to do the same for whatever situation keeps pushing your buttons. Just post a comment. If you want the comment kept private, just say so, as I read all comments before they appear.

Many thanks to "Joan" for sharing her situation with us. If you have more suggestions for her, please post them here.

September 2, 2010

Do You Assume Love or Do You Pretend It?

When you get really angry about the way your husband or wife treats you, what do you do? Do you yell or throw something, then kiss and make up later? This is not assuming love.

Do you keep your anger to yourself, giving your mate the benefit of the doubt, letting it pass, but not exactly letting it go, because you are loved? This is not assuming love, either. It is what I call pretending love. You tell yourself you are loved and this was a loving act, but you don't manage to fool yourself. The anger is still there. You keep it to yourself and let it ripen into resentment.

When you assume love, you do not pretend. You do not try to fool yourself. You simply ask yourself, "How would I explain what happened if I knew for absolute certain, with no reservations, that I am still very much loved and my partner in life is still a good person?" You don't need to believe the assumption. You use it only to temporarily silence the fear that you are not loved so that you can truly think about an explanation.

You do it because this fear is so basic that it literally narrows your thinking. It focuses your attention on the problems. It hides the explanations from you.

The what-if question helps you recall related information: other events, things your spouse has said or done in the past, something you learned from a role model years ago. It frees you to put them together into an explanation that you are free to reject or accept, and to try a different explanation if the first one does not work. It lets you see the situation from other perspectives.

When you are done using the love assumption, you may indeed have confirmed what happened was not done with love but with a cold heart. But in most cases, you will have successfully separated what you did not like about what happened from the fear that your relationship and future are in jeopardy. And now you can work to fix what upset you without lashing out at someone who loves you.

August 22, 2010

When Do You Feel Most in Love?

When do you feel most in love? When do you look into the eyes of your mate and melt? When do you feel so lucky to be loved by this man or woman that you could just float up off the ground? What floods you with warmth and a sense of security or a desire to protect this one special person?

Is it when you are fed and pampered? When you receive an especially thoughtful gift? During lovemaking? After you have been especially emotional? When you spend a day together without work intruding? When you make something for your special guy or gal? As you come off a dance floor? When you finish painting a room or installing a faucet together?

Have you got it? Do you have a picture in your mind right now of what is true when this magnificent feeling washes over you? Grab a card, your cell phone, or your netbook and write down three ways you could help create this sort of moment or better recognize one is on its way. May you rediscover it many times over the next 15 years.

How about sharing your list here in the comments? You just might give someone else the key to a loving moment, a long-lasting, wonderful memory.

July 24, 2010

Communication Problems in Marriage

Lots of folks seem convinced the biggest cause of unhappy marriages is poor communication.

They may be right, except that they try to solve the problem by saying more or demanding their mate answer their accusations.

Say you start off with the wrong assumption. For example, you mistake grumpiness for criticism because, like so many of us, you're expecting someone who promised to love you for the rest of your life to constantly check you for imperfections. Even before you utter a word, your face or the way you set your shoulders conveys your hurt or your anger.

Talk now, and you dig your hole deeper. Instead, assume love. Don't pretend love, ignore your pain, and paste a phony smile on your face. Really try out the assumption that your spouse still adores you, and ask what circumstances could lead to this sort of grumpiness toward the person he or she adores. Nine times out of ten, you will remember or spot the cause as soon as you look: a cold, a worry about work, an unwanted and urgent chore, a lack of sleep, a dog puddle three steps ahead. You didn't see it before because that's the way the human brain works; when you're upset, it looks only for more threats to you. But you can change this just by switching assumptions.

Now, if you care to communicate, you might want to use your husband's or wife's main love language. Communicate with an arm around the shoulder, with an offer of assistance, or with a reminder of how much you admire and love this person you married.

If this is that one time out of ten when you cannot spot an obvious reason for the distressing behavior, the softening of your eyes and lowering of your shoulders will communicate a lot before you gently ask what's up. And even if you were right about the criticism, you may find it's gone in a flash of compassion and love. And you two can talk about something more interesting.

June 25, 2010

It's the Thought that Counts

It's the thought that counts. The thought can make your marriage happy or miserable.

  • Miserable: Another freakin' hike through the wildflower preserve, just to keep her in a decent mood.
    Happy: Feels good to have her hand in mine. I don't know what she sees in this place, but look at that happy crinkle in her eyes. I think I'll kiss her every time we pass a black-eyed Susan today.
  • Miserable: He's impossible to shop for. Guess I'll just grab a gift card and call it done.
    Happy: I really don't enjoy shopping for gifts for him, and he seldom appreciates what I buy. I think this year I will invite him to an evening picnic on the beach, like we did in college.
  • Miserable: I'm as tired as she is, and I'm cooking dinner. It won't be done for an hour, and she's just sitting there watching TV instead of getting the bills paid.
    Happy: Gee, I love cracking eggs. Have since I was six. Never broke a yolk yet. Maybe I should make an angel food cake this weekend.
Same circumstances. Different thought. Different marriage. Tell me about a time you changed your thoughts and fell back in love.

April 30, 2010

Assume Love for Marketers and Business Owners

Seth Godin says this morning to his huge tribe of business owners and marketers:

"The next time you're sure someone is angry with you, perhaps it's worth considering that you might be mistaken."

It is, whether it's a business contact or a spouse.

But how do you tell if you're mistaken? You start from an assumption about the person and test their behavior against this assumption, instead of testing it against your lizard brain's assumption that you're always at risk.

For business contacts, you can safely assume they have many, many contacts and plenty of stuff going on besides your momentary interaction. When they need you to know they are angry, they will pay attention to you and their anger.

For husbands, wives, and life partners, you can safely assume they love you. Fear of losing you will likely accompany any anger they cannot express directly. Quietly ignoring you, unless repeated multiple times, probably indicates trust and distraction, not anger.

All Men are Dogs

I love Wray Herbert's blog, We're Only Human, and one of his recent posts has me thinking.

Citing Claude M. Steele's research on stereotypes, he writes:

"Steele's unique contribution is taking us inside the mind of the stereotype victim, and it's not a pretty sight. When we're unnerved by an unsavory caricature, our minds race; we're vigilant; we're arguing internally against the stereotype; denying its relevance; disparaging anyone who would use such a stereotype; pitying ourselves; trying to be stoic....We've channeled our limited cognitive power into dealing with the threatening caricature."

Steele and Herbert concern themselves with the effects on academic and sports performance. But what about in our bedrooms and our living rooms? What harm is done when we share our stereotypes, or even just pass along our friends' beliefs or joke once too often about a cultural stereotype:

  • Once a cheater, always a cheater.

  • All men are dogs and care only about sex.

  • Women are a ball and chain.

  • Gay men are effeminate.

  • Lesbian women are pushy.

  • Every marriage has a 50% chance of failing.

  • Women want men just for their money.

By allowing these stereotypes about people like our partners, are we perhaps robbing our partners of their ability to think clearly of ways to handle our shared problems, to be fully engaged in sex, and to be fully present and loving with us?

I suspect so. And I'm sure I am guilty of robbing myself of some of the joy of having a loving life partner by letting stereotypes about married men into our conversations. No more!

What's your take on Wray Herbert's post and Claude M. Steele's research? Could it be affecting your relationship, too?

March 2, 2010

What Else Seinfeld's The Marriage Ref Gets Wrong

Tom Papa, "The Marriage Ref" on Jerry Seinfeld's show by this name, is definitely no marriage educator. He's a comedian, and a lot funnier than I will ever be. So he's going to make jokes about marriage issues. And I am going to ask, "How could these people enjoy being married a bit more?"

Earlier, I talked about the folks on the teaser episode who argued over a stripper pole. Today, let's consider the other couple. She hated his dog, who predated her in his life. He had the dog stuffed after it died and wanted to put it right in the middle of their home. She was creeped out.

She won the prize for meanest blow of the night, saying the day the dog died was the happiest day of her life. He adored the dog, but it had destroyed eight sofas and even peed on their guests.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say the day he showed her the stuffed dog at the taxidermist's studio wasn't the first time they disagreed about this dog. What if he heard (or saw in her face) her pleasure in his beloved pet's death?

He probably felt the sting of her dismissal of his pain, her failure to appreciate what he had lost. What if he had, right then, tried the Assume Love technique? What if he had made a genuine effort to imagine what might drive a good woman who loved him to take pleasure in what caused him so much pain?

This is the right time to use the technique, when you're in pain or angry over something your spouse does or fails to do. The goal is stop your pain or anger from narrowing your thinking so you recall what else you already know that would help you understand the situation more clearly.

I don't know these people or live inside their heads. This is why only he could do this. But I expect he would realize pretty quickly that a loving person doesn't mock a loved one's tragedy just for sport. Her lack of compassion had to come from some deep wound of her own. He might then have remembered he loved the dog before he loved her and he defended the dog even when she expressed outrage over the furniture and the guest-spraying.

Now, maybe she no longer loves her. Maybe she has no morals or manners. But if you assume she's a woman of character who loves him, the most likely explanation for her behavior is jealousy, the fear that she did not matter to him as much as the dog did.

He might have thought her silly to feel such jealousy, but if he assumed love when she failed him in his moment of grief, he could have seen the jealousy. And then, if he really wanted to keep his stuffed dog, he might have recognized the best way to do so would be to first make it very clear she has no reason to be jealous.

This means making a bigger fuss over her than the dog. It means involving her in the decision about the role the dog plays in their home. It means not blindsiding her with his choice to stuff the dog. It means acknowledging her importance to him, so she can feel free to support him in his grief without feeling like she's being asked to keep his mistress's funeral urn in her home.

He probably could have kept his stuffed dog where he could see the dog daily, and gotten her empathy for his loss. Instead, he got an unresolved disagreement that drives a wedge between them.

She could have assumed love, too, whenever she was angry at the dog while it was alive or when she was angry at him for stuffing it. She could have stopped her jealousy on her own long ago and felt a lot better. I chose him for today's episode because, in addition to wanting to feel great about his marriage, he also wanted her approval for his dog memorial plan.

I don't imagine it would make great TV, but I think stopping the pain and anger and disagreements in a marriage is a lot more worthwhile than letting people know whether they are right or wrong when they disagree with their mates.

What's your take on this?

February 28, 2010

Seinfeld Turns "Tell Me My Spouse is Awful" Game into a TV Show

UPDATE: It was as bad as expected (maybe worse, thanks to replaying the meanest two things said in each episode) and unfunny to boot.

Tonight's the night. Jerry Seinfeld's new Marriage Ref show debuts right after the Olympics closing ceremonies. It's the "Tell Me My Spouse is Awful" Game for others' amusement.

You know the game. Someone comes into the office or runs into you at the supermarket and wants your opinion on just how dreadful their mate is. Their spouse or life partner wants something or claims something is true. They disagree. You are asked to take sides. Right there, right away, with just one of the parties in front of you, in obvious pain.

You are asked to confirm their usually unjustified belief that the two possibilities laid in front of you are the only possible options for them, so this friend or colleague can feel justified in his or her anger or, worse yet, doomed to a painful marriage. If you refuse, you leave this sad or angry person even more so. If you play along, long after they make up, you are left with a negative impression of their mate.

But you will have lessened the chances of them making up just by playing along. Because you will have reinforced their fear that these two unacceptable choices are the only ones available to them.

Let me give you an example provided by NBC, courtesy of Access Atlanta columnist Rodney Ho.

He wants a stripper pole in the bedroom. He won't be the one dancing on it. He plans to tell their four kids (at least the two young enough to fall for it if they don't hear about this episode at school) that it's mommy's exercise pole. She does not want a permanent reminder of the things she's willing to do while playing in the bedroom.

If you've been reading this blog for any time at all, you already have thought of at least one obvious Third Alternative that might make both of them happy, like a private hotel room with a pole. Might even look a lot sexier than the $150 pole he's thinking of planting in their bedroom. And it might get a much sexier dance out of her, minus the embarrassment of his asking her mother to side with him on this.

Instead, a group of comedians will crack jokes about their dispute, cement it into a permanent either-or, him vs. her issue for them. Comedian Tom Papa will let them know who wins. (Their relationship always loses.)

If you're interested in the success of your marriage, and you still want to watch the show for the laughs, do it with a notebook on hand. Listen to what the spouses say they like or don't like about the two options and jot down two or three Third Alternatives for them. Your notebook could be invaluable if you and your spouse ever find yourselves in the middle of the same dispute.

February 14, 2010

More Romance in My Marriage, Please

Happy Valentine's Day, and thank you for this fourth anniversary of the Asssume Love blog. It wouldn't be any fun at all without you. If you've been lurking, I hope you will say hi in the comments on this anniversary of ours.

Today's topic is, of course, romance. When it gets this much advertising, this much aisle space in almost every store, you would think every husband in America would know exactly what to do today.

So why didn't your husband get you that luxury car with the bow on top and a box of chocolates on the leather passenger's seat? Or at least write you an original song and sing it for you while strumming his ukele in front of a roaring fire?

If you're feeling let down today, let's try this. It might keep you from doing something to him that you will regret.

First, Assume Love. Assume for the moment that whatever he did or did not do today was done with as much love as he's ever had for you. For those of you really smarting today, let's also assume you were not blinded by love when you saw all those great qualities in him, but that you are blinded by something else if you don't see them still.

Let's be clear. I do not want you to act as if this is true. I want you to just try on the idea for a what-if experiment.

What if all this is true? How might it explain your not getting taken out to dinner tonight? Or your receiving a new ironing board today instead of those flowers you thought all wives should get? Or my husband offering just a kiss and a hug to celebrate the day?

Option 1. (You should always consider this one first.) He has no idea you might be expecting some hint of romance today or that you believe romance is for married people, too. If you have ever whined at or insulted him about this in the past, mentioned gifts your friends received from their guys, or made a huge fuss over a past Valentine's Day treat, this is not your explanation. But if you are newlyweds or never said a thing about past unromantic Februaries, you might want to clue him in, even invite him to take advantage of the half-price sales tomorrow.

Option 2. (Another one you should always consider.) He doesn't know it's Valentine's Day. If he's involved in a Mardi Gras Krewe, the America's Cup Race, or the Olympics, he could forget the chocolates, even if he loves you very much and wants you to feel adored. Same goes if he's caring for a dying brother or trying to make sense of a recent diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. Or if he's suffering dementia.

Option 3. He knows you like to be fussed over and he knows today is the day, but he still sees romance as what you do to persuade a woman to love you. To show it now, after he has promised you everything he's got and received your promise to love him for richer or poorer, would expose his vulnerable soft underbelly, his fear that it's all still temporary and must be earned again and again. This is especially possible if he loves you, but you have threatened recently to leave him or have dismissed him publically as someone you have to look after like a child.

Option 4. He wants to shower you with romance, but nothing he can afford, nothing he knows how to do, seems like enough for the woman he adores. He thought by now he would be able to afford to give you something monstrously expensive. Or he shopped for days, but never found anything remotely good enough for you.

Option 5. He's frugal. He does not equate money with love. In fact, he feels most loving when he's protecting your financial future. And he expects you will gratefully receive that gift right along with the simple card or small box of candy.

You know this man, and there may be other explanations for why his way of loving you is to skip Valentine's Day or deliver less romance than you hoped for.

Of course, if he's vicious, showing you what he got his mistress for Valentine's Day or giving you a box of chocolates with the warning that he's put rat poison in two of the pieces, our what-if is over almost before it starts. Loving people don't do these things. They wouldn't even stand by quietly if they saw a stranger doing such things. There is no loving explanation for such behavior

But there are loving explanations for a lot of non-romantic Valentine's Day acts.

Second, Expect Love. I didn't ask you to go looking for loving explanations of an approach to Valentine's Day that upsets you so that I could talk you into settling for whatever crumbs you can get. I did it to help you check if you might have overlooked some of the love you were offered today, love that just happened to get in the way of playing along with Valentine's Day customs.

I think it is perfectly sane to expect love from your husband. But it is a mistake to expect it to show up in any particular shape or form. Looking for it in one place will lead you to overlook it in all the other places. And pouting at your husband because his love did not assume a romantic form is likely to keep the rest of his love for you under his hat.

Use what you discovered from assuming love to shine a flashlight into some of the corners of your marriage and see if there are bits of love you haven't yet enjoyed or thanked your guy for. What can you afford because of his frugality? Has he offered massage or kisses and hugs instead of searching for the perfect gift? Has he been creative in coming up with things to do together, instead of songs to sing you? Has he made every day a little bit romantic instead of making this one overly so?

Third, Find Third Alternatives. You tell him you want flowers, but something (maybe even his way of expressing love) keeps him from buying them for you. Could you enjoy flowers you buy for yourself? If not, it's not the flowers that matter. Is it the time it takes to stop and buy them? Is it having the money spent on you instead of something else? Is it the message you would assume flowers convey? Once you know the specs for what you're looking for, convey those, instead of asking for "a little romantic gesture" or "a bouquet of flowers if it wouldn't kill you."

You can do the same with any other sign of romance you are hoping for. You can also do it with whatever measures of love he's using that you are failing to deliver to him, because we all feel a lot more generous when we feel safe, loved, and respected.

Do say hi, please, in today's fourth anniversary comments. Let us know if your husband delighted you on Valentine's Day or if you found these steps helpful or if you are a husband or a life partner and have an opinion on this. Or send some virtual fruit, and we'll mix fourth anniversary tradition with today's technology. Thanks for reading!

February 2, 2010

Prescription for a Happy Marriage

Prescription for an Unhappy Marriage

  • Keep checking if you are loved, if you are respected

  • Keep checking whether you are getting all you expected

Prescription for a Happy Marriage

  • Keep checking if you are overlooking loving acts or signs of respect

  • Keep checking whether you are getting goodness you never expected

Simple, no?

January 29, 2010

Prepare Your Daughter to Marry Well

Are you one of those parents who did not have great role models for marriage as you were growing up? Did you have to discover some of the skills for sustaining an intimate relationship on your own? Me, too.

And as you know if you have read my Author page, it took a huge whack upside the head for me to catch on.

So, what would I teach a daughter if I had one still in middle school or high school now, whether straight or Lesbian? Here are some of the key things:

You do not need to teach any of these as marriage lessons. You can teach them to look for Third Alternatives in their disputes with siblings or friends. You can teach them how to build a support network and reach out to it for ideas on meeting all their needs. You can teach them that fair is something to be negotiated, not unilaterally decided. You can teach them to test other assumptions when looking to explain a distressing interaction with anyone. And you can encourage a growth mindset, rather than a fixed one.

As a grandmother of two, I can tell you the benefits of having a happily married child and an open, unthreatened relationship with your grandkids' other parent make it worth whatever extra effort it takes.

December 21, 2009

If I'm Not the One Thing You Can't Stand to Lose...

Reba McEntire's hit song Consider Me Gone expresses a feeling many of us have experienced in our relationships. "If I'm not the one thing you can't stand to lose...consider me gone." Feeling unimportant to someone we love and want in our life is intolerable. Our natural first impulse is to run.

Yet, when I listen to this song, I don't hear a woman who has fallen in love first and realizes she's hoping for more than she's likely to get, someone who might do well to run. I hear a woman who has made a commitment to a life partner or created a lifelong bond by giving birth to a child together, a woman in intense pain who wants most to hold onto a loving bond.

"Consider me gone" may be intended to get a declaration of love from someone who doesn't want her to go, but it's more likely to set off the same horrible fear that her partner is not the one thing she can't stand to lose.

To her, I want to yell, "Assume love! Before you let fear take over your senses, try out the idea that what's got you worried is not lost love at all, but fearful love or even full-out, committed love being expressed in a way you're not familiar with."

An example: when I am very busy, away from home a lot, working when I'm there, my husband figures the best way to show his love is to keep himself busy and out of the way. I come dashing into the house thinking, "Oh, finally, a chance to spend some time with him," and he's so deeply involved in something that I cannot get his attention. And I never fail to feel rejected, unimportant to him — until I Assume Love and try looking at his actions as an act of love.

Then I smile, instead of running off to another room and pouting while I busy myself with something I don't really want to be doing. Maybe he doesn't care that I'm available, but maybe — more likely — he's being helpful, because my entrance wasn't any different from the last few, when I had 40 minutes to get something important done and run out again.

Gently, by joining in whatever he's doing or by quietly kissing the top of his head while he works, I make it clear this entrance of mine is different. My fear drains away. He smiles as he catches on, and he lets me know how soon he'll be done, or he welcomes me into whatever he's doing. Neither of us worries the other is going or good as gone. Life is very, very sweet. I like being married, and I love the calm that assuming love brings us.

December 3, 2009

7 Ways to Get the Sort of Gifts You Love

For those who don't get excited about receiving gifts, giving them can be a chore. Worse yet, gift-giving can become a no-win trap, one in which they are certain to disappoint someone who matters a lot to them.

Here are seven ways to have more fun this month if you love giving and receiving gifts but your spouse doesn't:

  1. Create a wish list and make it easy for your mate to find.

  2. Find a designated shopper your spouse can turn to.

  3. Invite your spouse to gift wrap an invitation to something he or she would like to do with you.

  4. Cultivate friends who share your love of gifts and find a different tradition to share with your partner.

  5. Wrap up a few things you would love and let your spouse choose which to give you when.

  6. Pick something you always love that your husband or wife can give you ever year, like Godiva chocolates or your favorite fragrance.

  7. Encourage your beloved to create coupons you can exchange for help with your computer, car, housework, or errands.

What's the most unusual gift you've ever received from your mate?

November 30, 2009

An Unexpected Lesson in Making Love Last

My preschooler nephew provided an unexpected reminder on Thanksgiving of how to make love last. After dinner, he helped decorate the Christmas tree, then announced we should all gather around it to sing, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

He grabbed me and said, "Aunt Patty, let's get the books!" I was surprised anyone keeps a set of Christmas carol song books in their home, but I followed him. He began pulling not song books but finance texts off the shelf and handing them to me, one for each of the Thanksgiving guests, the rest of whom ranged in age from 39 to 82.

It took me a moment to realize that, seen through the eyes of a non-reader, the subject of the books was irrelevant to the holiday experience. Carolers hold books open while they sing, and we could, too. If I knew the books held something other than the words to songs we all knew, my knowledge was irrelevant. Sharing it right now would be mean.

Everyone else caught on quickly and opened a book while my brother-in-law captured all of us on video, singing around the Christmas tree, looking just like his son expected we ought to look. And you know what? It was a lot more fun with the props, once we turned off our own stories about what qualifies as a song book or how you ought to use one.

Sometimes we forget that all of us see the world through our own abilities and mental images. When asked to participate in any meaningful activity, we would do well to try to see what we're asked to do through the eyes of the person asking, and turn off our knee-jerk criticisms to focus on what's truly important.

Have you ever caught yourself just before sharing irrelevant information that might ruin an important moment with your spouse or child? I would love to hear your story.

October 6, 2009

Why Assume Love and Expect Love? For Your Own Happiness

This blog gets cross-posted in my Facebook Notes, where I was asked an interesting question this morning (well, morning for me, afternoon for David, who asked):

Hey Patty, I get Assume Love, but what about expect love. Isn't that the opposite? Assume love is taking the onus on yourself while expect love is waiting for someone else to give it. Or am I reading too much into this?

This is such a great question that it deserves its own blog post. Neither Assume Love nor Expect Love is about your spouse. Both are things you can do for yourself to enjoy being married more.

I recommend you Assume Love whenever you get upset by your mate's behavior. It's not taking the onus on yourself. You do it to regain control over your emotions before they mislead you.

Because whatever happened looked at first glance like something scary, your overly helpful brain will jump into action and make sure you pay attention only to whatever danger you might be in. It will deliberately cause you to ignore a lot of others things you know or could see if your brain didn't smell danger.

Let's say you catch your spouse on the phone whispering, "I'll have to call you back" and quickly hiding the phone. Secretive behavior by your spouse is at first glance pretty scary. Within a split second, your brain chemistry will have you checking over recent events for other signs of an affair. It will have you scrutinizing your mate's face for clues.

If you Assume Love—just choose to believe those wedding promises long enough to check this out and ask yourself why a good, loving person might behave this way—you have a chance of recalling your anniversary or birthday is a week away. Or you two are on your way out, and you blew up at your spouse the last time you went out for continuing a phone call with her sister that made you late.

Assume Love does not ever mean Pretend Love, in which you tell your brain to just shut up about the fear so you avoid offending your mate. If you just Pretend Love, you won't get the relief of discovering everything's actually just fine.

Expect Love is all about your state of mind, too. This person married you. He or she brought a whole bunch of impressive qualities into your life, then promised to continue sharing them through thick and thin. It is perfectly reasonable to expect you will receive lots of love.

Then you make yourself miserable. You make up stories about what package this love will come in. If you're not aware of your stories, they usually begin not with "once upon a time" but with "if you loved me." If you loved me, you wouldn't have spent that money. If you loved me, you'd show up on time. If you loved me, you wouldn't ask me to do that. If you loved me, you would help me with this right now.

Every one of those stories prevents you from seeing the love you are offered. Every one of those stories keeps you tapping your toe, waiting to be loved, when you already are. Every one of them makes your spouse wonder just what it would take to convince you of his or her love—and whether it's still worth trying.

When you Expect Love, you don't put any onus on your spouse. Instead, you remind yourself to quit looking in all the wrong places and blaming your spouse when you find no love there. Showing you love is not a chore. It's one of life's greatest delights. What is unbearable is showing love and getting blame in return. You offer your mate a great gift when you Expect Love, even though you do it to make yourself happier. So Expect Love. Please.

September 20, 2009

My Husband Made Me Eat It!

My Husband Made Me Eat It is my new column for married folks trying to maintain weight loss, like me.

Second Helping logoIt's part of a fantastic web site filled with great tips and advice for anyone losing weight or keeping it off,

Check out recipes like Turkey Burgers Garnished with Chopped Roasted Shallot, Catalan Mushrooms, and Maple Molasses Chipotle Ketchup or easy-on-the calories treats like Grilled Figs with Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Bruschetta.

I'll leave it to Russ and Kevin to tempt you with delicious food you can safely eat. My column's about what happens to couples when one or both of you aim to watch your weight and stay fit. I need your input to keep it real. Tell me about the eating and exercising challenges you've faced as part of a couple, what's worked for you, and what hasn't.

September 12, 2009

I Want You to Show Me

A lucky few grow up able to see what love is and how their parents love each other, growing better at it every year. But most of us don't. We go into marriage with something like the Foreigner song lyric lurking in our heads: "I wanna know what love is; I want you to show me."

We meet a good man or woman, discover love, and marry. At first, we're fine. We feel so loved. We give love freely. Some of our attempts miss their target, but most are well-received. We feel confident this could last a lifetime.

And then we get angry or hurt or frightened, and we're not sure. We return to the old questions. How can I get more love? Is there something I should be doing to get him (or her) to love me? There are lots of books, lots of magazine articles, lots of friends with advice. Some will even assure us it's normal to feel abandoned at times. We just have to "work at it."

Usually, though, "working at it" doesn't help, because the problem is not how we love them. It's not even how they love us. It's how much love we are able to receive and how much we block out. Unless we are offered no love at all, which is seldom the case, we can have plenty of love if we know how to let it in. And once we feel loved, most of us do a pretty good job of loving back.

So what we need to know is how to let love flow in, how to avoid shutting love out.

When we're alarmed by something they do, we can Assume Love and check to see if perhaps we're unnecessarily alarmed and just being loved in an unfamiliar way.

If we feel something's missing, we can Expect Love and let go of expecting it will come in a particular package. Rather than divorce and meet our own needs, we can meet our own needs and stick around to see what other surprising forms love will take.

When we disagree, we can seek to Find Third Alternatives instead of defending our initial idea of how to get what we want. We can get what we want AND give what they want. The this-or-that choices we see at first glance are seldom all we can choose among, and defending this (or that) shuts out love.

August 13, 2009

How Compatible Do Couples Need to Be?

When you're upset about any other part of life with your husband, wife, or life partner, it's likely you will start noticing your differences, too. How compatible do you need to be to keep the relationship going?

Compatibility has two sides: propriety and enthusiasms. Marry someone whose ideas of what's proper and what's not differ wildly from yours and you'll probably end up divorced. But few people leaving a pedophile or suicide cult leader would describe the reason as incompatibility.

Most who use the term refer to different enthusiams. One likes golf and the other wants to go sailing. One enjoys eating out, the other eating home-cooked meals. One watches TV and the other is always reading. One wants to raise kids and the other does not.

On this last item: if you already have kids, any differences over how to raise them have nothing at all to do with your relationship with each other. Stay married or get divorced and you will still need to deal with your different ideas about what's important for them. It's about your relationship with your kids now, and you can be sure they want you to really, really make an effort to like their other parent.

So let's get back to those differing enthusiams. How many do you need to share? None. There is almost always a third alternative to any two you choose to compare.

Here's how you find that third alternative, which I define as an option that each of you likes at least as much as you like the option your mate rejects.

Question 1: If you did the thing you enjoy doing and your mate doesn't, did it alone or with friends, would there still be enough time in your week to spend time together delighted with each other? Yes? Then stop trying to drag your spouse along.

Question 2: Is there any aspect of what your mate enjoys that relates to something you truly enjoy? Can you watch sci fi to appreciate the editor's or sound effects person's talents, instead of the screenwriter's? Can you use your time on the dance floor, even though you don't much enjoy dancing, to strengthen your softball or skiing muscles or to get ideas for characters to include in your novel? Enthusiasm for the dreaded activity may actually sneak up on you if you manage to have a good time while engaging in it. It happened to me with country music.

Question 3: What are some of the themes in your enthusiasms? Do you tend to enjoy things that involve a risk or thrill? Things that get you moving? Things that are intensely beautiful? Things that let you be generous or kind to others? Things with order or repetition? With your mate, brainstorm other options that share these qualities. You might find some new ones you will both enjoy together.

Question 4: If you have enough income or assets or skills that neither of you would need a sugar daddy or a room in your parents' home to survive a divorce, what would you do differently on your own? Be honest. Can't you do them right now, with this person who loves you? Can't you have separate homes or at least separate rooms in the house? Can't one of you travel and the other stay home? Can't one of you cook for your friends and family without requiring the other to play host or hostess or clean the house? Sometimes our image of what married folks do gets in the way of picturing the great life we could be living as a couple.

Let me know what you two have done to become more compatible. Or ask us all to help you find your own third alternative.

August 8, 2009

I Don't Love You Anymore

"I don't love you anymore." Those are really tough words to hear. Laura A. Munson's response to them is must-read stuff for anyone whose once-great marriage has hit a rocky patch in the road.

Munson's article in the NY Times is a great read. While she came to it down a different path, what she did is assume love. She asked herself why her husband would say those words if he still loved her. It took a lot of the horrible sting out of the words and showed her what she needed to do next.

It saved their marriage.

June 20, 2009

How Not to Kill Your Partner in Tough Times

Any stressful event, like moving, a child's illness, or a visit from relatives you don't both adore, provides plenty of opportunities for getting angry at your mate or sulking in resentment.

"Where are my keys?" you roar. Your partner sits in silence, unmoved. You expected help finding them. You're late, and you're under incredible stress, and a little help would be appreciated...

You assume love. It's a stretch. This feels like betrayal. "OK, what if this silence is the chosen behavior of a kind and generous partner of enormously high integrity who loves me deeply? How would I explain it?"

So, why does anyone choose silence when they feel love and are being asked for help? Could be because they don't realize the question is aimed at them. Not the case here, though. It's just the two of you.

Could be because they think the question is rhetorical. Might be worth checking to see if you're looking directly at your keys as you ask the question. No, they're not here.

Could be silence is the most loving of the options available under the circumstances. Is there some reason your spouse might be under so much stress that the choices are between saying something mean and saying nothing at all? Oh, yes, that's a pained, stressed-out expression. It's not that you're being offered no help. You're being spared from dealing with expressions of outrage from a mate whose stress level is over the top.

You know what's causing all this stress. It's affecting you, too. But why would asking about the keys add to it? Being helpful to a loved one is, after all, calming.

You could use some calming yourself, so you try being helpful: "Did I leave them somewhere I shouldn't have?"

"You did! You left them on the sink again. I know you know that's where I clean my contact lenses, and I really need to keep it sanitary, and I can't use the guest bathroom this week when I don't feel like cleaning up after you, and it's really, really important I avoid getting any infections right now!"

"That was thoughtless of me. But it wasn't intentional. It's a rough week, isn't it?"

"Your keys are on the dresser. Want me to drive you, so you won't have to take time to find a parking space?"

Ahh. Much better.

February 14, 2009

Tit for Tat

Tit for tat may make you happier for the moment, but always at the expense of your relationship. Falling in love made your heart sing, not because of what your beloved offered you, but because it made you want to offer so much more.

Happy Valentine's day! Be generous.

And thanks for three great years so far. Here's a post from that first Valentine's Day in 2006.

January 10, 2009

Assume Love, Stay Happily Married: a Podcast

Want to hear more about how to Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives? Listen to this podcast, in which I was interviewed by Lee Rosen of Stay Happily Married.

Hats off to Lee for doing so much to discourage business for his North Carolina divorce law practice, and for being a great interviewer.

December 15, 2008

Helping Your Disabled War Vet Spouse

Rachel Cornell wrote a powerful blog post last week for the wives, husbands, parents, and friends of disabled war vets.

A blind artist, author, and speaker, Rachel gets it. When your limb, your vision, your range of motion, or half your intestines are gone, you don't "put your life back together again" -- you build a new life. You don't "get things back to normal" -- normal, as Rachel says, is just a setting on a washing machine. And no therapy can "make you whole again" -- because it's your dreams that make you whole, not your arms, legs, eyes, or guts, and no injury can destroy those. In the aftermath, you hang onto the dreams and deal with the new obstacles, or you focus on the losses and lose the dreams.

If you're married to someone learning to go after his or her dreams with a body that can't do some of the things it could do before, it's going to throw some new obstacles in the path to your dreams, too. People are going to treat your spouse differently now. And it's going to affect you. Your spouse must handle many things differently now. It's going to affect how he or she handles your relationship, too.

Expect love. It won't -- it can't -- come in the same packages as before, but it will be there. Find other ways to get the other forms of help and support you need to follow your dreams.

Assume love. Don't jump to conclusions about the meaning of a harsh or discouraging word or a change in daily rituals. You've both got a lot of adjusting to do, and you're going to overadjust a few times before you get it right.

Look for third alternatives. Honor the dreams. Respect the efforts. Don't ever think your first idea or two is all you get to choose from. Build the new rituals, the new furniture layouts, the new traditions, the new chore-sharing arrangements that build the new life and move toward the lifelong dreams that make you both whole no matter what.

December 4, 2008

How to Talk to Your Spouse about Money

I was asked on Twitter this morning by author Susan Kuhn Frost how to talk to your spouse about money. It's a great question. In a word: gently.

Prepare yourself for the discussion by counting your blessings. When we feel any lack of resources tightening its grip on us, it's so tempting to pass the fears off to someone else, instead of laying them to rest. But do you really want to tighten the grip of fear around your husband's or wife's neck? Your spouse surely shares whatever lack of resources you are feeling right now. Do you really want to add shame or blame to this?

So count your blessings. If your spouse were to disappear from your life tomorrow, would you really be at less risk? That's not what happened to me when my first husband died suddenly. All your debts, all your obligations, all your hopes are yours alone. All your underage children's debts and obligations and hopes are yours alone, too. If you are lucky enough to have someone sharing them with you for now, focus on how fortunate you are, and not on how much more you could have if he or she made different choices.

Even if your spouse brings in no money at all, count your blessings if there are chores you don't need to do on top of earning an income, or problems you don't need to solve for your children or your parents or your home. Write out each one on paper and take time to savor it. Then add every thing your spouse has done that makes you feel good or at least less stressed, because these are helping you make the money and the choices you need to make right now.

Don't talk about money until you've thought about how truly rich you are. It will change your voice and your body language. And these will change your spouse's brain chemistry. They will decide whether your spouse stays calm and free to think of creative responses or must answer in spite of a flood of chemicals whose very purpose is to narrow the range of options the brain will consider. Which options? Those that have worked repeatedly in the past in the face of a threat, which may include such gems as walking out of the room, calling you names, belittling you, or bursting into tears, all mastered while still way too young to think of anything better.

Start from a keen awareness of how rich you are because you have love in your life and a partner through tough times. If you do, the rest of the money conversation is just brainstorming with someone you admire, trust, and love. Be honest about what you seek, so when you disagree about strategies, the two of you can find third alternatives that satisfy both your goals.

October 9, 2008

Marriage Tips

Someone asked me recently for marriage tips. Here are mine, in a nutshell:
Assume Love when upset, Expect Love when disappointed, Look for Third Alternatives in a dispute.

These three things will make any marriage more enjoyable.

August 25, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Today marks the anniversary of the day Ed and I married. With each year, our lives have been woven more tightly together. We've shared some incredible high points and held each other close through some very difficult moments. We've watched each other grow as individuals and ourselves grow as a couple.

It is this complexity, this richness, this history that I missed when my first marriage unaveled. Falling in love is grand, but it doesn't hold a candle to feeling love from and for a partner who is part of your life's fabric, someone who knows you.

It doesn't hurt that my Ed is a handsome, highly talented man with a deep and comforting voice and a vibrant love of life and living. But what makes our relationship so great, I think, is our shared willingness to see our many differences and disgreements as stepping stones to a fuller life, rather than a threat to life as we knew it before we met.

All we have to do is expect love and assume love, instead of always testing love.

July 12, 2008

Married? Busy? Take Your Spouse's Calls

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino says her predecessor, Tony Snow, "was the inspiration for her 2008 New Year's resolution, which was always to take her husband's telephone calls, no matter how busy she was at work," according to tomorrow's New York Times.

Tony Snow died today of colon cancer, at age 53, leaving a wife and three children it's evident he cared for deeply, and some great advice for all of us.

May 28, 2008

Marriage and the Risk of Divorce

Five years from now, you will be a different person. You will have different interests, different tastes, different challenges.

Date, live together, avoid commitment, and you'll be free to move on to a partner who shares your new interests, matches your new tastes, helps with your new challenges.

That's the choice of many who were exposed to unhappy marriages or divorce while growing up or whose own first marriage ended up in divorce.

I think there's a better choice. Commit -- not to a person who shares all your current interests or tastes, but to someone who shares your most important values. Don't just promise to stay -- invest in the relationship. Build wealth together. Invest in each other's dreams. Make each other's family your own. Tend to each other's health and wellbeing. Set some joint goals.

What's the payoff? The excitement of new interests and tastes introduced into your life by someone who shares your values, cares about you, loves to see you happy, and sees the world just a bit differently from you. The grounded feeling that comes from being intertwined and rooted as you grow, instead of being blown this way and that by people coming and going in your life. The security of support through your rough patches from someone who knows they will be just a small part of your time together. The warmth of doing the same for a loved one. The extra time and money freed up by working together instead of independently and self-protectively.

This is big. It's not just worth the risk of divorce; it's the antidote protecting you from divorce. You'll never get even a glimpse of what's possible as long as you're focused on your current needs or on keeping your exit easy if your needs are not met.

You know how to Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives now -- or you will as soon as you rummage through the archives here. You know how to take care of a marriage. You know how to avoid unmet needs, hurt feelings, and unnecessary anger or worry. You know you can't grow apart when you're growing together, when you're attuned to your spouse and your interests are changing in response to all of the wonderful new things this person brings into your life. You're all set to make the next five years fantastic ones.

And if kids enter your life, planned or unplanned, there's one more huge payoff. You get to offer them what you may never have had: a parent who loves and finds great happiness in the other most important person in their child's life.

May 26, 2008

Vinegar Hill

On Saturday evening, I watched the CBS made-for-TV movie, Vinegar Hill. I found myself yelling "Assume Love" at the screen many times.

The movie's based on an Oprah Book Club selection by A. Manette Ansay. It opens with a close-knit and cheery family of four packing up in Chicago to move in with his parents on their farm. Ellen and Jake have lost their jobs, and she'll be able to teach at their hometown school while he looks for something to let them get a place of their own again.

Almost instantly, their marriage and family start to crumble under the weight of his parents' unhappy marriage and their grief over his brother's recent death. Jake reverts to his childhood role as his father ridicules him and compares him to his dead brother. He fails to stand up for his wife against his mother's whining demands and his father's constant disapproval.

Ellen's in a mighty uncomfortable spot: no money, her kids exposed to their grandparents' awful role models, her husband withdrawing from her and behaving like a child. So what does she do? Does she Assume Love and recognize that the husband whose character was so upbeat, strong, cooperative, and loving a few days ago in Chicago must be under fierce pressure to change so much in just a day? No, she appears to assume he must not care much for her if he won't protect her from them, and so she turns to the old high school flame who still carries a torch for her.

When she realizes staying with his parents is tearing them apart, does she Expect Love, instead of one particular way of showing it? Does she recognize the situation is hers to deal with, whether he's there or not? Does she look for a way to get the four of them to a safer place if he can't make this one safe? Does she ask any of the old friends she's reconnecting with to help them find some other place to stay? Does she ask her mother, who lives in the area, but further from the school, to help them out? No. She makes it pretty clear this is her husband's problem to solve, and if he loves her, he'd better get on it.

When he's upset by her obvious dismay, does he Assume Love and see it's just the best she can do in the face of his bossy but timid mother and his angry father? Does he suggest they try to find a Third Alternative together? No, he takes off with their car for a make-believe sales job requiring he be on the road. When he stops to buy her a lingerie gift out of guilt, he ends up in a motel room with the sales clerk. When this makes him feel even more guilty, he hurries home, only to find she's with her old flame, his long-ago rival.

By now, I should not have been surprised neither of them could Assume Love and at least try to explain how a loving spouse could turn to someone else for comfort during a crisis like this. Instead, both seemed to leap to the conclusion everything they knew and loved about the other at the start of the movie had all been fake and what they saw now was the real Jake or Ellen. She leaves. He stays.

In the end, they come back together again, but it takes an incredible plot twist to get them there. In real life, they would have been on their way to divorce, even worse financial stresses for them and their kids, and perhaps, for him, a lifetime of replaying an unhappy childhood role.

If they told their stories later, anyone would have believed there was nothing else they could have done in such a stressful situation except divorce. But just maybe, if either of them would just Assume Love and try to explain their spouse's behavior as if it's possible the love and the admirable qualities seen as they packed their car were still there, they could have found their strength in each other and created a very different ending for this tale without all that dying and revelation of past crimes.

We're into another period with the possibility of severe financial stresses for lots of us. If it forces you and your loved ones into a really rotten situation, try to remember to Assume Love. And try to remember to draw on each others' strengths and love, instead of pretending they never really existed.

May 12, 2008

35th Wedding Anniversary

Today is the 35th anniversary of the day I got married. It was a gorgeous Spring day, and we married, surrounded by lilacs in bloom and our closest friends and relatives, in the garden behind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Cambridge home.

Would we still be married now, if I knew then to Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives? If we had been able to stay close through those tough times twelve and thirteen years after that happy day, would Rod still be alive? Did the stress contribute to his death?

I miss him, and I miss the model he would have continued to provide for our son and now for our daughter-in-law and grandchildren. He was an exceedingly gentle and peaceful man, and a man of exceptional intellect. He loved mathematics and understood it as few people do. He greatly valued learning and would surely have encouraged our son to complete his Ph.D. and not follow in my footsteps of leaving grad school. They would have spent many hours discussing philosophy together. I wonder if he would have taught our son and grandkids the poker strategies he wrote about as a master of the branch of mathematics known as game theory.

But it's hard to reflect on this great loss without immediately feeling the great love of my second husband, Ed. We've used what I learned in Rod's death to build the sort of marriage that helps both of us to thrive, to grow, and to feel wonderfully loved. I would not want to imagine life without Ed. He, too, is a great model, a smart, brave, generous man with a strong sense of craftsmanship in everything he does, and the ability to be totally present in whatever he does, without distraction. I can't imagine my life, or that of my son and his wife and children, without Ed in it.

I wish you much love in your life. If you're having trouble finding it, please write to me and let me help. You can use the Comments link. If it's personal, and you don't want it to appear here, just say so in your comment. Either way, I will write back.

April 10, 2008

Gottman Marriage Research Supports Assume Love, Expect Love

Long-term, stable marriages have at least five positive exchanges for each negative exchange. Drop below that, and you're in trouble. This comes from one of the best known marriage researchers, John Gottman. He has a remarkable track record of predicting the state of your marriage four years later based on watching only a 15-minute conversation about some problem the two of you face.

What does this say about where our attention is focused? It takes five smiles, agreements, shared laughs, head nods, or loving touches to make as big an impression as one critical remark, raised voice, or eye roll. We watch like hawks for the negative ones. The researchers watching the video replays watch for both.

Expect Love: Look harder for the positive ones, and it might take fewer to get you past the occasional negative. And when you notice a negative one, Assume Love and take a second look. You just might avoid sending the most important person in your life an unexpected and undeserved negative.

February 21, 2008

Radio Interview with Barbara Sher

On February 17th, I was interviewed on Barbara Sher's Live the Life You Love web radio show. Barbara is a wonderful interviewer, and the hour turned out to be great fun for me.

The interview is all about how to Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives and why these help us Enjoy Being Married.

To listen, click on the link above and look for the 2/17/2008 show. You can play it over the internet or download it to your MP3 player or iTunes. You may also want to subscribe to the entire series. Barbara and Matthew Pearl interview all sorts of interesting people.

February 4, 2008

When Marriage Crumbles

What an honor it is to walk into someone's life at just the right moment. I had a chance recently to talk about assuming love, expecting love, and looking for the third alternative with a woman ready to toss in the towel on her marriage.

Recent life events had created a lot of tension between her and her husband of twenty-plus years. Like me when I was 34 years old and frantic, she'd already written her version of the list. Thank goodness she hadn't presented it to him yet.

What's the list, you ask? It's all the things you ruminate about when life grows unpleasant and you desperately want your spouse to love you enough, respect you enough, cherish you enough, take care of you enough to make it all better. It's powered by a desperation to regain closeness, but it comes out like a laundry list of holes in your life you insist your husband or wife or life partner must fill. And it always ends with "or else."

Or, as she put it, "It's my way or the highway, buddy."

When she tried on the idea that he loves her fiercely and hasn't lost any of his best qualities, then tried to explain the upsetting incidents as if those things were not in question, she got it. Right away. She had known enough all along to find the path back to a close relationship, but her fears had shut out that knowledge. That's the power of assuming love.

Continue reading "When Marriage Crumbles" »

November 5, 2007

Three Tips for Getting the Most From Your Marriage

How to feel more loved every single day:

1 - Assume love.

When your spouse's or life partner's behavior upsets you, stop, assume for the moment he or she is still the same wonderful person and still loves you very much. Now try to explain how he or she might have done this if this is true. You'll stop your knee-jerk reactions long enough to see the situation a lot more clearly. It's too easy to overlook love when we go with our first impressions.

2 - Expect love.

Expect your mate to show you love in many different ways, but not necessarily in the particular ways you imagined you'd be loved. If you're watching for one way, you'll miss all the others.

3 - Seek the Third Alternative.

When one of you wants one thing and the other wants something else, don't argue about which to choose. Look for the third alternative. It's one that makes both of you at least as happy as you'd be with your first choice. Make it clear you want your spouse to have all that and more, just not at the expense of your own needs.

To find it, you'll need to know what you hope to get from your first choice and what you hope to avoid from his (or hers). Then you'll need to ask for the same guidance from your spouse. Once you know what you're looking for, start brainstorming. Don't waste any time arguing for your first choice, because it won't make both of you happy, and that's the goal for a lifelong marriage.

October 21, 2007

Feeling Loved When You're Expecting

The easiest way to feel unloved is to expect the wrong things. You live in a time and place when you can marry for love. You don't need a helpmeet to survive. You don't need to bolster your family's political position or status through marriage. You can choose to marry or not, and you can choose the person you marry.

So what should you expect when you marry for love? Love.

Continue reading "Feeling Loved When You're Expecting" »

October 12, 2007

Michelle Obama's Happy Marriage

If you, your spouse, and your kids are the only ones who care if your marriage is a happy one, count your blessings. Over a third (35%) of women in a September 2007 Ladies Home Journal survey said their vote for president in 2008 would be influenced at least somewhat by how happy they thought the candidate's marriage was.

Coming in second in perceived marital happiness, right behind John Edwards, whose wife supports his candidacy despite her own grave medical problems, was Barack Obama.

That happiness comes both from how much each loves the other and from how much love each is capable of receiving. Michelle Obama gets it. In 2000, she was furious about getting stuck with all the parenting responsibilities while he ran for Congress. And then she wasn't. From the November issue of O, the Oprah Magazine:
"'The big thing I figured out,' she says, 'was that I was pushing to make Barack be something I wanted him to be for me. I believed that if only he were around more often, everything would be better. So I was depending on him to make me happy. Except it didn't have anything to do with him. I needed support. I didn't necessarily need it from Barack.'"

Like the rest of us, when she quit being angry about what she wasn't getting, she got more. She started going to the gym before dawn. When she came home, he would have the girls up and fed before he started his day on the campaign trail. Looks like the 43% who believe theirs is a happy marriage are right.

April 30, 2007

The Hard Work of Marriage?

Lots of folks say a good marriage requires a lot of hard work. I disagree.

The hard work comes in when we struggle to provide a spouse with more love by stretching our abilitiies at loving and going beyond what we feel like giving. I applaud the effort, and it's saved lots of marriages, but I think there's an easier route.

Those newly in love also stretch to do more, learn new ways to love, find a few extra hours a week to outdo themselves at loving, but they never describe it as hard work. What's the difference?

Continue reading "The Hard Work of Marriage?" »

April 8, 2007

When Only One Partner Assumes Love

My friend Tammy from Creating Success Stories sent me some questions this week about my advice to Assume Love. I'm going to answer one at a time.

What do you suggest for a couple where only one partner is willing to "assume love"?

This is the marvelous thing about assuming love -- it doesn't take two. One person can change the marriage. And this approach most benefits the one who assumes love.

Let me explain why this is true, because so many approaches to a better marriage really do require both partners to make it work.

Continue reading "When Only One Partner Assumes Love" »

March 14, 2007

Receiving Love

Most relationship research, therapy, and coaching focuses on how to give love. It assumes if we give more love, more respect, more kind words, more of our undivided attention, more help, more nurturing, we will receive more in return. For most couples, this is true.

However, giving more to get more can feel like work, hence the common wisdom that a good marriage requires hard work. Giving more because you've already received more feels joyful.

Is it possible to receive more before you give more? In most marriages, yes.

Continue reading "Receiving Love" »

October 3, 2006

Scheduling Spontaneity

Many men and women report that they miss the spontaneity of their dating years and even the early years of their marriages. But when they look for an explanation, they often come to the conclusion their spouse has changed or perhaps was faking an interest in spontaneity back then. When they assume love, they can see another possibility.

Continue reading "Scheduling Spontaneity" »

August 31, 2006

Assume Nothing?

Folks often advise us to assume nothing. Take nothing for granted. Keep your mind open. Prepare for every possibility. Don't be disappointed when things don't go the way you think they should go.

Good advice. Except that life would be darn difficult without any assumptions. We'd need to be constantly on guard against danger if we couldn't assume what looks like a chair really is a chair and what nourished us yesterday will nourish us today. And we couldn't assume love.

Continue reading "Assume Nothing?" »

July 17, 2006

Round Up the Usual Suspects

If your wife treats you like part of the furniture or can't stop telling you how to earn more money, if your husband drives you nuts with his insensitive comments or misplaced laundry, it's time to round up the usual suspects.

Continue reading "Round Up the Usual Suspects" »

April 7, 2006

The "Isn't My Spouse Awful" Game?

Before I started assuming love, I engaged in the very popular "Isn't my spouse awful?" game, as both instigator and player. To get it started, you ask your sister or people at work, or maybe even the stranger seated next to you on the bus, to confirm that there's something terribly wrong with your spouse. You plead with them to agree that you've married someone who's just plain wrong. Wrong about angels. Wrong about blue-green algae. Wrong about whether the right color ribbon is worth a two-hour drive. Wrong about evolution. Wrong about who ought to be elected. Wrong about what does and doesn't belong in a living room. Wrong about the value of television. Wrong about how to when to ask for a raise. Wrong about teal blue. Wrong about who's right and who's wrong.

Continue reading "The "Isn't My Spouse Awful" Game?" »

February 24, 2006

When Will You Be Home?

When KT married Ben last year, she loved to get a call from him during her workday. She'd look forward to 5:30, when she'd arrive home to a big hug and a huge smile. With her new job, she can't count on leaving as early. She's often rushing to get out of the office, then racing through traffic only to get home closer to 6:00, when she gets only Ben's icy greeting from the sofa.

Today, she returned from lunch to an urgent request from her boss. She's offered to take KT to lunch tomorrow if she completes the task by the close of business, a first in her two months here. KT's in a mad rush to finish in time when Ben calls.

As she reaches for the phone and sees his number, KT's asking herself, "Is he checking up on me again? Why can't he see that it's the job that makes me late? Why does this matter so much to him? Why is he so insecure and childish? Why can't he be happy to see me whenever I come home? I feel like he's got me on a short leash, and so does my job. He's wrecking my career chances!" No matter what Ben says now, KT will not hear any love in it.

Continue reading "When Will You Be Home?" »

February 14, 2006

Three Approaches to Feeling More Loved

Almost all of us crave love. A few seem to get by without it, and a few more claim unconvincingly to do without, but most of us will twist ourselves into knots to be loved. Married folks who don't feel loved enough can really feel deprived.

I've noticed that when we crave more love from a spouse, we have only three choices. The first one many of us try is what I'd call foot-tapping, waiting for your unloving mate to get with the program. You drop hints that you're not getting enough, that your beloved doesn't measure up, you nag, you beg. You tap your foot and wait. Maybe you even drag your spouse off to a relationship therapist or marriage workshop, hoping that a professional will make it clear that you deserve better than this.

If you're more action-oriented (or reading most relationship advice), you listen better, write poems for your beloved, cook your mate's favorite meals, go to that unbearable opera or rugby match together, stop criticizing, offer spontaneous back rubs, buy that sexy new bedtime outfit, show up with flowers between Valentine's Days. Surely, if you shower your spouse with love, more will flow back to you. You "fill your emotional bank account" so that you can start making some big withdrawals. But it's no more fun than making your IRA deposits. You're not giving love; you're investing it.

Maybe you've even swung back and forth between these two approaches--doing, doing, doing, then tapping, tapping, tapping. Perhaps it's even gone so far that you've begun threatening to leave if you don't start feeling more loved real soon. Threats, of course, produce more resentment than love.

Assume Love offers another approach. Before you ask for more love, you can try to receive more of the love your spouse already gives. Maybe there's already enough there to make offering more love in return a joy instead of hard work.

Four Steps to Assume Love

Here's how you Assume Love. Consider doing it 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:

  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.

Here's an example...

Continue reading "Four Steps to Assume Love" »

Don't Pretend Love

You Assume Love when you take a second look at what your spouse or life partner does as if you are well-loved.

You Pretend Love when you act as if you're loved even though you don't believe it.

When you Assume Love, you give yourself the chance to receive more love by looking beyond your instantaneous, gut-level reactions to events. You pay attention to what you know to be true. You stop yourself from jumping to conclusions. You do this for you, so that you don't miss any love being offered to you.

There's a good chance you'll notice love where you didn't see it before and want to show your spouse more appreciation as a result. That's great! But it's not required, and it probably won't happen every time. When it doesn't, pretending it did is not the solution.

The Author

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

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