Assume Love (TM): How to have a happier marriage without waiting for your spouse to change (daisy logo)


How to Expect Love

October 26, 2013

Sloppy Spouses

Sloppy is not really a lifestyle anyone aspires to. It just happens, usually while we're feeling down or while we're totally engaged with the rest of life.

Sloppy dressing, sloppy piles of unfinished business, sloppy storage of clothes and dishes awaiting washing can drive a more organized partner -- or one more attuned to physical beauty -- up the wall.

If you are that partner, please know that shaming is likely to do more harm than good. Focus on the effort:reward ratio instead.

If a clean desk delights you, the reward side of your ratio is probably higher than your mate's. If you tend to deal with each piece of mail, each note, each project, each sock right away, the effort side is surely lower, too.

To encourage your spouse, either decrease the effort level by setting up storage spaces that are handier and easier to use or increase the reward level by adding a basketball net over or a target in the storage space.

For sloppy clothing, consider gifts of clothes that fit better, go together better, look better, and share the comfort level of sweats or ancient tee shirts. Those will lower the effort level. Raise the reward level with compliments, hugs, or help removing those great-looking clothes at the end of the day.

And if you still need to pick up a few items to make the place look the way you like it, count your blessings while you do it. Think of one great thing about being loved, sharing a home, or being part of a family for each item you remove from where it does not belong.

November 12, 2012

I Wish My Spouse Would Assume Love

One thing greatly discouraged me about my training as a marriage educator. Most of the exercises and techniques were for becoming a better spouse. I see the same thing in most books about marriage.

When a person is unhappy with their marriage, becoming a better spouse is difficult and kind of risky. Will trying something new cause our partner to do anything that will make us any happier?

This is why, when we read a marriage book or learn a technique, we want to know how to get our spouses to read it or learn it, too. This is why people drag unwilling spouses to therapy and to classes. This is why I refused to get certified as a marriage therapist. "You first" is such a powerless way to deal with a problem.

So, I write about how to be a happy spouse, how to change your marriage without waiting for your guy or gal to read the book or try the new idea. And even so, I get comments that say, "If only my husband would Assume Love." Or "how do I get my wife to Expect Love instead of her long list of expectations?"

The answer? You don't. You Expect Love. You don't expect the person you married to read what you read or learn new skills as you learn them. You expect your beloved to show you love. And that's all you watch for, all you measure. You take delight in discovering a loving act you might have overlooked in the past. And you own your own needs, set your fair-share line at everything you would need to deal with for yourself if you had no partner, no love.

And please don't Expect Love because it's the virtuous or right thing to do. Expect Love because your marriage is a lot more fun, a lot less competitive, a lot less anxious, a lot more fulfilling when you Expect Love. And while you might want this for your wife or husband, too, you cannot give it. He or she must claim it. And that will happen when it happens.

In the meantime, watch for and savor all the love your mate can offer you now from inside whatever he or she currently sees as the story of your marriage, and return as much love as your grateful heart allows.

October 17, 2012

Three Ways to Feel More Respected

Here are three ways to notice a little more of the respect your spouse or life partner holds for you:

  1. Listen to what he or she reports to you about other couples. Negative comments about the abilities or reliability of friends' mates probably mean yours are more impressive to your mate.
  2. Look beyond the words. Sure, driving tips sound like your driving skills are not respected, but when offered by someone who voluntarily and repeatedly gets in the car as your passenger, they are more likely just an outlet for nervousness.
  3. When listening to a complaint or warning, mentally make a list of bigger things your spouse or partner does not complain or warn about. As I picked up a babysitter years ago, her mother yelled after her, "Don't run on the wet grass; you'll slip and fall!" She groused about being treated like a baby. I pointed out that she was going off to be responsible for another person's home and a child, alone away from her parents, and the only warning her mother felt she had to offer was don't slip on the grass. That's a huge degree of confidence.

October 5, 2012

Endearing You

Do you know what makes you endearing to your husband, wife, or life partner?

If you do, consider yourself extremely blessed. You know how to pull the two of you closer when you begin to drift apart. (And it's so very much not, "We need to have a talk.")

If you don't know what makes you endearing, why not make it your project for the month of October to find out? Think back to those days when you were falling in love. What sides of yourself did you reveal? What colors did you wear? What did you talk about? What did you eat? What words did you use? What did you do then that made you feel childlike, full of wonder and grace, free to play or pretend, alive and happy? What did you especially like about your mate? What did you say that got a big smile or a relaxed sigh? What gifts or favors or kind words did you offer up?

Try them all over the course of the month and rate each one on a scale from one to ten. If any get a 7 or better, try them again in a few days. If the score goes up or stays at 9 or 10, write it down in your little black book of ways to reconnect.

Expect love. Nobody doesn't like giving love. They just need to be reminded from time to time why they choose to save their love for you alone.

September 21, 2012

3 Things to Remember When Marriage Seems Hard

Think there's something terribly wrong with your non-abusive marriage? Change that thought before it ruins a perfectly good day.

  1. Divorce does not magically make money troubles go away. In fact, it usually increases your total expenses and makes it harder to earn what you earn. Marriage counseling also costs money and doesn't make more for you. And you don't need to divorce to stop enabling a spouse with an addiction to spending or gambling money you earn. If you've got a money problem, it's not a marriage problem.
  2. Developing any one strength means developing less of another strength. If your spouse has too little of some strength you value (sustaining a loving relationship, courage, integrity, creativity, optimism, perseverance, modesty, teamwork, gratitude, generosity, whatever), there's another strength you're not noticing. Use your own strengths to give yourself whatever is missing and enjoy what you're getting.
  3. Neither sex nor conversation become more enticing when you talk about their absence. Change the timing. Change the subject. Change the foreplay. Change the setting. You're the one with the motivation, which makes you the perfect choice to start the change.

September 18, 2012

Love Overlooked

Until a crisis erupts, it's pretty easy to overlook many of the ways your spouse or life partner shows love for you. Pay attention to them now, and the crisis may never erupt. Which of these have you been receiving without noticing them?

  • Trust for your driving, your fidelity while away from home, your care of the kids
  • Respect when talking about you to others, asking your advice, relying on you
  • Encouragement when you feel uncertain of your abilities
  • Congratulations on your successes
  • Affectionate words
  • Hugs and kisses
  • Attentive sex
  • Compliments
  • Unexpected gifts
  • Unexpected favors
  • Help with a difficult task
  • Conversations in which you learn or think or smile
  • Humor to brighten your day
  • Playfulness
  • Time spent together
  • Planning fun activities
  • Handling social expectations you don't want to handle
  • Brainstorming with you
  • Cooking or cleaning
  • Showing up at a job he or she does not love
  • Doing what it takes to increase your household income
  • Support through an illness or rehab
  • Learning something that matters to you
  • Enticing you to become more curious
  • Expressing gratitude
  • Making things for you
  • Encouraging your self-improvement efforts
  • Loving your children
  • Putting things away so you won't have to
  • Making your home look and feel calmer or cheerier

When we pay attention to the ones we are not receiving, we are less happy and vulnerable to seduction by others and by our vices. When we pay attention to the ones we do receive, our gratitude increases our day-to-day happiness and the strength of our bond to the person we pledged to love.

September 15, 2012

Married to an Awful Gift-Giver?

Good gifts make me feel loved. But they don't have this effect on everyone. Some claim there is no good gift: if they really wanted something, they would have already bought it or made it. Others receive gifts and feel long, uncomfortable strings attached. They feel indebted, and almost no gift is special enough to welcome this feeling.

People who cannot imagine a good gift or receive a gift without feeling bad give awful gifts if they bother to give any at all. To them, every possible gift looks the same, so they buy the first thing they see or they agonize over the choice for days and still end up buying something unappreciated most of the time.

We who give gifts to show our love feel loved when we receive most gifts. Not only can we rate every object we see as a potential gift, we can tell you which of our loved ones would most appreciate it. We can picture the look on the face of each possible recipient, imagine the joy it will bring.

Ask us to teach someone else to do this, and we have no clue how. We cannot imagine not seeing the joy factor in an item. We can help someone who sees it refine their skill or encourage them to consider more possible items. But we cannot list the things we consider in the moment before our flash judgment, so we cannot teach it.

The best we can do is to give an unskilled life partner a list of what would bring us joy. But, of course, much of the joy comes from surprise.

So, what can we do with an awful gift-giver? Give the gift of understanding. Already under pressure to do something they have no clue how to do, adding pressure to do it well to prove their love won't work. Instead, we can help them make their own love language—read Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages if you are unfamiliar with love languages—feel more like ours.

Invite them to frame or engrave their words of affirmation. Suggest they create coupons for their acts of service or tickets for quality time activities and wrap them. And if they show love through physical touch, suggest they purchase clothing, bed sheets, a comforter, or lotions that will make you even more touchable and make a big deal of letting you open the box or the door to them.

This way, they will actually feel loving when you feel loved. It's a powerful combination.

August 31, 2012

How to Make Yourself Unhappily Married

How to make yourself unhappily married: expect anything other than love.

Say you expect to hear "I love you" or "You look great today." Lots of husbands and wives say such things, but yours doesn't. Does this mean you are not loved or not admired? Probably not. But if you believe it does, you are going to be unhappy.

You may be married to one of the millions of people who believe "talk is cheap." You should definitely ask for what you want to hear, but your husband or wife will not feel loving when they say those words.

This is hard to imagine for anyone who has attached a lot of meaning to words like these (or to "thoughtful" gifts or kissing or any other means of expressing love). So imagine your husband or wife asked you to show love by giving gum wrappers, leftover pieces of paper from chewing gum.

When you're feeling especially loving or when you're opening a piece of gum, you might remember you have been asked for these. And you might present one to your beloved, feeling a little bit silly and not the same as when you really show your love and get that warm glow inside and that melty look on your face.

Now imagine that you have brought yourself to give one, only to discover one is viewed as stingy, so it doesn't get the response you hoped for. But you still have no clue how many it would take to get that response. When you ask, you hear, "If I have to tell you, it won't feel loving. Just do what feels right." Unfortunately, zero gum wrappers feels right, because receiving gum wrappers feels like nothing to you. But on a day when you are over the moon in love with your mate, you'll buy out the store's supply of chewing gum and give out handfuls every 15 minutes until your spouse begs you to stop.

And what makes you feel over the moon in love? To some extent, receiving whatever it is that feels like love to you, whether it's great sex, a newborn child, a shiny new Harley, an afternoon of talking about what really matters to you, praise, or help cleaning out the garage does it. But even more, I have noticed, what makes you (or your spouse) feel in love is doing loving things. If they are received with gratitude, all the better, but it is the doing that feels great.

What doesn't feel great is doing those things and then being chastised for being unloving because you failed to do something else. And that is where a lot of marriages get in trouble. Both partners feel less loved.

So, to make yourself miserable, as I did in my first marriage, expect help with some chore or a certain type of gifts or romantic words or public displays of affection as a measure of how much you are loved.

To feel loved by your wife or husband, Expect Love.

It really is as simple as that.

July 29, 2012

If You Want a Healthier Husband or Wife

Lots of married folks try in vain to get their spouse or life partner to eat better, exercise more, or take their meds. It would surely be wonderful if you succeeded, but what's happening while you're waiting for this to happen?

  • Your spouse, unable to do what seems so logical and healthy to do, feels he or she is not just failing at something important but simultaneously letting you down.
  • You stand always on guard, unable to enjoy sharing an ice cream treat or a day in bed.
  • You complain, holding yourself out as knowing more or being of higher character than the person who loves you, which makes it harder to love you.
  • You worry, focusing on the threat to how long your spouse will be with you while another threat, of failing to use and enjoy those days fully, casts a huge shadow over your marriage.
  • You set yourself up to be disappointed by your lack of influence and to miss the many ways in which you are loved.
  • You set your spouse up to be disappointed by the lack of a partner with whom to celebrate living when dying circles overhead as a possibility, especially if a health risk has already put him or her in jeopardy.

Health is just one factor in how long we live. And how long we live is just one aspect of a great life. Don't let health fears keep you from being fully present in your marriage or from opening yourself up to be loved in whatever way your beloved can best love you. Expect Love. All your other expectations of your mate are premeditated resentments. If you don't like the resentment, let go of the expectation.

July 17, 2012

Love is Patient and Kind

There is no religious theme to Assume Love. While many of you who read it regularly are Christians, many are also Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, and atheists. We all need and value loving relationships.

I seldom link to other marriage blogs, because so many base their advice on scripture. I feel bad about this, because many link often to Assume Love and because social and experimental psychology have shown quite a bit of scripture from all religions to be right about the value of marriage and about what works.

So today, I am going to recommend you read Paul Byerly, The Generous Husband's piece on 1 Corinthians 13:4&5, a bit of scripture that appears in many Christian weddings. Paul's post is a great story, well told.

If only he could post just these words and wait for something to happen. And if only I could post these three lessons from the shocking end to my first marriage and wait for something to happen:

  • Assume Love

  • Expect Love

  • Find Third Alternatives

We would be saying the same things in our own ways.

  • Assume Love - be patient and kind, do not envy or boast of your own strengths, because your spouse probably did whatever he or she did to upset you with love and his or her own strengths, and you may just be looking at it the wrong way to see this.
  • Expect Love - do not be irritable or resentful because this is not what you expect if you expect anything other than love as your mate best shows it. Each expectation is a premeditated resentment, you making you unhappy despite the love in your life.
  • Find Third Alternatives - do not be arrogant or rude or insist on your own way. The world is full of other ways that could please both of you. Look for them, because happy together really beats happy by your lonesome.
Christian or not, you can find almost everything you need for a great marriage in just a few words.

June 24, 2012

No Support for Your Interests?

I was listening again today to bestselling author Barbara Sher talking about H levels. She advises everyone wondering what they were put on this earth for or what would make them happier to check them.

When you see, hear, or taste something or picture yourself doing something, assign it an H level. On a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 10 (the highest), how happy does it make you? Pay attention to anything you rate 7 or higher and find a way to put more of it in your life.

Do you give drawing an 8? Stop right now and draw a picture of your hand. See how good that feels? Do old chairs elicit a 9 from you? Take 15 minutes to visit a nearby antique store and look for some.

Some will take a bit more effort, but don't turn them into all-or-nothing choices. If a beach on a summer day is a 10 for you, go visit one ASAP. Sure, a week would be nice, but even three hours there will lift your spirits and remind you of who you are.

If your husband or wife or life partner rejects your invitation to join you, there is nothing wrong with your marriage or your passions. It is normal for all of us to have very different H levels.

What would be awful is if you let yourself live a life of 5's and 6's as a compromise. You need the ones that delight you, and the rest of us need you to explore them.

So what do you do if your spouse does not support or share in your interest? Meet people who do, and spend time with them. Not secretly, of course, but openly, maybe even with help from your wife or husband to find them.

If you catch some of their enthusiasm (how can you not?), you may even raise your H level and find even greater passion. Then you really know it is something you should be doing.

Almost all of us, your mate included, would give a 7 or better to seeing our spouses come alive, even if joining them in whatever they are doing would get a 1 or 2 from us. Separate the two. If you cannot share the interest, share your delight. Just save the technical details of why it's so delightful for someone who shares your H level.

June 16, 2012

Does Your Husband or Wife Do His or Her Fair Share?

Many a marriage has unraveled over the issue of fairness. All we want is for our husbands and wives to do their fair share of the wage-earning, parenting, and chores, right? And it would be a mistake to overlook any shirking, no?


I contend you cannot even measure your own share, no less your spouse's. You cannot measure your own contributions because you do plenty that your wife or husband simply does not care about (polishing brass, dusting the attic, changing the oil every 3,000 miles, changing from summer drapes to winter drapes and back again, teaching your kid to tat lace, or whatever it is in your house).

There is no fair share of going after something only one of you wants.

You also cannot measure your contribution because there is no universal unit of measure. How do four hours at an exhausting job that earn $42 compare to four hours at an enjoyable but stressful job that earn $1,200? How does riding a lawn mower compare to operating a washing machine? Which is worth more: clean socks or a back massage? Which is better: a home in a neighborhood with good schools or two weeks a year of uninterrupted rest and relaxation together?

No one can answer these questions.

And if you cannot measure even your own contribution, how can you ever know if your spouse is doing less?

Spare yourself the misery of expecting a fair share. Expect love. It's available in limitless supply in most marriages when you stop creating opportunities for resentment.

And watching for it will never put you in that crazy, shoot-yourself-in-the-foot position (been there, got the tee shirt) of thinking you would be better off on your own than in a 75/25 or 90/10 split of the responsibilities you care about. Even with all the assets and full custody (I was widowed at 34), it really, truly stinks to get all the responsibilities and absolutely none of the love.

May 28, 2012

Marital Teamwork

We gave away a bunch of furniture last week. One couple returned three times. I loved watching them. I loved getting rid of some of the extra stuff we just don't need, but I especially loved their teamwork in maneuvering the larger items out of the house.

Not every couple works well as a team. My husband and I, for example, do not. After all these years together, we still cannot guess what must be communicated and what goes without saying. Neither of us is especially good at teamwork in other environments. This probably accounts for some of the problems.

We are also a later-in-life couple, unlike the couple I watched. Neither of us was mature enough in our twenties to have married someone as different as we are. Marrying someone with very different perspectives and experiences provides plenty of growth experiences. It's a good thing. But it's a pain in the butt when you need to execute a complex or difficult task together.

If we expected to work together as well as that couple did, we would both be mighty disappointed in each other, maybe even furious at all the wasted effort of working together without great teamwork skills.

Lots of marriage advice-givers opine that couples need to learn to work together. Unfortunately, if you believe them, you must also hold an expectation of being able to work together well. And the expectation adds resentment to your frustrations.

What makes teamwork any more important than the other character strengths? Or should we expect our mate to excel at all of them, to be creative as well as modest, spiritual as well as open-minded, optimistic as well as prudent?

I think it's OK to cooperate poorly. If you are going to expect anything from your spouse, expect love. You can hire movers or event planners. You cannot hire love and respect. If you want those, learn to laugh at yourselves as if you are part of a Three Stooges movie. Love matters more than the outcome of your joint projects.

May 26, 2012

What Would a Great Marriage Feel Like?

When you're thinking others have a great marriage and yours is so-so or worse, what do you imagine a great marriage would feel like?

I think a great marriage feels like swing dancing. It's not static and unchanging. It's being pushed away and pulled back with just the right tension in the bonds connecting you. It's being wrapped in a hold then spun back out on your own. It's never forgetting you're dancing, almost never missing the beat, always paying attention for the subtle cues from your partner, whether you're leading or being led.

It's challenging at times, joyous at others. It can be sensuous, energetic, or minimalist, just moving in tandem to the rhythm of life. You made need to duck, turn, loosen your hold, or hold on tight, one right after the other.

If you start dancing your own way, you're likely to stumble or step on your partner's toes. You must lead or follow. When you follow, you listen for cues with every part of your body, then deliver what's asked for, even if it's not what you expected. When you lead, your goal is to make your partner look like a great dancer, even if it means making your cues more obvious, doing a quick shuffle to correct for a misstep, or extending an arm to prevent a run-in your partner cannot see coming.

A great marriage feels constraining at times and joyously free at other times. It feels like three bodies: yours, your partner's, and the one you become when you're dancing well together. It feels safe, but it also pushes you to dance faster, try some trickier turns, and adjust to the music and the dance floor that the two of you have no control over.

The only reason to talk is to ask for what you need or encourage your partner, never to bemoan the dances you're sitting out. Remember to put on your dancing clothes and turn on the music often. Find couples to befriend who are even better dancers than the two of you.

If you don't like the way your spouse is leading, don't take over leading. Instead, follow well and ask for the new steps you want to add. If your spouse does not want to lead right now, you lead. But remember your role as leader is to make your spouse look like a great dancer. Call upon his or her greatest strengths. If you want to add something new to your partner's repertoire, make sure you prepare him or her for it and prepare yourself to compensate gracefully for any missteps.

A great marriage feels like a rush of uplifting endorphins from the exertion plus the trusting, binding comfort of oxytocin from brushing hands over arms and backs and shoulders. At its best, marriage feels like the joy of dancing close to each other and as one, then apart so you can feel with all your body the pull of the connection between you, then together again into an elaborate turn that elevates you or is just plain fun.

What in your marriage already feels this way?

May 23, 2012

Telling Your Wife You're Starting a Business

While the kids were young, Tom earned most of the money he and Selena and their two girls lived on. Now that the girls are in middle school, Selena's earning a bit more. For Tom, this feels like the ideal time to start his own business if he's ever going to do it.

If it fails, he can be back in someone else's employ before the girls are applying to colleges. If it succeeds the way he hopes, they will be able to look at private colleges and not just state schools.

Tom wants to know what to consider before sharing his plan with Selena. These tips come from my online, self-study course, Enjoy Being Married When You Take the Self-Employment Plunge

  1. Consider all the ways this will affect Selena, Tom, from your schedule and employment benefits to the financial risk you two face to her freedom to make her own employment changes.

  2. Pay attention to any difference in the way you two approach decisions, so she's clear on whether you are announcing your decision or seeking her input into it.

  3. Give some thought to how she will perceive the changes in your life together, given her love language and the family she comes from.

  4. Plot a course that will bring in money quickly, because Selena will not have the hour-to-hour feedback or control you will have, and making quick money gives you and her lots of quick feedback.

  5. Expect to differ on the details, so get clear on what you want to get from being self-employed and look for Third Alternatives that let her get what she needs, too.

Put your marriage first and the new business second. It will increase your chances of success and of enjoying the fruits of your hard work. If you do not put it first, the demands of a new business can easily squeeze your marriage to death.

Are you thinking of starting a new business, too? These tips apply to telling a husband or life partner as well as a wife. Give your new business and your marriage better odds by starting off on the right foot.

I have been self-employed for much of my adult life, from part-time freelance gigs to full-time sole proprietorship and limited liability corporation (LLC), through two marriages. From personal experience as well as the available research, I can tell you it matters a lot, to your financial success and personal happiness, how you handle your marriage during and after a business launch.

May 18, 2012

How to Make Your Spouse More Lovable

Ever notice how much more lovable your husband, wife, or life partner is when life is going well for you? You smile, you get smiles back. You embrace and all is forgiven. You feel generous and in return you feel loved and appreciated.

So why is it that when we're having work problems or doing poorly at our attempts to lose weight or build muscle or finish a project, we criticize our mates? Why not put in the extra effort, make one more try, stop and write that step-by-step list of little steps to success, call Uncle Joe and ask for advice, or tackle something else we've a good shot at doing well? We have the power; why not make them all that much more lovable?

May 12, 2012

I Know Things Should Be Done a Certain Way

I received a wonderful question today by email. It came from a woman engaged to be married to a man who (surprise, surprise!) does not do things the same way she does. She wants to know how to develop more trust in him.

One of the things that makes it difficult to trust him is that, as she puts it, "[I] know things should be done a certain way to get them done correctly." Ah, don't we all?

Our definition of "correctly" is one of our most gigantic impediments to knowing we are loved, respected, and cared for.

Is dinner made correctly when it has a particular number of calories and ratio of fat to fiber or when the person making it feels great serving it to his or her beloved? Is it made correctly when the process follows all the steps some teacher prescribed or when it leaves time for reading to the kids or making love to your spouse?

Is the oil changed correctly when you cannot see the oil on the dipstick except in bright light? Or is it changed correctly when you get fresh oil plus a free safety inspection and don't need to spend an entire Saturday on it, so you get more together time?

Is the vacuuming done correctly when it includes moving every piece of furniture to vacuum under it or if it's done quickly, as an act of service for a loved one with allergies who is out of the house for a few minutes or to leave time to shop for a special gift?

While you tap your toe, impatiently waiting for your life partner to adopt your standards instead of noticing how his or her standards make your life better in some other way, you miss out on love.

If you have high standards you cannot or will not relax, by all means include them in a discussion of a Third Alternative to the ways you two approach a task. But you don't need to trust that your partner will always meet those standards. It's not likely to happen. Your expectation that it will is premeditated resentment.

The thing you need to learn to trust your partner will do is love you. That's a lot easier when you grow aware of the ways he or she shows love that have nothing at all to do with what you think you know about the certain way things should be done.

Today would have been the 39th anniversary of my first marriage. By the time our 13th anniversary rolled around, I was still tapping my toe and thinking it was his fault I was so unsure of his love. Three months later, I finally understood I was too sure of how things ought to be done. Unfortunately, I discovered this only because I had to do them all myself after his completely unexpected death. You have a chance to reap the benefits if you stop expecting your certain way and expect love instead.

May 9, 2012

I Could Do It Better

Ever agree to let your spouse handle a purchase or take care of problem? And did you find yourself backseat driving? I am a huge backseat driver. I have a lot of trouble trusting my husband will get the job done, especially if his approach is not the one I would take. And it almost never is.

We send such an awful message when we drop hints and ask for progress reports. We convey, "I don't trust you or your approach." We reveal, "This is an assignment, not a favor, not a chance to be my hero, not a chance to reduce my load of responsibilities, just something you can screw up if you don't do an adequate job."

His approach is not my approach because we have different strengths. His schedule is not my schedule because mine is imaginary and his is real. If it all goes horribly wrong, he will find a way to make it right. I am sure I will help if it does go wrong, but not because I am required to, just because I love him.

So once again, I am reminded to Expect Love. To expect he will screw up won't bring me any love. To expect he will complete the task on my schedule and to my satisfaction is to premeditate resenting him. I will expect he will love me. And because he loves me, he will do the best he is capable of doing in the time available and with the resources available.

His best won't look a lot like my best. It will be wonderful in different ways from my best. If I focus on what I do well instead of what he does well, I will deny myself the joy of being cared for. I will expect love, rather than any particular outcome. I will contribute whatever I contribute out of love, not duty and certainly not self-righteousness.

I will do it because I have seen the joy of expecting love and the soul-numbing deadliness of marriage as a barter bank.

I will do it because a man respected and trusted works ten times harder. I will do it because I want to end my days with hugs and kisses, not anger or dismay. I will do it because resentment tastes awful and love tastes so fine. If I want to do something better than my husband, receiving love is a much, much better choice than any household project.

May 1, 2012

Unnecessary Divorce

I love this phrase, unnecessary divorce. Not a single one of us who has ever considered divorce thought ours was unnecessary. Not unless something convinced us to take another stab at loving the person we vowed to love—and we succeeded.

How in the world can we tell, in the heat of our anger and fear and frustration, whether ours would be an unnecessary divorce? I have a way you might try. It comes from my own awful experience of reaching the conclusion we should, of necessity, divorce, completely unaware our marriage was only one day away from "until death do us part."

I recited to my first husband, at the age of 34 and thick into dealing with career and motherhood, my long list of unmet needs that night. I thought they justified splitting up. I believed somehow these needs might be better met if we split up. A day later, I had full custody, all the assets, and no drawn-out battle of the lawyers, and I learned how wrong I was about my list of needs.

If your list of unmet needs includes the need to feel safe from violence and psychological manipulation in your own home, skip this one. Seek help meeting those needs first. If you need to get right with your morality and cannot do so in your current marriage, skip it. But if, like me, you feel you desperately need things like emotional support, more income, mowed lawns, washed dishes, more time off the couch and out in the world, more conversation, more help with the parenting, etc., this just might change everything.

I got none of those when my marriage was over. It was eleven years until I even met my second husband. Divorced, you can get them for yourself. But married, you can get them for yourself even more easily. Divorce over such unmet needs qualifies in my book as unnecessary divorce. Once you take those needs off the table, it turns out to be a lot easier to love and be loved.

I won't write it all out here. You can download a worksheet for free from my Enjoy Being Married website. Look for "Clean Up the Clutter of Unmet Needs" on page 4. Allow an hour or so for the exercise. And please share your insights in the comments below. You might prevent another unnecessary divorce as well as freeing yourself to enjoy being married.

April 22, 2012

What Are You Waiting For?

What are you waiting for from your spouse?

Are you waiting for more appreciation? More picking up after himself? More self-reliance when it comes to getting the computer and other electronics to work?

Are you waiting for more foreplay? Less modesty in bed? Better meals? Some landscaping? Maybe weight loss? Or perhaps vacation planning?

What would you do if you learned today for certain you will never get it? What if you could tell right now, without a doubt, you cannot and will not get it, not by nagging nor by being extra nice nor even by promising money or sex?

Can you picture yourself finding a way to accept you won't be getting what you're waiting for and love your spouse anyway?

If so, no matter how justified you might be for wanting what you've been waiting for, while you wait, you miss out on being fully in love with each other.

April 17, 2012

The Very Thin Line between Awful and Wonderful

I was chatting with a couple of friends today. All three of us have had our crazy-making moments in our marriages. Some little change or thoughtless act sends us into a royal panic that makes us wonder if we're getting a fair shake or if we ought to run for the hills.

So we Assume Love, check for loving explanations of the behavior or words that freaked us out, and suddenly see the situation a lot more clearly.

But today, one mentioned how much her husband loved hearing he's really missed while he's away. You could just hear how surprised she was and how great it made her feel to hear him "sit up a little straighter" even over the phone.

And that's how marriage goes. For most of us, the problems are never really so big. They just scare us, because we imagine they could grow bigger. What affects us is the direction things are moving in. Our negative reaction begets a negative reaction, which sets off a misunderstanding, and suddenly everything seems bleak. At other times, noticing how nice it is to share a bed leads to a positive comment which leads to a big grin which leads to feeling so very wonderful.

We are all built to love. It's what we do best. When we can see we're doing it well, it's as sweet a pleasure as biting into a ripe cantaloupe or tickling a toddler.

Yes, some marriages turn very ugly. Most don't. They just cross that very thin line between counting our blessings and returning love with more love and counting our unmet needs and hoarding our love.

April 16, 2012

I Love You But I Can't Stand This

Right before my first husband suddenly up and died, all I could think was, "I love you, but I can't stand this. I cannot stand my life with you."

I had no idea what to do. The therapist I had seen had no idea what to do. My husband certainly had no idea what to do. It wasn't until my first morning as a widow that I suddenly knew what to do.

May I share it with you?

Here it is in a nutshell: Expect Love.

I expected that when I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work and home responsibilities, my husband would pitch in. When he was in the hospital, I would call on other people to help me. After he died, I served Health Choice dinners to buy back some time to spend with my son and moved my office to shorten my commute. But while he was alive, I expected him to do something about my problem. When he didn't, I was filled with resentment.

It was the resentment that made my life intolerable.

I expected that he would not only join me in getting out of the house on weekends but suggest places to go and things to do. When he didn't, I was filled with resentment and filled my time with TV and paperwork and reading magazines full of stuff I did not actually care about.

The resentment kept me from noticing his little gifts to me, his attempts to create or continue family traditions, his time loving our son, his cooking our dinners, his kind words.

After he died, it was doubly hard to get out and do things, but I stopped waiting for him to plan them and just started doing them. Without him. Just as I could have while he was alive. And yes, I felt a bit odd doing them alone or with our son and no father. But I so wished I could come home from one of our outings and share stories of the day with someone who loved me.

I expected more sex and hugs than I was getting. Instead of exploring different ways to enjoy physical contact when his illness was active, I just stewed in my own resentment. Word to the wise: resentment is not an aphrodisiac for either of you.

I expected him to take the offers of opportunities to bring in more money. I never lived in his skin, never had a chronic disease to cope with on top of work. He was right, it turns out; his body could not handle anything more, and it failed him. But I had never turned that expectation around on myself. After he died, I did the hard work of doubling my income so our son and I could stay in our new home and he could stay in the private school where he was flourishing.

I expected him to agree with my decisions, never to express his dismay at my choices. But this is reality. What's nuts is choosing not to do something that will make your mate uncomfortable, then blaming him for your choice to deny part of yourself. Find a Third Alternative or live with the discomfort, but don't expect approval of what you need to do to be healthy and happy. I don't like counting calories, but I like the result. I am OK now with the fact that my husband may also dislike the steps I take as long as we agree on the value of the goal.

I would never give up an expectation of feeling safe in my own home, but every other expectation I give up improves my second marriage. The other night, we were short on cash when we went out, and I expected my husband to handle the situation the way I would. I found myself getting angry at his choices. I just knew doing things my way would be more sensible. I ruined my own good mood with the expectation we would think alike.

When I let go of the expectation and decided to accept him and all his differences (some of them truly wonderful), he once again seemed like a loving man I could trust and adore.

To Expect Love, you have to be willing to do some of the hard work of getting what you want or need. You have to be willing to give up total control of the assets and time you share and go with the flow. But it's no more work to get what you need as part of a couple than on your own. It's usually easier. And the control you give up is often control over what you would not even have on your own.

Each time you do it, it feels like throwing open the drapes and letting more sunlight into your life. Without the resentment, it's so much easier to feel the love and respect your spouse offers.

If you can't stand what's going on in your life together, even though you still love your husband or wife, let go of a few expectations and start changing your life. It's really easy to love someone who expects love and nothing more. In fact, it's a lot like falling in love. You might really enjoy it.

March 23, 2012

What If You Changed Your Definition of Fair?

If you changed your definition of fair, how would it change your marriage?

What if you decided dish washing, lawn mowing, meal preparation, shopping, laundry folding, and oil changing don't belong in your definition of fair? Without them, how fair is your marriage?

What if you decided earning money has nothing to do with how fair your marriage is? Disregarding your incomes, your efforts to find a better job (or any job), how fair is your marriage?

What if you decided to measure how fair your marriage is on just one measure? And what if that measure was your spouse's love language, whether that is touch, gifts, acts of service, quality time, or affirming words? How would the balance of giving and getting look if you did this?

Does your definition change on its own? Is it focused on chores when you really do not want to tackle the next one? Does it switch to pleasure when you're wanting sex or a back rub that doesn't lead to sex?

Yours is the only definition of fair creating your feelings of resentment or of being blessed from whatever is happening in your marriage. What if you decided to change it, on a trial basis, for the coming weekend?

March 13, 2012

Daffodil Days

Today, the daffodils in my front yard bloomed. So did the hillside of daffodils at the home of a friend well west of me. She called to tell me. Daffodils bloomed well east of me in New Jersey today. My artist friend posted a photo online.

It is a gorgeous day, with a light breeze and a temperature more often enjoyed in May than four days before St. Patrick's Day.

I left my car at the Post Office and just started walking around Doylestown. It's a great place to live. And this is a beautiful day.

As I walked, I thought about what a difference it makes to receive better than we expect. The sky is so blue. The breeze feels wonderful. There are puffy white clouds in the sky and blooming things again in the dirt. But if we woke up to this day in May, we might notice the bare trees and the diminished quality of the sunlight. By then, we might even be annoyed by the birds, all of whom are announcing their return today and, I suspect, choosing mates.

And you know what? Marriage is quite a bit like weather. When you expect less than you get, it's wonderful. When you expect more, it's not.

Today is beautiful if you feel the breeze, recall the heavy coat you needed so recently, and watch the daffodils bloom. It's not nearly as beautiful if you focus on the dead grass or the leafless trees. But today, we don't expect leaves or grass. Thank goodness.

Enjoy being married.

March 12, 2012

Regaining Your Wife's Respect

The following is a comment I received today in reply to my 3 Ways to Get Your Wife's Respect post on October 18, 2011. It is a classic situation, and I suspect the answer may help more than Drew, who left the comment.

I made several mistakes during a one year period over seven years ago. Since I have been a model man and model father, she even gets ro stay home if she chooses. Now, after 7+ years I find out that she has NO respect for me and stated to a mutual friend that she will never respect me or feel strongly for me again. Btw, I DIDN'T cheat. I had a drug problem and was dishonest about it. I had an 'email fling' during that period too. What do I do? It's been 10 years and two kids later.... Thanks

She's still with you, Drew, so I am pretty sure she does not view respect the way you do. This puts you at a bit of a disadvantage in trying to regain her respect. You can't guess what will win it. Let's see if I can help.

Being a model man and a model father is not enough, even though it's quite a lot and you should be proud of yourself for this.

She may believe she won't feel strongly for you again, but I'm sure you have seen all the comments in this blog from people who have been utterly surprised to learn how strongly they feel when they thought they did not. Don't take her word for this. She has no way of knowing.

Since you are still together and you have kids who would benefit enormously from it, why not prove her wrong?

Start by looking for the respect she can't see. Check my March 7th post, One More Ray. Every day, see if you can find one more ray of respect than you noticed the day before, and thank her for it. At breakfast, notice if she trusts you enough to share the table with you. That is respect. She won't call it respect, and you probably should not give it this label, because she's still protecting her heart from the risk of respecting you, but it is respect. Let her know you enjoy being able to have breakfast together. Tomorrow, you can notice she does the same thing at dinner.

If you pick up the kids from school the next day, you can notice that she trusts you to care for "her" children. Ever notice how many divorced women don't? Don't point out the respect, but do let her know how glad you are that both of you are involved in the kids' daily lives.

On another day, if she asks you to do something for her and doesn't tell you exactly how to do it or imply you're not likely to actually do it, notice the ray of respect for your intentions and abilities. Tell her, "It's my pleasure. Thanks for asking the way you do. It's nice."

If you make dinner and she shows up for it on time, you can count this as the new ray for another day. Say, "I'm so glad you're here. You're just in time for a great dinner."

If she asks you for advice on anything, chalk up another ray of respect. Nobody asks for advice without respecting the expertise or experience of the person they ask. Tell her, "It makes me feel great to be asked."

Will she share a bed with you? Let you drive? Put her money in a joint bank account? Accept your hugs? Tell the kids to do as you say? All are rays of respect.

Look for a new ray of respect every day and appreciate her for it. She won't see any of it as respect. To her, it's what nice people do. The other thing nice people do is appreciate the efforts of nice people, and you will be doing this at least once a day. This she will notice. You can keep to yourself what you are noticing, which is that, no matter what she says, she actually does respect you.

To women's way of thinking (and it's all in our hormones, nothing much we can do about the difference except respect it and deal with it), nice people earn our respect. Hurtful people don't deserve it. You hurt her, and the things you've been doing to prove your are worthy of her respect, nice as they are, don't relieve her pain, so she's not ready yet to consciously extend you any respect.

If you have figured out her love language, and it's something other than words of affirmation, say an extra thank you in her love language whenever you can. If you are not familiar with love languages, pick up Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages: Men's Edition from your favorite bookseller or library. The more loved she feels, the more respect she will be capable of.

Keep adding a ray a day to the respect you notice and acknowledge each one. If she does something that feels disrespectful, see it as a shadow among all the rays of light, so that you don't feel the urge to cut off your kind acknowledgements of all that is good about your relationship. If you feel really unappreciated and out in the cold, quietly skip a day and look for another ray tomorrow.

We women do not understand respect the way you men do. The word has very different meanings for us. We can say we have no respect for you and still proudly wear our wedding band, share a home with you, tell our kids what a great guy you are. If you listen to our words instead of watching our actions, you'll miss out on a lot of what we have to offer. If you pick which things we should respect you for instead of paying attention to what we choose to respect, you'll miss out on a lot, too.

Drew, will you let us know after a couple of weeks how you did with the One More Ray exercise and what effect it has? I would really appreciate it.

March 10, 2012

Thumbing Your Nose at Insufficient Generosity

In Daniel Pink's book, Drive, he reports "an experiment replicated around the world." It's a two-player experiment, just like your marriage or life partnership.

One player gets $10 and the right to choose how much of it, if any, to share with the other player. The other player decides to accept what's offered or give all $10 back to the psychologist running the experiment.

The players don't love each other or even know each other. Neither player stands to lose anything by playing. Neither has to earn the money. The only thing at stake is how the money is shared.

Most people, put in the second player's shoes, reject offers of $2 or less. They would rather turn down the offer of unearned cash than accept what feels like an unfair division of the $10. It's worth the $2 to teach the bozo a lesson on fairness.

Lots of people do this in their marriages, too. And it's not just with cash. They do it with household chores: "I might as well be single if I have to clean the house but he won't mow the lawn and take out the trash." They do it with sex: "My wife doesn't like sex as often as I do. I deserve to have a fling when I get the chance, even if it risks the marriage."

It's normal, human behavior. Walk away from insufficient generosity, even if it means getting less overall. And in a marriage, it is often a lot less. When we use this reasoning to walk away from our vow, we generally look at one tiny aspect, overlooking income to focus on chores, overlooking the emotional support behind our current career success to focus on sex, overlooking sex, shared chores, and our vital need for love to focus on how often we get meaningful conversation from our mate.

Here is the difference in marriage. The experiment gets repeated with the same two players. If you want more than $2 the next time, what do you think will work better? Walking away from the first deal, leaving both of you with nothing or expressing your pleasure at receiving $2 while your partner walks away with $8?

Our natural instincts are not always the best ones for the situations we face. As we practice a different response (picking our noses in private, for example, or sharing the road with other drivers according to a book full of rules), it becomes second nature. The benefits are worth it.

Expect Love, not any one version of it. $2 extra is $2 extra. Unfair is when you're actually $2 down from what you would have if you were single.

March 7, 2012

One More Ray

Give this a try. Tell me what you think of the results.

Every day, your husband, wife, or life partner loves you. Some days, it's easier. Others, it's a bit harder. When he or she feels misunderstood, needy, or mistreated, it's a bit harder to love you, but you get loved nonetheless.

I am not talking about the feeling of love but the acts of love. These are conscious choices to do something to be good to you. You may never see a lot of them, like driving a little more carefully or biting a lip at work when the idea of quitting and driving off into the sunset seems like a good one.

Others you can see and hear. The good morning kiss. The coffee started in time for you to grab some before you have to leave. The underwear put in the hamper instead of on the floor. A treat purchased for you on the way home. Teaching your son to cheer for your favorite team. Fixing the storm door. Making dinner. Putting that paycheck in the joint account. Sitting through your father's same old stories. Saying "I love you." Setting everything else aside to take a walk with you or listen to your day.

Each one is a little ray of love, lighting your life. Today, try to find just one more ray, one you would not normally notice, and thank your mate for it before you go to bed.

As soon as you notice anything unusual happen because you did this, please post it in the comments.

March 5, 2012

Love Language Crossovers

We all have our love languages. Before we can talk, we discover the ones that work for us. And before we know it, we're married to someone with a different love language.

Sure, you could try to explain to your mate how to love you your way, but my approach is a whole lot easier and more likely to feel like you're being loved:

  • Gift lover married to a quality time giver? Transition into your conversation or joint activity with a bit of ceremony. Take the time to see the big bow wrapped around this gift of connection. Unwrap it slowly and step into your gift.

  • Quality time lover committed to a physical touch giver? Sign the two of you up for a massage class together. Schedule a sensual weekend getaway. Take up ballroom or salsa dancing.

  • Physical touch lover partnered with an acts of service giver? Ask for sexual favors, hand or face massage, hugs, and kisses. They feel more loving to your mate when done as an act of service, odd as this might sound to you. You'll feel the extra love.

  • Acts of service lover loved by an affirming words giver? Listen to the words carefully. Hear them as a poem written just for you. As you read that greeting card, picture your mate going to the store, selecting just the right sentiment, adding that little extra touch, and making sure to present it to you at the right moment to have the most effect. These are acts of service.

  • Affirming words lover with a gift giver? Pay attention to the card that comes with the gift. Pay attention to the words with which it is presented, because gift givers delight in presenting gifts to their beloved. If the gift is given silently, ask something as simple as, "Is this for me?" The answer may be worth even more to you than the gift.

Those are but a few of the possible combinations. What would you recommend to an affirming words lover who wants to discover more of the love offered by his or her quality time giver?

March 1, 2012

Is Your Spouse Fair?

Many husbands and wives stand convinced they do not get a fair deal in their marriages. What do you think?

"It is not fair that I work hard to earn all our income but I cannot unwind for the thirty minutes before dinner when I get home, because the kids have all have dirty faces and sticky hands and want lots of attention."
I know how to convert euros to dollars. How do you convert forty hours a week of employment to its equivalent in child care, housework, and meal preparation?

"It is not fair that you expect me to be in the mood after cleaning up the mess you made in the den."
How do we equate something like libido, which may arrive without any effort or may require some preparation but generally leads to one of marriage's nicer benefits, with messes, which compel action for some of us and seem like no problem to others?

"It is not fair that I have to call the accountant to make our tax appointment after taking your mother to the doctor."
What's the exchange rate for phone calls to favors when you both want the call made and the favor done? Is it more or less if the favor is for someone neither of you is related to?

"It's not fair that I have to get dressed for work in the dark just because you come to bed so late."
Does the reason matter? Does the comparison change if the desire to sleep late results from chemotherapy?

Implied in all of these is a belief that our mates could easily kick in just a bit more and make things fair. So why don't they?

I think it's because they are a lot like us. They don't question what seem like objective facts.

We look at messy faces and hands and the way kids shift gears at the end of the day as an impediment to unwinding. We do not question how we might unwind in such a situation.

We look at an open pretzel bag and dirty glass in the den as a libido-dampening project that requires immediate attention. We do not question what we could do to put the mess out of mind.

We look at the bedroom as the proper place to dress for work. We do not question whether there are other, well-lit places in the house where we could dress while our mate sleeps.

They are doing the same.

"I cannot clean up or entertain kids and cook dinner at the same time, and they need to stay outside playing as long as possible, so I cannot bring them in early for cleanup."

"I don't do phone calls. Hate them. Hate talking to assistants. Hate being put on hold. Don't know what to say or how to get what I want."

"There is a lot on my mind. I cannot simply go to bed. I have to wait until I can fall asleep when I get there."

Because of this, we can never find a conversion rate. However, we can find a fair marriage. All it takes is to reduce how much our side costs us. And we have an expert available to help us, a caring person who sees right through the difficulty that keeps us stuck.

February 26, 2012

3 Ways to Make Your Husband Easier to Love

Today I thought I would share three ways to make your husband easier to love. Can I stop with just three? I must, or what will I write about tomorrow? OK, here goes:

  1. The next time you get upset at whiskers on the sink or socks on the floor or crumbs in the den, check the clock. When your unhappy or angry feelings finally subside, check it again. Now measure how quickly you can clean up his mess and feel good about your home again. Which one improves your mood faster? Neither of them changes his behavior. For this, you need to Find Third Alternatives together. Your improved mood will help there. It will also help you receive and enjoy any kisses or kind words or thoughtful acts he might offer. You want these, don't you?
  2. Another way to make your husband easier to love is simply to avoid mocking him or complaining about him to others in his presence. The male chemical soup of hormones makes it much harder for them to be loving when such things happen. It just does. Husbands are a lot easier to love when they are showing us love.
  3. The third way? Treat your marriage like one long Easter egg hunt. Go looking for love. If your parents love showed up at the dining room table, look for yours in the bedroom or the garage, too. If your friend reports being loved during the workday, look for yours after dinner or over breakfast. If you were expecting to find love in the form of cash, make sure you don't overlook the eggs containing supportive words, physical delights, and becoming truly known and accepted. The more love you find, the more love there will be to find, so never look in just one place or for just one type.
Know what's great about all three methods? You don't need any help convincing or teaching your husband to become easier to love. You can just let him be himself and turn it all around. For me, it took the death of my first husband to discover this. I want you to discover it before it's too late. Make your husband easier to love this week and let me know how it goes.

February 4, 2012

Upset with Your Mate? Look Elsewhere

Know that joke about looking under the street lamp for keys you dropped elsewhere, because the light is better? One of the great things I learned by helping with the research into character strengths and well-being is where else to look when I am not seeing my husband's strengths.

Let me share a few with you. Upset with shortcomings in modesty or authenticity? Look for how much optimism, energy, and enthusiasm for life your mate brings you.

Distressed by a lack of creativity or curiosity? Look for fairness and leadership in your husband or wife and how they enhance your life.

Wishing your guy or gal were more generous or nurturing? He or she might excel at learning or perspective and be a great help to you in solving problems or tackling new projects.

Distressed because your spouse does not share your awe and elevation in encountering nature or worshiping God? You might want to look at his or her ability to persevere through difficult circumstances to reach a goal or to keep to a schedule or a diet.

Spouses may also be brave, playful, forgiving, prudent, or open-minded. They may be great at nurturing loving relationships, being part of a team or community, or interacting socially with other people, too.

There are many character strengths, and each of them enhances our lives and makes the world a better place. Each of us embraces, hones, and relishes a few of them. As we do, we limit our opportunities to develop the others.

We can look for our mate's character strengths under the street lights of our own and come up empty-handed and critical. Or we can choose to turn and look beyond our own key strengths to see just how lucky we are to be married.

February 2, 2012

Close Your Marriage's Emotional Bank Account Today

A new study of commitment in the first 11 years of marriage confirms something I have long believed.

"The psychologists recommend against 'bank-account relationships,' in which you keep score of how often you get your way and how often you compromise."

They looked at the results of two types of commitment at the start of these 172 marriages:

  • "I really like this relationship and want it to continue."

  • "I'm committed to doing what it takes to make this relationship work."

From the UCLA press release:

"The second kind of commitment predicted lower divorce rates and slower rates of deterioration in the relationship."

The study was conducted at UCLA by Dominik Schoebi, Benjamin Karney, and Thomas Bradbury and reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

What they discovered really should not come as a big surprise. The second sort of commitment is a form of "if then" planning, which dramatically increases our success at any endeavor. In one of Peter Gollwitzer's earliest experiments, just forming a plan about when and where to start a difficult task like writing a paper for school increased completion success rates from 25% to 67%. Deciding in advance that if this relationship is in trouble, I will work to improve it, makes a big difference in whether it lasts.

If you keep an emotional bank account, and your spouse overdraws his or her account, what's your "then"? This might keep things fair, but will it get you what you really want?

Let me suggest some different if-thens for a happy marriage. If my husband's words upset me, I will Assume Love and try to explain how a loving intent could have led to those words or actions. If I am upset because my expectations are not met, I will check whether I really need the expectation or could simply Expect Love. If we disagree, I will offer to Find Third Alternatives.

January 31, 2012

What I Thought I Wanted

You probably already know what drives me to write this blog and teach my teleclasses. Just in case you don't, it was getting exactly what I thought I wanted 25 years ago, when my resentment outweighed my love for the man I married, the father of our son. I write and speak to stop you from going after what I thought I wanted.

First I wanted him to change. I wanted a fairer division of chores and responsibilities. I wanted more hugs and kisses. I wanted more understanding of my very stressful job and long commute. I wanted more communication. I wanted a partner for dance lessons. I wanted to get out more and do things. I wanted more for our son than just someone to read to him and cook him dinner.

When my husband wouldn't change and my resentment grew and grew, I wanted a divorce. An amicable divorce, of course, one that would not in any way harm our nine-year-old son. (Odd that I gave up believing in the Tooth Fairy long before I gave up believing you can reject a child's other parent and not hurt him. Or that I thought our son could not see I was already rejecting his father in so many ways.)

The day after those words came out of mouth, deeply hurting my husband of 13 years but not really surprising him, I got full custody and 100% of all our assets. And while I did not receive any child support payments, I did receive his life insurance.

I also received the biggest comeuppance of my life. (Do people still say comeuppance? It means a fate one deserved, karma, payback.)

My husband had been ill for a long time, but it was a chronic illness, seldom a fatal one. We had thought he was getting healthier, and he had said he was ready to start a new semester a week later, even if he did not feel very healthy. It was not to be. His body failed him. I had failed him, too.

I had held him responsible for my unhappiness and for not doing more to relieve my stress over my work, my commute, our son's schooling, and our crazy decision to have a home built for us after a cross-country move. I had appointed myself the one who decided what needed doing and how much of it was my fair share.

I had decided we could only do recreational and social things together, so I was bound by and resentful of his limited energy. I had limited my opportunities for hugs and kisses and sex to what was possible when he was not ill, instead of exploring what might work better for the two of us. I was still holding my you-owe-me token from when I worked full-time to put him through five years of grad school.

I had not ever been physically threatened or emotionally battered. I was unhappy about my marriage only because my expectations had not been met and I could not control the situation. And I have met so many of you in exactly the same situation. Maybe you are halfway out the door now. Maybe you are eying someone tempting who might meet some of your needs on the side. Maybe you are still in the nagging or whining phase. Wherever you are, I need to tell you this:

  • Marriage is seldom fair, because there is no one, true list of tasks to divvy up. If you think you are doing too much, do less. If you are unhappy doing less, do not blame this on your mate. And definitely do not expect that divorcing will fix this.

  • Marriage will never live up to your expectations, unless you bring to it just one expectation, that you will be loved, and drop all the rest. You will be shocked how much love you can receive if love is all you ask of your spouse. Expect Love.

  • No matter how long you are married, you will never learn to read your spouse's mind. You will often feel hurt or anger when no offense was intended. Learn to Assume Love and take a second look. It will make you a happier person.

  • When you disagree, do not sulk. Do not cave. Do not debate. Do not demand or pull out five-year-old IOUs. Find Third Alternatives. Life is amazing when you are lucky enough to share it with someone who can help you find even better ways of getting what you want from it.

And if you have kids, know that you don't need to choose between whatever harm divorce will do to them and whatever harm your current anger or depression is doing to them. People can and do fall back in love when they let go of their resentments by releasing expectations that have nothing to do with love.

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 28, 2012

You Deserve Better

Well-meaning friends often say, about whatever complaint we have toward a husband or wife, "You deserve better."

Is it true?

Is the confirmation helpful?

If you did not deserve it, what might you do to rediscover happiness and closeness with your husband or wife in spite of your disagreement about what he or she ought to do?

January 18, 2012

When His Hobby Separates You

Yesterday, on The Generous Wife, Lori wrote a great post about the value of getting to know more about the parts of your husband's life you don't share. She recommended listening, asking questions, and learning a new shared vocabulary. She gave the example of her husband's fascination with zombies.

One of the commenters, Lisa, asked a question so many of us have asked at some point in our marriages. Her husband is unemployed and playing lots of online games. She asked, "Why would I want to learn about his newest online game if it's all he does? It's stealing his time away from his family."

I ached for Lisa. It is such an awful place to be, wanting more and feeling like she's enabling his harm to the marriage and their children if she follows Lori's great advice. Just in case you missed it, I thought I should reprint my comment there, in case you are walking in Lisa's shoes.

Great article, Lori! To answer Lisa's question, you might want to do it because men are biologically different from us women. To them, for reasons that have to do with different hormone levels, the foundation of a relationship is respect. There can be no relationship with someone who does not respect you as a person.

Unemployed, he's surely concerned about how much respect anyone has for him, especially you. Avoiding you avoids discovering his marriage has died.

If you express interest in his gaming, it also keeps you from focusing on your belief that he's "stealing his time away from his family," which surely gets in the way of showing your respect for him. He is more than his income. There are so many other things to respect about him.

Feeling your respect again is likely to relieve a good bit of the anxiety he surely uses gaming to deal with (unless this is a full-blown addiction out of his control -- and yours). It might even free up some productive time for looking for work, and it will surely give him more self-confidence to face the possible rejection.

You cannot rebuild your relationship with scorn. You cannot win more of his time with scorn. And you cannot come up with more income or more Daddy time for your kids by ending your marriage. So why not try talking about the games?

(Sorry, Lori, for hijacking your comments thread, but I made this mistake 25 years ago and feel an overwhelming urge to hang on tight to anyone headed for the same cliff.)

Lori forgave me and encouraged Lisa "to join in on the gaming 'to a healthy degree.'" Great advice!

January 8, 2012

What Are You Not Getting from Your Husband?

Do you have a list of things you are not getting from your husband? I did, right before my first marriage came to a crashing halt. I had a long list.

It was the list of a married woman. Single women have a different sort of list. They pay their bills, clean their bathrooms, shop for clothes, even raise children without a husband. What's on their list? Love. Someone to know them. Someone to accept them. Someone to care what becomes of them. Someone to touch them gently and lovingly. Someone to excite their passion.

It is only after they get these that they put the rest on the list. Someone to shovel snow. Someone to make more money when their own budget gets uncomfortably tight. Someone who does as much as they do to be sure the toilet bowl is clean and the seat is down and the paper rolls the classy way. Someone who cooks or cleans up after the cook. Someone with ambition or style or courage to enhance their own.

And now, the person who brought love into their life, the person who married them and promised for better or worse, feels perpetually not good enough. They know that unless they do all these things that feel unnatural or unimportant to them, all the things they want to do for the woman they love will never amount to good enough, either.

Now they feel unknown, unaccepted, uncared for, unable to reassure or fire up passion. Worse, they feel no respect from their list-maker, and they know respect is the very foundation of any relationship.

Even in my second marriage, I am sometimes secure enough in the things I sought when I married to start adding other things to the list. Now, though, I quickly notice what the new items on the list are doing to the love and respect in our marriage. I acknowledge what I need, but I remove it from what I expect my husband to provide. I might ask for them, once, maybe twice, but I accept the answer may well be no.

It's not no, I don't love you. It's no, I don't like doing this and I do not feel loving when I do it. Or it is no, I don't ever notice when this needs doing, and I do not enjoy being seen as not good enough when I fail to do what I don't even notice needs doing.

In my first marriage, I read each no as no, I don't love you enough to do this. This made everything on the list feel bigger, more urgent. It made me notice more things I needed. And then I woke up a widow, and I was stuck with my own list, and even I thought some of them really were not important enough to bother with during the first year or two as a single mom. Within a year, my biggest unmet need was again to be loved.

We all need a lot of people in our lives. We need friends who like to talk or listen if our mate does not. We need friends who help us screw up our courage to pursue our ambition or change our style. We need Dutch uncle friends who remind us how very little time it really takes to make the bathroom as we like it. We need friends who applaud us when we choose paper plates or a better dishwasher in place of replacing the worn sofa or even a second job to afford to eat out more, so after-cooking cleanup never drives a wedge between us and the man or woman who adores us.

If you find yourself expecting a lot more than love from your spouse, take some time to make new friends. It's a terrible thing to walk away from a happy marriage that became an unhappy one only because you drowned it in expectations. Expect Love and you just might enjoy being married.

December 30, 2011

Who Will You Be in 2012?

Every year brings a new opportunity to decide who we will become next. Want to become a much happier person? Here is a technique that might help.

  1. List any one thing you wish your husband or wife would do to make you happier. For example, compliment your appearance more often or take over supporting your son's interest in the violin.

  2. Write down why you think this will make you happier. For example, what will be different if you get compliments? Will it increase your self-confidence when you are outside your home? Will it make you feel more valuable to your spouse? Will it help you refine your wardrobe choices?

  3. Tell your spouse what it is you are looking for (from step 2, not step 1) and that you think it will make you a happier person. For example, you might say, "I want to feel more self-confident when I'm out in public. I think this would make me a happier person."

  4. Ask for ideas on how to get what you are looking for. You can mention the one you came up with in step 1, but only as one possible suggestion. For example, "It would definitely increase my self-confidence to hear more compliments from you on my appearance, but tonight I am looking for other ways to feel more confident about how I come across to other people. Can you help me come up with a few?"

Now, instead of making your problem sound like your spouse's failing, you are taking charge of your own happiness. And you are doing it in a way that increases the intimacy in your relationship instead of pulling away.

Those two things make all the difference. Try it.

December 27, 2011

Your Marital Bliss Depends on What You Expect

Expect Love. Most husbands and wives enter marriage intending to give you lots of it.

What happens? Why does it stop? Why is every day not as love-filled as our wedding day?

It happens when we think we know what our spouses will do to show they love us. We think we know, so we look for that, instead of looking for any other form of love. We look for dinners we like, when we like them. When they are late or unappetizing, we don't stick around for the hug. We don't look forward to the vacation those extra hours at work paid for. We miss out on real love while looking for our picture of love.

We look for help with the diapers or the dog-walking. When we don't get it, we turn down the chance to get out to a museum or a ball game together, because it seems unfair to let the unhelpful spouse benefit from a sitter. Or we come back from taking care of the diapers or the dog-walking in too foul a mood to invite any affirming words or sex. We miss out on real love while looking for our picture of love.

If you want a really happy marriage, Expect Love. Don't be caught with a yardstick when you are offered love better measured with a protractor, scale, weather vane, barometer, or measuring cup. Let love arrive in any of its glorious forms, not just the one you expected.

December 18, 2011

Overwhelmed and Looking for More from Your Mate?

Life demands a lot of us. A new baby, a new business, a move away from family and friends, a new boss, even a promotion can send us into overwhelm.

Know what happens once we hit overwhelm? Our thinking switches to what Daniel Kahneman call WYSIATI—What You See Is All There Is. This leads us to an ugly place.

Here is the trip as I have been known to take it. I am overwhelmed. Too much to do. Overstressed. Too much responsibility. I want help from my husband. He watches TV or sits down to his computer or heads out on his bicycle for some exercise. What I see is a partner who does not recognize my needs nor even all that I am doing for him. I freak out and mysteriously conclude I might as well be divorced, would be happier divorced. And I know a lot of other people do this, too.

WYSIATI - this day or this month is all there is. That other day when I was able to take a nap while my husband took care of things never happened. That month when his earnings paid for my relaxing vacation never happened. The reality of extra obligations during and after a divorce won't ever happen. What I see right now is all there is.

WYSIATI - I know I need help right now. How could my husband not see this? I forget entirely the last time I was overstressed and asked, loudly, for some peace and quiet or to be left alone. I expect help right now. And I resent his relaxing, forgetting entirely how important his ability to regulate his own stress is to managing mine. From in here, it's very obvious I need a helping hand immediately to relieve my stress. What I see from this side is all there is.

WYSIATI - My husband is a strong man. He can tackle some pretty tough assignments. He used to fight fires and keep people alive until he could get them to a hospital. And that's what he did with his spare time. He would get up after a night of patching up the victims of bar fights or domestic abuse and show up for his day job in the morning. If he neatly steps around cat vomit or puts off removing a mouse from the house, it is so much easier to imagine he takes me for granted than that there might be chores that distress him. What I see in my picture of him is all there is.

I screwed this up once. I will not screw it up again. Relying on WYSIATI stole my first marriage from me.

Now I will Expect Love. Love is what he promised, not cat cleanup and definitely not mind-reading. I will ask for exactly what I want right now. I will ask for it as I might ask for a back rub, without snarkiness or any hint of failing on his part, without name-calling. I will ask for it, and if the answer is no, I will ask for a Third Alternative, something else he feels comfortable doing that will relieve my distress. I will ask not because he owes me, but because he has offered me his love and I trust that he meant it.

I will Expect Love.

I will not let What You See Is All There Is steal any more love from me.

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 6, 2011

Men Who Don't Vacuum

Does it drive you bonkers that your husband never runs the vacuum cleaner just because it needs doing?

Are you annoyed to tears when he steps over a bit of sock lint on the floor without picking it up?

Do you start pondering divorce when he sticks flowers in a vase without first dusting out the inside of the vase?

Are you furious if your husband brings home the wrong brand of diced tomatoes when he does the grocery shopping?

Do you feel mistreated when he walks past a full and stinky trash can in the kitchen without emptying it?

Do you grind your teeth when he spends the whole weekend at home without doing anything about the leaky toilet in the guest bathroom?

Have you ever thought about why some of these failures seem laughable and others raise your ire?

Would you consider moving some of them into the other category so you could enjoy being married to him, even if it sticks you with almost as many to-do items as you would have without love in your life?

December 1, 2011

If Your Love Language is Gifts, This is Your Month

The Five Love Languages illuminate so much of the craziness in marriage. This month, millions will try to buy gifts for their life partners.

Some will give up before they start, utterly baffled by those of us who see love in a beautifully wrapped package of something just for us. Find them standing under the mistletoe, looking forward to the kisses, hugs, back rubs, and sex that say love to them.

Some will get right to it. They love gifts and feel terrific when they find the right one to show their love. They have been collecting gift ideas for months.

Some will offer their own love language, words of affirmation, in handcrafted poems, songs, love letters, family stories, ethical wills, and Voice Quilts.

Those who measure love in acts of service will put their shoulders into shopping or knitting, or building, or baking to present their loved ones with gifts. If it were easy to get the right gift, it would hardly say love in their book.

The ones who thrive on quality time together may scrimp on shopping to spend more time decorating the tree together or singing side-by-side in a choir. They are also the sort to buy a weekend getaway or some lift tickets for the two of you.

If you are going to Expect Love this month, expect that it might come in your love language, but it will mean even more if you see your mate's way of offering love wrapped up along with the gift.

Note: None of the links put any money in my pocket. I just thought you might enjoy them. And there are still three more days to vote for your favorite marriage blog.

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 28, 2011

Is Your Husband or Wife the Right One for You?

If you are trying to answer this question, I can help. This is how to tell if the person you married is the right one for you.

Stop expecting anything but love. Watch who emerges.

If you are with the wrong person, it is not likely some right person awaits your desertion of the wrong one. If this is the wrong one, all the chores, all the bills, all the parenting responsibilities, all the social obligations, all the instigation of recreational activities fall on your shoulders. Take them on without complaint.

If this is the wrong one, it falls on you to find people who want to have long conversations, shop, attend political dinners, attend religious services, or go fishing with you. Go find them.

If this is the wrong one, the gifts, affirming words, or helping hand you want will need to come from friends or relatives. Cultivate your relationships with the ones who might provide them.

Now make time to spend with your wife or your husband in which you expect only love, as you did when you first fell in love. Over several months, you will find your answer.

You will be filled to overflowing with love, or you will know this person (and, coincidentally, almost anyone you found tempting while you had all those unmet expectations) is wrong for you. The odds lean heavily toward rediscovering love, so give it a try.

November 27, 2011

What if You Knew It Would Never Happen Again?

Enjoy a tip from the widow's handbook. For the next 48 hours, try this. Whatever you remember and whatever happens, imagine it will never happen again. Good or bad, past or present, it will never happen again.

As the two of you take a walk together, imagine this is your last chance. You will never be able to walk together again. What sort of walk will you want to remember for the rest of your life? What will you want your spouse to remember? How can you make it that sort of shared walk?

If you are still angry because your spouse showed up late for dinner with your parents, imagine he or she will never show up for dinner with them again. How much time do you want to spend with this anger now?

If you are having lunch together, imagine this is the last time you will both be able to have lunch together like this. In the future, you will dine alone or perhaps need to feed your spouse and remind him or her to swallow. Will your mind be focused on your next chore as you eat this final shared lunch? Will you pay more attention to the mayonnaise than your marriage?

As you go off to work and know your spouse will be able to have a leisurely coffee after you leave, imagine this is the last time. You may suddenly be unable to work, or the two of you may suddenly have a large uninsured loss, forcing both of you to work more hours or take better paying jobs you cannot stand. Right now, the last time things are like this, will you begrudge your spouse this quiet cup of coffee?

For those of us who have lost a spouse right in the middle of the busiest part of our lives, and for those of us who have been hit with a catastrophe that changes everything, the reassessment over the next month or two (or twelve) is tough. We ask ourselves constantly how we could have overlooked what we had.

To those of you who have never experienced this, we say, "Wake up! Waste no time. There is so much love to be had. Never pass up the opportunity to receive it."

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 14, 2011

Some Favorite Lyrics

This one verse from Tony Arata's song, a huge hit for Garth Brooks in 1990, says a lot about why I will always Expect Love and avoid defining how my marriage to Ed should unfold.

And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance—I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance

This is the sweetest dance.

November 10, 2011

Sometimes, I Don't Like My Husband

Sometimes, I don't like my husband. When this happened in my first marriage, I would search around for all the other reasons not to like him. I would get a good grump going. But, as you know, waking up a widow changed my perspective.

Now, when I don't much like my second husband, I smile. I smile because I know the reason. I am frustrated, not getting something I expect from him. Nothing changed about him. I changed. I expected something other than love from him. So, I smile, and I look for signs of his love for me.

I always find them. And then, feeling loved, I get back to the job of figuring out how to get what I thought he was going to provide. It might be a whisker-free sink for cleaning my contacts or a companion for a movie or a cook for dinner.

When I do, I feel a lot better. And I realize one more time that I can do this for myself, even if he goes right on being the lovable but unpredictable guy I fell in love with. I never have to wait for him to change so that I can enjoy being married.

Top Ten Marriage Blog 2011 award nominations

I hope you enjoy this blog. I think the new Top Ten award would look great in place of last year's, don't you? Click on it if you would like to nominate Assume Love and be reminded when the voting opens on the day after Thanksgiving.

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?

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

July 30, 2011

Why Did You Get Married?

loveblanket.jpgI ask only because forgetting the answer got me into so much trouble, really made me miserable. Almost ended my marriage.

Twice, I got married because I was really in love with someone who was really in love with me. I loved the feeling of being loved. And I especially liked how I felt about me when I was loving someone I really admired.

I have hired painters, snow shovellers, trash removers, lawn mowers, bug killers, investment advisors, and oil changers. I have paid cooks and chefs to feed me when I don't feel like cooking and drivers to drive me when I am too tired to drive. I have had live-in child care helpers, laundry washers, and mantle dusters.

Some were very, very good. None would have broken my heart to lose. I did not marry to save money on them or to have them on call every day.

I married for love. And when I remember this, our relationship is even better than when we first decided to marry. Everything else is lagniappe.

July 7, 2011

What Should You Expect from a Husband or Wife?

There are days when expectations creep up and try to rob me of the great relationship I have with my husband. Then I remember what I figured out the day I got my comeuppance, my karmic payback. My first husband died a day after I listed my unmet expectations for him. I was left to meet them for myself. Only then did I take stock of what he was doing for me instead of the things on my list. I don't ever want to turn away love again.

In case you wonder what you ought to expect from your husband or your wife, there is just one thing: expect love. This is a roundup of earlier posts on why.

The expectations that made a mess of my first marriage
Love me and...
What does your garden grow?
10 killer expectations
All the wrong places
Another name for an expectation
Why not expect nothing, then?

Have you let go of any expectations? How did it turn out?

May 10, 2011

The Line Between No Expectations and Doormat

Sarah posted a comment this morning on my Should I Stay Married for the Kids? post with a really great question. Here is what Sarah wrote:

I love the idea that "An expectation is a premeditated resentment"; it has me thinking. On one hand I think it is a great idea, but on the other hand I feel that if we should "Never settle for being a doormat" then we have to have expectations and make them known. Maybe it's a fine line.

Before my big wakeup call at the end of my first marriage, I, too, feared it was a fine line. If it were, we would need to be vigilant all the time, and wouldn't this suck the fun out of marriage?

You are not a doormat if you take out the trash when your husband fails to. If you were not married, there would be trash to deal with. If you take out trash AND have a husband to love you, you are well ahead of the game.

Where you shoot yourself in the foot is when you let yourself expect that if your husband loved you, he would do more around the house or be as prompt as you are with chores. Now, you have trash to take out and what looks like an unloving husband, even though it's the same husband and the same bag of trash.

And while you're stewing over the garbage, you may very well miss out on some great loving. He might have walked in the door ready to kiss you, but turned right around when he sensed your mood. He might have wanted to tell you he sucked it up at work today and did not quit on the spot because of his commitment to your wellbeing.

You are not a doormat if you expect your husband to support your plans to organize a neighborhood produce coop and instead he dismisses those plans—unless you so resent his lack of support that you resolve to stay home and be miserable instead of doing what you believe to be important and worthwhile.

If your husband spends more than you can tolerate, expecting him to spend less will make you a resentment-filled wife. Nagging him to do what feels unnecessary to him will make him a resentment-filled husband. Setting aside a savings account cushion in your own name to keep yourself comfortable while he does his thing is what will keep you from being a doormat.

If you expect a husband who loves you will not harm you or do things that any decent person would stop a stranger from doing to you, the expectation will not keep you from getting hurt. It will probably keep you watching every little thing he does for signs he no longer loves you, eventually convincing yourself to flee in fear and anger.

But your husband may still love you and do things that any decent person would stop a stranger from doing to you. If you assume love and look for a possible explanation of this, the only one is a loss of the ability to control his own behavior. Drugs, alcohol, Alzheimers, and brain tumors are some of the things that can cause this. Expecting him to stop behavior he does not want to engage in and cannot control will certainly lead you to resentment and him to shame, both of them marriage-killers. The expectation will only get in the way of protecting him and yourself from his out-of-control behavior, saving your marriage and possibly your life. You are much more likely to behave like a doormat until it's too late if you don't see through your expectation and look for signs you are loved.

There is a difference between an expectation and a request, even a request with consequences. You have every right to request help with the trash or the cooking or your political campaign, to request your mate enter rehab so you can live together again, to request he not have sex with other women. You have every right to advise him of what you will do if he disagrees with your request (and better yet, if he agrees).

And if you two disagree over your request, you have a great tool for finding a third alternative that suits both of you. My husband says no to a lot of my requests, but he often helps me find another way to get what I want, a fine third alternative for both of us. Doing this, he's avoiding being my doormat, no expectations required and fully open to all the ways I might show him my love for him.

Doormats are people who believe they must say yes to things that fill them with resentment so they can hang onto love. Expectations are attempts to gauge how much love we're hanging onto while overlooking most of it and inviting resentment over how little we find as a result of our search strategy. They provide no protection from becoming a doormat. In fact, they can convince us we're running out of love and ought to lie down to hold onto whatever's left.

When I let go of my expectations, I was completely shocked by how much love I could see in my marriage.

April 28, 2011

An Important Lesson I Want to Share

I did not know back then. I know now. Everything we expect of marriage gets in the way of being loved, except love. Expect love.

April 4, 2011

Expect Love

While you wait for the help with housework or errands you expected, listen for the caring words you expected, wait for company for something you expected to do together, mourn the expected gifts you never get, or wait for an expected hug or caress of the hand, you miss out on everything else your husband or wife wants to offer you as soon as you prepare your heart to receive it without a "yes, but."

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.

December 13, 2010

Falling In and Out of Love

Remember how easy it was to think of ways to be kind or generous to your husband or wife back when you were dating? Remember how you ate that stuff up when he or she did things for you? Remember how you could do something nice without expectations and still be surprised and delighted when something nice happened in return?

What stops you from doing those things and enjoying those benefits today? Perhaps you haven't fallen out of love, only out of the habit.

October 21, 2010

What is Love?

What is love? Many think love is that euphoric feeling you get when everything seems perfect between the two of you and you know you want to spend your lives together.

Some folks will tell you this feeling we call love is fleeting and will not last. They offer two solutions. One group says move on and fall in love again with someone new: split up, divorce, have an affair. The other says forget this euphoric type of love and seek mature love. Mature love, they say, means making deposits in an emotional bank account so that you can make later withdrawals.

I think both are wrong. This euphoria is not love. It is a symptom of love, an effect. And because it is, you can have it back at any time.

The formula is simple. One part outpouring of loving acts, enough to make you feel good about the sort of person you are, and one part total openness to receiving love without the limitations of your expectations. In other words, it requires tearing up the account book for that emotional bank account. You are owed nothing, absolutely nothing, but you pay wide-eyed attention to how much you receive anyway. You earn no credit for your deposits, but you make them anyway to feel good about the person you are and to see yourself reflected in your spouse's eyes. Just like when you fell in love with a stranger, only now it's with someone who shares your history, your family, your fortunes, your precious memories.

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.

August 10, 2010

What I Expect from a Husband

An awful lot of complaints about the men in our lives start the same:

  • I expect my husband to pick up after himself.

  • I expect him to at least remember when our anniversary is!

  • I expect that when I cook, he does the dishes.

  • I did not expect that once we married, he would kiss me only when he's looking for sex.

  • And I did not expect he would make such a fuss about visiting my family.

  • I expect him to make a decent living.

  • I don't expect a lot, but is it unreasonable to expect he'll watch the kids on those rare nights when I go out?

Newlyweds and long-time marrieds both want to know, "What should I expect from my guy?"

And I answer, "Expect love."

That line can be hard to get your head around, because it is so easy to launch into something like this: "If he loved me, he would pick up after himself."

Not true.

Marriage is like a buffet. In a marriage, you should expect love. At a buffet, you should expect food.

At most buffets, if you are expecting food, you will be thrilled. There will be lots of it, and you are welcome to as much of it as you like. Some of it will be delicious. Some will be gorgeous. Some will whet your appetite. Some will fill your stomach. And it may come with a jazz quartet or a mariachi band or butter in the shape of a swan.

If you expect the carved watermelons your best friend described from the midnight buffet on her cruise, you will be disappointed. Most buffets don't have them.

If you expect ham or bacon, you may be so disappointed that you miss out on the exquisite potato pancakes or the lox.

If you just can't wait for those Austrian layer cakes from your sister's buffet, you may skip right over the great the fantastic pastitsio at the Greek buffet to save room. What a shame!

My favorite buffet is the one at Old Sturbridge Village, but I would be miserably disappointed expecting anything like their wonderful chicken pot pie at a jazz brunch buffet in New Orleans.

When you head out to a buffet, expect food. Let the rest of the details surprise you. Don't ruin the experience by comparing it to the highlights of another buffet.

And when you marry, forget what you know about other marriages. It will only get in the way of having a really great experience. Expect love. Let the rest of the details surprise you.

July 16, 2010

Why Don't You Get a Job?

"The kids are grown. They have their own car. One's in college. The other is going next year. Why don't you get a job? We could really use the money."

"I want to. But not just any job. I can't go back to what I was doing. I need coworkers I can stand being around. And I need to keep doing something meaningful. I am not sure I could stand working in an insurance office again."

"For the last 19 years, I have gone to a truly ordinary, not-so-meaningful job every day, even worked overtime, for you and the kids. I wanted to go into business for myself, but I could not take the risk. Now, all I am asking is that you help pay these college bills."

"I will get a job. Really, I will. I might need to go back to school first, but I will get a job. I am just looking for something I can enjoy doing."

"We're not getting anywhere."

No, they sure are not getting anywhere. Each one is defending a position, a story about what is fair, what a loving partner ought to do. They do this politely. They do it without raising their voices. But with each affirmation of their opposing stands, they pound a dividing wedge into their relationship.

It hurts to learn you will not get what you expected your mate to provide. To stop the pain, you can make demands -- and harm your relationship. You can out-debate your partner -- and harm your relationship. You can whine -- and harm both your relationship and your status as mature adult worthy of emulation. Or you can choose to let the expectation go. Let all your expectations go, except one.

Expect love.

You have a problem, whether it is taking a risk on a career change as your kids go to college or finding your way back into the full-time work force after 19 years out. If no one had your back, if you had to do this on your own as a widow or widower with no one to love you, you could do it.

But you are not on your own. You are loved. You are loved by someone with remarkable strengths, different from your own, strengths to help you solve this problem. You are loved by someone who will make great sacrifices for you, some more easily than others. You are loved by someone who wants to show you love, but finds it harder to do so when you ask, over and over, for just one particular way of showing it.

Working a job is not the only way to bring in money. Your current expenses are not fixed in stone. Money is not the only way to put kids through college. Going back to school is not the only way to launch a meaningful career. Working a dull job is not so bad if you come home to support for your dreams or even to a great meal and a massage. And starting your own business is a lot less risky if someone else is pouring heart and soul into it with you.

When you do not get want you want, listen for that little voice in your head that says, "If you loved me, you would..." It is almost always wrong. You were expecting something other than love.

Think back to all the times you received love far greater than anything you expected. That is love. Expect love again. And get to work on solving your problem while you wait for it to surprise you.

June 11, 2010

Expecting Too Little?

What you expect from your marriage has a lot to do with how much you will enjoy it.

Expect your personal mind-picture of the perfect marriage and find yourself frequently and sorely disappointed.

Expect "growth" from the person you actually married into the person you think your mate could become and find yourself in a non-stop battle.

Expect supportive words from a gift-giver, acts of service from a person who loves with their body, or gifts from a person who offers you their time instead and find yourself in a roller coaster relationship.

But expect nothing and find yourselves living disconnected, parallel lives.

What's the answer? Expect love, lots of it, and throw yourself fully into noticing and savoring every surprising, unscripted, not-your-usual-style bit of it. You will find yourself happily married year after year.

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 1, 2009

The Problem with Expectations in Marriage

One of my favorite sayings (I think it comes from Alcoholics Anonymous) is this: "An expectation is a premeditated resentment." December is a big month for mistaken expectations, especially for a new couple or for one whose circumstances have changed this year.

Do you want to spend this month angry about the help you expected, the gifts you expected, the attendance at family or social gatherings you expected, or the religious observances you expected? Or would you rather spend it enjoying the delights of a husband or wife you chose for the qualities he or she adds to your life?

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 23, 2009

10 Things You Should Not Expect from Your Spouse

In tonight's Enjoy Being Married teleclass, I'll be talking about how to get more of your needs met (without cheating). Key to this is knowing what's reasonable to expect from your husband or wife and what's not.

Here are ten things you should not expect:

  1. Vacations that involve being in a bass boat at dawn

  2. Weekly tile grout scrubbing

  3. Even one foot rub

  4. A clean diaper on the baby when you finish your bath

  5. Trash removal before it stinks

  6. A home in the best neighborhood you two can afford

  7. Home-cooked meals

  8. Love notes in your laptop bag

  9. A hug at the airport

  10. Thoughtful birthday gifts

What's the point in being married then, you ask? Call in tonight at 9 pm EDT for the answers or check back here next week.

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 4, 2009

Making a List and Thinking about Divorce

I heard today from yet another woman who found herself with a long list of unmet needs, divorced, and then found herself in the same position all over again after a few years with her next partner.

It would be very easy in this position to conclude men are to blame, and they're all alike. Some of the others I've known who reached this point decided after two rounds of this to live alone and keep from getting attached to any of the men they dated.

Lots of these women are following the same dumb path I was on unlike my husband's sudden death woke me up. They commit themselves to a man who meets a lot of their needs -- their current needs. Over time, they notice other needs go unmet. They ask (or nag) their man to meet these, too. He doesn't. He can't. She thinks he can, but his talents, his strengths, his motivations lie elsewhere, and he doesn't feel loving or loved doing these things for her.

So, she leaves. And the next guy she hooks up with is the one who can meet the items on her needs list that she felt so deprived of in the earlier relationship. She feels relief, until she starts noticing all those others on the list, including a lot her first husband or partner had been meeting. And this is where she concludes commitment to a single partner is worthless.

Commitment is not at all worthless. It's a source of some of the best feelings in life. Giving love makes us feel great about ourselves. Being cared for through a grave illness or a job layoff feels terrific. Getting our needs met feels great, if we focus on the ones getting met, instead of the others. And treating your children's other parent as the center of your universe puts you at the center of theirs.

So, what to do with that list of unmet needs? Start meeting them. And enlist your partner in brainstorming strategies for meeting them yourself, instead of demanding he meet them. Want more money? Start a business or take a job or ask for a raise instead of advising him to do any of these on your behalf. Living in his home and feeling like it's not really yours? Start saving up a down payment, because you'll need a place that's worth both the financial value of the current one and its sentimental value to his.

Want to travel and he won't go? Join (or start) a travel club. Want to ski and he hates the cold? Find some skiing buddies and hit the slopes. Don't want to get stuck with washing the dishes any longer? Switch to paper plates. Your anger and resentment over what he won't do is very likely leading him to want to do less for you, not more.

What you need has nothing to do with your marriage. Those needs go with you if you leave. And you could shop from now until your 64th birthday and never find a human being who could and would meet every one of them for you. So, unless he adds nothing to your life at all, pick one of those needs and get started taking it off your resentment list. You'll find your spouse looks a whole lot better without that list between you.

February 6, 2009

Why "Love Me Better" Fails

I'm unhappy. Love me better."

That's not exactly how we put it. We ask for more time at home, more romance, more appreciation, more help around the house, or more evenings out.

Usually, what we ask for are things we received lots of us at the start of the relationship. We just want to go back to those good times, to feeling loved.

Feeling that loved again is a perfectly reasonable wish, definitely not out of reach for most of us, UNLESS we try to get there by pleading, "Love me better!"

"Love me better!" shuts off love. It doesn't get you more. The love is still there. Today, it might take the form of a steady drip into your retirement account, instead of chocolates and flowers. It might take the form of family time with the kids, instead of date time with you. It might even be lurking just below the surface, waiting for any sign you would actually welcome a hug or some hand-holding.

When you announce, "Can't feel it; love me better," it is a slap in the face. It's a denial of all you are being given. Because your mate cannot tell you want what you want instead of something else, that you are not even looking at all the other forms of love offered to you, it comes across as a demand to fill an apparently bottomless pit.

What can you do instead? Pay attention. Savor the love you are getting. Appreciate it. Say thank you, and be specific about why you are grateful.

"Love me better" creates resentment for both of you. You resent not having what you put on your marriage checklist. Your spouse resents being asked for more than what he or she feels capable of. And resentment snuffs out love. "Love me better" snuffs out love.

Get to work on filling the holes in your life that make you want more. Need more conversation? Make new friends or call the old ones. Need someone to appreciate your cooking? Invite your family over. Want to dance? Find an instructor. You may even find your wife or husband willing to help you find the people who can help you.

Get creative. Want more together time at home? Rearrange your schedule to be fully present when your mate is home. Pay someone to do the chores that cut into the time your spouse is not working. Learn a skill that pays better or take a risk, so less of the burden of paying the bills falls on your spouse. Instead of asking your spouse to spend less time at the office, make his or her time at home more enticing, more urgent to hurry home for.

Does it sound like work to give yourself what you need, on top of everything else you must get done each week? Then imagine how much harder it sounds to the love of your life, who knows a lot less than you do about what would actually please you.

Reopen the flow of love that made those early months so wonderful. All you have to do is pay attention to ALL the ways you are loved. You married someone very special, with his or her own way of loving you. The moment you appreciate what you are given, instead of resenting what you are not, love will rush back in. Enjoy!

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.

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.

August 21, 2008

What to Expect When in Marriage

Before the wedding, we say we don't know exactly what to expect from marriage. We lie. It's not even a year before most utter the words, "If you loved me..." or "If he loved me..." or "Why can't she..." We know what we expect, and it is a disappointment when it's not what we get.

Picture yourself planning a garden tour. You have seen your friends' photos of their garden tours. You love the large, single-color clusters of red, yellow, or pink tulips. The sparsely planted arrangements of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths delight you. And those azaleas! The variety is amazing. The colors are so perfect. You are really looking forward to your garden tour.

You look for tulips. You look for those translucent colors of the azaleas in the gardens they visited. But you have been robbed! In the gardens you visit, there are rust-colored chrysanthemums or orange and purple birds of paradise or spiky, purple hostas with more leaf than flower. This is not what you expected!

If you keep using your checklist of tulips and azaleas from observing your friends' garden trips through snapshots, your trip will be a huge disappointment. If you let go of this list of expectations and open your eyes, you will discover a wealth of nature's beauty. You can be disappointed, or you can crumple up your list of expectations, look for whatever delights your senses, and be in awe.

Your marriage is your garden trip. If you spend it looking for what you've seen in snapshots of your parents' or friends' marriages, you cheat yourself out of an incredible experience. Love comes in as many colors, shapes, fragrances, and seasons as flowers do. Live your marriage on the edge of your seat, always watching for the next, unexpected bit of love your spouse offers you, always savoring each one.

June 1, 2008

Gone Boating

On a beautiful summer afternoon like this one, I recall the pleasures of boating. I want to get out on the water. My husband does not.

Am I being cheated? Is there something wrong with my marriage?

Not at all. We promised to love each other "in sickness and in health," not "by boat and by bicycle." Our marriage is just fine.

He's a handy companion, and I love spending time with him. He'll even get in a boat with me from time to time, just because he loves spending time with me. But I have other friends who share and even amplify my delight with boating, and my life is blessed when I remember to spend some time with them, too.

The first time around, I expected a lot of things besides love, and I often felt cheated. Now I Expect Love and find my life much fuller and happier.

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 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.

May 10, 2008

Doing What Your Spouse Doesn't Want You to Do

You want to work, take a class, quit your job, stay in touch with your friends, get your exercise by dancing, offer a relative a place to stay for the night. Your husband or wife isn't happy about this. What do you do?

First, remember to Expect Love. It's what you're married for. You need it. But when you demand love come in a particular package, you chase it away. Don't demand that your spouse agree with you about what's best for you. Don't demand that your spouse be responsible for running your life or take any blame for your choice to do things his or her way. And please, please, please don't demand that your spouse be pleased with what you must do to be true to yourself.

You may need to watch really hard for other signs of love while the two of you are dealing with a difference of opinion. It's worth doing. We can love and disagree at the same time.

Continue reading "Doing What Your Spouse Doesn't Want You to Do" »

March 7, 2008

Marriage: What Should You Expect?

What's reasonable to expect from a husband? Or a wife? I had an interesting discussion recently with two single women. I told them I believe one of the keys to a great marriage is to expect only love.

Well, of course they both expect love. But only love? Shouldn't we expect fairness? If one cooks, the other cleans up? Unless there are kids at home to care for, both work? If she does the laundry, he mows the lawn -- before it's knee-deep?

Shouldn't we expect shared activities, shared hobbies, shared visits to the relatives, shared dinnertimes, a shared bedroom?

Shouldn't we expect date nights? Back rubs? Sex? Flowers? Jewelry? I love yous? Trust?

In my experience, the more expectations we can let go of, the more delightful marriage becomes. But they were skeptical. Is love enough?

Continue reading "Marriage: What Should You Expect?" »

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 9, 2008

Best Valentine's Day Gift for a Husband

Valentine's Day is a magnificent day to expect love. Especially if you've had marriage problems recently, avoid the trap of expecting chocolates or dinner or jewelry or something romantic. Your chances of expecting the right thing are tiny. Your chances of missing out on love when you expect some particular sign of it are great.

The best gift you can give your husband on Valentine's day is to expect love and welcome it with open arms, no matter what form it might take. Genuine appreciation and acceptance means more than just about anything you could buy or make on February 14th.

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 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 16, 2007

Meeting Your Own Needs

Here's my reply to another question posed by my friend Tammy from Creating Success Stories.

Do adults who practice assumed love live separate lives (since they are meeting all of their own needs, bar one : -}), other than in the bedroom?

Continue reading "Meeting Your Own Needs" »

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" »

February 17, 2006

All You Need Is Love

No, love isn't all you need to get through life. But when talking about your marriage, this song title serves as excellent advice. All you need from your husband or wife is love.

If you've got kids and a house and a job and a love of quiet walks in the woods, you probably have a lot more needs, but you don't need them from your spouse. You need them whether or not you've got a spouse. I discovered that the day after my husband suddenly died.

I seriously considered divorcing the man I loved because I didn't get what I thought I needed from him. I even convinced myself that he must not love me if he didn't provide all of those things. I believed that he owed me all of the things I needed, that as my husband only he could provide them. I was so wrong.

When his death handed me back my list of needs, I could see clearly how much he'd loved me. I could also see way too clearly that while I might find other people to help me with my list of needs, I still needed love.

Continue reading "All You Need Is Love" »

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.

The Author

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

Follow Us

Enjoy Being Married

The Best Marriage Bloggers
2011 Hot Marriage Blog Award - Liufu Yu |
Grow Your Marriage Award 2011 from The Generous Wife
Top Ten Marriage Blogs of 2011
Top Ten Marriage Blogs of 2010


Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
TM Assume Love is trademark of Patricia L. Newbold