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


How to Find Third Alternatives

October 26, 2012

When We Disagree about Our Disagreements - Take 2

On Tuesday, I revealed a problem sent in by a reader and asked for suggestions from all of you. As she sees it, and I must agree, the problem is how they address their disagreements. Neither is happy with their approach.

As an example of the sort of disagreements they are addressing, she offered one spouse asking the other not to interrupt when the other is speaking slowly. As it turns out, this was not her request (as I reported) but his. But even this request hit a nerve with some of the commenters.

Here is my take on the request. First, it is not only OK, but an excellent first step to ask for what you want. In many cases, what one views as an annoying habit is nothing more than a non-meaningful choice made while living among other people, one fairly easily changed to please a loved one.

If it is a deliberate choice or a compulsive one your spouse is not willing to change, it is also OK to stand your grand and insist that the habit is a bad one, even one you cannot tolerate. However, you might want to limit the number of these judgments, because each one distances you from your life partner and mate and increases your anger. Looking for ways to better tolerate the habit, as one reader suggested, is a great idea.

But the real issue here is not the request for a habit change. It is a big difference in the way these two want to deal with such requests. It will come up again every time they discuss taking out the trash, diaper-changing intervals, driving speeds, and a host of other issues.

Their first two options (I ask nicely / you change and let me tell you why you want me to change) are not working for this couple, and both of them are frustrated by it. Frustration turns into resentment. Resentment corrodes a loving relationship. It affects every other part of the relationship. It is a marriage killer.

And it is SO easy to get sucked into. At first, we cannot see any other options, so we argue for or against the ones we have at hand. Those we ask for help usually stick to the two options, too. A number of commenters jumped in and supported or argued against one of these. And this is where things go so very wrong.

These options do not work for this couple. One or the other of them might be right for another couple, but neither is right for this couple. Simply asking for a change does not work for them, because it feels to him like intimacy and connection are lost and there are minefields to be avoided in what should be an open and loving relationship. Analyzing family of origin dynamics and past history when a request is made does not work for her. It feels like an insulting attack. Others (especially graduates of Imago training) might enjoy this. She does not.

Here is how you get away from the first two options when neither of them works for you as a couple. First, you jump the net. You agree to discard your approach, because it doesn't work. And you agree that whatever your mate's approach offers your mate is important and desirable and therefore something you want. You reject his or her first take on how to get it, but you want to get it somehow.

Next, you create the specifications for a Third Alternative, one that makes both of you as happy as the ones you were proposing. The specifications need to include two things: what you thought you would get from your alternative that matters to you and what you feared or disliked about your spouse's alternative.

I am working with limited information, but here is my best guess at the specs for our reader and her husband:

As I understand it, what she wants is to be able to ask him to change a few behaviors to make her more comfortable. While she's willing to hear no when her needs conflict with his, most of the time, she expects a gradual change in these distressing behaviors. What she wants to avoid is feeling that she, her mother, or other family members are dysfunctional because she wants these changes.

What he wants is to be able to contribute to her emotional growth by using his analytical skills and insight into people. He most likely wants to discuss the causes of his own preferences and annoyances, too. What he wants to avoid is any off-limits topics in their marriage. I will go out on a limb and say he also wants to avoid changing his behavior in a way that enables her to stay stuck in an old problem.

Notice that what he wants to avoid does not include giving her a yes or a no. It does not include making the changes she asks for. They can both agree on what she wants, just not the way she pictured getting them.

Notice, too, that she wants to avoid feeling insulted or put down for asking for what she wants or for saying no to things he asks for. But she does not object to talking about difficult subjects or taking advantage of his people skills. It's only tying them to requests and ending up at the conclusion that she or her family are dysfunctional that she wants to avoid.

Put these together, and we are looking for a way to avoid making any topics off-limits and avoid pronouncements of family or personal dysfunction while allowing each of them to ask for what they want and get a yes with change or a no, allowing discussions that might lead to emotional growth for both of them, and allowing a 'no' to a request because it feels like enabling.

Here are some ways to achieve this:

  • Create a new way to ask for changes that makes it harder to slip into analytical discussion, perhaps a handwritten letter (a love letter that includes praise, too, might be great, because, as Barbara Sher writes frequently, praise makes us brave). Or cut out letters from magazines and make it look like a ransom note. Or sing your requests. Anything to signal that the manner of responding should now be a yes or no, saving any discussion of reasons for another time, should help.

  • Initiate discussions of how you each came to be the people you are at times other than when discussing a request for a change.

  • Have a private signal to use when one of you feels attacked instead of helped by these discussions. Stop the discussion and take a 10-minutes break apart, hug each other for a few minutes before continuing, or have a pillow fight. Emotional flooding won't help your relationship. Nip it in the bud. Don't try to ride it out.

  • Deliberately focus on character strengths as you try to understand each other. Remedying weaknesses turns out to be a less successful strategy than using our strengths more. And a lot of weaknesses are simply the result of overly focusing on something that became a strength.

  • Come up with a follow-up question to use whenever you reach one of those "dysfunctional mother" or "cruel sister" or "raised by wolves" dead ends. Maybe, "And now that that's over, in which direction does happily ever after lie?"

Don't use any of these unless they give both of you what you're looking for without raising any new fears of trap doors. If they feel wrong, go back and tweak the specs to reflect what you learned, then resume brainstorming. If you're not getting anywhere, try hot-dogging, coming out with outrageous, even fantasy approaches to meeting your specs. It clears out the rust in the pipes and helps get ideas flowing again.

And do not, I repeat do not, judge any of the ideas as they are flowing. Just write them down until you are done. Then check them against your specs and your gut.

Our inquiring reader may need to tweak the specs and brainstorm a few more ways of meeting them, but I hope this provides a useful example of how to tackle even a big, oft-repeated disagreement with a Third Alternative.

October 2, 2012

Let Go of the How to Find the Why - Part 2

Third Alternatives almost always exist, even when it looks like there are just two options and each of you can stand only one of them. And to discover them, you let go of the how to find the why.

For example, think of Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages.

One thrives on Quality Time together, especially time spent in meaningful, soul-revealing conversation. When they first met, there was quite a bit of this as they revealed themselves to each other. Now it's stopped. One craves it. The other has nothing to say.

One says she craves it because she's home alone with the kids and had few adult conversations, but when asked if spending more time alone with friends would satisfy her, she knows it won't. Deep down, at a level she cannot reason with, this sort of conversation makes her feel loved and she feels unloved without it.

The other has nothing to say. Why? Because processing his own day-to-day feelings takes a lot of unfamiliar effort with no apparent payoff. And listening to her feelings makes him feel rather helpless. How do you fix a bad feeling? And now she wants to talk about her bad feelings about him not fixing her bad feelings? No thanks. Whether or not she feels loved when he does this, he feels loving only when he's doing something helpful for her, the Acts of Service Love Language.

What Third Alternatives are available for them? What will give her the satisfaction of connecting with him in deep conversation and let him feel competent, helpful, and valued?

  • Start their own private book club and discuss the ideas of the great philosophers or of today's political and social reformers.

  • Find and make time for friends who will work through her thoughts about her personal feelings with her, so they are not so near the surface when the two of them talk.

  • Get him into an Active Listening course, so he can learn to be helpful to her by asking good questions.

  • Schedule time for Quality Time together, including conversations, so she's not trying to start conversations when his mind is elsewhere.

  • Mix conversations with things that say love to him, like watching her prepare his favorite meal or helping her with the heavy lifting in her garden.

  • Have conversations by email or online chat if he finds these more comfortable and she can still appreciate the one-on-one time this way.

What do you think? If you and your mate share this difference, would any of these work for you? Have you found your own Third Alternative that both of you can enjoy?

October 1, 2012

Let Go of the How to Find the Why

When you are looking for Third Alternatives (win-win endings to your disagreements), you must let go of the how to find the why. Let me show you what I mean.

One wants to go by car. The other wants to go by plane. Why?

One wants to go by car to see the countryside between points A and B. The other wants to go by plane to avoid being the driver on such a long drive. Third Alternatives?

  • Ask a college student with a good driving record to drive in exchange for free transportation.

  • Take a bus or train.

One wants to go by car because flying is scary. The other wants to go by car because it will save almost $1,000 in lodging, meals, and gas. Third Alternatives?

  • Take a flying anxiety reduction course before the trip.

  • Raise the $1,000 through overtime work, a cake sale, or selling unused camera equipment and skiing gear.

  • Find folks to stay with along the route and bring food from home to bring the price difference down to one easier to bear.

One wants to go by car to avoid feeling stuck with the in-laws when they get there. The other wants to go by plane because it means less lost work time during a busy season. Third Alternatives?

  • Fly and rent a car.

  • Fly and find a local friend to take them away from the house.

  • One drive, the other fly.

Same disagreement. Same sense at the beginning that it's an either-or choice where one will win and the other will lose. Lots of options to make both happy, once they get at the why for either and or.

Ultimate Blog Challenge website in new window
This is post 1 of 31 this month, when I am going for the Ultimate Blog Challenge as I did (successfully!) last year. I will also be joining the Christian Marriage Bloggers Association (of which I am not a member, as I write for people of all faiths) in their 1/2 Marathon Blog Challenge for the first 13 days of the month. I hope you will check out some of the folks in the marathon, as there are some great blogs in the CMBA.

There is something about the gorgeous autumn colors and the chill in the air that makes taking it up a notch feel so right. I hope you enjoy the extra posts and find something valuable in them.

September 3, 2012

3 Ways to Find More Time Together

If you miss having time for fun together or time to talk, here are three quick ways to find more:

  1. Make plans in advance. Come up with something to look forward to or just block out the time for something spontaneous. Do in advance all the things that make it so hard to get out the door (or into the bedroom) for something unplanned.
  2. Question your givens. If your spouse is often available when your non-profit executive committee meets, look for ways to serve the cause at a different hour. If you're working different shifts, consider the possibility of changing your sleeping hours. If you have a long commute, consider ditching it for a job nearer to your sweetie.
  3. Break your together time into smaller chunks. Buy a notebook to keep track of conversations that must take place over six car rides instead of one long afternoons. Make up your own rules for a shorter version of your tennis game. Dance at home instead of making the drive to the club. Move closer to where you ride your bikes or take your hikes.
Watch out for the all-or-nothing trap. There is almost always a Third Alternative in which you get your time together without blowing off everything that competes with it.

August 26, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

What It Means to Assume Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Being a Good Spouse

Matt continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Wish for You This Weekend

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

August 24, 2012

Why Can't You See This My Way? - Part 2

This post is a continuation of Wednesday's post, in which I asked what Janice should do next. She triggered an emotional outburst from her wife, Katy, with the question, "How much interest are we making on our savings account this year?"

The Votes are In

Here's what you thought Janice's best next move would be :

  • 1 reader chose Defend her question as an innocent one with no intent to challenge Katy

  • No readers chose Assert her right to know what interest an account with her name on it and her money in it is earning

  • 3 readers chose Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved

  • No readers chose Dismiss her request and check with the bank to be sure Katy is not mishandling their money

  • 6 readers chose Give Katy information she might not have about a new bank in town with interest rates that might be higher

  • 2 readers added Acknowledge Katy's distress and ask questions to understand what's behind it before doing anything else

  • 1 reader added (by email) Reassure Katy that she (Janice) would not recall the interest rate off the top of her head either and the query was poorly worded. Then the two of them could look up the current rate and together match it against other banks. This query could be a start point for a discussion of how money is such a core issue that it is best that time be apportioned monthly to this and both parties be involved in money matters.

Not everyone who commented could choose just one, so there is some double-counting in this list.

Is the Most Popular Choice the Best Choice?

Giving Katy information about the interest rate at the new bank was quite popular here, just as it is in real life. Let's talk about that, because I believe it will backfire.

Janice is dealing with information--and probably a request she has not yet revealed. Katy is dealing with emotions. Emotions are the result of beliefs about whatever happened to trigger them. In this case, that would be emotions about being asked by her wife for an interest rate. We'll get back to those beliefs in a moment.


First, let's talk about emotions, because what we sense in our bodies as an emotion is the result of the release of chemicals into our brains and bloodstream, a different mix for each emotion. And the purpose of those chemicals is to save our lives. They give us a burst of energy for running away or fighting or staying alert (fear does this and so does anger) or they make us lethargic so we'll be less adventurous while we mend or figure out a new strategy (sadness does this).

At the same time, the chemicals focus our thoughts. If we're angry, it will focus them on boundaries and rights. If we're frightened, it will focus them on threats. If we're shamed or embarrassed, it will focus them on our standing in a relationship or group. If we're sad, it will focus them on losses.

In a marriage, angry almost always comes mixed with frightened. We're frightened of losing our spouse or frightened of losing our independence within the marriage.

So Katy will be focused on boundaries, rights, and threats. Her mind will not be focused on managing the finances. It will be bouncing around like a pinball from dish washing to dog walking to income earning and recalling every word Janice has ever said that sounds like she wants out, wants to run the show, or does not care. She'll be thinking about how awful it felt to be dumped in her first relationship as a teenager or how small she felt when another partner called her stupid.

Throwing Information at Emotions

What will a brain like this do with the information that there's a new bank touting its interest rate? What will it do with the information that Janice is thinking about money while Katy's being overwhelmed by unwelcome thoughts? We are all extraordinarily good at making up scary stories about any information that arrives at a moment like this.

What we believe about the information accentuates the emotion or starts another. Angry (I believe it's wrong for you to treat me like this) can quickly turn to despairing (I believe I have lost your love or respect). Katy needs time to cool down or a sign that she and her rights are valued by Janice before she can treat information as just information.

Janice's defense of her question won't do it. Neither will Janice's assertion of her own rights. And if Janice just drops the comment and changes the subject, it's not likely Katy will stop the current line of thoughts.

Defusing Emotions

So, the suggestion from two readers to acknowledge the upset and seek to understand it could definitely help. But this is about a perceived difference of opinion, and there is another approach that works very well. It is to find a Third Alternative. And to start this process, we jump the net. Instead of acknowledging Katy's distress, Janice would acknowledge what she says she wants: "Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved."

Go for a Third Alternative When You Disagree

One reader feared Janice would not get what she wants if she does this, but jumping the net and looking for a Third Alternative is quite often the only way, short of being a bully, to get what she wants. Remember, a Third Alternative is quite different from a compromise. In a compromise, you accept some pain or loss in return for the promise that your beloved will experience just as much pain or loss. With a Third Alternative, you throw out your first two competing ideas for how to get what each of you wants and seek out a way to get what both of you want.

What is it that Janice wants? One reader was sure an ulterior motive lies behind her request. However, it could be as simple as wanting to improve her reputation at the place where she volunteers by coming up with a bank with a better interest rate for their money. She might want to feel more secure by getting more information from Katy even as she leaves everything in her hands. And she might want to know more about the financial decisions now because a close relative just lost a spouse and discovered she was going to lose the house and car, too, and the fear is eating into her ability to trust and love Katy.

The Third Alternative might involve a monthly time for discussing money matters, as the one reader suggested. However, proposing a solution--before (1) jumping the net (agreeing to give Katy what she's after, just not the way it's currently happening) and (2) creating the list of specs for a solution that pleases both of them--can easily create a second disagreement instead of a Third Alternative.

So that is my pick: jump the net and start a search for a Third Alternative, one that leaves Katy feeling trusted and appreciated as she tackles a large chore but also meets whatever Janice's need might be. And the first step in this is:

Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved

In Part 3, I want to get into what you do when you fear an ulterior motive in your spouse's request or outburst.

But first I want to hear from you. Have you reconsidered your choice? Do you want to defend one of the others? I would love to hear from you.

August 22, 2012

Why Can't You See This My Way? - Part 1

Janice asks, "How much interest are we making on our savings account this year?" It's a simple question, but the reply from her partner of 13 years and now her wife could inadvertently start World War III.

"I don't recall. But why do you care? You asked me to handle our finances. I'm handling them. Are you supervising me now?" The question hit a real nerve for Katy.

At this point, Janice has a few choices:

  • Defend her question as an innocent one with no intent to challenge Katy

  • Assert her right to know what interest an account with her name on it and her money in it is earning

  • Assure Katy she wants her to handle the finances unsupervised and appreciates the effort involved

  • Dismiss her request and check with the bank to be sure Katy is not mishandling their money

  • Give Katy information she might not have about a new bank in town with interest rates that might be higher

If Janice is human, the one she picks first will likely have nothing to do with the real reason behind her question. Instead, it will be a reaction to what Katy's reply triggers in her. For this, reason, I am not going to reveal right now what Janice really hoped to get. But I am going to ask you to pick her best response and tell us why you think it's best.

When we have at least 3 comments, I will post part 2 of this tale.

July 20, 2012

How to Start a Discussion About a Change

"I want to do this a way that keeps you happy, but the current one isn't working for me. Let's brainstorm some other possibilities." That is one very good way to start a discussion about something you want to change.

For example, he likes to leave his chair where it lands when he leaves the table, but your "this is wrong" alarm goes off when he does.

You might say, "I want you to keep on pushing your chair away from the table after dinner, but the current outcome of doing this isn't working for me. Would you be willing to brainstorm some other possibilities with me?"

Here are a few to get you started (the odder the better because you'll laugh together, and that's worth 37 bonus points right there):

  • Bolt the chairs to the floor, the way fast food places do.

  • Sit on giant exercise balls instead of chairs. You surely don't have a ball placement alarm, too.

  • Put a cozy restaurant booth in your kitchen, just for the two of you.

  • When you get up, push the table to his chair and your chair under it. Eat in a different part of the kitchen every night.

  • Attach bungee cords to his chair.

  • Make it a practice to kiss him as he gets up. Back him and his chair to the table while you kiss.

  • Wash the floor after dinner, so it seems perfectly normal to put the chairs up on the table.

  • Serve dinner on a tablecloth on the floor and forget the table.

  • Attach a ticket counter to his chair and click it when you push the chair in for him. Once a month, give yourself a $1 reward for each click. See if he doesn't start giving you extra clicks.

  • Paint targets on the floor under the table for each chair leg. Some folks cannot resist aiming for a target. You might be married to one of them.

  • Add casters to your chairs. It could turn out he loves to give a chair a good shove if it will roll into place.

  • Buy soda fountain swivel stools and put your table up on blocks.

This method has been known to work a whole lot better than the "You know, civilized men push their chairs back under the table after eating, and it creeps me out that you still don't after 17 years of being married to me" approach.

May 23, 2012

Do You Two Have a Place?

My husband and I have a few places. One is a very comfortable neighborhood restaurant and bar with good music, really friendly service, palm trees with colored lights, lots of comfort food, and an unlimited supply of fresh, hot tortilla chips. We go there when the tension level reaches a certain level. It lets us smile at life and each other again.

In a way, it is a Third Alternative. My husband would probably find a well-run jazz club very relaxing. Not me. And I love to relax in a pool, but he finds nothing inviting about clorinated water. We both relax immediately at Poco's, and it's a lot closer than either of the others.Poco's Restaurant

We found it pretty quickly after moving here, because it's important to have a place where we will both relax back into our generous, supportive selves.

We also have a place for celebrating, a place for riding our bikes together, and a place for getting away from it all. And they are all Third Alternatives, places we sought out because we disagreed about the first few we tried.

We go other places, too, places that delight him or make me feel great. And we check out new places all the time.

It took some effort to find our shared places, the ones where we both feel uplifted or calmed down, where we can both experience flow while we exercise or feel part of something larger than ourselves. But it is so good to know we can count on them when we want to share a good time.

Tonight, as we got into our better moods at Poco's after power failures stopped our computers twice in one afternoon, I thought about the value of having our places, and I thought about you.

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 15, 2012

Third Alternatives to Children / No Children

I received a heartbreaking comment today.

One of my hearts greatest desires is to have a child one day. My husband is the only one that can give this to me. But he never wants to have any children... at all... ever! I have been waiting 7 years for him to change his mind.. with absolutely no change and no sign of hope for the future.

It's not all that uncommon a situation. But how do you enjoy being married to someone denying you your greatest desire? What happens to a marriage stuck in deadlock like this for seven years? It's not fair to him or to her.

This is where Third Alternatives can make a huge difference. It's so hard to see that there could be any other alternatives besides have kids and don't have kids. But this is true of almost all disagreements. We cannot see that there might be other alternatives. And we cannot see it because of the way we have framed the choices.

It is our words that get in the way. We say what we want instead of what we hope it will bring us. Our ability to find a Third Alternative depends on knowing what we hope it will bring us and what we fear it will bring us. And these are hidden in the words we use to describe what we want.

If we brought the woman whose greatest desire is to have a child an unruly twelve-year-old orphan to care for, would she feel fulfilled? Some would. Others definitely would not. "Have a child" means different things to them.

Some women would feel their desire met if they carried a child to term and got to care for it for a year before illness or accident ended its life. For others, this would be worse than having no children.

For some, adopting a child who is cared for by a nanny while they pursue a busy career qualifies. For others, having a child means natural childbirth and being an at-home mom who prepares three meals a day and stays actively involved in every aspect of the child's life.

What about shared custody of a child? Some consider this parenting. Others consider it a miserable circumstance forced upon them by the courts. But being a nanny or a foster parent or a very involved aunt or Big Sister can turn out a lot like shared custody and meet some women's "have a child" needs just fine.

So can working in a facility where you serve as several children's parent for 8 hours a day and spend the other 16 with your spouse.

For those who do not want a child, there are also many variations in what would qualify. Some do not want the financial responsibility but might accept foster parenting or being a parent with a woman who makes plenty of money.

Some fear being a child's role model. Trying out that role as an uncle or a Big Brother may reduce that fear. So might having an older father as a mentor, and there are plenty of dads who would love to be one.

Some do not like living with young children but would be fine with adopting an older child. Some do not ever want to see their wife pregnant but might consider a long-distance relationship for five months.

Some expect tasks they don't care for, like diaper changing or playing catch or sitting through soccer games. Check around at your local college. There may be many young men or women who would be pleased to work for your family taking care of these tasks, perhaps even in exchange for home-cooked meals instead of the college meal plan.

Men may shy away from children out of a belief that their sex life will suffer or their freedom to travel will be diminished. Be creative in resolving them, even if it means an overnight sitter once a week.

One man I heard of avoiding having children out of fear of being responsible for raising them in the event of his wife's death. Solving this one what-if scenario was the only obstacle to having children. It might require building stronger friendships or making more money before having them, but there is, indeed, a Third Alternative for such couples.

And one more. If your marriage is plagued by such a disagreement, it's possible that having children raises the fear of child support obligations after a divorce. The disagreement itself fuels the fear of divorce. Put it to rest and lean into the marriage, and you might find yourselves in agreement about having children.

A Third Alternative gives each of you what you sought from your first alternative (or better). Finding one starts by offering to meet your spouse's need if you can change the way of meeting it. This frees you to discuss the aspects of having a child or children you desire and the ones that frighten you.

Until you offer to do your best to provide these, you cannot have an honest discussion, because you will both still be working toward your initial alternative of children or no children. You will not see the Third Alternative until you know what each of you honestly wants.

April 24, 2012

Am I Right?

So much of the time, when married folks say they want to take their spouse to marriage therapy, it's to answer this question: am I right?

The answer is not very helpful. Referees are useful only for deciding competitions, not for making relationships more intimate or more satisfying.

A better question is this: how can we resolve this disagreement in a way that satisfies both of us?

On the way to discovering the answer is another question: what is it that I don't yet understand that leads you to choose this option I disagree with?

Before you can ask it, you must jump the net and get on the same side, in search of a solution that is neither of your first two options but delivers the important outcomes each of them would achieve.

Find Third Alternatives. Then you're both right. Better yet, you're both happy with the outcome and with each other.

April 20, 2012

When You Want Different Things

One wants to go out more. The other would just as soon stay home. It is an incredibly common difference of opinion between couples. It would be less of one if couples recognized they have lots more options.

The person who wants to go out more assumes their partner wants to stay home to avoid the very things he or she values about getting out, whether it's new experiences, better food, or exercise in the company of friends. This is seldom true.

The person who wants to stay home may beg their partner to stay home, too, only to find that his or her idea of staying home is to get some work done or read email, not to sit quietly together, make the house and yard more inviting, or to make love.

Disagreements get really ugly when one partner expects the other to initiate going out or staying home when the other is their preference. It guarantees an awful time together wherever you end up.

How do you resolve such differences? You look for a Third Alternative. Step One, you jump the net and tell your husband, wife, or life partner, "I want you to have what you're looking for." You will never find it while holding onto the idea that only one of you will get what you want or that you will have to settle for less than what you want.

Step Two, you write up the specs for having what both of you are looking for and for what both of you need to avoid. You want one set of specs that both of you buy into. Check each one to be sure you both will know whether an idea meets it or not.

Step Three, you brainstorm the craziest things you can think of that might possibly comply with the full set of specs, gradually tweaking each idea until you find one (or more) that make you both say, "Yes! I want this."

Step One is critical but easy to master. Step Two takes practice, but mastering it makes Step Three easy. To succeed at it, you must be genuinely interested in getting past your own meanings for words and finding out what they mean for your spouse.

"I prefer wearing sweats after work." Sounds simple, but there are so many possibilities in it. Perhaps this means that going out in other clothing would be fine before work or on weekends. Perhaps it simply means that after work clothes must be comfortable to wear, but could be made of other fabrics and in other designs.

"I get bored being here all day. I need a change of venue." Good point. But is it needed when you're together? Or have you just fallen into a pattern that keeps you home during the day and itching to go out when the sun goes down? And is it perhaps possible the change of venue could be at home if you created a room at home that's totally different and reserved for time together after hours?

"I would rather have dinners at home than to go out to a restaurant and dancing with friends." This mixes several things together. Would you be interested in dancing if it were a different style of dancing than your current friends engage in? Or if you could do it at home on your own dance floor, with or without friends? Are dinners at home better because of the food? The price? The noise level? The ease of including the kids?

Once you stop defending your original plan (one of a thousand or more available to you), you can take the time to ask about the meaning behind the words your partner uses. It will improve your specs for a solution. It will also make your spouse feel known and valued.

When you get to brainstorming a way to meet your now shared specs, I expect a lot more ideas will come to you. You won't be running from a disagreement, but dancing together toward a better life for both of you. And that is the incredible power of Third Alternatives. Try it and see.

March 19, 2012

Five Questions to Help You Find 3rd Alternatives

You want something. Your spouse objects, because he or she wants something else in the same time slot, with the same money, or in the same spot. You need a Third Alternative.

You want what you want, and you want to be the sort of spouse who gives your mate what he or she wants, too. But what you each want is seldom the thing you each say you want. It is the feelings and the capabilities that thing offers you. And there are many ways to get what it offers you.

Question 1: What results would our Third Alternative need to provide to make both of us happy?

Question 2: What disadvantages would our Third Alternative need to avoid to make both of us happy?

Question 3: What stands in the way of having this AND that instead of this OR that?

Question 4: What are we taking for granted about our options that does not really matter to either of us?

Question 5: Who do we know that might have looked for something similar in the past and run across ideas we have not heard of yet?

A Third Alternative gets you what you want and lets you give generously to your life partner at the same time. If you are looking for one right now, please use the comments as your way to reach out to thousands of other people for help finding it.

March 3, 2012

The Stifling Marriage

You want to travel overseas. You're married to someone who will not fly.

You want to go back to school. Your spouse says, "We need you here." Here might be the kitchen, the office, the store, or even the bank account.

You want to spend Saturdays hiking. You married someone whose idea of a hike is getting the mail from the mailbox.

Marriage is not meant to be stifling. It is meant to provide a sturdy platform from which you can do more and be more than on your own.

Did you just mutter, "Tell that to the stick-in-the-mud I married"? Your husband, wife, or life partner does not make these decisions for you. You make them. You decide to stay on this side of the ocean, to turn down an education, to sit on the sofa instead of hiking.

You might make the choice to keep the peace or to be more supportive than your mate. Then again, you might make the same choice because there is an upside to going along with what your spouse prefers. Hiking, traveling, and education require us to come up with a lot of cash, to prepare our bodies and minds in advance, and to work hard to reap their benefits. All would be much easier if someone else kicked in part of the expense and cheered us on.

Unfortunately, marriage can feel quite stifling while living someone else's idea of a good life.

If you are ready to make the choice to do something important to you, please know that it is OK. Your spouse may experience great discomfort when you do, but this should not stop you. What it should do is drive you to Find Third Alternatives that eliminate the unpleasantness for your mate.

If you go hiking, the unpleasantness is not what you're doing while you're out of the house. It's the loss of your company or the wonderful things you do for your spouse. Find out exactly what your mate sees as the cost. The find a mutually satisfactory alternative way to replace what you will be taking away.

If you go back to school, it is likely your spouse disagrees because of the financial implications or the possibility of the two of you growing apart. Work together on a Third Alternative way to fund your schooling without denying your mate's dreams. Or find a better way to continue growing together than holding back on your own learning. They exist.

Whatever you do, please do not stifle yourself. It's bad for your relationship and your mental health.

February 22, 2012

Saudi Arabia Looks to Marriage Education to Cut Judicial Costs

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Justice is contemplating requiring couples to obtain family management licenses before marrying. Sixty percent of all court cases in the nation are family disputes, says the Saudi Gazette.

No suggestion was offered that individuals might complete their training before beginning the search for a marriage partner. The license is to be granted to the couple. Sounds like training will be needed on demand, as many arranged marriages occur fairly quickly after the two agree to a match.

The course will teach "the skills and knowledge needed to solve disputes when they are married." I have my fingers crossed that they include how to Find Third Alternatives.

I wonder what percentage of U.S. court cases are family disputes and how much our state budgets could be cut if more of us received marriage education?

January 30, 2012

A Valentine's Day Third Alternative

Luis said, "Barb, do you think you can find us a babysitter for Valentine's Day, so I can take you to dinner at La Paz?"

A small shudder of annoyance went down Barb's spine. Luis never seemed to pay any attention to their budget. And he never, ever called any of the sitters himself, even though Barb had entered all of their numbers into his cell phone.

Barb said, "I would much rather we put the price of a La Laz dinner into the twin's college fund. It's only ten more years until we have two kids in college at the same time."

Step 1: Jump the Net!

Luis replied, " I hear you, Barb. I appreciate the need to save money. Third Alternative, then? Is the cost your only objection? Anything else we need to consider to come up with a Third Alternative that works for you?

This took Barb by surprise. They had just recently read about Third Alternatives. Luis was not going to launch into his usual routine. He was actually asking what she wanted, apparently intending to give her whatever she requested, just not in the manner she asked for it.

What did she want? She thought about asking him to call the sitter if they needed one, but then she realized she wanted to speak directly with the teen who would spend the evening with their two sons.

Step 2: Write New Specs

Barb said, "Something inexpensive or even free is what I want this Valentine's Day, Luis. And romantic, at least a little bit."

Luis replied, "What I want is to take you somewhere special and memorable, Barb, but there is a reason. In the past year, Rob and Bart both died so suddenly and Jen developed MS. And I cannot even remember what I did for you last Valentine's Day, less than a year later. This year, I need to do something you will remember if anything were to happen to me. So, it needs to be special and not use up money the boys will need for college, right?"

Barb said, "Oh, I had no idea you were so affected by what happened to Judy, Rob, and Bart, Luis. OK, those sound like good specs for a Third Alternative. Now we brainstorm, right? How about I make a really nice candlelight dinner at home?"

Step 3: Brainstorm!

Bart replied, "I really like the idea of candlelight, but how about if I take care of the money-saving? If I brown-bag lunch for the next two weeks, instead of going out with everyone else, that will! least $100. How much is the babysitter?"

"Maybe $30," Barb said.

Luis said, "I am going to put my old cameras on Craigslist. If they sell in time, we go to La Paz. If not, we go somewhere a bit less memorable, but nice."

Barb replied, "Luis, I love the idea of La Paz, but I don't have any dresses nice enough for there. A new outfit would cost way too much."

Luis said, "OK. One more specification for our Third Alternative. But let's not write off La Paz too quickly. Is there any inexpensive way to come up with a suitable outfit, assuming you would actually like to go to La Paz, that is."

"I would really love a romantic, candlelight dinner with you at La Paz on Valentine's Day, Luis. But where would I get an outfit?"

Luis said, "That's pretty much out of my league, but I would be happy to ask my sisters if they have any suggestions."

Barb said, "No, please don't impose on them, Luis."

"Asking for help with brainstorming is not very imposing, Barb. They both have pretty creative minds and lots of friends," Luis said.

"You're right! I could ask a couple of the gals at work for ideas, too. Whether it's La Paz or some place a little less expensive, I think this will be a memorable Valentine's Day just because of this discussion. Thank you, Luis. I'm really glad we learned how to find Third Alternatives when we disagree. If we get to La Paz for Valentine's Day as a result, I am a fan for life!"

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 4, 2012

Third Alternatives for Worriers

Does one of you worry more than the other? Ever wonder what you could do about this? All that extra worrying gets to be pretty annoying to the one who thinks there is nothing to worry about. And all that nonchalance just gives the worrier more to worry about.

Treat it like any difference of opinion and shoot for a Third Alternative. To find one, you first need to let go of your original positions and stop trying to convince each other of them.

Instead, talk about what you need. The worrier wants less risk. The other wants more freedom, spontaneity, or trust. Take some time to learn from each other. What risks does the worrier see? This is not the time to debate the risks, but to hear them. What does the non-worrier see as the costs of worrying? Again, don't debate; listen and learn.

Use what you heard to create the specs for your Third Alternative, then to brainstorm something that works for both of you. Here are some examples:

  • Both want to enjoy the drive. For one, this means moving as fast as the car, the weather, the traffic, and the policing permit. For the other, it means never getting closer than six car lengths behind another car's bumper at interstate speeds and never riding beside or in front of a truck. Third Alternatives: (a) the one who watches distances drives, (b) the one who enjoys driving adds a couple more rules to the game.

  • One cannot bear to spend the last $5,000 in the bank on anything but a life-and-death emergency. The other trusts money will always appear when needed, especially when they use whatever they invest what they have in high risk/high return possibilities. Third Alternatives: (a) put $5,000 in an out-of-sight account that the worrier controls and risk the rest, (b) create a bank account for risk-taking and put 60% of every payoff back into that account, (c) agree on quick payoff work the risk-taker will do when a gamble ties up or loses the last $5,000.

  • One does everything possible to avoid exposure to unnecessary germs. The other believes exposure builds up immunity. Third Alternatives: (a) jointly research the effectiveness of exposure and cleaning routines to let go of the ones that don't work, (b) set aside clean zones in a few places around the house.

  • One wants to prepare for every storm, the other for sunny days. Third Alternatives: (a) split the two tasks between you, (b) create a system of rewards for things done to prepare for the one you don't naturally prepare for.

If you are the worrier, keep a notebook of things you worry about that don't happen. For example, every time your spouse arrives home safely from an interstate drive without you, most likely driving in the way that frightens you, write it down in your notebook. Build your own trust in your mate.

If you are the non-worrier, keep a notebook of everything your worrier does to protect you from harm. If it works, also write down exactly what would have been required to make things better if the problem had not be prevented. Build your gratitude for the freedom granted you by your mate's caution.

December 21, 2011

Find Third Alternatives: Better Brainstorms

The third step in finding Third Alternatives (after Jump the Net and Write New Specs) is to Brainstorm. A brainstorm lets you build on top of each other's creativity to think of things that would never occur to either of you alone.

Here are a few tips for better brainstorms:

  • Set aside a block of time with no interruptions.

  • Find a relaxed, non-distracting environment.

  • Review your specs first, but accept and record all ideas without critique until you finish the brainstorm.

  • If you have a negative reaction to an idea, find the part you like in it and ask for more like it.

  • Invite others who have faced the same disagreement or experienced more of life to help if you get stuck.

  • Include a friend with odd or shocking ideas just to loosen up your own ideas.

Too many disagreements result from getting stuck on the first two options we can think of. Once we know what would make us both happy, brainstorming reveals so many more options for getting to this great place.

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 18, 2011

Why Married People Fight

Why do married people fight?

Often they fight to protect what they believe their spouse might take from them. Married life will wear you out if you must constantly watch out for your own interests. What to do instead? Start practicing looking for Third Alternatives if you need relief from this exhausting job.

They also fight to increase intimacy. A good fight makes you feel your lives are more intertwined. It gets your blood moving, a lot like sex does. It might give you more physical contact with each other. It confirms your mate still cares what you think, even if he or she disagrees with it. It might even lead to makeup sex.

In the long run, though, research shows the couples whose unions survive constant fighting have at least five positive interactions for every negative one. Each fight offers a lot of negatives. So what can you do for the positives?

Sex, of course. Why not move to the makeup sex a little sooner in the fight?

Dancing. It offers physical contact and gets your blood flowing without any more hurtful words.

Hiking. But only if the path requires you to hold onto each other on the tough parts.

Baking or cooking. Feed each other with the mixing spoon. Lick the beaters together. Hug the cook. Compliment the cooking. Compliment yourselves as a couple, too.

I am sure you can think of lots more. I hope you will, and I hope you will share them in the comments box below. [If there is none there, click on "Why Married People Fight" up above.

October 16, 2011

Is It Possible to Enjoy Being Married?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 4, 2011

Find a Third Alternative - Step Three

If you read yesterday's post, you know that step one in finding a Third Alternative is to jump the net and step two is to write new specs. Now we are ready for step three.

Step Three: Brainstorm!

Sometimes, one of you can do the brainstorming on your own. You look at your new specs and ideas start popping. Suddenly, there it is. The Third Alternative, the one you will like as much as you liked your initial idea and your mate will like as much as his or her first option.

After twenty years of marriage in the same house, a friend learned about Third Alternatives. He and his wife had disagreed for twenty years about where to store the can opener in the kitchen drawers. When he realized their specs for a Third Alternative were "in this drawer" and "in that drawer," he came up with a solution on the spot. He bought a second can opener. No more disagreement. He got what he wanted and made his wife happy. Not bad for $1.97!

The same was true for my husband and me. The moment we laid out our specs for a Third Alternative, the same idea occurred to both of us.

Our specs: laundry room, well lit, with open storage shelves, no soap odors in a living area, no unfinished basement between the laundry room and the rest of the house. We both grabbed for the house plans to point out our great idea, which was a finished hallway from the stairs to the laundry room. We made the short hallway roomy, gave it an oak floor, white walls, and recessed lighting. A door off the hallway opened into the family room. Another went into the laundry room. And we were both delighted with it.

The answer is not always obvious. Sometimes we need to do a lot more brainstorming. The idea is to keep tossing out ideas without evaluating any of them. The really far-fetched ones may be impractical, but they free our minds to be more creative.

When brainstorming a way to meet all of the specs for the Third Alternative, two minds are probably four times as successful as one person working alone. When this is not enough, invite others to brainstorm with you. Choose creative friends and acquaintances. Don't tell them the first two alternatives or who wants what. Give them only the new specs and ask them to think of anything close, then build on it. And, if you can, get several of them together at the same time, so they can feed off each other's ideas.

You have new technology to help, too. Put your specs on Facebook and Twitter. Use the hashtag #IdeaParty on Twitter to invite a group that has a regular brainstorming session on Thursdays.

I am also happy to help you brainstorm a way to meet your new specifications. I love brainstorming. Just show up at one of my free teleclasses or add a comment to this post.

October 3, 2011

Find a Third Alternative - Step Two

If you read yesterday's post, you know that step one in finding a Third Alternative is to jump the net.

Step Two: Write New Specs

Those first two ideas, the ones you disagree about, can keep your thinking stuck. To find something else you both like as much begins with a list of specifications for making you happy. Your first two options won't work as solutions, but they give you a starting point for thinking about what you're looking for.

If you got the option you want, what would be better? How would you feel? What could you do? What would be possible that is not possible now?

And what would not happen to you? What do you dislike or fear about your mate's suggestion?

This is not the time to list every little nice-to-have about your alternative nor everything anyone might ever dislike about your spouse's. It is time to figure out why one appeals to you and the other does not, so you can describe what the Third Alternative must include and avoid.

Draw a large square on a piece of paper. Put a line down the middle, with your info on one side and your spouse's on the other. Draw a line across and put what the Third Alternative must do on the top and what it must avoid on the bottom.

For example, in the great laundry room battle, the window was nice-to-have. If I could not have a window in a basement laundry room, I would still want it there. Water in the family room was nice-to-avoid, not a requirement. I did not expect laundry room flooding to occur often enough to plan for it. These would not go our on list.

What I wanted was a well-lit laundry room that would not let laundry detergent odors into any living space. I have a lot of allergies and I have not found a soap that won't aggravate them. This was the first delightful surprise. My husband had no disagreement with protecting me from allergy problems, as long as he got the benefits he sought from the family room location.

When he revealed the big one, I because a Third Alternative cheerleader. I would never, ever have guessed this was the difference between basement and family room for him, just as he never guessed soap odor keeping me from enjoying the family room was the difference for me.

I grew up on the east coast, where just about everyone has a basement. My husband grew up on the west coast, when almost no one does. The house we were building was a bi-level. Half of the lower level would be unfinished. The other half would be the finished family room. Both would sit high enough to have windows and to be reached from the garage but low enough to be thought of as basement.

Here is what my husband said right before we had our joint aha! moment. He said, "I don't want to have to walk through icky, unfinished basement to get to the laundry room, like at your parents' house.

We had our specs. Laundry room, well lit, with open storage shelves, no soap odors in a living area, no unfinished basement between the laundry room and the rest of the house. That was our Step Two. If we could have this, neither of us would get stuck with half a pie. We could have it all.

Tomorrow I will tell you we did it, and how some other folks have found their Third Alternatives.

October 2, 2011

Find a Third Alternative - Step One

If you read yesterday's post, you know how to recognize a Third Alternative: it ends a disagreement with both of you happy.

Even Stephen Covey, who wrote about Third Alternatives in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, lost track of this first step when he also called this Win-Win negotiating. Almost everyone since has used this same name, and the name leads sales people, business leaders, and relationship therapists to completely miss the essential first step.

Finding Third Alternatives is not negotiating at all.

Step One: Jump the net!

You and your mate are on the same team. (For that matter, so are you and your customer, you and your subordinate, or you and your joint venture partner.) As long as you are on opposite sides of the net, there are only two alternatives. You may defend yours creatively, hoping to make your husband or wife see the light and agree with you, but you will not find a Third Alternative.

Jump the net. Tell your mate, "I want you to have what you want. I just cannot give it to you in this particular form. Let's come up with some specs for a Third Alternative."

Before we jumped the net on the laundry room disagreement, here are some of the things I said to my husband about putting it in the basement of the house we were building:

  • "If it's in the basement, it will have a window and some natural sunlight." This was not a must-have for me, but I was pretty sure he would think it a great benefit of my getting my way on this one.

  • "If the washer overflows, the water will go into the sump hole, not the family room." Neither of us had ever seen a washer overflow except on TV comedies, but what the heck, it might convince him.

  • "We would not need to walk as far with the laundry basket." Yep, I was really reaching now.

I have heard some women even put some spin on the ball with something like, "How often do you think I am going to feel in the mood after lugging the laundry in there and washing in the dark?"

You might win a battle this way, but in the end you'll destroy your relationship with the most important person in your life.

When you jump the net, you give up your first alternative and stop offering any reasons to select it. You are going to get something you like just as much, so let it go. You get a bonus with a Third Alternative, too. You get a happy spouse who feels like a winner, too.

This is the step way too many people skip, and they seldom find themselves happy with the outcome. They are still negotiating, dividing the pie in two based on the final score in their little tennis match. You are on your way to making a bigger, tastier pie with your beloved mate, who is now standing right beside you.

Tomorrow, I will give you the recipe.

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

June 17, 2011

The Difference Between a Disagreement and a Fight

You ask for something. Your husband or wife says no or asks for something different. This is a disagreement. A disagreement may actually be a good thing.

So what turns a disagreement into a fight? You demand, pout, withdraw affection, insinuate, or put forth perfectly rational arguments that result in your mate demaning, pouting, insinuating or taking up sides against you in a debate. Unless the two of you both enjoy the adrenalin rush and makeup sex, a fight is probably bad for you, your mate, and your marriage. Research suggests you will need to interact positively and as intensely around five times to undo the damage.

Just going along with your spouse and forgetting your own wants or needs does not result in a better outcome, unless the disagreement is so minor you will not remember it tomorrow.

How Can a Disagreement be a Good Thing?

If you pursue a Third Alternative, an option each of you finds at least as pleasing as the one your mate turned down, you get two huge benefits.

The first benefit comes from eliminating the fear any disagreement triggers. Most of us carry some fear of being abandoned if we disappoint our mates or of losing our freedom to be ourselves in order to get the approval we seek from our mates. The fear fades when we hear, "I want this, but I also want you to have what you want, and I will work with you to get both."

The second benefit comes from discovering something we did not know would delight us. It comes from combining our strengths with our spouse's strengths to discover how to have both when we had lived our lives until know believing we could have only one or the other.

We learn from checking our thoughts to figure out what makes us want a particular experience, whether it's a quiet Saturday at home, a family gathering, a trip to the lake, or a round of golf, and what we dislike about the other option for this time. We learn from exploring our mate's thoughts, too. We learn how different our pictures of the same phrase can be. We learn what happened in the past to associate fear or disgust with any of them.

As we brainstorm ways to get what both of us seek and protect our mate from fear or disgust, we stretch our creative muscles. If we start hot-dogging to loosen up our wild ideas, we laugh and play together, growing closer and beginning to see things through lenses unlike any we have used before. We reveal ourselves and we see our mates more clearly. We find new respect for each other and for ourselves.

Is There a List of Third Alternatives?

There can be no list. The Third Alternative depends on the two of you. There is no obvious better choice until we know what makes the first two choices good or bad for each of you. Is golf your mate's first choice for the exercise, for the camaraderie with others who enjoy playing, for the time to reflect on life between moments of intense concentration, to shift from parent to adult roles for a while, or to qualify for some important accolade?

When I sought a winter equivalent for sailing my little dinghy on the lake, I expected to hear skiing. But as I laid out what brings me joy in sailing, with friends because I was a new widow then, two said, "I get those from playing the piano." So I tried it. It gave me a new appreciation for those who find sailing unenjoyable because the many simultaneous tasks and problems to solve never come together to take them into flow or playfulness. I switched to dancing. I learned a lot about myself and I learned to appreciate a lot more about others' piano playing.

When I disagree with my husband, I jump the net to his side. Otherwise, we could spend days arguing for our first ideas and just making each other miserable. Once I am on his side of the net, we stop lobbing the ball back and forth. I learn. I grow. And I find myself astounded to discover new sources of enjoyment, new ways of living.

If you find yourself in the middle of a fight today, or at the start of a disagreement, jump the net. Offer to make your husband or wife happy, and yourself, too.

June 7, 2011

When Your Romantic Overture Fails

I received a comment today on this blog from JS, who is looking to put some romance back in his or her marriage. Like so many of us, they have fallen into parents-instead-of-lovers mode.

For their anniversary, JS arranged a romantic weekend without the kids at a hotel and spa she likes, but it backfired. She did not like being surprised. She claimed to be ill and refused to go, then went shopping. She is a woman who sets high standards for herself and others and measures love in acts of service that do not always manage to meet her standards.

JS asks, "The big question in my mind is how I could try to get her to change her expectations and try to see the things I try to do as a sign of love."

Here is what I recommend to JS and to you if you ever find yourself in the same shoes.

JS, isn't it just horribly frustrating when we try to change the people we married so we can have the marriage we expect? It's enough to leave any of us in tears. People are not easily changed.

Many women would be thrilled to have a surprise romantic getaway. Others feel blindsided by any surprise. Not much hope of changing one into the other.

"My way or the highway" does not work very well in a marriage. When she did not accept your proposal for how to celebrate your anniversary, you chose to get out of town until you cooled off, using the kids as an excuse, and she chose to buy things to make herself feel better/prettier/wealthier, using illness as her excuse.

Neither of these made the two of you feel any closer, probably not even any happier. Both, however, are perfectly natural responses from people who do not want their love to end. We tend to protect ourselves from the horrible suspicion we may not be loved by acting as if we no longer care if we are loved. Fortunately, when we do this, it is usually because we care a lot.

Assume Love

Instead of trying (in vain, I am sure) to change her expectations, why not try to change your experience of your marriage. It turns out to be much, much easier. Assume, just for the sake of this exercise, that she loves you dearly and wants a romantic relationship as much as you do. If you knew this for certain, if there were no question of whether she finds your loving acts good enough, how else might you explain her reaction to the surprise romantic weekend?

I do not know your wife, so I will just get the ball rolling with a few possibilities. You can keep adding to my list until you come to one (or two or three) that sound like her.

  • She hates surprises in general and feels life is out of control when hit with one.

  • She loves that spa but can only feel comfortable there with the right clothing or haircut or weight, so she feels she needs more notice.

  • She expected the weekend to involve more sex than usual and did not feel well enough or in shape enough or happy enough to enjoy it.

  • She has recently felt you call the shots a lot, and she needs to flex her muscle a little to feel comfortable in the marriage.

  • She already had plans for the weekend, whether reading a book, watching a movie, or lunch with a friend.

  • She had her heart set on some other way to celebrate the anniversary and your plans made it clear she was not going to get whatever she so looked forward to.

  • You heard an off-the-cuff "no" based on some momentary upset, but your reaction to her "no" killed her interest, so she did not change it to a "yes."

  • Your anniversary coincides with another anniversary that makes her feel sad or with an allergen outbreak that makes her feel ill.

The purpose in this Assume Love technique is to help you see the story you tell yourself while you digest a rejection may not be the real story. In fact, the way our brains work, it almost certainly is not the real story, because our distress at rejection floods our brain with chemicals that force it to look for other threats, not better explanations.

Remember, though, you Assume Love only to help you come up with the other possible explanations. If your I-am-not-loved explanation is still the best fit, do not feel you must select one of the others. This would be Pretend Love, nothing I recommend.

Expect Love

Let's say you recognize that it is possible she still loves and just does not show it in the way you expect, like running off with you for an impromptu romantic anniversary weekend. If she loves you, you can stop trying to love her well enough to get the loving you want and instead put your attention on noticing all the ways she shows you she loves you.

Since you know her love language, you know what to look for first: acts of service. But look, too, for the other four love languages. Just start making a list (privately, of course). If you get a kiss on the way out the door, take note. If she does something with the kids, take note. If she prepares a meal, take note. If she says something encouraging or complimentary to you, take note.

Do nice things for her when you feel inspired to. Skip doing any you resent doing. If asked to do something you will resent, say, "I am sorry. I cannot do this today. Can I help you find another way to get it done?" You probably will not need to do this much, because once you are actively managing your resentment and actually seeking out signs of her love, you just might find yourself scrambling to find nice things to do for her.

You may also find that as you express your delight in the things she does, you can ask for more, knowing that she is free to say no, just as you are.


Give it a try. I would love to hear your experiences with these two techniques. This includes anyone who reads this, not just JS.

May 23, 2011

Is It a Third Alternative or Just Alternative 1.5?

You have a disagreement with your spouse or life partner. You want one thing. We will call it Alternative 1. Your mate wants something else. Because I am a stickler for symmetry, we will call it Alternative 2.

Alternatives 1 and 2

For example, Alternative 1 might be the toilet paper you grew up with and Alternative 2 might be a new, greener brand your husband or wife prefers.

If you two choose Alternative 1, you will be happy, but your beloved will be unhappy. Choose Alternative 2, and you just swap outcomes, leaving one of you resenting your position in the marriage. Not good for your marriage or your outlook on life.

Alternative 1.5

If you decide to give a little, compromise for the sake of your marriage, you might end the disagreement, but you both agree to be somewhat unhappy for each other. This would be so noble, so admirable, if Alternatives 1 and 2 were the only ones available to you and what mattered to you about them was in conflict.

Guess what? This is very seldom the case.

Third Alternatives in the Bathroom

Your choices in the bathroom are not limited to green vs. familiar. You do not need to spend every day with a toilet paper you dislike to avoid a fight or do something like promise to clean the toilet in exchange for getting the paper you prefer.

There are many brands, many varieties of each brand, as well as bidets, lotion wipes, and the crazy option of hanging two toilet paper holders. A Third Alternative is a choice you both like, something that requires none of the compromise and disappointment of the meet-in-the-middle solution, Alternative 1.5.

Which one is your Third Alternative depends on what each of you wants from your initial alternative and what you dislike about your mate's first choice.

This is where it is always good to ask. You might hear Big Green Toilet Paper and think your mate seeks its biodegradable and recycled properties. We are not so predictable as this. We create so much misery for ourselves by trying to read a husband's or wife's mind.

Perhaps the appeal is only to support a friend's company. Your Third Alternative might include some other product from this company, leaving you free to pick the toilet paper. If it is to reduce the amount of paper in your septic tank, the bidet option might delight both of you. If it is a preference for the feel of the paper, two holders might yield two happy partners.

It's Not All Toilet Paper

Perhaps you are thinking right about now that you would feel over-the-top lucky if your biggest problem were toilet paper. But Third Alternatives work for all size disagreements.

During my first marriage, I had a long workweek and a long commute. My husband had a shorter workweek and a short commute. I was sure this meant he should take care of more of the local chores: local errands, school visits, the necessary phone calls to local businesses. He did not agree.

It wasn't until he had been dead a month or two and I was juggling all the chores on my own that I found a Third Alternative. I shortened my commute. From my new office, I could have walked to his office or met him for lunch, in addition to being close enough to do my share of those chores so easily.

As long as he had been alive, I was free to treat it as a disagreement and fight over it. Because I imagined he had time that I did not, who did what was all I had considered.

He was right. He did not have that time. And I stupidly waited until it was all gone, and I was a 34-year-old single mom, to question some of my assumptions about my own time and find what would have been a great Third Alternative for our two-year-long disagreement.

I have to disagree with anyone who says compromise is the secret to a happy marriage. If you discover them while you still have a spouse to disagree with, Third Alternatives are like getting what you want while giving your beloved spouse a great gift. That makes a much happier marriage.

May 1, 2011

Love and Fear, Part II

Becky Blanton posted this comment on Facebook in reply to my Love and Fear post, and I want everyone to see the answer, because it's such a great question.

I wanted Mexican, my friend wanted Chinese. Using your Third Alternatives I suggested getting take-out at both and having a picnic. My friend pouted and insisted on Chinese or nothing at all.

I've since dumped selfish, annoying, passive-aggressive, narcissist friend, but am curious. How committed does your partner need to be to a relationship to make this work? If you're involved with a jerk can this work? I'm in the process of kicking selfish friends to the curb, setting boundaries and clearing the decks so I can attract people and a relationship with a healthy person.

My question is can you use the third alternative process with friends, co-workers etc. as a way to practice the skill with a mate? Or is this a marriage skill only because of the commitment and love/vows to each other thing?

Third Alternatives are Great for All Disagreements

Third Alternatives work on almost all disagreements with family, friend, or foe. It failed for you, I suspect, because of what Pace and Kyeli Smith call The Usual Error, filling in the unspoken gaps because you expect others think the way you do. It is because of the Usual Error that looking for Third Alternatives works so often and so well.

Let me explain how to make the Usual Error work in your favor when you disagree.

The Usual Error: You Hear Garlic When She Says Quiet

You said, "I want Mexican." What went through your mind? Perhaps the taste of cilantro, cumin, chili powder, a hint of cocoa, shredded beef, shredded lettuce, something easy to pick up and eat with your hands.

Your former friend said, "I want Chinese instead." But quite likely not because of the shrimp, soy, garlic, broccoli, or asparagus over rice or noodles. It's really quite rare we're both focused on the same aspect. If you were in an area where your friend was familiar with the local restaurants, your friend may have thinking white tablecloths, upholstered seating, less formica, more space between tables, quieter background music.

Or your friend might have been thinking about being seen in the Mexican restaurant, which turns out to be owned by a good friend's ex. Maybe Mexican food was fine, but losing social points was not.

It might even turn out your friend owes a bar tab there or has an eye on a really good-looking waiter at the Chinese place or wants to do less driving tonight or hopes to talk you into something after dinner that's nearer to the Chinese restaurant.

I Want You to Have It

The first step in finding a Third Alternative is not generating alternatives. It is saying, "I want you have it. What do you have in mind? We'll come up with a way to make both of us happy. What makes Chinese appealing tonight?"

After you heard your friend's picture of the appeal of Chinese, maybe even asked a few encouraging questions, you might follow up with, "And what's the downside for Mexican? I want to make sure what we come up with next doesn't have the same problems."

You might then confirm the first half of the specs for your Third Alternative before adding your half: "OK. A place that is quiet, comfortable, and less expensive than the Mexican place. I am not up for Chinese food tonight, but all the rest sounds great. I want something low in calories and big on taste, a little spicy, but no soy and no rice or noodles."

A take-out picnic would not meet these specs, even though it includes both Chinese and Mexican food. However, an American restaurant with a southwest salad on the menu and no Chinese food at all might. So might a different Mexican restaurant on the other side of town.


Sometimes, what the other person wants really is to win, to feel in charge, rather than to get what they want. But you will make yourself unhappy if you jump to this conclusion from what others turn down before you offer to give them what they want.

You can also make yourself unhappy by hearing "my way or no thanks" as a threat to gain control. If "no thanks" is not an acceptable option for you, your Third Alternative specs should include what you seek, whether it's this person's company or someone, anyone, to dine with.

I don't want to rule out the existence of jerks, brutes, and narcissists in this world. There are a few, and you may quickly tire of looking for Third Alternatives with them. But there are also many look-alikes, thanks to the Usual Error, including the folks who seek something you do not associate with the label they use and those not as upset by a disagreement as you are.

Love and Fear

Fear drives out love. That tense knot in your chest keeps your heart from melting when it should.

Disagreements create fear, both fear of needing to give up being yourself to stay married and fear of losing the kindnesses, respect, shared moments, courage, and teamwork that marriage offers.

Third Alternatives end the disagreement, end the fear, and let love flow. One of the best ways to stay in love is to look for them for every disagreement, getting lots of practice before a big difference of opinion threatens your love.

Third Alternatives begin with, "I want you to have it." They end with each of you at least as happy with the agreed-upon Third Alternative as with your first one.

I want to hear about your successes with finding Third Alternatives. I also want to help if you are searching for an elusive Third Alternative. I read all comments, and I love to brainstorm and to applaud success.

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 4, 2010

When You Can't Say Yes to Your Husband or Wife

Sometimes, what your mate proposes just doesn't work for you. It seems too risky or scary or it asks too much of you. You can't say yes.

Ron wants his wife Ronee to see the Grand Canyon with him. He thinks they should fly out there this summer. She would love to see it, but she's terrified of flying. She says not this year. She wants to make Ron happy, and it makes her feel lousy to say no.

Nan wants her wife, Lynn to pay all the bills. Lynn thinks it's a really bad idea for one spouse to handle all the finances, because she knows all too well that emergencies happen. So she won't agree with Nan on this one, even though she adores Nan and wants her to be happy.

Jen wants a new sofa. Zach wants to hang onto the money, because their SUV is wearing out. Zach kicks himself for not making enough money to be able to buy Jen the sofa she wants. He knows how much the appearance of the living room means to her, and it kills him to tell her he's just too uncomfortable with the risk.

Been there? You just know you must say no, but at the same time you wish you could give your mate a big, enthusiastic yes and put a bow on it to boot? It turns out you don't have to say no. Try this:

"I want you to have that. However, I can't do what you're asking of me. Help me figure out how else to make sure you get what you want."

Is this possible? It most definitely is.

Ron and Ronee needed to do a lot to make it happen, but they both took off enough time from work to drive to the Grand Canyon.

Nan and Lynn decided to alternate paying the bills every 6 months, and they traded vegetables from their garden for assistance from a local MBA student when it was Nan's turn.

After talking about it, Jen admitted she wanted a better sofa now for a party they were planning. However, they would not be home much for a few months after that, so she and Zach rented a gorgeous sofa for the party. It was a display piece at a local furniture store feeling the pinch of the recession. They were happy to deliver it and pick it up a week later for a small price.

When we're asked for something we just don't feel we can do or give, it's an awful feeling, a my needs versus my spouse's needs emotional tug-of-war. Saying no feels awful. Playing the martyr or being the doormat feels awful. But saying "I want you to have that" feels terrific.

If you have found a way to say yes to your husband or wife without compromising your own values or needs, please share it with us with a comment.

September 9, 2010

Why Can't My Husband Be More Sociable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 4, 2010

Six Words to End a Disagreement

I want you to have it.
Wouldn't you love to hear these words when you say what you want? So would your life partner.

Instead we say other, less wonderful things:
We don't have the money.
I can't spare the time.
You wouldn't really like it.
Too bad. You can't have it.
Dream on!

But wouldn't it feel great to be able to say it? To feel confident it is within our reach to offer whatever our mate wants without all the negatives, all the fears that rush into our thoughts when we are asked?

This is why every couple needs to learn to find Third Alternatives to what look like either-or choices.

July 4, 2010

Declare Your Independence without Filing for Divorce

Almost all of us feel stuck at times, stuck with responsibilities, routines, and chores, stuck heading in whatever direction we set off in for our lives, stuck living the way we have been living. All of us do. Married folks do, dating folks do, single folks completely on their own do.

But when you're married, it looks for all the world like your spouse is holding up the barricade keeping you from going in a better direction. Very seldom is this true.

If you feel stuck, declare your independence, but not from your mate, the one person in the world who probably cares as much about your spirit as you do. Declare your independence from that outdated life or career or routine.

Then get to work with your mate on some Third Alternatives for the things that must change in your lives. And remember the goal of looking for Third Alternatives: get what you need while giving your mate the moon and the stars. Don't ask your mate to pick up any responsibilities you drop; ask him or her to help you find Third Alternatives for those responsibilities. Don't ask your spouse to take an intolerable financial risk just because it seems worth it to you; ask for help finding ways to fund your leap of faith. Don't just announce you are moving out; ask for helping getting more personal space, more privacy, more quiet, or more of whatever that new place offers.

You may discover your husband or wife is delighted with the new you, with the security of being consulted instead of dumped, and with the respect of being asked to help you live life well.

Happy Independence Day!

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!

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.

January 1, 2010

New Year's Resolutions for My Marriage

I have two this year:

  1. Find more creative Third Alternatives when we disagree - We disagree a lot, so I will have lots of opportunity here. A good Third Alternative combines delighting my husband with getting what I want, always a pure delight. I intend to reach out to my creative friends and my readers to come up with even better alternative whenever we think there are just two and we don't agree on either of them.
  2. Finally launch self-study courses on our website - How does this improve my marriage? Well, first it means more income, so we can do more of the things we love doing together. But more importantly, it makes me smile, even gets me dancing around the office, and that delights my husband a whole lot more than any self-sacrificial dish washing or floor scrubbing.

Now I really want to hear from you. Is there anything you intend to do this year to give yourself a stronger, happier relationship with that terrific person you married or pledged your life to? Click on that Comments link and tell us!

December 3, 2009

7 Ways to Get the Sort of Gifts You Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

January 7, 2009

Win Every Argument

It's January. Time for all those post-holiday arguments. You two have different goals for the new year. You have different hurts left over from last year. You have different fears, different challenges ahead. You have different ideas of how important those threats or challenges will be. You have different ideas how to deal with them.

Break out the arguments.

And crank up the stakes. Your spouse may well be the single most important person in your life. If you can't get him or her to agree with you, it feels scary. If you're human, you withdraw from your spouse to reduce the fear or you argue louder to get the agreement you need to feel safe.

So, how do you skip all the usual pain?

Jump sides and, TOGETHER, look for the Third Alternative that gives both of you everything you like about what you're arguing for and nothing of what you're arguing against.

In other words, win every argument, and be a hero to your spouse at the same time.

Here are some past posts on how to find your Third Alternative:
The Third Alternative
Disagreements Turn Into Gifts
Married to a Collector of Stuff? Don't Ask Dr. Phil to Set Him Straight
Weight Gain and Divorce
Three Tips for Getting the Most From Your Marriage
Doing What Your Spouse Doesn't Want You to Do
When Marriage Crumbles
David and Michelle Paige Paterson: What We Can Learn from their Admissions
Round Up the Usual Suspects

Have a great New Year!

December 15, 2008

Helping Your Disabled War Vet Spouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 4, 2008

How to Talk to Your Spouse about Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 30, 2008

Sharing a Home with Diver or Scanner

After tonight's teleclass on Divers (people with one interest they keep going deeper into) and Scanners (people with so many interests they can't choose one) and how they can get along, someone sent me this question.

Diver and Scanner couple. My husband does not understand all my piles. He calls them my "droppings." I think of them as my "stations." I don't know if we will ever see eye to eye about them, and I might have to collect my "stations" and put them all in one place at some point. But I like to work on different things in different locations.

Hmmm how can we both get what we need?

You're only stuck as long as you see it as "keep my droppings right where they are" and "put her droppings somewhere else." As soon as one of you decides to jump the net and offer to deliver what the other wants, it gets so much easier. You just get clearer on what you really want in return. Then the two of you can work together to find Third Alternatives that work for both of you:

You're much smarter together than alone. And you're much more effecting working toward the same thing than working against each other, because you know each other's hot buttons way too well.

Here's what you might come up with if one of you jumps the net.

  • "Keep my droppings right where they are" and "keep her droppings out of my sight" leads to the idea of droppings organizers. A big, square coffee table with 3" high shelves under it, large enough for trays that can be pulled up on top with ready-to-go projects. Covered wicker baskets in every corner of the house for stacks of papers, magazines, and books. Those new frames that hold 50 sheets of paper and display one. An easel all set up for painting, but with a finished painting displayed in front of the unfinished one (and room behind it for the one in progress to dry). A sewing machine table that folds up to hold one large knicknack. Great looking lined baskets with handles alongside the sofa and chairs, waiting to hold this week's handicrafts, a camera and mini-tripod, or stationery and nice pens. A giant bulletin board and/or white board near the computer. A clever and good-looking CD rack used for organizing notepad pages, journals, or origami supplies.
  • "Put her droppings somewhere else" and "keep my droppings where I am reminded of the project and able to resume work on a moment's notice" leads to a droppings closet plus a bunch of those little stands intended to hold one photo aloft. Each one gets a colored index card with the name of the project, the current status, and which covered basket in the closet holds it. Your spouse might even be willing to fetch them as needed for the joy of seeing a neatly organized closet full of matched baskets.

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 5, 2008

Disagreements Turn Into Gifts

When you look for a Third Alternative instead of arguing over whatever you disagree about, two things happen.

  1. You get what you want or something you like even more.

  2. You give generously to your husband or wife.

But how do you come up a Third Alternative when none comes easily? Call in to my August 6th teleclass to find out. To get the phone number, sign up for my newsletter at, my marriage resources website.

It's a two-step process. (I do love the Two-Step.)

  1. Type your name and email address at and click on the Subscribe button.

  2. Find the email from in your inbox a few minutes later and click on the link in it. (If you have spam filters, you might want to add the address to your list of approved senders.)

You should receive the current newsletter within minutes.

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.

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.

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.

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" »

May 27, 2006

The Third Alternative

So you Assume Love, and you realize that your beloved life partner objects to what you're asking for only because it conflicts with what he or she wants. Now what? You look together for what Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, calls The Third Alternative.

  1. Commit to getting what you want and let go of the way you first thought of getting it.
  2. Ask questions and pay careful attention to the answers, until you know for sure what your mate likes about his or her proposed use of the money, space, time, or resources and what your mate dislikes about your proposal.
  3. Share the same information regarding what you like about your proposal and dislike about your mate's proposal.
  4. Stop the tennis match and jump the net. Agree to work together to get everything on both of your likes lists and avoid everything on both of your dislikes lists.
  5. Brainstorm! How can you get all of the things you each seek and none of the things either of you dislikes?

Here's an example from my first marriage.

Continue reading "The Third Alternative" »

The Author

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

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