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

July 15, 2016

For Men: Protect Your Health by Protecting Your Marriage

A study published online two days ago (in advance of the journal's printing) offers one more reason for men to Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives: better health.

Everyone's heard that married men are healthier than unmarried and divorced men, but this study offers a bit more detail. Once they reach middle age or older (when ailments begin to increase), only men with satisfying marriages take better care of themselves. Older men dissatisfied with their marriages experience a boomerang effect, taking even less good care of themselves than those without spouses.

While you cannot control your spouse's behavior, you have a good bit of control over your satisfaction with your marriage, which is what this blog is all about.

First, when something your wife does upsets you, override your amygdala's very primitive threat management system by looking for other possible explanations for what happened. To do this, Assume Love: set aside any doubts you might have and look for explanations consistent with your mate still loving you, still possessing the character strengths you married her for. You know far more about the person you married than your amygdala will let you recall while pushing your body to fight or flea a threat to your physical safety.

Second, don't let resentment build up. Expect love, but don't dictate that love will show up as picking up your dry cleaning, earning a certain income, or wearing something in particular, because, as my friend's AA leader says, "every expectation is a premeditated resentment." And resentment corrodes a marriage.

Third, when the two of you disagree on a choice you must make together, Find Third Alternatives. Don't debate the first two. Don't look for a compromise between the first two that makes you both equally dissatisfied. Look for another alternative that makes each of you as satisfied as going with your first alternative.

I promise you'll find your marriage more satisfying, and if you're anything like the 506 unionized male workers in Canada in the Spousal Positive Social Control and Men's Health Behaviors and Self-efficacy study, you'll probably take better care of your health.

July 12, 2016

Did I Marry the Wrong Person?

Some people manage to marry a skunk. The rest of asking this question keep mistaking guinea pigs, ground hogs, and even rabbits for skunks. Here's the difference.

A few spouses, male and female but usually male, congratulate themselves on acquiring a slave without the usual financial, social, and legal costs of such an arrangements. Instead of the lash, they may use misappropriated lines from whichever religious text you hold dear to justify their domination of you or threaten you with harm to your children to keep you doing their bidding. They may also punch, burn, or throw things at you. They are firmly convinced you are their personal property, never their equal.

Your money is theirs. Your time is theirs. Your talents are theirs. Your body is theirs.

These are bona fide skunks. Your time with them is not marriage. It's bondage.

Then there are the skunks whose stripes emerge only after you've been married a good while. They become famous or wealthy and convince themselves it's all due to their own personal talents. The benefits are theirs to bestow on you or keep for themselves. They feel entitled to use the bodies of men or women impressed by their success for their own pleasure, oblivious to their marriage pledge of fidelity to you. You become nothing more than another part of their career to be managed.

They are too blinded by their own gleaming capped teeth to notice they achieved what they did because they chose a partner with different ambitions, one who took care of day-to-day problems with the house or children that could have grown into career-interrupting bigger problems. They forget who made it possible for them to get the education or take the financial and emotional risks that started their snowball of a career or bank account rolling. They forget the dips in fortune when their spouse's income was what allowed them to try again.

These are skunks, too, but they are possibly salvageable as spouses if the two of you, or even just you, get help bringing them back down to earth.

But you know what? These two categories make up a very small slice of all the spouses accused by their wives or husbands of being bad people who must change because those wives and husbands are desperately unhappy in the marriage. The rest are not skunks.

Here's how to tell if you're just seeing a shadow on a groundhog or guinea pig when you think you're looking at (and married to) a skunk.

First, pretend your husband or wife died yesterday. How many of the things that have been bothering you got better? If you've been demanding more help with the yard work or the kids, do you have it now? Is picking up the dry cleaning or your prescriptions any easier? If you've been pushing your spouse to work more hours or ask for a raise, do you have more income coming in? Are your kids getting more of the sort of attention you've been asking for?

Notice that if you've been under someone's thumb, bullied or hit or raped by your spouse, things get better, not worse, when it's over.

If that's not the case for you, you do not have a marriage problem. You have a life problem. If you've been infusing your marriage with resentment as a result, you've created a marriage problem.

This can sound harsh. When we're frustrated by a problem, the first place we look, the first place we ought to look for help is our spouse. But if it's also the last place we look, we create our own unhappiness.

When you're deciding what to expect of your husband or wife, Expect Love. It's the thing you were promised, and it comes in many forms. Some people feel loving while running errands for their spouse; others don't. Some people feel loving whlie choosing gifts for their spouse; others don't. Some people feel loving while they spend quality time with their children; others don't. Some people feel loving while they're encouraging you and acknowledging your achievements; others don't.

Second, if something happened that alarmed you and made you worry you might have a skunk for a spouse, you need to know something. Your thinking is seriously constrained by the very fact that you're alarmed. Once alarmed, your brain focuses almost exclusively on assessing the threat level. It turns off access to a lot of helpful information you've stored that would help you determine whether you're dealing with a skunk or not.

When this happens, it helps to Assume Love. Again, it takes a bit of temporary pretending, but the pretending is not the point. What it frees your brain to do is the point. Pretend you know for certain you're not married to a skunk, that you are still well-loved by a good person, and make the effort to find another possible explanation or two for what happened, explanations consistent with loving and respecting you.

Just by setting aside the question of whether you're in danger, you'll remember a lot more about who your spouse is, what motivates him or her, and what's happening is his or her life. And you just might figure it all out and breathe a sigh of relief as you understand what happened.

And this will keep you from doing or saying something alarming to your innocent and baffled spouse.

It might even rekindle your love for the wonderful person you chose as your partner in life. Try it.

June 3, 2016

Unfinished Remodeling Projects and Clutter

I received this question by email recently, and it's got three very familiar elements in it:

I am reasonably neat and organized. Not obsessive and definitely not a clean freak but I like my papers organized and my home relatively tidy. My husband is one of the messiest people I've ever met. With his encouragement, I've organized his desk but it's back to where it was within a month. A mess of string, rubber bands, clips, books, checks, checkbook, 20 prs of reading glasses, random nails, batteries, you name it in what looks like a post tornado whirlwind.

We came to an understanding that he could keep his office and his workshop any way he wished but our papers including a hanging file basket of yearly tax stuff would be organized. We had issues surrounding the stuff that needed to be filed- he would throw them in piles but we solved that by buying a table he agreed not to throw anything on but papers needing filing.

Two years ago he decided, with many misgivings on my part, to redo our bathroom. He said it would take a few months. It is nowhere near completed. In the meanwhile, all the stuff that used to be in the bathroom clogs up my study and our hall closet. I share a bathroom with our daughter now- and she is as messy as my husband and the space is tight. I cannot find things on a daily basis. It is a daily stress.

I was going to put all the files in my office but there is no room because it is overflowing with bathroom stuff .

I cannot tell you how stressful it is to go to sleep in a junked up room crammed with bathroom items, work in a crammed up office crammed with bathroom items and step into a super messy garage crammed with all the new bathroom fixtures/appliances mixed in the most messy way with our regular food, paper goods and other supplies.

I cannot even think straight any longer.

I think we:
a. need to hire someone to finish the bathroom ASAP

b. need to create a third neutral space to house our joint papers that hubby cannot extend his mess into

c. in the long view: we do not decorate for holidays because whatever bins I put holiday decorations into are lost in the mess of the garage. I find this greatly reduces my enjoyment of festivity and life living with such disarray.

Unfinished Remodeling Projects

I'm going to take as a given that our goal isn't to get the house ready to sell to facilitate a divorce but rather to strengthen the marriage and make it more enjoyable for the writer.

If that's the case, the writer wants the bathroom stuff (1) out of the bedroom, (2) out of the office, (3) out of sight, and (4) accessible from her daughter's bathroom. Paying someone to finish the bathroom remodeling isn't the only way to get what she wants. And it's possible this approach would rob her husband of what he wants, if that happens to be the satisfaction resulting from remodeling his own bathroom.

The most marriage-strengthening solution is the Third Alternative they come up with together. It may turn out he's not looking forward to finishing it himself, but hiring someone else to do that hasn't come up because he's just not bothered by the current state of the room. In that case, it's a great solution.

But if he's looking for more time to finish his project, here are some others they might come up with together or she might implement on her own:

  • a garage sale armoire in the hall outside the daughter's bathroom

  • temporary shelves inside the unusable shower

  • a rolling storage cart

  • a shoe caddy on the inside of her daughter's bathroom door

The trick is in separating what we need from what we'd prefer. Can we give our spouse a little more time on a project by reducing the amount of daily annoyance it causes for us?

Of course, if this were the only bathroom in the house or if using the other bathroom were a huge issue, she could say, "I need a bathroom near where I sleep and room in it to store things. It doesn't need to be this one you're working on, but it's what I need. Let me know if you need more time on the bathroom project. If so, let's figure out together where I can sleep with a usable bathroom next to it until it's done."


The writer and her husband have come up with a few steps to decrease the clutter problem, but they are not working. So what next?

I'd like to invite you to help get us to a Third Alternative. The first two alternatives are (1) the convenience for him of leaving things on any surface where they can be searched for as needed and (2) keeping things orderly enough to require no searching for, in particular, joint financial records and holiday decorations whenever she wants them.

On the blog, please leave a comment with one or more suggestions for Third Alternatives that will please both of them (i.e., give him the convenience and her the instant access to those two categories of things) and avoid the resentment both of them likely feel right now.

I'd love for us to give her "50 Ways to Keep Your Lover." In fact, I'll send a prize to the one she and her husband agree is best for them if we come up with 50.

May 20, 2016

Are Your Prescriptions Messing with Your Marriage?

Fascinating research findings:

Hope you find these research findings as fascinating and helpful as I do.

May 10, 2016

Buying a Home? How NOT to Wreck Your Relationship

Just a quick link to a great article on for which I was interviewed. If you're buying or even renting, I hope you'll take a look.
How NOT to Wreck Your Relationship Over Real Estate

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

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