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

September 14, 2014

Just Like the Weather

"Today I started loving you again." -- Merle Haggard

Somehow I ran out of things to say on this blog for a while. I don't know how it happened after so many years. But I am back, and I want to help you Enjoy Being Married.

I am just back from a Sunday afternoon Suzy Bogguss concert at our local cultural center, a repurposed 1800's white wooden church with a tall steeple and great acoustics at the bottom of the dirt-road mountain we live on. She and her band were terrific, and for the first half of the set, every song inspired another Assume Love blog post.

So let me share two lines from the chorus of Just Like the Weather, which Suzy and her husband wrote while discussing all their divorcing friends during a stop for lunch on their way to a wedding. Statistics from many interviews with married people over many years back them up.


"If you stay it'll get better.
Wherever you go, it's bound to rain."


June 30, 2014

How to Deal with a Self-Centered, Arrogant Jerk

You're married. Usually, you're quite grateful for your husband. Then he says something that hurts like a kick to the gut.

For example, from one self-employed husband whose career is accelerating to his self-employed wife, still launching a business she started well after his:

He: I could use some help this afternoon. I'm under a deadline, and I really need an extra pair of hands.

She: Oh, can't it wait? This is my one day of the week with a block of unscheduled time, and I've been planning all week to work on my ebook today.

He: I need to get this finished to get paid. We need the money! You know your ebook is never going to make any real money.

Ouch! That line is enough to make blood boil.

If this were a blog on how to be a better spouse, I would tell you not to ever say anything like this.

But this is not a blog on how to be a better spouse. This is a blog on how to be a happier spouse. And this blog post is for her, not him.

Of course, I would tell her to Assume Love. It's the first thing to do whenever you feel a kick to the gut. And she would say, at first, "I can't Assume Love; there was nothing loving about that awful thing he said!"

But Assume Love does not mean assume you're wrong and this was actually a loving act. It wasn't. It was a thoughtless act.

Assume Love means assume you could be certain he still loves you as much as ever and he's still the same good man you've known for years. If this were true, how could you explain what he said?

If you're too angry at your own spouse, imagine you're watching a movie, one you know was written by clever writers who understand human behavior. Earlier you saw lots of strong signs of this man's love for his wife. Now you're watching this scene. It doesn't fit with the earlier ones.

You sense you are about to learn something new about him or their relationship. But the movie's on pause. You get to think about what could have caused it.

Point #1 - While he sounds just like a self-centered, arrogant jerk, you know he isn't. A self-centered, arrogant jerk would not have done the things he did in the opening scenes. He's having a self-centered, arrogant moment.

Point #2 - Money's on his mind. He fit "get paid," "need the money," and "make any real money" into a single sentence.

Point #3 - Something feels unfair or illogical to him. He's angrily arguing for, not asking nicely for, making one task a priority over the other. We get angry when we feel mistreated.

Point #4 - He is not necessarily angry about the task at hand, and he's not necessarily angry at his wife. What we argue about or protest when we're angry isn't always the thing we're actually angry about. He might be angry about her failure to see this deserves higher priority than her ebook. He might feel it's unfair he must do the task he wants help with in order to get paid. Or he might be angry because the repairs to his tooth did not stop the pain in it. Once we're angry, even tiny mistreatments get blown out of proportion.

Point #5 - He's out of control. If he were thinking clearly, he would not speak to his wife like this. It would kill him to lose her. If he were thinking clearly, he would not ask anyone, especially not his wife, for help by insulting them. If he were thinking clearly, he would realize that upsetting his wife is going to cut into his time for finishing a critical task.

Point #6 - Being out of control with anger does not "strip away all pretense" and reveal the truth about someone. Research psychologists have put this myth to bed. The craziness is designed only to protect the angry person from any other threats by scaring them away.

So, here's an explanation: this husband is out of control angry about one or more things, one of them is probably a lack of money, and he wants a hand with a bothersome project, after which he will likely return to his usual loving self and might even make amends for being such a jerk.

If she wants to have a happier marriage, what should she do?

If you said just help him, I need to tell you this won't always make the marriage happier. If she helps with a feeling of resentment (it's unfair after supporting his startup that he doesn't support mine, it's unfair of him to ask for something I can help with when he cannot help with what I need to get done, or it's unfair that I have to help him AND get put down like this), it will hurt the relationship more than it helps.

Another thing she can do is help him get back in control. She could just say "ouch" and stay present with him for a moment in silence while he pulls himself together. If she's now angry, too, she can say, "I need some time to cool off," and go for a walk.

If she can stay calm, she can help him vent: "Anything else besides our miserable cash flow projections on your mind? Anybody else besides me that you're angry at today? Anything else you want to say about how difficult today's task will be?"

Eventually, as it becomes apparent he's about vented out, and if he's the sort who can shift from anger to laughter, she can add things like these: "Anything you want to add about today's weather? How are you feeling about the price of gas? And cute cat videos, got anything to say about them today?"

He needs to get himself back in control and she does, too, before she can take the next step.

But then she can say something like, "I want to help you bring in that money, and the next four hours are special and just not available for helping. I have stood by you through the early years in your career, and now I'm sticking by me through the early years of my career, because it's the only way to get to where you are now and to be able to pull my weight when you want to take risks in your career. So, is there any chance the work could wait until after dinner, when we could do it together, or that you could call someone to help, and I'll make us all a great dinner when I'm done?"

That's inviting a Third Alternative, a win-win outcome for both of them. First, she jumps the net and announces she wants what he wants. Then she adds what she needs (the next four hours uninterrupted) and offers a couple of suggestions to get the ball rolling on finding an option that works for both of them.

By the way, just because you found an explanation for what might lead a loving husband to let out this crushing tantrum doesn't mean you must accept it. If what happens next is another nastygram, he might actually be a self-centered arrogant jerk incapable of love. However, if this description is a new one, you might want to get him checked for a brain tumor or addiction, because these are both better guesses than a sudden onset of narcissistic personality disorder.

April 14, 2014

Good Sex After 15 Years Together?

I just read an interview of Ashley Madison's founder. It's a website for those who decide to cheat on their spouses but can't find a partner on their own. I had long wondered about the brand name, which seems aimed at women, not men.

Indeed, it is. The UK version of the site has more than 825,000 members, mainly married women aged between 38 and 42.

"Our brand really resonates well with a married woman, 15 plus years into her marriage who doesn't feel that celibacy should slip into the marriage at this time."
- Noel Biderman, quoted by Danielle Demetriou in The Daily Telegraph

Celibacy is no fun, but arranged infidelity requires deceit, lying, breaking a vow, a health risk, a personal safety risk, a pregnancy risk, and the possibility of making one's spouse and children truly miserable and self-doubting.

Surely there are simpler, less soul-crushing ways to avoid a sexless marriage after the 15th anniversary.

I thought I would ask all of you who read this blog to suggest a few in the comments here. Put a dent in Ashley Madison's and divorce lawyers' profits by sharing your experiences or creative ideas. This blog gets a lot of search engine traffic, so whatever you can offer will be read by thousands of hurting people just when they need it most.

April 12, 2014

Can We Overdo Loving?

Many loving acts can also be dangerous acts. Give too much help and your spouse may become lazy or begin to feel helpless. Give too much food and your mate may become dangerously overweight. Give too many compliments and your partner may become dependent on external approval, lose self-confidence and stop trying anything new. Give too much together time and your husband or wife may start to feel anxious when left alone. Give too much sex and you might feed an addiction that backfires on you. Forgive too many harsh words and your spouse may become someone no one, not even your spouse, likes.

How much is too much depends on your spouse's feelings about each of these loving acts, not yours. It also depends on how you give them.

Each of us develops our feelings about all of these loving acts before we can even talk. Some feel good, but we could feel loved without them. One or two are essential to feeling loved. Being denied the essential ones is painful, and we can handle a lot more of them without negative effects than someone else could. When deciding how much to give, pay attention to this difference.

If you feel you are in danger of giving too much, change it up instead of cutting it out. For example, if your spouse feels loved with words and fishes too often for compliments on appearance or ideas, switch to gratitude for his or her character strengths or kind actions, or switch to expressions of love and commitment. If it's together time, take some time for yourself and send a text to share a thought, or come home ready to share some of what you did. If it's food, serve smaller portions and make them look really appetizing, or turn some of your meals into events that take time to eat and enjoy. If you've been forgiving harsh words, speak up when you feel attacked and switch to forgiving crumbs on the floor or ill-timed farts.

March 30, 2014

If Your Husband is Oblivious to How Unhappy You Are

When you're unhappy, it hurts even more to realize your husband does not notice. Eventually, you may begin withdrawing from the relationship, hoping for a response or perhaps just some time to think. Eventually, you might start thinking about separation or divorce.

You may think you're headed for an amicable divorce. By the time you tell him you're ready for one, he's likely to surprise you by crying that he's loves you more than anything, can't believe you're leaving, and does not want you to go.

While this might have been exactly what you wanted at the beginning of this awful downhill slide, it comes as totally unexpected and quite possibly unwelcome once your heart is done mourning the death of your relationship and ready to move on.

If any of this very common story sounds familiar, here are some things you ought to know to handle it a little better.

First, men generally don't monitor the health of a relationship as often as women do once a woman has said, "I do." If you don't mention your unhappiness, it's likely to go unnoticed.

Second, beyond any leftover childhood attachment issues, your husband has a body in which testosterone pushes and oxytocin pulls. When you cut back on physical contact, he releases less oxytocin, weakening the bond between you, the trust, and the ease of communicating.

Third, you probably measure how much you are loved by how much you get of your particular one of Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. But there is no guarantee you and your husband share the same Love Language. If you cut back on the things that signal love to you as a way to clue him into your disappointment, he might not notice.

So, speak up about your unhappiness. But before you conclude your unhappiness has anything to do with your husband, try this:

  • Ask yourself what it is you want him to do differently.

  • Ask yourself why you want this, what do you need or want. Often it's a neater home, more money, a companion for branching out into a new sport or hobby, or fewer responsibilities.

  • Ask yourself how else you might get this if your husband won't or can't provide it -- or if you were to divorce.

  • In a calm moment when you have his attention, tell your husband what you need or want, without accusing him of failing you. Instead, ask his help in thinking of ways to get it or to get around the obstacles to your ideas for getting it without his help.

This way, you sidestep the natural human instinct to defend oneself and tap into the natural human instincts to solve problems and help those you love.

The Author

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

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