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

December 30, 2014

You Get a Car and You Get a Car and You Get a Car!

Say you go to watch a taping of your favorite TV talk show. It's exciting. You get to see the studio, the set, the crew, and your favorite host in person. It's a treat. But this is what you expected when you signed up for the tickets. You might have hoped there would be a new car giveaway on your day, but you don't really expect one.

When you arrive, you learn that today's guest will be one of your favorite authors. We'll call her Mary Smith. What a thrill! You'll get to see her in person and maybe catch some chitchat during the commercial breaks that folks at home won't see. You didn't expect this. You feel lucky.

As the interview concludes, you're told there is a copy of the author's new book under your seat, and it's all yours. Wow! You didn't expect this. It doesn't happen very often, and you are one of the lucky ones it happens to. You feel even luckier.

Anything unexpected and valuable (to you) will make you feel lucky, maybe even blessed. It will put a smile on your face. It may even unconsciously bring back the warm glow of your mother picking you up, holding you in her arms, and taking care of your need for food or a fresh diaper or just some help getting up a burp.

But imagine you are at the studio the day your favorite host points to the person in front of you and says, "You get a car! And..."

She points to someone on your right. She says, "You get a $25,000 kitchen makeover! And..."

Now she points right at you and announces, "You get a copy of Mary Smith's new book! And all the rest of you get..."

You probably don't feel lucky at all. You got to see a favorite host. You got to see a favorite author. You were there behind the scenes. And you're going home with a free copy of a book you know you want to read.

But this feels unfair. It triggers an awful feeling in you, also from your childhood, of when you first encountered getting less than others. And your survival instinct knew instantly this could be very dangerous. And danger always trumps positive emotions like feeling lucky or blessed or cared for.

Even if the next words out of the host's mouth are that everyone else gets a KitKat® bar, it's unlikely your book will warm your heart the way it did when everyone got one or the way meeting Mary Smith did when no one got a book. It's unlikely you will feel as happy for the recipients of the first two prizes as you would if you were told to expect only two winners, because you now expected a prize as your favorite TV host pointed at you, and you expected one just as nice as theirs, because you expect people you care about to treat you fairly. Even if 296 other people in the audience got less than you, you got less than you expected.

What does all this have to do with your marriage? Those other 296 people are the folks who are not married. Someone loves you, so you always get more than them. And how you feel about it depends entirely on what you expect and whether you believe getting less than your spouse or less than some other married person is unfair, even when it's more than those other folks get.

You get a dinner! And you get a kiss on your way to work! And maybe you even get a bigger house than you can afford or take care of on your own! Your kids get two parents! Your pets have someone else to feed them! You get money from Social Security if your spouse dies before you! Or if she outearns you! You get a companion for most of your vacations!

You are incredibly lucky. And -- this part is the most amazing -- the more you realize how lucky you are, the luckier most spouses will make you.

November 3, 2014

Love Language or Lack Language?

Thanks to Gary Chapman's bestselling book, The 5 Love Languages, lots of us are much more aware of our own. Mine is definitely gifts.

But lately, I've been thinking about gifts. I am married to someone who doesn't "get" gifts. Giving them feels like a test to him and receiving them often requires lying to someone he loves about the pleasure he's not feeling. Yet some days, I tell myself I would feel more loved if only he would surprise me with a gift, a beautiful handmade or hand selected gift just for me, wrapped creatively and beautifully.

However, I suspect my Love Language is actually a Lack Language most of the time. When I feel loved, I don't crave gifts.

And not all gifts make me feel loved. (Just as not all shoulder massages or held hands feel like love to someone whose language is physical touch and not all greeting cards or kudos move a person whose language is words of affirmation, I'm sure.)

And when I feel unusually broke or rushed for time or sick or unsure of myself, even I don't enjoy making or searching for gifts to show my love. I enjoy those things when I feel loved, which makes me more sure of myself and more hopeful and more generous.

So perhaps we might want to think only of our loved ones' Love Languages. Speaking theirs when we feel loving increases the probability that what we do to show our love will be well-received. And when we're feeling unloved, seeking more of our mate's Love Language increases the likelihood of seeing evidence of how much we really are loved.

Lack is just one step shy of resentment, that awful emotion that corrodes relationships as surely as salted roads corrode pickup trucks. If we let it live in our hearts, we silently convey to our loved ones that they are not good enough and we are falling out of love. Seeking out things to be grateful for might be a much easier route to feeling more loved.

And if you're being stalked by Lack, try getting more of what's missing elsewhere. Find a concierge to ship you a surprise gift. Get a good massage (or a dog). Spend an hour engrossed in conversation or tennis with a friend. Announce your successes on Facebook. Call a handyman or go out to eat at a place with great customer service. No, it won't replace being shown love by your husband or wife, but it may chase away your Lack Language long enough to feel grateful for each other and start falling back into love.

October 27, 2014

Help! My Husband is a Liar

I am trying to get caught up this week on all your recent comments and questions, dear readers. This is one that came in last week and really hit a nerve:

I've been married for 15 yr, have three kids ages 4,8,12. I am seriously considering divorce. My husband is a compulsive liar with ADHD. He is a good/kind person but lies about anything from returning a book to the library to not paying car insurance or taxes on our house, while having the money in the bank to pay for these things.

He has ruined my relationship with my childhood friends because he has lied to them about business transactions. He doesn't steal their money but he just tells them he will get things done, but nothing ever gets done and ends up costing them a lot of money. I feel the shame of having a husband that lies to everyone and having them look at me as if I must be the same because we are married. He loses jobs every one to 2 years due to
his lying and I have to always be the provider for the family. We fight every day over his lies and the children are sometimes home to hear it.

How can I stay in a marriage where I can't believe a word he says? We haven't had sexual relations in over 6 months and there wasn't much happening in our 15 years of marriage.

What should I do? Should I continue to live a life of shame for my children, always trying to decipher whether he is telling me the truth or lying?

We went to marriage counseling for a few months and that is how I found out he had ADHD, but he refuses to take medication to treat his disease, but he has been trying to be more truthful, but it is not 100%. I don't know if I can continue living with someone I cant trust. I have be a detective every day and Im getting tired of it. He gets upset that I am questioning him every day and this causes a lot of tension between us.

Most days I hate him. I don't leave the house much because I'm afraid of bumping into someone who he has deceived. I went to my aunt's funeral and someone approached me there. What should I do?

Wow. That's a lot of pain, over a long period of time. A marriage where you feel you cannot show your face in public because of your husband's lack of integrity is a lot like a prison sentence. Divorce could start looking pretty good.

But you know what? There's an interesting and extremely hopeful aspect to this story. Did you see it, too? He's apparently not lying about having another family or even an affair, not lying about having a life-threatening communicable disease, not lying about what other people did or said or about huge gambling debts or an addiction.

Every single lie Tracy reported is about failing to do what he offered or promised to do. To use a term from Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages, he lies about one of them, Acts of Service. To their friends, he says he'll do an Act of Service for them and doesn't. To his wife, he says he did an Act of Service when he didn't.

And she says he's a good and kind man. That's a pretty apt description for a person who shows love through Acts of Service.

This is such a good place to Assume Love. If you've read more than a few posts on this blog, you already know this, but I will repeat it here for anyone just showing up: when you Assume Love, you do it just long enough to turn off your very natural tendency toward looking for evidence of danger, just long enough to see if there is an explanation you have been missing.

I would ask Tracy to ask herself (because she knows far more about this situation than we do):

"If you knew for certain that despite the ADHD, he's still a good and kind man, and not someone so lacking in integrity that he lies about everything, and you were certain he loves you fiercely, what might explain his lying about all these Acts of Service to you and to those you care about?"

There is a clue here: "He gets upset that I am questioning him every day and this causes a lot of tension between us."

Men with a normal complement of testosterone in their bodies crave respect from those they love. To them, respect IS love. And when they can't get any, they go into crazy mode (just like we women do when we suspect our husbands don't really care much about us and would just as soon replace us with someone prettier or younger or less demanding). Emerson Eggerichs says it's as if someone is stepping on their air hose and depriving them of any oxygen.

So, he perhaps offers to do things for her and her friends because that's his Love Language; it's how he shows how much he loves her. And I imagine he actually does a lot of them, because she calls him a kind man. But others get lost in the disorganization and distraction of ADHD or even just in a lower level of personal integrity and self-control than she's used to.

Tracy checks up on him, perhaps unaware that she might as well be carrying a banner that reads "I don't respect you right now."

So how does he handle it? He says, "I did it. I did. Really." And perhaps in that moment, he really intends to do it right away. But mostly, he desperately wants Tracy's respect. He wants to feel loved. And he wants it so much, he's willing to lie to get it.

When he loses a job, he's probably simultaneously glad for her steadfast support and scared silly of losing her respect. It's an Act of Service on her part, which would feel loving, but a threat to their relationship, too. To most men, respect is the very foundation of a relationship. You cannot have a relationship without it, even if you have your favorite Love Language.

To most women, respect is the icing on the cake. First, there must be love and caring. She cannot respect someone who would promise love and deliver something less. She'll find her respect for him again once that's taken care of.

If we assume he loves her and lies to her about Acts of Service, this is a very likely explanation for what's going on: the more he tries to get respect from her, the less he gets. And the more she tries to tell him how to fix the situation, the less he's able to love her in a way that feels like love to her.

And while there are things he could do to fix this mess, he's not the one who's asking. Tracy is. She's full of resentment and some days even hate. Even if she divorces him, she needs to deal with that, because they have a lot of years of parenting together ahead of them.

So here is where I say if you want resentment to go away, Expect Love. Let go of your other expectations, especially the ones that can't be fixed by divorcing. He won't be any more likely to pay the taxes or return the library books or have sex with you or take over being the parent with the reliable income if you divorce. All of his real and his intended but unfinished Acts of Service go away if you end the marriage. Expecting them now isn't protecting you or your marriage. It's just causing you pain.

So turn it around. Don't spend your time checking up what he did or didn't do. Expect he won't do it, and put that time to good use looking for what's much healthier to expect: love. Ironically, when you acknowledge what a good and kind man he is, when you go out of your way to find out just how good and kind he's been today, he's likely to become better and kinder, because he's getting the respect he needs, hoping for even more, and looking to show you through his Love Language how much he values it.

Can Tracy use this advice? I don't know. Perhaps there is more to her husband's lying, more dangerous examples of it that we have not yet heard about. And maybe her heart is too hardened now from feeling threatened and shamed for so long because he lies, even if it is only about doing helpful things for her and her friends. Maybe she really needs to punish him for her pain, so even if she needs to return the library books and pay the taxes and make even more money if she's divorced, she will want to do it divorced just to put him in the same position.

I hope this helps her find her way back to a loving relationship with a man who so wants her approval that he'll lie to get it. I really hope it is not too late for them. But I have made this a blog post instead of a reply to also put it in front of anyone else who might recognize a similar situation brewing in your marriage. Resentment is best eradicated quickly, because it sets up hard way too quickly. And it is best eradicated by Expecting Love and not giving love a set of specs to live up to.

Love comes in many forms, and when you allow them all into your heart, you get some wonderful surprises.

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.

The Author

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

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