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

November 12, 2015

Lousy at Loving

Which of these are you really good at?

  • Trigonometry

  • Skiing

  • Making a souffle that doesn't fall

  • Sewing by hand

  • Replacing a clutch

  • Nature photography

  • Throwing a birthday party

  • Treating the injured at a car crash scene

  • Throwing a curve ball

  • Managing money

  • Matching the perfect wine to a meal

It wasn't everything on the list, was it? So if you've screwed up your marriage or married someone who stinks at nurturing a relationship, cut yourselves some slack, okay?

November 3, 2015

My Wife's Wearing More (or Less) Makeup - What Does This Mean?

If your wife spends less time making herself beautiful, does it mean she cares less about you? If she starts wearing nicer makeup, does it mean she's cheating on you?

Probably not. In research reported this month's issue of Psychological Science, we learn that women choices in makeup vary with the testosterone levels in their saliva. We also know that overall interest in her appearance varies with ovulation, but the testosterone differences are unrelated to difference in ovulation-related hormones.

Claire I. Fisher, Amanda C. Hahn, Lisa M. DeBruine, and Benedict C. Jones of the Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology, University of Glasgow, report that when they measure it over time, "women's preference for attractive makeup increases when their salivary testosterone levels are high."

Polycystic ovarian syndrome can cause excessively high levels of testosterone. Removal of the ovaries, or damage to them from chemotherapy, can lead to low levels. Levels drop with menopause and increase if a menopausal woman is prescribed testosterone cream for low libido or vaginal dryness. So can pituitary problems or enough physical exercise or weight loss to stop a woman's menstruation.

Almost any change in our spouse is enough to trigger a sudden fear that we are no longer loved or valued. It's a panicky feeling. That's why we must Assume Love and ask why what's happening might occur if we were certain a loss of love had not occurred.

Just knowing that the reason may be physical and have nothing to do with our relationship is greatly reassuring. It brings the threat level down. We might even decide we like the change, and a compliment or a request to continue is a lot easier when we feel less threatened. Curiously, even if the reason really was a shift in feelings toward us (or new feelings for someone else), an unthreatened compliment can turn those feelings around.

If the change is a problem -- if we strongly prefer a spouse with more attractive makeup or a more natural appearance -- then we also need to Find a Third Alternative.

And this is one of those situations where it might be very easy to find one, if testosterone or ovulation is affecting a preference.

For many of us, when we get up in the morning, we prefer to linger in bed or with our coffee cup, but we'll gladly forget our preference if keeping our job requires moving faster or if we take up a morning exercise regimen that makes us feel great later in the day.

All we need is another reason to override the preference we wake up with. A request from a spouse, compliments, expressions of gratitude, or even a friendly bit of humor might make enough difference. And if the reason might be a medical change in testosterone level, a nudge to ask the doctor about the change may get those levels changed back.

Remember, your wife is not an opponent. None of the natural, self-protective responses that help in more threatening situations are helpful in dealing with someone who has seen the best in you and promised to love you for the rest of your life.

October 29, 2015

When You Argue with Your Spouse, Your Kids Pay the Price, Even as Adults

I just read an article published online yesterday and due to appear in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Family Issues. It reports a new study showing that college students, ages 18 to 21, almost all of them living away from home at a private religious college and a state university, pay a steep price for their parents' arguments back home.

What price? Depression if they feel frightened by the arguing (frightened someone will get hurt or the family will break up, with emotional and economic consequences). And anxiety if they believe or have been told they cause the disagreements. The more intense the arguments and the more frequent, the more depression and anxiety. As if college and leaving home were not tough enough.

The researchers make it clear they can't prove which causes which. They cannot ethically depress their students and check whether doing so makes them more frightened by their parents' arguments. They cannot ramp up their students' anxiety to see if it leads more of them to think the arguments back home are their fault. And they cannot check whether depressed and anxious college students living away from home somehow drive their parents to fight more. But their best guess -- that the fights at home can cause depression if they are frightening without any sense of control and anxiety if the student feels responsible -- sure sounds right, doesn't it?

The authors, Christine R. Keeports and Laura D. Pittman of Northern Illiinois University, also include a review of the findings from earlier research their work builds upon. Here goes:

  • Children exposed to higher levels of frequent, intense, and poorly resolved conflict are more maladjusted.

  • Among children, more severe conflict (more intense, longer lasting, less often resolved) correlates with more negative outcomes.

  • Negative outcomes of severe interparental conflict are similar for adolescents and young children.

  • Young adults exposed to more interparental conflict during childhood or adolescence experience more depressive symptoms as young adults and are more likely to experience major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse, or dependency disorder.

  • Young adults who were exposed as adolescents to more interparental conflict experience more symptoms of depression and anxiety as young adults.

  • Within their own marriages, adult children who experienced more conflict in their families growing up typically demonstrate lower marital adjustment.

  • What children blame for the arguments affects their level of distress, with the greatest distress, hopelessness, and despair felt by those who feel themselves as the reason for the arguments, less (but still a lot) by those who blame a stable, outside influence like parents do not love each other, and the least by those who blame a situational outside influence like a bad day at work.

  • While threat and self-blame are greatest for children ages 10 to 14, they continue to be a problem for adolescents and young adults, with their perception of threat affecting their self-esteem, competence, and identity integration.

  • And the problem may be increasing, as young adults from intact families now stay in much closer contact with their families than in previous generations, presumably because more are in college and marry later.

So, how can you protect your children? Learn how to argue a lot less:

  1. Learn to Find Third Alternatives instead of debating two you'll never agree on or accepting compromises that make both of you equally unhappy.

  2. Choose to Expect Love and question some of your other expectations of what married people should do and what it means when they don't.

  3. Before you jump into battle over alarming behavior that doesn't immediately threaten your safety or financial security, Assume Love and consider some more likely explanations for the behavior.

You'll be happier when you can get what you need without an argument, and you'll probably feel a lot better with happy, hopeful, secure kids, even if they've already left the nest. And especially when they are raising your grandchildren.

October 1, 2015


Imagine a really unpleasant smell. Notice what your eyebrows do, how your eyes squint, how your nostrils close, and how your lips close or make that shape they make when you're saying, "Ick."

Imagine stepping in something gross feeling on the bathroom floor in your socks. Check your eyebrows, your eyes, your nostrils, and your lips again.

Imagine hearing an unfunny joke, the sort that offends you down to your toes. Similar face contortions?

This is disgust. Every one of those slight facial movements, together or separately, conveys a lack of respect, love, kindness, generosity, or gratitude to your spouse. Most of us are quite astute at noticing even the briefest signs of disgust. People with Borderline Personality Disorder are especially astute and even more distressed by them than the rest of us.

Notice your face as you imagine walking into the kitchen to find your husband following through on his promise to you to try some more adventurous cooking. He's get a recipe from the internet by his side and he's stepping outside his comfort zone to try something new. Is your face relaxed, happy? This is the one he was hoping for, the one he wants to kiss, the one he wants to bask in, the one that makes cooking for you fun.

As the next ingredient goes in, the smell from the stove becomes awful. Feel that pull on your face? Switch your attention from your sense of smell to what you're seeing and feel it melt.

Your wife is sick. Vertigo. The room is spinning. She walks unsteadily or she crawls to the bathroom. You go to her side, feeling protective and caring. Check your face. It's soft and open.

As you reach for a wash cloth to wipe her face, your socked foot steps in something squishy. Feel your disgust face coming on? Switch your attention to how her head feels instead of your foot and feel it go soft and gentle again.

You're at a party, having a good time. You hear that unfunny, offensive joke. In your spouse's voice. Your brows, eyes, nostrils, and lips begin to assume the position. Disgust. Look around the room for something to smile at. You can discuss morals later, in private. Right now, you are partying.

I don't deal in ways to become a better spouse. I'm concerned with how to enjoy being married. I don't really care that even the hint of disgust on your face will generate shame or anger on your spouse's face. I care what the look of disgust on your face does to all your other values: your love, your respect, your caring, your generosity, your gratitude. You cannot feel them with that expression on your face.

Regardless of what your mate does, you have control over your thoughts and therefore your expressions. Don't play victim and accept unhappiness. Take control and enjoy being your best self.

September 11, 2015

A Chronically Ill Spouse

When your spouse is chronically ill, it affects you, too, in so many ways. Most of us notice this spillover effect. Your life gets harder -- running more errands, doing more chores, coordinating health care, insuring a steady income, and limitations on travel and the strenuousness of what you can do together.

It's not an easy life, but it feels awful to complain, because no matter how bad it gets, you know yours is easier than your spouse's.

But there is a spillover effect in the other direction, too. Make sure you don't lose it by spending all your time and money on making life easier for your ill spouse. Dedicate some to doing things that bring you the joy of wellness. It spills over, too.

The Author

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

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