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

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

May 9, 2016

Third Alternatives: Marriage vs Cohabitation

As I wrote yesterday, I recently received a comment from Lorraine K, who wrote:

Found your blog about a week ago and I have really learned a lot. I am wondering about third alternatives for future relationships because my S.O. and I broke up over two issues that I now think may have been avoided if we had found Third Alternatives. The first issue was about a few of his rude friends. My boyfriend didn't want to give up socializing with them. I didn't want to socialize with them and felt like he was prioritizing his friends over our relationship.

The other issue, and the main reason I walked away from the relationship, was that my bf wanted to cohabitate before getting married or even engaged. I would have considered it if we got engaged (a ring, and set a date). There were other minor issues but these are the two that I think you may be able to help me find Third Alternatives because these issues have appeared with other relationships and even within my first marriage. I would appreciate any insight on these two matters. Thank you in advance and for this blog. L.K.

Yesterday, I addressed the rude friends. Today, I want to tackle the cohabiting.

This time, the two obvious first alternatives are (1) move in together and figure out later if you want to get engaged or married or (2) get engaged or married and then move in together.

It's perfectly reasonable to want some sign of long-term commitment before moving in with someone:

  • The risk of harm or desertion or financial loss or a sudden need to move is much higher with someone not committed to a relationship.

  • Those who live together before getting engaged are more likely to break up in general and more likely to divorce if they should marry after moving in together.

  • Who owns what tends to get murky, something not really obvious until one of you dies or becomes incapacitated and the other's relatives take over or one of you leaves or kicks the other out.

  • It's hard to work toward any long-term goals together, because that would require both of you committing to stick around for at least that long.

  • Because you're both keeping the out-of-here option open, you also need to stay on guard for your separation rights, adding to the chance that you will separate.

  • You're more likely to find one of you is fearful of commitment and hoping to lose the fear and move forward into a long-term relationship while the other has deliberately sought a partner with such a fear to avoid ever confronting this fear in herself.

  • It increases the chances of having children out of wedlock and reduces the chances of them growing up in the same home with both parents.

It's also perfectly reasonable to want to avoid waiting for a joint commitment to want to share a home:

  • It saves money over living apart.

  • It saves on driving time to see each other.

  • It offers lots more opportunities for sex.

  • It may mean you can get out of some chore you dislike: cooking, cleaning, shopping, mowing the lawn, diapering your kid, etc.

  • It reduces the chances your partner will take up with someone else and dump you.

  • Unless you're really wealthy and well-known, it pretty much does away with the risk of being held financially responsible for your partner after you separate.

  • In some cases, it lets one partner receive (and share) government benefits intended for those without partners.

  • In some cases, it allows a delay in a divorce from a previous spouse.

  • And it's a good way to avoid getting the church or state involved in your relationship, whether you intend it to last or not.

Once again, the best Third Alternative is the one that gives each partner what they seek from their first choice and avoids what they dislike about the other's first choice.

First, you jump the net and agree you want what your partner wants, just not at the cost of what you want. You let go of the notion that these are the only two alternatives to choose from.

Then you find out your specs: what one of you wants and wants to avoid, what the other of you wants and wants to avoid.

When my husband and I had been a couple long enough to observe each other's character through five seasons, we talked about living together. My now husband wanted to avoid state or church involvement in our relationship, and he wasn't sure he could promise until death do us part, but he wanted as long a relationship as we could manage.

Although I preferred marriage, what I wanted was that same relationship that would last as long as we could manage (because I figured I had some pretty good skills at making it last). And I very much wanted the same rights in hospitalization or death or emergency that I would have if we were married and inheritance of his half of any assets we built or acquired as a team. I also wanted to protect my son from my previous marriage.

So our Third Alternative was to see a lawyer and draw up documents that covered everything that comes automatically with marriage (will, power of attorney, living will, beneficiaries on each other's accounts, etc.) and to rent a house with both names on the year-to-year lease. Three years later, he proposed marriage, and I gratefully consented.

For other couples, the answer that works well for both parties might be to:

  • Rent apartments in the same building or on the same street until both are ready to marry, increasing the ease of spending time together while remaining single and uncommitted to the relationship

  • Move in together with the understanding that if they are not engaged by the time the lease must be renewed, the decision to continue or end the relationship will be in the hands of the one seeking marriage, who would then be free to start looking for someone less fearful of commitment

  • Borrow or earn the money needed for the commitment-shy partner to feel ready to marry, and get engaged

  • Give the one who would prefer marriage an easier out from an uncommitted relationship, such as a bank account to be used for moving out and setting up a new home

  • One or both change schools or jobs or whatever outside factor makes the one partner want to postpone marrying

  • Set up a financial plan to protect both partners' interests while their future together is uncertain, a detailed agreement about shared responsibilities for their joint household, and a careful plan for birth control to avoid the complication of shared parenting

  • Go through Imago Therapy or other relationship counseling together for an agreed-upon period to help each decide whether their position on cohabitation or marriage is likely to change in time to make it worthwhile to continue the relationship

Which one is the right one? The one that makes both of them at least as comfortable as their first choice. And you'll only find it by honestly exploring what each of you seeks to gain from your preferred choice and seeks to avoid from your non-preferred choice and then pooling your talents to find a way to please both.

The toughest part of the process is jumping the net. You must stop defending your preference, stop fantasizing about how things will go, and get honest with each other. If you can do that, the rest is actually rather enjoyable. And the outcome is a joint triumph that strengthens your relationship.

Third Alternatives: Rude Friends

I recently received a comment from Lorraine K, who wrote:

Found your blog about a week ago and I have really learned a lot. I am wondering about third alternatives for future relationships because my S.O. and I broke up over two issues that I now think may have been avoided if we had found Third Alternatives. The first issue was about a few of his rude friends. My boyfriend didn't want to give up socializing with them. I didn't want to socialize with them and felt like he was prioritizing his friends over our relationship.

The other issue, and the main reason I walked away from the relationship, was that my bf wanted to cohabitate before getting married or even engaged. I would have considered it if we got engaged (a ring, and set a date). There were other minor issues but these are the two that I think you may be able to help me find Third Alternatives because these issues have appeared with other relationships and even within my first marriage. I would appreciate any insight on these two matters. Thank you in advance and for this blog. L.K.

I love requests like these. Let's tackle the rude friends today and the cohabiting tomorrow.

When you don't like your mate's friends, the two obvious alternatives are (1) your mate spends less time with his friends (or less pleasant time, if you insist on joining in annoyed) or (2) you spend less time with your mate.

If these are the only two alternatives you see, you're likely to push for alternative 1 by insulting your mate's taste in friends, language, humor, and fun. Not the best way to build a relationship, especially with a male partner, for whom respect is the very foundation of any relationship -- the one with you and the one with each of those friends.

So, how do you find a Third Alternative? First, you jump the net. You acknowledge that you want the person you love to get the benefits he seeks from spending time with those friends. You acknowledge that whatever those benefits are, they are obviously important to someone you love. You offer to work together to find a better way for him to get them, a way that doesn't deny you what you need or drive the two of you apart.

Next, you need to find out what benefits of being with them he values. Some of them you can probably already see if you look, and those are the only ones you'll be able to learn about after splitting up with him.

But with anyone else in the future, you'll want to explore these benefits in a way that won't put him on the defensive. This means no criticism or condescension or contempt, just honest, loving, supportive curiosity that comes from genuinely wanting him to get those benefits, just not the way he's getting them now.

What Does He Get from These Friends?

  • Has he known them a long time? Do they connect him to his past? Have they seen him through tough times? Have they made him feel good about himself again after a mistake? Does he feel safe being vulnerable around them?
  • How does he feel while he's with them? Does he laugh a lot? Does he risk more? Does he appear relaxed?
  • Do they engage in activities you would not really enjoy?
  • Are they a support network, ready to help each other out of a jam (or a case of the blues) on a moment's notice?
  • Does he express gratitude or indebtedness to them?
  • Does he like some more than the others? Or does he like that they are a group more than he likes the individuals in the group?

These are questions to ask yourself. If you don't know the answers to some of them, ask him, but only one or two questions. Wait a couple days or even a week before asking more of the questions.

From the answers, you should be able to make a list of the things he'd be giving up to spend more time with you instead of them.

What Do You Dislike About These Friends?

Aside from being jealous of the time he spends with them, how do these friends affect you?

  • Do they discourage him from valuing you?
  • Do they encourage him to do things that make you value him less?
  • Do they subject you to noises or smells or sights that disgust you?
  • Do they prevent you from getting enough sleep, having sex with your guy, protecting your children, or keeping to your preferred schedule?
  • Do you feel judged by them to the extent that you take on a role you dislike, perhaps as hostess or sex object or nag?
  • Have any of them harmed you or threatened you?

From your answers, you should be able to write a list of things to avoid in your Third Alternative for getting your man the benefits he seeks from his friends.

What Do You Need in the Way of Time and Activities Now Missing Due to These Friends?

For this part, you need to get honest with yourself about what you need to feel secure and satisfied in a relationship.

  • Do you get enough time with your man but not during the right hours or days?
  • Do you get enough time with your man but have nothing satisfying to do when he's with his friends?
  • Do you get enough time with your man but not enough of his energy or playfulness or libido or excitement because of the time he spends with those friends?
  • If you get too little time with your man, is it because he spends a lot of time with his friends or because there's currently little overlap in your free time and some of his goes to these friends?

Make a list of what exactly you need to be happy if he keeps his friends.

We've covered what benefits he seeks, what you want to avoid, what benefits you seek, and now there's one more.

What Does Your Partner Seek to Avoid About Spending Time with You?

You can ask him. Again, do it in a non-accusatory, non-nagging way, so you get honest, useful answers instead of defensive ones. You can also rely on your own observations if he's no longer available.

There may be nothing on this list. He may simple want time with you and time with his friends. But he may also be choosing the friends as a way of avoiding the things you want (more or different time with him).

  • Which of the things he needs (from the first set of questions) are things you could give but don't?
  • Which of them are things you simply can't offer?
  • What are you two doing when he seems happy to be with you?
  • What are you two doing when he seems unhappy to be with you?
  • What does he encourage you to do differently when his friends are around?

Make one more list from the answers: what is it that he hopes to avoid about your first alternative?

Now we've come full circle: What he seeks, what you seek to avoid, what you seek, what he seeks to avoid. Put all four lists together. These are the specs for the alternative that did not occur to either of you but would make both of you happy.

Remember that some of the things each of you need could come from different sources than they come from now, and nothing about your current use of time or ways of dealing with the friends is carved in stone.

If you don't want to spend time with his friends, that's okay. If it cuts into your time together, maybe you need to find more time to be together, cutting out less important activities, eliminating a work commute, spending less time on other people's needs, etc.

Now is the time to work together. You've got the list of specs, and it's time to brainstorm. The crazier the idea, the better, because crazy ideas knock down imaginary obstacles and trigger creative thoughts, so no judgments, no evaluation while you're adding ideas to your list.

If you two run out of ideas, ask some friends to join you in brainstorming -- just not those friends.

How to Tell When You've Found a Third Alternative

What makes a great Third Alternative is that it meets all of your specs, so that both of you like it as much as -- sometimes even more than -- your favorite of (1) your mate spends less time with his friends (or less pleasant time, if you insist on joining in annoyed) or (2) you spend less time with your mate.

Here are some that might work for a variety of different specs:

  • He picks a fixed night of the week to spend with his friends, one on which an organization you're interested in gets together to sing, dance, bowl, ice skate, quilt, or discuss Russian literature.
  • The two of you find girlfriends for several of his friends, so both of you can enjoy group get-togethers.
  • One of you changes jobs to sync up your schedules so you have more time together without getting rid of the friends.
  • He sees his friends but agrees to come home sober enough and early enough to enjoy sex or Scrabble or gourmet cooking with you.
  • The two of you hire a scriptwriter to come up with funny replies to his friends' rude comments and you join in their activities.

There must be a hundred more options, but none of them is your Third Alternative unless each of you likes it as least as much as your original alternative.

I'd love to hear more alternatives in the comments. And tomorrow, we'll use the same process to tackle an even more challenging couple of first alternatives: (1) move in together now or (2) wait for engagement or marriage before sharing a home.

March 9, 2016

The Meaning of I Love You, But I'm Not in Love With You

I received a wonderful comment this weekend from Duane on my 2012 post, One Last Stand Before Divorce.

After 24 years of marriage, his wife left for her mother's house. She said she loved Duane but was no longer in love with him. He found this blog, Assumed Love, made a bunch of changes, and three months later, he says, "We spent the whole day together and at the end of the day she didn't go back to her mothers. She stayed, It has been 9 months since that day. My Marriage is BETTER than ever. It has been wonderful. I believe we can have one of those truly special marriages now."

I LOVE reports like this! They bring me to tears. This is why I write this blog.

Duane added, "I have a question though to ask you Patty....I have one foot stuck in the past though. I'm still very hurt by what happened. I don't want to bring up the past but I'm still not sure what happened....How does a woman go from 'not in love' to 'I'm madly in love'?"

What a great question. The answer is that it's the reverse of how she goes from "I love you" to "I'm no longer in love with you." So let's take a look at that first.

Love is an Emotion

Love is an emotion, like anger or embarrassment or fear or joy. Like the others, it may seem to stick around. You might continue to be angry for years at the friend who betrayed you. But you're not angry at that friend every single minute. The anger comes and goes. It might show up for a few seconds, maybe even for 15 minutes, but then it subsides again.

While it's around, anger and all the other emotions have a particular physical effect on us, a life-preserving effect. Fear is one of the easiest to notice. Adrenalin gets released into your bloodstream. Your brain becomes a lot more alert and a lot more focused. Your muscles tense, ready to fight, flee, or avoid detection.

These effects all come from what's called your "lizard brain," but why? Well, sometimes it's because your amygdala recognizes a threat: a sound or movement or shape that signals danger, like a snake or a tiger or a human shriek. At other times, it results from a belief you hold about something less primitive and pre-programmed that's happening. For example, your new boss starts to say something in the same tone of voice your fifth grade teacher used to shame you, and fear strikes even before you know what your boss is saying.

In the book Love 2.0, Barbara Frederickson reports on recent research (in her own lab and by others) that show love is an emotion, too, and a rather special one. It causes our pituitary gland to release oxytocin, a hormone known as the cuddle hormone because it lets down our defenses. Love also tones the vagus nerve, which runs from the brainstem to our heart, lungs, digestive system, and other organs, controlling the functions that occur automatically to keep us alive. Most especially, it controls the heart, and stimulating it causes a warm sensation in the chest.

If nerve tone means nothing to you, it means the nerve becomes more effective at what it does. In your heart, what it does is slow your resting heart rate and tie your heart rate to your breathing. It undoes a lot of the effects of the stress of fear, anger, and other negative emotions

Love is in a Class of Its Own as an Emotion

Frederickson tells us, based on watching brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while experiencing the emotion of love, that this emotion stands out. It's different, because it happens only while experiencing another positive emotion in sync with someone else. It lasts only as long as this synchrony between minds lasts. And it happens only when there's some other positive emotion going on, some form of happiness: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, even relief.

She also says we experience love with lots of people. Obviously, many of us experience love not just with our mates, but also with our infants and children, our siblings, our parents, our friends, and even sometimes with someone we just met in a checkout line or on a plane and share our stories.

Lust is not part of this emotion of love. We're not talking about feeling turned on. We're talking about feeling in sync with someone because you're both experiencing the same emotion, the same physical sensations, for this short while, and it feels good. We can feel the emotion of love during sex, but it's not about sex. It's about sharing a positive emotion with another human being.

"I Love You" - Not the Same Thing

We can experience this emotion of love with someone many times before we feel moved to say "I love you." They are not the same.

"I love you" is an expression of caring and longing. We say it to our children, our siblings, our parents, and our close friends as well as our intimate partners.

Love, the emotion, is over and done in a matter of seconds or minutes. "I love you" persists. It can even persist after we decide we'd rather not spend a lot of time with someone like a parent who belittles us, an irresponsible grown child, or a spouse who keeps pushing our buttons.

I believe "I love you" means "I wish you lots of the emotion of love and I long to share that emotion with you."

"I Am in Love With You" - The Measure of Shared Love Emotion

I believe we feel more or less "in love" with someone when we share the emotion of love with them more or less often. Each of us has our own bottom on how often we need this emotion to feel "in love." Less than this is painful.

It's likely we also need to feel it more often in a relationship with more risk: more fighting, less commitment to "for better or for worse," a greater chance of dying due to illness or occupation.

How often? I don't believe anyone knows yet, but I'd guess daily, or nearly so, and several times a day.

So now I can give Duane his answer. What made his wife feel in love again? And how can her make sure it won't happen again?

Things Likely to Lead to a Spouse Who Loves You Feeling More In Love With You

  • Create circumstances likely to produce positive emotions you can share: pull out the photo albums of happy times together, go look at nature or puppies or babies together, put on a movie you'll both laugh at, create a more serene home or lifestyle.

  • Do new things: interest is a positive emotion, and you can create it by sharing something new you're learning or doing on your own or by learning something new or going somewhere new together.

  • Play more.

  • Express your gratitude more, not just for your spouse but also about the good things in your life together.

  • Make plans together. Hope is an emotion you can easily share when you have shared goals.

  • Take pride in your children together. Share the work, enjoy the rewards together.

  • Do what you can to help reduce your spouse's resentment. Any negative emotion makes it much harder to experience love.

  • Make time throughout your day for experiencing this emotion.

Things Likely to Lead to a Spouse Who Loves You Feeling Less In Love With You

  • Avoid each other. You can't get in sync when you're not in touch.

  • Avoid looking at each other when something pleasant is happening. The eyes are important to the emotion of love.

  • Fail to Assume Love. Go with your first, fearful reaction to any unexpected behavior from your spouse, instead of looking for explanations that fit better if you assume you are still loved. The fear will make it harder to feel the emotion of love, and the emotion almost always stops well before the love does.

  • Harbor resentment. It makes the emotion of love much harder to happen.

  • Fail to Expect Love. Expect not just love, but some particular sign of love. You'll grow resentment and kill off gratitude.

  • Ignore a disagreement your spouse feels resentment about. Whether you're right or wrong, you're reducing the chances of love happening, when you could almost always Find Third Alternatives to end the disagreement.

  • Fall into a rut. It kills off opportunities for the shared emotion of interest.

  • Avoid having sex together. This builds resentment and cuts off lots of opportunities for a shared positive emotion.

  • Avoid getting help with depression or anxiety or addiction. All of them reduce your chances of a positive emotion you could share with your spouse.

  • Threaten or frighten your spouse. Fear minimizes the chances of a shared positive emotion.

  • Distrust or disrespect your spouse. It will frighten or anger the person you long to share love with.

Once you know what you're looking for (that warmth in the chest from stimulating your vagus nerve, that reduction in separateness and distrust that marks the release of oxytocin, that sense of shared pleasure), you can more easily pay attention to what's making your marriage so wonderful when it's wonderful. You might also notice which sorts of things bring on this emotion for the two of you and what times of day it comes most easily, so you can bring back wonderful quickly.

I don't believe I've ever heard of a husband or wife or life partner saying, "I'm in love with you, but I don't love you." It's always, "I love you but I'm not in love with you." This is important.

Knowing your spouse is no longer in love with you is a horribly uncomfortable place to be. It's likely you'll consider calling it quits many times over the first month, especially if your spouse moves out or has an affair. It's not unusual for it to take as long as it did for Duane -- three months of creating opportunities to share a positive emotion together -- before your spouse will come around.

But the love in "I love you" lasts even after the emotion's showing up so seldom that it's become horribly painful for your spouse. And now you know how to create the emotion more often.

Even after your spouse says that awful "I'm not in love with you," if you want your marriage back, continue to Assume Love (and take a second stab at explaining behavior that upsets you), Expect Love (and avoid missing out on lots of it while you wait for some particular way of showing it), and Find Third Alternatives (because disagreements and compromises both lead to anger that blocks the love emotion) while you create opportunities for shared positive emotions.

The Author

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

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