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Articles from February 2006

February 27, 2006

Why Be Married? It's Like Color TV

Danny Perasa says being married is like color TV instead of black & white. He and his wife Annie tell their love story, one well worth listening to, at the NPR website.

February 25, 2006

Assume Love from an Abuser?

When your spouse has just struck you or threatened to take a knife to you while you sleep, can you Assume Love? Absolutely. But you want to be very careful not to pretend love. You Assume Love to check whether it's possible this act could happen if you are still loved.

Sometimes the answer's no. If there's no intention to protect you from harm or threat of harm, there's no love. Love requires that intention. So, you check for intention. Does your spouse apologize or try to repair the relationship? If this isn't the first time, has your spouse made a real effort at self-control since the last time? Would your spouse protect you from a guest in your home doing the same thing? If not, seek protection from this person immediately.

Most times the answer's yes. Something interfered with your spouse's self-control -- alcohol, drugs, brain damage, a brain tumors, dementia, or never having learned the skill of managing anger or frustration. The love was there, but your spouse responded to anger or frustration like a two-year-old with an adult's strength, unable to control his or her actions. Don't just kiss and make up.

Unless your spouse's condition is incurable and terminal, like Alzheimer's, you can't Assume Love and continue to live together. I believe you must put yourself and any children out of reach until your spouse deals with the cause. Don't wait until you get seriously hurt or really angry or scared. Do it immediately, with love.

Get away because being available to witness the next loss of self-control will leave you both with memories that will make it much harder, for the rest of your marriage, to see the love that you both feel for each other. Get away because it takes courage to face problems like the ones that lead to abuse, and your spouse will find it harder to procrastinate once you take action. Get away because you can't fix this for your spouse.

Get away because fear will make you a less loving spouse if you stay. Get away because taking a positive step will help you release your anger over the event. Get away because you can't Assume Love while you're assuming your spouse poses a threat. Get away because love is well worth any temporary inconvenience.

Go back when your spouse is sober, straight, under a doctor's care, or trained in anger management skills. Go back with the knowledge that you have a strong and courageous spouse who wasn't kidding about loving you.

February 24, 2006

When Will You Be Home?

When KT married Ben last year, she loved to get a call from him during her workday. She'd look forward to 5:30, when she'd arrive home to a big hug and a huge smile. With her new job, she can't count on leaving as early. She's often rushing to get out of the office, then racing through traffic only to get home closer to 6:00, when she gets only Ben's icy greeting from the sofa.

Today, she returned from lunch to an urgent request from her boss. She's offered to take KT to lunch tomorrow if she completes the task by the close of business, a first in her two months here. KT's in a mad rush to finish in time when Ben calls.

As she reaches for the phone and sees his number, KT's asking herself, "Is he checking up on me again? Why can't he see that it's the job that makes me late? Why does this matter so much to him? Why is he so insecure and childish? Why can't he be happy to see me whenever I come home? I feel like he's got me on a short leash, and so does my job. He's wrecking my career chances!" No matter what Ben says now, KT will not hear any love in it.

This would be a very good time to Assume Love, before she picks up the phone.

  1. Assume you are completely loved by a wonderful person. KT does this. She pictures a man who is not at all insecure or childish, a man who truly enjoys seeing her.
  2. Attempt to explain how such a person might come to do what just happened. How might a secure, mature man who loves his wife come to call her at work? He likes her voice. It builds his anticipation of seeing her again. He wants to assure her that he's thinking of her all day. He can find out when he needs to be home to greet her at the door.
  3. If you can think of one or more explanations that might possibly apply to your real life situation, too, decide whether you choose to react to the negative explanation or to one of these positive possibilities. KT realizes that all of those could easily be true of Ben. It's only his icy greetings at home that suggest there's anything wrong. He's never icy on the phone.
  4. If you choose one of the positive ones, check whether it teaches you something new about how your spouse loves you. Hmmm... KT realizes as her hand reaches the phone that perhaps Ben actually gets himself psyched up for those greetings. Maybe he himself races home to be there in time for them. When she's late, maybe he's frustrated in his attempts to show her love and icy because he feels rejected.

Today instead of saying she'll try her best to be home by 5:30, she says, "I'm likely to be late tonight, but I'm looking forward to one of your great hugs. Let's talk later about how to handle my new schedule in a way that works better for both of us."

Is the problem solved? No. But now the problem's not between them any more. It's just a problem, one they can solve together. And KT notices again how nice it feels to be loved.

February 17, 2006

Dirty Dishes and Open Toothpaste Tubes

We've all got our pet peeves when living with someone else, and spouses get a special break only for the first few months. What should you do when you encounter dirty dishes in the sink, an open toothpaste tube on the sink, wet bathroom floors, sweat socks in the dining room, spice bottles lined up alphabetically instead of by height and all the rest of the annoying things that real people do?

My suggestion: assume love. Ask yourself what might lead a person of good character who still loved you dearly to make this terrible faux pas. Start from the assumption that it has nothing to do with not loving you or not respecting you or not caring about you. Assume love. Now take a calm look at what's happened.

Are you certain that your husband or wife knows that you get rankled by this behavior? If so, are you certain that he or she did this? Is there any chance that you dropped that sock on the way to the laundry, that it wasn't your compulsive friend who reorganized your kitchen while you were on the phone?

If you know for sure that your spouse did it, does your spouse even know it happened? It took a while before I realized that my terribly nearsighted husband washes up and showers without his glasses and can't see even a third of what I see when he's done.

If you know that you both know who did this and that it sets your teeth on edge, where do you go next? Why would someone who loved you do this? Is it possible that someone who loves you sometimes has something bigger on his or her mind than a spouse's preferences? Sure. And an occasional faux pas offers you a great clue that your spouse has something big on his or her mind today. You were hoping for some improvement in your mind-reading capabilities, weren't you? Well, here it is.

Small retaliations provide another explanation for the occasional faux pas. Perhaps you've done something that has so angered your wife that she'd like to smother your face with a pillow, but she's settled for something you'll survive, like heading off to work without washing the egg off her plate. There's a good chance that you have enough other information to sort out when you're the bigger issue on her mind and when it's something else.

Ah, but you say it's happened repeatedly? Your husband has re-ordered the spice bottles sixteen times in your first year together, and you've patiently put them back the way they ought to be, but now you've had it? As long as we stick with the assumption that he loves you dearly, I'd say we have two strong opinions about the only way something can be done correctly. If you're not willing to let go of yours, may I suggest investing in a second set of spices? You need love. You don't need to be the world's expert on spice-arranging.

If you're completely at a loss for how a person who loves and cares for you could engage in such annoying behavior, and you're certain it's not a sign of some terrible mental disorder that could be treated, then and only then will I grant you permission to make a checkmark in the Loves-Me-Not column of your scorecard.

OK, fine, you're loved. And you're married to an OK person. But you still find the dirty sock really distressing. Now what?

Pick it up. Just remove the sock. Pretend you dropped it there yourself by accident. It's only there because you are loved.

Get a second tube of toothpaste and keep the cap on it at all times. Don't use the one with the open cap that looks like an open invitation to little crawly things. That one's there to remind you that you are loved.

Keep a towel handy for wiping up the wet floors. You are loved, and wet floors are proof of it. If your spouse could attend to the floors the way you do, they'd be dry. If your spouse left you, they'd be dry. They're only wet because you are loved.

All You Need Is Love

No, love isn't all you need to get through life. But when talking about your marriage, this song title serves as excellent advice. All you need from your husband or wife is love.

If you've got kids and a house and a job and a love of quiet walks in the woods, you probably have a lot more needs, but you don't need them from your spouse. You need them whether or not you've got a spouse. I discovered that the day after my husband suddenly died.

I seriously considered divorcing the man I loved because I didn't get what I thought I needed from him. I even convinced myself that he must not love me if he didn't provide all of those things. I believed that he owed me all of the things I needed, that as my husband only he could provide them. I was so wrong.

When his death handed me back my list of needs, I could see clearly how much he'd loved me. I could also see way too clearly that while I might find other people to help me with my list of needs, I still needed love.

Eleven long years later, I found love again. In the interim, I learned how to get my son to and from school without a husband, how to get the leaves raked and the house painted without a husband, how to put food on the table when there's no time because I fixed the broken light myself, how to find a dance partner without marrying one, how to find a dinner companion without marrying one, how to get more money without marrying into it, even how to get time to myself without a husband.

The first time it snowed on the new home my second husband and I moved into, I had a strong temptation to slip back to my old ways and see the white stuff as his snow and myself as his needy maiden in distress. I didn't like that picture, so I tried on another, "We both live here, so he'd better get moving and help remove the snow." I struggled for some way out of this task I've never enjoyed. He stumbled out of bed and made himself a cup of coffee. He hadn't had to shovel snow since he was a child. If he packed his bags and left right now, I'd still have snow to shovel. If I packed my bags and left right now, I'd still have snow to shovel, just somewhere else.

It seemed unfair. I hate shoveling snow. Wouldn't fairness dictate that I should have to shovel only half of it at most? Nah, fairness would probably dictate that some woman who'd never been married should have received his love, not someone who'd already been lucky in love like me. I had snow and I had love, and I'd learned that I can get rid of snow lots more easily than I can find love.

I briefly considered pulling out one of those relationship-crushing "shoulds" - men should take responsibility for snow removal from their homes. Then if he doesn't do what he "should" do, I'd have my evidence that his character lacks something or I'm not loved as much as I thought. No thanks. Been there, done that, wasted too many years already.

I knew he loved me and was doing what he felt he should be doing at this time.

I thought back to my friend's second husband, who died of a heart attack just four months after they married, while arguing with her son over who should shovel the snow. My son and his wife were asleep in our guest room, recovering from jet lag.

So, out I went. All You Need Is Love turns out to have a great beat for shoveling snow. My son and a neighbor showed up to help. A cup of hot cocoa awaited me inside. I felt loved.

February 14, 2006

Loves Me... Loves Me Not...

This website is for anyone who's ever wondered if their husband, wife, or life partner really meant that "I do" or whether they are still loved today. It's for everyone who's found a partner but still battles with unmet needs, unresolved conflicts, and questions of what's fair and what's not.

I learned a few things when I lost my first husband. First, marriage does not require hard work. Second, it seldom benefits from compromise. Third, knowing how to communicate is not enough. I hope to explain myself more over the coming months.

My goals: happier marriages, fewer divorces. For all of us, even the folks who can't or won't get a marriage license. One partner we can count on for the rest of our lives. One family our kids can count on for the rest of their lives.

Three Approaches to Feeling More Loved

Almost all of us crave love. A few seem to get by without it, and a few more claim unconvincingly to do without, but most of us will twist ourselves into knots to be loved. Married folks who don't feel loved enough can really feel deprived.

I've noticed that when we crave more love from a spouse, we have only three choices. The first one many of us try is what I'd call foot-tapping, waiting for your unloving mate to get with the program. You drop hints that you're not getting enough, that your beloved doesn't measure up, you nag, you beg. You tap your foot and wait. Maybe you even drag your spouse off to a relationship therapist or marriage workshop, hoping that a professional will make it clear that you deserve better than this.

If you're more action-oriented (or reading most relationship advice), you listen better, write poems for your beloved, cook your mate's favorite meals, go to that unbearable opera or rugby match together, stop criticizing, offer spontaneous back rubs, buy that sexy new bedtime outfit, show up with flowers between Valentine's Days. Surely, if you shower your spouse with love, more will flow back to you. You "fill your emotional bank account" so that you can start making some big withdrawals. But it's no more fun than making your IRA deposits. You're not giving love; you're investing it.

Maybe you've even swung back and forth between these two approaches--doing, doing, doing, then tapping, tapping, tapping. Perhaps it's even gone so far that you've begun threatening to leave if you don't start feeling more loved real soon. Threats, of course, produce more resentment than love.

Assume Love offers another approach. Before you ask for more love, you can try to receive more of the love your spouse already gives. Maybe there's already enough there to make offering more love in return a joy instead of hard work.

Four Steps to Assume Love

Here's how you Assume Love. Consider doing it every time your spouse does something or fails to do something and you feel anger, resentment, hurt, fear, shame, frustration, or superiority taking hold of your emotions:

  1. Assume you are completely loved by a wonderful person.

  2. Attempt to explain how such a person might come to do what just happened.

  3. If you can think of one or more explanations that might possibly apply to your real life situation, too, decide whether you choose to react to the negative explanation or to one of these positive possibilities.

  4. If you choose one of the positive ones, check whether it teaches you something new about how your spouse loves you.

Here's an example...

Matt just arrived home from work at the end of a long day and has an important meeting scheduled for tomorrow. Julie didn't pick up his suits at the cleaners as she had promised, and he has no other clean suits in his closet. He's worried about how he'll manage things in the morning, angry that Julie put him in this position, and stinging with hurt that she apparently chose not to keep her promise to him.

Matt's ready to lecture her about the importance of this meeting (and unknowingly ruin the mood of a dinner Julie planned as a reminder of their first date). But he stops and asks himself how a good, thoughtful person who loves him completely might have done what Julie did. On his first try, Matt thinks there could have been an emergency that required her to spend hours at the emergency room instead of running errands. But things are calm at home. So he tries for another explanation. Maybe the dry cleaners closed because they had an emergency. Unlikely, but possible.

Perhaps this hypothetical wonderful person who loves him completely didn't know about the meeting tomorrow or the lack of clean suits. Both could be true for Julie. Maybe she hadn't understood their agreement to mean the suits would be picked up today. Or perhaps she knew and made a conscious choice to do something other than go to the cleaners, a choice that Matt would have gone along with if only he knew. Matt feels that while it's possible Julie was just being irresponsible or uncaring, he's got several other possibilities that are just as likely. The anger subsides. He's not sure if he feels hurt or not now. He notices the terrific smells coming from the kitchen and smiles at Julie.

"I notice you didn't get to the cleaners today. Did something else come up?"

Julie answers, "Yes, I got a call from that new restaurant, and they want me to create their menus and ads. It's a huge job, and I fixed us a wonderful dinner to celebrate. I hope tomorrow's OK for picking up the suits, because I got back after they closed."

"Oh, Julie, that's great! You worked so hard preparing that package you sent them last week. I'm delighted for you," Matt replies. After they celebrate, he says, "I've got a big meeting tomorrow at 11, and I'm going to need one of those suits at the cleaners, but I've got to be in the office before the cleaners open. Can you possibly pick them up and bring me the gray pinstripe at the office?"

Julie agrees and begins reading, and Matt silently moves onto the last Assume Love step. He notices that Julie had placed a work opportunity over a promised chore, put effort into celebrating her work success with him, and offered to help him be successful at work tomorrow, even though it would eat up a significant part of her day. It makes him think about Julie's whole attitude toward work, far more upbeat than his own. Today's the day he first realizes that Julie approaches her work as a means of loving and caring for him and sees his work as an act of love for her.

The Five Love Languages

The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, was first published in 1992. It's been republished twice and widely read. There's even a special edition for men.

In case you've missed it, Chapman explains five different ways that we love and like to be loved. Knowing them makes it easier to recognize when your spouse is offering love that might not look like love to you and to find the words to ask for what you want. The five are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Gary Chapman. Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2004. 203 pages.

Don't Pretend Love

You Assume Love when you take a second look at what your spouse or life partner does as if you are well-loved.

You Pretend Love when you act as if you're loved even though you don't believe it.

When you Assume Love, you give yourself the chance to receive more love by looking beyond your instantaneous, gut-level reactions to events. You pay attention to what you know to be true. You stop yourself from jumping to conclusions. You do this for you, so that you don't miss any love being offered to you.

There's a good chance you'll notice love where you didn't see it before and want to show your spouse more appreciation as a result. That's great! But it's not required, and it probably won't happen every time. When it doesn't, pretending it did is not the solution.

The Author

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

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