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Articles from April 2006

April 19, 2006

Dating? Don't Assume Love

My advice to Assume Love applies only in a marriage or another relationship in which both partners have made a commitment to the longevity of the relationship. Until then, it might be wise to Assume the Worst.

When you assume love, you deliberately seek out evidence of your mate's love for you. Any actions with an ambiguous cause you can safely attribute to love because you have a partner committed to sustaining the relationship, even if that commitment sometimes wavers. You can view any hurtful behavior in the context of years of loving behavior and an intimate knowledge of who you're dealing with. To do so, you must repeatedly draw on that memory of when you knew without a doubt you had found a wonderful person.

None of these will help you determine whether you've found a wonderful person. In fact, they may well obscure the truth about people you date. You will fare much better if you repeatedly assume a deceitful, untrustworthy person who seeks to manipulate and exploit you, and try to explain the actions you've observed from that what-if picture. The more often this fails, the more likely you've got the sort of person to whom you can commit yourself for the rest of your life.

Picture two overlapping circles: on the left, all of the things an unloving person of little character might do; on the right, the things a loving person of good character might do. A lot falls into the overlapping area. After you marry, the danger lies in failing to see the love in the actions that fall into that overlap. While choosing a mate or even spending time with intimate strangers, the danger lies in inventing a story that you are loved and in good hands based only on actions in the overlap.

If you don't yet know the character of the person you're with, or if you haven't yet received any pledge of future love, it's best to assume a temper tantrum reflects an inability to act in accordance with intention, a promise of future generosity without any now marks a manipulative spirit, lies about little things foretell lies about bigger things, and so on.

Yes, a loving husband may cheat on his wife, and if she assumes love she may understand and eventually forgive him because of the man she once knew. But if he's cheating on her with you, he's a man out of integrity with no history of anything but that with you. There's no "man of great character" image to draw on, no promise of one in the future.

While someone courts you as a possible mate, you'll see the best behavior they can currently manage. You don't need to give them the benefit of the doubt. And if you do, you risk selecting someone with whom you will find it much harder to assume love when it's time to do so.

April 11, 2006

You Don't Have to Take It Anymore

I've just finished reading You Don't Have to Take It Anymore: Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One by Steven Stosny, PhD. What a great resource for anyone in a marriage where they are walking on eggshells!

Stosny, a psychologist who runs programs for abusive men, credits his abused mother for suggesting the core of his program. He identifies resentment as the problem and compassion as the solution.

Resentment, he claims, is a mood, rather than a specific complaint. Fix the current complaint and another will pop up to replace it as long as the mood lasts. Men and women both fall into resentment. For a number of reasons that Stosny lays out, men are more prone to be emotionally or physically abusive when they feel resentful,
and relatoinships are more likely to be damaged when women are the target of that abuse. So Stosny has worked with abusive men, and his success rates exceed those of anger management programs and programs that shame abusers.

Stosny teaches both the abuser and the abused to find their core value, which motivates them to improve, appreciate, connect, and protect, and to learn to summon it to fight their own and their spouse's resentment. He teaches compassion, and he does it without creating shame or guilt. There are four parts, an introduction, a how-to for the abused, a how-to (called Boot Camp, like his workshops) for abusers, and a final section on rebuilding the marriage after learning to manage resentment.

I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone walking on eggshells around their husband, wife, or life partner or anyone who often feels resentment toward their spouse. I don't know if the written version will have the same success rate as his workshops (where 36% go on to divorce, which is much less than for marriage counseling in general or even for marriages in general), but it will surely help many couples and many people whose lives are emptier for living in resentment.

You Don't Have to Take It Anymore: Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One. Steven Stosny, PhD. New York: Free Press, 2006. 364 pages.

April 7, 2006

The "Isn't My Spouse Awful" Game?

Before I started assuming love, I engaged in the very popular "Isn't my spouse awful?" game, as both instigator and player. To get it started, you ask your sister or people at work, or maybe even the stranger seated next to you on the bus, to confirm that there's something terribly wrong with your spouse. You plead with them to agree that you've married someone who's just plain wrong. Wrong about angels. Wrong about blue-green algae. Wrong about whether the right color ribbon is worth a two-hour drive. Wrong about evolution. Wrong about who ought to be elected. Wrong about what does and doesn't belong in a living room. Wrong about the value of television. Wrong about how to when to ask for a raise. Wrong about teal blue. Wrong about who's right and who's wrong.

If you've played the game a lot, you may have it down to a shorthand version. You just glance at whoever's available and roll your eyes as your spouse speaks. Whichever way you let others know how distressed you are with your spouse's choices, every time you do it, you push love out of your life.

Why do the rest of us help you push love away? Well, most of us have strong opinions about politics, sports, hobbies, habits, decorating, religion, and the unknown. If we agree with you, we'll gladly tell you so. It makes us feel a little closer to you, a little more right. Most of the time, it doesn't occur to us that we're helping you reject your life mate's love, that we're joining in to knock the foundation out from under your marriage.

When you assume love by trying to understand how someone kind and safe to be with who loves you fiercely might come to these different beliefs, you build your relationship. You reduce the fear that you don't know and can't trust this person you're with. You reduce the fear that your differences will shatter your relationship. And you start to gain one of the great benefits of a marriage or life commitment to another person, the chance to explore different beliefs in a safe and loving environment.

The Author

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

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