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Articles from June 2010

June 27, 2010

More on Turning Disagreements into Shared Victories

How did you do with yesterday's challenge to solve a toothpaste cap disagreement?

A Third Alternative is a solution to your disagreement that will make both of you feel respected, loved, and in control of what matters to you.

You create shared specs for your Third Alternative. They include the outcomes each of you values from your initial alternatives. They protect both of you from anything you dislike or fear about the other's alternatives. And they are not as hard to find as most expect.

To help get you there, here are some questions designed to get you free of the conventions, customs, and rules-of-thumb that normally make life easier but make brainstorming harder.


  • How many of something a couple should have
    Two toothpaste tubes? Two sinks in one bathroom? Two drawers to toss the toothpaste into so the other doesn't see whether yours is open or closed?

  • When something should be done
    Remove the cap once and store the tube in something that does the work of the cap without the effort of the cap? (no laughing at your mate's idea of effort, please)

  • Where something should be done
    Store your open toothpaste tube in the refrigerator and brush in the kitchen sink?

  • Who should do it
    One of you opens and closes the toothpaste tube for both of you?

  • How something should be done
    Toothpaste in a pump bottle or a jar? Baking soda for brushing? Preloaded travel toothbrushes that let you squeeze the handle for toothpaste?

  • Whether both of you need to get your benefits at the same time
    Leave the cap off in oyster months only, because there are more bugs in May through August?

  • Whether both of you need to get your benefits from the same thing
    Two tubes? Or worth it to handle the cap your spouse's way in exchange for having the dish towel hung your way?

  • Whether both of you need to get your benefits in the same place
    A second bathroom where one of you could brush? An open tube on the sink and a close one put away neatly?

  • Whether a product and its packaging are inseparable
    A clean tennis ball in place of a cap? Toothpaste in a pastry bag? Toothpaste in a salt shaker?

  • How long you would continue to feel silly doing something odd if it made both of you happy
    Shared happy secrets strengthen the bond between you. If houseguests notice your method, just grin and say, "It makes us happy." You might even want to stick a photo of the two of you sharing a happy moment right next to your solution.

  • Whether any of the things you two didn't list are slipping back into your specs just because you haven't yet heard of an option that doesn't include this feature
    A flip-top tube that lets you flip the cap open or unscrew it? Liquid toothpaste? Powdered toothpaste? A toothpaste tube sterilizer? A hands-free toothpaste dispenser? They all exist.

  • Whether expense is really a limitation, when you consider the possibility of this one issue becoming the thorn that pushes you over the edge into paying for a divorce lawyer, two homes, and all those extra accommodations for your kids
    Most toothpaste solutions don't cost a lot, but few couples ever try to figure out how they could get an extra room, an apartment in the city, or space for an annoying hobby until they get to the point where separate homes and a divorce is the only thing they can think of. That's sad.


If these questions give you even more ideas for a toothpaste conflict, or perhaps a bigger disagreement in your marriage, please share them with us. You might save someone's marriage.


June 26, 2010

It's Disgustingly Normal to Disagree

Married couples disagree. The ones who stay married the longest disagree just as much as the ones who divorce.

Disagreements become angry battles or festering resentments only when you fall into the trap of thinking a disagreement requires a choice between your two points of view.

You start out thinking Option A vs. Option B. If you argue for Option A or Option B, you lose. Jump the net instead. Offer your mate all the desirable benefits of both options and none of the feared negatives of either. Find the Third Alternative.

How? First, you must find out which benefits of A and B each of you find desirable and which you fear. Skip this step, and you'll be tossing around alternatives for weeks. You have to ask. You have to be ready to hear the answers and treat them all as a given for your Option C.

Once you know the specs, you brainstorm. Together. Without critiquing each other. Just create ideas, the wilder the better, until one matches your specs.

A simple example, the toothpaste cap: on or off between brushings? Whichever side you're on, what are the benefits you actually enjoy from doing it your way? Include only the ones that really matter to you, not the ones you would pull out for an advertising campaign. And what truly distresses you about the other way?

If you're a cap-off person, imagine your mate has a phobia about bugs getting into the toothpaste. No chance at all of any bugs in the toothpaste is the design spec, along with all the things you like about keeping the cap off.

If you're a cap-on person, imagine your mate simply cannot tolerate tiny twist caps and will come to bed miserable and start off every day in agony after twisting that cap. No twisting goes in your design spec, along with whatever matters to you about keeping the cap on.

In your comment, list as many ideas as you can come up with to keep both of you happy, feeling in control of your bathroom, and certain you are loved and respected by your mate, at least on this issue.

Got three or four ideas already? Tomorrow I will tell you how to come up with even more. But first I want to hear your great ideas. Please post them in the comments. Thanks!

June 25, 2010

It's the Thought that Counts

It's the thought that counts. The thought can make your marriage happy or miserable.

  • Miserable: Another freakin' hike through the wildflower preserve, just to keep her in a decent mood.
    Happy: Feels good to have her hand in mine. I don't know what she sees in this place, but look at that happy crinkle in her eyes. I think I'll kiss her every time we pass a black-eyed Susan today.
  • Miserable: He's impossible to shop for. Guess I'll just grab a gift card and call it done.
    Happy: I really don't enjoy shopping for gifts for him, and he seldom appreciates what I buy. I think this year I will invite him to an evening picnic on the beach, like we did in college.
  • Miserable: I'm as tired as she is, and I'm cooking dinner. It won't be done for an hour, and she's just sitting there watching TV instead of getting the bills paid.
    Happy: Gee, I love cracking eggs. Have since I was six. Never broke a yolk yet. Maybe I should make an angel food cake this weekend.
Same circumstances. Different thought. Different marriage. Tell me about a time you changed your thoughts and fell back in love.

June 17, 2010

When You Want More from Your Partner

I love this in Steven Stosny's recent blog post:

"Your best chance of changing your partner's behavior is to change what he/she reacts to in you. Your partner is likely to respond in kind to your behavior, whether it is loving, compassionate, and supportive or resentful, demanding, and critical.

"But regardless of how your partner responds, you will feel more authentic and remain true to yourself if you behave like the partner you most want to be."

June 14, 2010

Enjoy Married Life More

This summer's Enjoy Being Married teleclasses are all scheduled now, and we have some really great topics coming up:


  • Less Drama, More Wow! (June 23)

  • If Momma Ain't Happy...(July 7)

  • Oxytocin and Your Marriage (July 21)

  • Ouch! That Stings! (August 11)

  • Keeping Your Marriage Strong When Money Gets Tight (September 8)

  • Going After Your Dreams, Even the Ones You Don't Share (September 22)


These are no-charge classes, open to the public, on how to enjoy married life. For call-in instructions, just subscribe to the Enjoy Being Married newsletter.

June 12, 2010

Time Out

Assume Love will be offline for a while between 11 pm EDT Tuesday (6/15/2010) and 9 am EDT Wednesday (6/17/2010). Time for a bit of maintenance. Sorry for the inconvenience.

June 11, 2010

Husbands Who Cheat

Husbands who cheat — and wives who cheat — cause great harm for selfish reasons. A lot of them have made the news recently, in part because our strong reactions to such news help pull in viewers and readers.

Why do we have such strong reactions? Whether we want to see the harm avenged, can't abide public scrutiny of any private relationship, or don't believe such a commonplace act of selfishness warrants attention, almost all of us react with alarm to news of cheating spouses.

Maybe we react because of the clarity. Being unfaithful violates most folks' rules for a good marriage. Only two questions remain: what will be the penalty and who will impose it?

The rest of the time, the line between a good marriage and a failing one gets lost in the details. Fighting? Might be bad, but could be nothing serious if the ratio of positive to negative interactions exceeds 5 to 1. Avoiding fights? Might be good, could be bad if it prevents emotional intimacy or builds resentment.

Self-improvement or education? Could be great, might be the start of one partner looking down on the other. Self-sacrifice? Might cut off avenues for receiving love even more than it creates avenues for giving it.

We like cheating, because we know where things stand. We know who's guilty and who's injured. It would be unkind and unfair to bring up what happened leading up to the big transgression. No accumulation of small damages justifies this huge one.

So, we pay attention to the cheaters. And we allow ourselves to become smug in our partners' and our own faithfulness. If we're not actually enjoying the marriage, we assume there will be plenty of time to fix this, as long as neither of us steps out and cheats.

And then a well-known couple like Al and Tipper Gore, married more than 40 years, obviously in love with each other very recently, with none of the money problems the rest of us deal with, calls it quits.

It makes us so uncomfortable we have to speculate if they are lying about their fidelity.

Expecting Too Little?

What you expect from your marriage has a lot to do with how much you will enjoy it.

Expect your personal mind-picture of the perfect marriage and find yourself frequently and sorely disappointed.

Expect "growth" from the person you actually married into the person you think your mate could become and find yourself in a non-stop battle.

Expect supportive words from a gift-giver, acts of service from a person who loves with their body, or gifts from a person who offers you their time instead and find yourself in a roller coaster relationship.

But expect nothing and find yourselves living disconnected, parallel lives.

What's the answer? Expect love, lots of it, and throw yourself fully into noticing and savoring every surprising, unscripted, not-your-usual-style bit of it. You will find yourself happily married year after year.

The Author

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

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