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Articles from July 2010

July 31, 2010

Four Ways to Look at Your Current Mess

Let's say you intended to stay home with your babies, but now your full-time job is the only way to pay the rent and buy the groceries. Or perhaps you have a burning passion to launch a business, but it is not practical right now, because you want to be available to get your mate to dialysis appointments. Or you are this close to a college degree, but you cannot register for courses next semester, because your wife's mother is gravely ill, four states away.

It is a mess. You don't like it. Your mate will get hurt if you do as you please. People will look down their noses at you. But you feel frustrated, maybe even cornered. So you snarl. And you lose your wife's respect. Or you drive your husband back into dead silence, with no communication.

You have four ways to look at your mess:


  1. Marriage is a trap. Your mate lost a job, got sick, or made a promise to a relative, and now you are stuck picking up the pieces.

  2. Marriage is hard work. Sometimes you must sacrifice, but your turn to be on the receiving end will come.

  3. Marriage means commitment and commitment means putting yourself second. You will get your reward in the afterlife.

  4. Marriage has nothing to do with your mess. Married or not, you would do the best you could for your kids and you would lend a helping hand to those in your life who need one. Marriage is not the source of the problem. Instead, it is your best opportunity for love and support as you look for a creative way around your current obstacles.


You choose. And what you choose determines how you feel about the mess, about your mate, and about your future.

July 24, 2010

Communication Problems in Marriage

Lots of folks seem convinced the biggest cause of unhappy marriages is poor communication.

They may be right, except that they try to solve the problem by saying more or demanding their mate answer their accusations.

Say you start off with the wrong assumption. For example, you mistake grumpiness for criticism because, like so many of us, you're expecting someone who promised to love you for the rest of your life to constantly check you for imperfections. Even before you utter a word, your face or the way you set your shoulders conveys your hurt or your anger.

Talk now, and you dig your hole deeper. Instead, assume love. Don't pretend love, ignore your pain, and paste a phony smile on your face. Really try out the assumption that your spouse still adores you, and ask what circumstances could lead to this sort of grumpiness toward the person he or she adores. Nine times out of ten, you will remember or spot the cause as soon as you look: a cold, a worry about work, an unwanted and urgent chore, a lack of sleep, a dog puddle three steps ahead. You didn't see it before because that's the way the human brain works; when you're upset, it looks only for more threats to you. But you can change this just by switching assumptions.

Now, if you care to communicate, you might want to use your husband's or wife's main love language. Communicate with an arm around the shoulder, with an offer of assistance, or with a reminder of how much you admire and love this person you married.

If this is that one time out of ten when you cannot spot an obvious reason for the distressing behavior, the softening of your eyes and lowering of your shoulders will communicate a lot before you gently ask what's up. And even if you were right about the criticism, you may find it's gone in a flash of compassion and love. And you two can talk about something more interesting.

July 17, 2010

TV Star Caught on Set Fighting with His Wife

Many thanks to my son for spotting this and to xkcd.com for letting me share it with you.

Cartoon from xkcd. Caption reads 1981: An audio recorder on the set captures Fred Rogers fighting with his wife. Speech bubbles: 'Sometimes when we disagree, I feel frustrated. But I never forget how lucky I am to have you in my family. Always remember how special you are.' Black screen with [No video] behind bubbles. Check the image's title for comment from the cartoonist.

July 16, 2010

Why Don't You Get a Job?

"The kids are grown. They have their own car. One's in college. The other is going next year. Why don't you get a job? We could really use the money."

"I want to. But not just any job. I can't go back to what I was doing. I need coworkers I can stand being around. And I need to keep doing something meaningful. I am not sure I could stand working in an insurance office again."

"For the last 19 years, I have gone to a truly ordinary, not-so-meaningful job every day, even worked overtime, for you and the kids. I wanted to go into business for myself, but I could not take the risk. Now, all I am asking is that you help pay these college bills."

"I will get a job. Really, I will. I might need to go back to school first, but I will get a job. I am just looking for something I can enjoy doing."

"We're not getting anywhere."

No, they sure are not getting anywhere. Each one is defending a position, a story about what is fair, what a loving partner ought to do. They do this politely. They do it without raising their voices. But with each affirmation of their opposing stands, they pound a dividing wedge into their relationship.

It hurts to learn you will not get what you expected your mate to provide. To stop the pain, you can make demands -- and harm your relationship. You can out-debate your partner -- and harm your relationship. You can whine -- and harm both your relationship and your status as mature adult worthy of emulation. Or you can choose to let the expectation go. Let all your expectations go, except one.

Expect love.

You have a problem, whether it is taking a risk on a career change as your kids go to college or finding your way back into the full-time work force after 19 years out. If no one had your back, if you had to do this on your own as a widow or widower with no one to love you, you could do it.

But you are not on your own. You are loved. You are loved by someone with remarkable strengths, different from your own, strengths to help you solve this problem. You are loved by someone who will make great sacrifices for you, some more easily than others. You are loved by someone who wants to show you love, but finds it harder to do so when you ask, over and over, for just one particular way of showing it.

Working a job is not the only way to bring in money. Your current expenses are not fixed in stone. Money is not the only way to put kids through college. Going back to school is not the only way to launch a meaningful career. Working a dull job is not so bad if you come home to support for your dreams or even to a great meal and a massage. And starting your own business is a lot less risky if someone else is pouring heart and soul into it with you.

When you do not get want you want, listen for that little voice in your head that says, "If you loved me, you would..." It is almost always wrong. You were expecting something other than love.

Think back to all the times you received love far greater than anything you expected. That is love. Expect love again. And get to work on solving your problem while you wait for it to surprise you.

July 12, 2010

I'm Not Happy

"I'm not happy." How awful to realize this, awful enough to make you want to make a big change, like leaving the person you imagined could make you happy for the rest of your life.

"I'm scared silly" would be different. So would "I'm really angry, and I'm not going to take it any more."

"Not happy" carries no danger, no adrenalin racing through your veins, no cowering when you hear the car in the driveway or the pop-top on a beer can. "Not happy" conveys a deep loss, something important missing, an unspoken promise quietly broken.

When "not happy" hits your marriage, try this. Do the things you would do to restore your happiness if you had no spouse. Skip the ones that violate your vows, because a lack of integrity really gets in the way of happiness, but don't overlook any that violate only your mate's expectations.

Tell yourself you will leave as soon as happiness returns, if you like, but not a minute sooner. Happiness first, happiness in spite of your sad marriage.

Dance. Hit a karaoke bar. Head to the beach. Buy something beautiful. Climb a mountain. Write poetry. Ride a bike. Eat chocolate, really, really good dark chocolate with outrageous fillings and a gazillion calories. Have dinner with old friends. Help Habitat for Humanity build a house. Spoil your dog. Keep at it until you feel genuinely happy again.

And perhaps, like me, you will find you like your wife or husband a whole lot more when you feel happy, much, much more than you could possibly like anyone you just met.

July 6, 2010

We Did Not Know Any Better

From a disturbing report on All Things Considered, right before the start of this year's Smart Marriages Conference:

"Many of these parents are children of divorce -- born in the early '80s when divorce rates peaked. Today, these parents say they'd rather raise a child alone or with multiple partners than risk putting that child through a divorce."

I want to give every one of you parents a huge hug and beg your forgiveness. My generation just did not know any better.

We told you people just grow apart, fall out of love, need to leave to find happiness, because we did not know any better. We grew up on mythical TV families, then came of age to Free Love and No-Fault Divorce.

We told you partners cheat on each other because they are rotten apples and "once a cheater, always a cheater," because we did not know any better. We had no idea how to stay close enough to resist temptation or how to mend such a huge mistake once it was made.

Things change. With events like the Smart Marriages Conference in Orlando this week, and with all the classes, books, videos, and retreats offered all year 'round by those who speak there, there are better options for your children than our divorces or this new single-parent-from-infancy game plan.

Marriage education changes lives. If you can get to Orlando next Sunday at 4 pm, you can attend your choice of 90-minute seminars with well-known therapists, authors, and researchers for just $15 and stay for a marriage film festival.

July 4, 2010

Declare Your Independence without Filing for Divorce

Almost all of us feel stuck at times, stuck with responsibilities, routines, and chores, stuck heading in whatever direction we set off in for our lives, stuck living the way we have been living. All of us do. Married folks do, dating folks do, single folks completely on their own do.

But when you're married, it looks for all the world like your spouse is holding up the barricade keeping you from going in a better direction. Very seldom is this true.

If you feel stuck, declare your independence, but not from your mate, the one person in the world who probably cares as much about your spirit as you do. Declare your independence from that outdated life or career or routine.

Then get to work with your mate on some Third Alternatives for the things that must change in your lives. And remember the goal of looking for Third Alternatives: get what you need while giving your mate the moon and the stars. Don't ask your mate to pick up any responsibilities you drop; ask him or her to help you find Third Alternatives for those responsibilities. Don't ask your spouse to take an intolerable financial risk just because it seems worth it to you; ask for help finding ways to fund your leap of faith. Don't just announce you are moving out; ask for helping getting more personal space, more privacy, more quiet, or more of whatever that new place offers.

You may discover your husband or wife is delighted with the new you, with the security of being consulted instead of dumped, and with the respect of being asked to help you live life well.

Happy Independence Day!

The Author

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

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