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Articles from February 2011

February 28, 2011

Assume Love When You're Being Emotionally Abused?

I am reading an excellent book by Beverly Engel on emotional abuse and what to do about it. But I keep imagining her asking, "You don't really expect a man or woman who is being emotionally abused to assume love, do you?"

I do. In addition to bringing back a lot of the warmth and joy in a lot of marriages, this simple practice can actually protect you against any type of abuse.

Here's why. When you assume love, you try to explain how a loving person might come to treat you as you have just been treated. If you just act as if what happened was a loving act, even though it felt awful, you do not assume love; you pretend love. When you look for explanations as if you are confident of your mate's love, you assume love.

Emotional or Physical Abuse

Now, imagine you have just been treated abusively. Your mate has done something to you that he or she or even a kind-hearted stranger would defend you from if a stranger did it. You have been hit, threatened, belittled in a way that cuts you down, yelled at viciously, or told you must comply with an unreasonable request to prevent your spouse from leaving or commiting suicide.

These are not loving acts. There is only one explanation for a loving person treating his or her beloved in such a manner. That one explanation is that your partner has no ability to act as he or she intends to act. Your spouse has lost or perhaps never gained control over his or her actions when frustrated, angry, drunk, drugged, or unhappy.

Intentional or Not

If you have been treated in a manner that a stranger could not get away with if you had any caring friends or an in-control spouse present, and you assume love, this is the only explanation that could explain what's happening. And you most likely know your mate well enough to know if this is a lack of control or intentional cruelty.

If it is intentional cruelty, there is no marriage left to save. Find a safe exit route and get out.

But if it is a lack of control, whether due to drinking, drugs, a mental illness, an abusive childhood, or simply a lack of skill at handling emotional stress, it is a lack of control. Being a quieter or more compliant spouse won't fix it. Accepting an apology tomorrow won't fix it. Yelling or hitting back won't fix it.

You Cannot Fix This

The only thing that will fix it is if your mate gains or regains the ability to do the loving things he or she intends to do, whether by taking a class, going to therapy, getting sober, finding a spiritual mentor, or going through rehab.

This is going to take some guts. In the meantime, hurting someone he or she intends to love leaves your mate a choice of shame or blame, feeling ashamed or blaming you for his or her unreasonable behavior. Either shame or blame does great harm to your relationship.

You Can Protect Your Relationship

Since by definition your mate has no control over hurting you, the only way to avoid shame and blame until your spouse finds the guts to get help and make a change is for you to make it a lot harder for your mate to hurt you.

This may mean moving apart for a while. It may mean having someone else move in with the two of you. In the case of a brain tumor or dementia causing the loss of control, it may mean hiring someone else to provide care instead of you.

As the only one with any control over what happens until your spouse finds the courage to change the underlying cause, it falls on you to act or to watch your love and respect for your partner drain away.

Book Recommendation

And this is where Beverly Engel's book is a huge help for anyone experiencing emotional abuse. She offers lots of specific advice for the abused and, if the abuser is ready to change, for the abuser.

The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing by Beverly Engel. Wiley, 2003.
[Note: This is an Amazon Affiliate link, which means they pay me a very small sum for suggesting you buy from them.]

February 16, 2011

What If You Could Change Everything?

About your marriage, that is. You can. The three secrets I discovered a day too late put a lot of power in your hands.

Secret #1: Assume Love. When something happens that makes you wonder if your wife has no respect for you, if your husband no longer cares about you, or whether you ought to stay together, Assume Love.

Your lizard brain, the one that protected so many of your ancestors who lived in tougher times than yours, always assumes danger. It does not want you doing any thinking. If you might be in danger, if the situation even looks similar to dangerous, it takes action. It narrows your thinking. It focuses your attention on threats. It gets you ready for a fight for your life, the fastest run you've ever taken, or a complete freeze to fool your enemies. Not particularly useful for dealing with your life partner unless yours is violent or cruel.

So tell your lizard brain kindly that you are safe and just want to try on a different idea with your new brain, your very clever prefrontal cortex. Assume you loved as much as ever by a man or woman who is just as wonderful as ever, then try to explain what happened. That's it. Come up with a few different possible explanations for how a loving person might do the same thing that upset you so because it looked unloving. Think about what else is happening or has happened to the person who vowed to love you and how it might relate to what upset you.

Maybe all it will get you is an understanding that what looked mean could also have been kind and the choice of which to believe or act on is yours. Maybe it will put you in a position to ask your mate to explain something, and you get you an honest answer because you are able to ask kindly and without accusation. And sometimes it will shock you right out of your shoes and turn your I-am-out-of-here fury into compassion and a much more deeply intimate connection with your spouse.

Secret #2: Expect Love. Stop expecting everything else. All those other expectations are getting in the way of feeling loved and respected. Expect Love. If you receive none, I will help you pack your bags and get away. But you receive a lot less love when you are busy watching and waiting for anything else, whether it is Valentine's candy, getting the garbage to the curb before the trash truck arrives, a hug, or a fair share of the chores. Take your attention off what you expected love meant and use it to learn what love really means. I think you will like it a lot more than you expect.

Secret #3: Find Third Alternatives. If you disagree about any two options, just toss them out. They are no good for you two as a couple. Join hands to spec out what would work for both of you and start brainstorming. You would be amazed at how often a disagreement blinds you to something you will like as much or more. And if you have ever given your spouse something that was just what he or she wanted, you may have an idea how much better a Third Alternative is than just getting what you want.

With these three secrets—Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives—you have to power to really change your relationship and rediscover the intense love of your early days together.

February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day - 5th and 82nd Anniversaries

Today is this blog's fifth anniversary, a huge occasion for me. I am so grateful to you for being a part of it.

On this wonderful day, I also want to say Happy Anniversary to Winnie and Marshall Kuykendall of Lordsburg, NM. Today is their 82nd wedding anniversary. Their only child, a daughter, has been married for 56 years. Now, as Worldwide Marriage Encounter's poster children for their Longest Married Project, they inspire all of us.

Thanks to the Silver City Sun-News for sharing the Kuykendall's story with us.

February 13, 2011

Michelle Obama Says Laugh with Your Spouse

Michelle Obama says a lot of laughing and finding ways to have fun together keeps her bond with President Barak Obama strong, according to Yahoo News. They have been married for 18 years, balancing two careers, one of them in some pretty tough political arenas, and parenthood.

Humor and playfulness is one of the Transcendence strengths studied in the VIA (Values in Action) Classification of Character Strengths. The other Transcendence strengths seem to lead to stronger marriages: Hope (optimism), Religiousness (spirituality), Gratitude, and Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence (awe, wonder, elevation).

Yet people in failing marriages more often complain of their spouses lacking what are called the Humanity strengths: Capacity to Love and Be Loved, Kindness, and Social Intelligence.

What do you make of this?

February 11, 2011

5 Unusual Tips for Enjoying Valentine's Day

Five ways to make Valentine's Day with your husband or wife better than ever:


  1. Recognize that giving chocolates or other gifts may not feel like a loving act to your spouse. It may feel a lot more like a chore. If he or she does it anyway, it's because doing chores for you feels like a loving act. Make the chore easier. Let your mate know what delights you: fancy wrappings, high quality chocolates, anything with pecans in it, or something that won't make you ask next week, "Does this outfit make my butt look big?"

  2. Come to terms with the awful truth that it's entirely possible to adore your wife or husband and not have a clue how to show it with words, even words written by someone at Hallmark. If you are married to a wordless wonder, write your own. Open up a beautiful blank card and start listing all the good times you two have spent together, all the gifts and kind acts you've received from your beloved, and all the physical delights you've experienced since last Valentine's Day.

  3. Put your top strengths to work on your invitation to your guy or gal to be your Valentine this year. Not only will it be a great way to say I love you, but it will make you feel great, and this is the greatest way of all to say it. Love to learn? Learn something that matters to your spouse. Good leader? Organize your family or neighborhood friends to make February 14th a delight for her or him. Big time optimist? Take the time to write out every delightful detail of a future scenario that would tickle you both and take the first step toward it. Great at persevering until you get that project out the door? Tackle one for your mate, due date 2/14.

  4. If you prefer respect to romantic love, break the news to your wife or husband before the big day. All the commercial options for Valentine's Day focus on romantic love, and it's not likely to occur to your spouse that what you really want is to know you and your efforts are truly respected unless you say so. But wouldn't it be great to hear or read?

  5. If you're dining out this Valentine's Day, prepare for it. Write a poem if you're any good at it. Put on your most alluring clothes. Do whatever you need to do to feel unrushed. Prepare in advance to talk about something other than the kids and your job or what's gone wrong in your home. If you're dieting, eat gently until then, so you need not say no to anything you both enjoy on this one night. And give some advance thought to making this dinner especially playful or romantic, whichever suits the two of you.

May your Valentine's Day be the best ever. Comments, Valentine's Day reports, and more unusual tips are most welcome.

February 10, 2011

Power of Two: Online Marriage Education

Did you ever play the "Tell Me My Spouse is Awful" game when something went wrong in your marriage? It's the basis for the dreadful TV show, The Marriage Ref. You disagree, so you ask friends, even strangers, to decide who is "right."

Except neither of you is right. You just disagree. And disagreements with the most important person in your world are truly alarming. After enough of them, you might think, "We need marriage counseling." But the time to act is well before you reach this point. Marriage education can save you years of pain, even if only one of you gets it.

Now there is marriage education available online, whenever you're ready for it and every time you hit a new bump in the road.

I just checked out a great online program called Power of Two. I added it to my Enjoy Being Married Resource Directory, because I was impressed. Drs. Susan Heitler and Abigail Hirsch have put together hours of videos, audio recordings, text, quizzes, and interactive games to help you learn to manage any tough spots in your marriage. And they have priced it so that anyone can afford it.
Their program teaches how to communicate clearly, make win-win decisions, deal with your anger and your spouse's, and stay positive and supportive. It also includes 14 special topics, among them Parenting and Relationship Safety.

Check out their free introduction and consider signing up. The time to learn is well before your marriage is too stressed to recover. I do NOT want to see you and yours on The Marriage Ref.

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

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