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Articles from March 2011

March 29, 2011

Not True! Marriage Ends When...

I just read this quote about marriage in the Times of Malta:

Marriage does not end with divorce but the moment a couple stops loving and respecting each other, Michael and Juliet Mifsud believe.

They are a happily married couple, married for 16 years. They are both Catholics, but they favor a divorce law, the subject of a referendum in Malta yesterday.

I do not disagree with the Mifsuds about the value of a divorce option. What I am hopping up and down about is their notion that the moment a couple stops loving and respecting each other marks the end of their marriage.

This drives me mad because I see it so often. Couples stop loving and respecting each other all the time. The ones who believe loving and respecting lie outside their control give up when it happens. The rest learn how to deal with it.

Awesome Quora answer tweet

Someone asked this very question on Quora last week, and the good folks at Quora called my answer "awesome" on Twitter. Even so, you will see Quora users voted up an anonymous answer that includes this: "Life isn't a fairytale, and not all love is forever."

No question about this. Not all love is forever. But know that restoring love (and respect) may take no effort, just a different perspective. Know that 80% of couples who stay married through a time when they are unhappy or very unhappy find themselves happy or very happy five years later.

While you feel no love or respect or feel you receive no love or respect, marriage can feel awful. If you do nothing, you may squander an awful lot of your happiness and your kids' security. But do not fall into the trap I fell into. Divorce is not the only option here. If you can think of no others, reach out, because they exist.

I believe marriage ends when one of you will no longer consider reconnecting. You can be this one, or you can be the one who believes love is not just something you feel, it is something you do.

March 28, 2011

Are You Sorry You Married?

Are you sorry you said "I do" to the man or woman who shares your bed? None of us has any idea what we are getting into when we marry. Some get "for better." Some get "for worse." Some get "richer." Some get "poorer." Some get "sickness." Some get "health."

Some of us get confused. I sure did.

Confused about Why I am Unhappy

I married a man with a chronic illness, but I knew about it before we married. Even so, his illness affected both our lives. In my confusion, I let it affect them a lot more than necessary. If he blamed his illness for not wanting to attend a dinner party or learn to dance, I let my desire turn to resentment. I stayed home.

You know what I discovered after he died? I stayed home because doing those things I wanted to do would be uncomfortable for me, a physically inept introvert, and I wanted him by my side to protect me from discomfort.

He did not need me to stay home when he did; both of us traveled for work, just like grownups. His illness might have made those activities more uncomfortable for him, but you know what? We went camping and hiking. We drove 1,200 or 2,400 miles at a time. We carried our sailboat to the roof of our car when we wanted to get out on the water. When he wanted to do something, he did it in spite of his illness.

He avoided saying no because he had a ready-made explanation for what he did not want to do. And I avoided doing slightly scary things I wanted to try because I had a ready-made explanation, too: "My husband does not want to."

If you are sorry you married because your husband or wife will not join you in some activity or interest, how will your situation be any better after you separate, after you give up your shared interests and your shared memories?

Confused about Addiction

Some folks are sorry they married because the person they married has become addicted to alcohol. They get confused, too.

They recognize the addiction has taken away their husband's or wife's ability to do what they intend to do. Instead of dealing with this, they do what they can to prevent the consequences. They deliver phony excuses to employers or relatives. They ride in the car with a drunk driver to avoid angering him. They stay away from home or go to bed early to avoid seeing and hearing what they don't want to see and hear.

Then they lecture, or they beg. And they let themselves off the hook. Nothing they do to harm their relationship, including avoiding and lecturing and begging, deals nearly the blow addiction does, so they cannot be called on it. They may not even see their behavior would be a problem in a healthy marriage.

If you are sorry you married because your husband or wife became an addict or alcoholic, how will your mate ever find the strength to do the hard work of recovery when there are few consequences to remaining addicted and your role in their life has turned into scolding parent instead of partner?

Confused because You Could Have Had a V-8

Some folks are sorry they married because the person they fell in love with and married feels rather ordinary after a few years and someone younger, better looking, or wealthier flirts with them. Maybe they even have an affair that lifts them out of the ordinary for a while.

Ordinary, by definition, is whatever you encounter day after day. And both flirting and affairs, by definition, allow you to experience another person outside the context of ordinary life.

If you are sorry you married because the husband or wife you fell in love with has become an ordinary part of your life, how will you keep the next person in your life from becoming an ordinary part of it? And why do you think doing this will be easier with a stranger than with someone you already know so well?

Confused about Divorce

When I was sorry I married, I fantasized about life after marriage. I imagined new people in my life who would want to do the things I wanted to do. I pictured somehow paying for services like lawn care and home repairs and laundry on half the income. I would be free from childcare responsibilities on the nights when our son was with his father.

I did not divorce. My husband died. Our son was spared the difficult life of shuttling between two locations, two sets of rules, two ever further apart views of how life should be lived, two sets of secrets. Not that losing a father is any better, but I was spared the guilt of damage I had not considered while rehearsing my future.

I had to work awfully hard to pay for the lawn care, laundry, household repairs, and child care, a lot harder than I had ever worked. It did not leave a lot of time to invest in new friendships or new interests.

Clear about Love

Eleven years later, I married again. And I do not believe I will ever be sorry I did. I know now to expect love and only love. Some love comes in the form of shared interests. Some comes in the form of yardwork or laundry. Some comes in the form of chicken soup for your cold or breakfast in bed. Some comes in the hard work of overcoming an addiction or a physical limitation. Some comes in the form of great, adoring sex. But the moment you specify any one of these, you leave just a small crack for love to come in, instead of throwing the window wide open.

I hope you are never sorry you married.

March 27, 2011

Black Marriage Day 2011

Today is Black Marriage Day. I wish there were a marriage day for every community. Deaf Marriage Day. Doylestown Marriage Day. Gay Marriage Day. Celebrity Marriage Day. UCLA Marriage Day. Catholic Marriage Day.

Marriage strengthens a community. Bravo and thank you to Nisa Muhammad for creating Black Marriage Day.

March 23, 2011

Ridge Project Keeps Families Intact, Dads Out of Prison

What timing! Here I am thinking about what to ask Dr. Washington tonight about keeping a marriage healthy while a spouse serves prison time and Diane Sollee just announced another award to the Ridge Project.

The Ridge Project is a Christian marriage education program in Ohio with a 24 week program called Keeping FAITH: Keeping Families And Inmates Together In Harmony. The latest award comes from the US Dept of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, which named it a best practice and a premier grantee.

Their latest results show a 5% recidivism rate 18 months after release from prison. This compares pretty darn well with an average of 15% back in the system within just a year and 25% within three years.

They do it by teaching communications and character.

Diane Sollee awarded the Ridge Project the prestigious Impact Award at the 14th Annual Smart Marriages Conference in Orlando, FL last year.

As a best practice exemplar, the Ridge Project was visited this week by Centerforce (CA), San Quenten Prison (CA), New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJ), Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency (MI), ICF International (VA), and the National Fatherhood Initiative (PA) to see how they do it.

Bravo, Ron and Cathy Tijerina, for creating the Ridge Project and taking yet another award!

For the children of these couples, anything that helps their parents stay together during a prison sentence and helps their incarcerated parent come home to an intact family and stay on the right side of the law must mean a world of difference across their entire lifetime.

March 22, 2011

For Better or for Worse? Married to a Prisoner

For better or for worse? In sickness or in health? How about at home or in prison? How do you sustain your marriage while one of you serves time?

I had never really thought about this question until the radio show Hip Hop Justice followed me on Twitter. Now I will get to discuss the topic on the show with its host, A. Scott Washington, J.D., an expert in restorative justice and the re-entry of former prisoners to their families, communities, and neighborhoods.

Join us tomorrow (Wednesday, 3/23) at 8 pm EDT at http://Party934.com or on 94.9 FM in New York's Hudson Valley. The show is on from 7 to 9 pm EDT. I will be on around 8 pm.

Dr. Washington grew up in LA and joined the Crips Street Gang at age 13, has been convicted of multiple felony offenses, and began the rehabilitation process 21 years ago. Today he is Program Chair and Assistant Professor of the Criminal and Social Justice Program at the University of St. Francis in Joliet Illinois.

Please add your comments below right away to share your experiences with a spouse's or parent's time in prison or the county jail. Or with keeping your marriage strong while living apart for a military deployment, career move, or schooling. If you want your comment kept private, just mention this, and I will not publish it.

I share Dr. Washington's goal of restorative justice, repairing the harm caused by crime, and his goal of re-entry of former prisoners to their families, communities, and neighborhoods.

The phone-in number for this music and talk radio show is (815)768-4883.

Show Info: http://hiphopjustice.party934.com/
Blog: http://hiphopjustice.org/
More on restorative justice: http://www.restorativejustice.org/

March 20, 2011

Congratulations, Tish and Billy Ray Cyrus

Congratulations on your 17+ years of marriage and on your decision, almost six months after filing, to call off your divorce. May you find ways to forgive each other and to find new roles in each other's lives. Not easy for anyone, surely much harder for those who must live their lives in public.

May others on the verge of divorce find courage and inspiration in your decision. And may you still find warmth in each other's arms many years from now.

March 19, 2011

This Path We Share

Did you, like so many others, grow up without the chance to observe a great marriage at close range for many years? Marriage books and blogs like this one can only go so far to fill this gap. We need role models, not just techniques.

Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad offers us an intimate, close-up picture of her marriage to Les Hjelmstad in her new book, This Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage. Lois, who also wrote Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness, kindly sent me a review copy. I am so glad she did. I would not know such a book existed, and we need books like this.

This memoir of a marriage reads like a well-written novel. Lois and Les find their way through the usual ups and downs of a marriage, the "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health" through which we vow to love and to cherish.

I can tell you to Expect Love instead of all those other things we mortal humans want to expect from a husband or wife. Lois Hjelmstad takes us into the frustrations of trying to hang onto expectations we have no control over and shows us how love unfolds and nourishes us when we choose to let go of those expectations.

Les and Lois face the same sort of unexpected challenges that lead others to give up, to live side-by-side but no longer together, to seek solace in someone else's arms, to choose divorce, but each time, they find a way through to a better place together. We need role models like these.

You can find both books at her Mulberry Hill Press website or through the Amazon affiliate links above.

March 14, 2011

Looking for Married Couples Between the Ages of 20 and 32

Catie W. O'Neal from the University of Georgia is conducting a study of gender roles in marriage. Can you help her?

She is looking for married couples. Both of you must complete the questionnaire. And both of you must be between 20 and 32 years old.

The information you provide will be kept confidential. Her project has been approved by Dr. David W. Wright, Department of Child and Family Development, and the University of Georgia's Institutional Review Board. Participating requires 30-45 minutes. There is an optional drawing for a $25 gift card.

Here is the link to the online research questionnaire: https://novisurvey.net/n/earlymarriage.aspx

Catie needs 100 couples to get enough data to draw valid conclusions. Her work promises to be valuable to many other married couples. If you cannot participate, would you please send this link to a couple who qualify?

March 13, 2011

Earthquakes and Extramarital Affairs

Earthquakes and the discovery of your spouse's extramarital affair have a lot in common.

You can live in a place for decades before an earthquake big enough to cause damage occurs. Day after day, even though you know the odds of an earthquake in your lifetime are high, you live your life normally. To do otherwise would keep you tied up in knots.

Then one hits. Overturned shelves, collapsed buildings, fires, leaks of poisonous gases, pancaked overpasses. Everything stops. You attend to the damage and the clean up.

Afterward, you cannot easily trust you will be safe through the night. You have a hard time trusting you will see your loved ones again at the end of the day. But you have no choice. As soon as you rebuild your home, your school, your workplace, you must begin to rebuild your trust that this will not happen again any time soon.

Or you can move away, hoping to escape the threat. But as you move far enough away to reduce the earthquake threat, the hurricane threat increases or the tornado threat or the bombing threat.

Extramarital affairs are a lot like earthquakes. The odds of one are actually pretty high over the course of a marriage. They say 60% of men and 40% of women make this monumental error in judgment.

But they are low on any given day, and you will tie yourself up in knots if you don't live day to day trusting your mate.

If the earthquake of discovering an affair hits, your world comes to a stop for a while. Then you deal with the damage, rebuild your marriage a little stronger than before, and begin to restore the trust.

Or you get out of Dodge (or Christchurch or Sendai or Northridge): you divorce. Better? No. The odds of a post-divorce unmarried relationship or second marriage surviving turn out to be a good deal worse than the odds when you married the man or woman who shook up your world.

The good news is when big earthquakes hit or when spouses cheat, lots of folks go on to live great lives right where they were before the catastrophe. We are a resilient lot.

March 11, 2011

Lucky Day

On days like this, when so many people fear for their lives and property, when so many have already lost theirs, I feel lucky. My life has its ordinary ups and downs, but I am safe, and I am not on my own. I feel so fortunate to be married on days like this.

We have some minor damage from last night's storm, but we got off very easy. Around us, at least one person has lost his life and others are bracing to lose property to the overflowing Swatara, Brandywine, and Neshaminy creeks and the Delaware, Schuylkill, Raritan, and Passaic rivers.

And we don't need to worry, as many in Yemen, Bahrain, and other middle eastern nations do, that a trip to the store today could result in being teargassed or shot to death. No one is bombing our town or lobbing rockets at us from the shore; that is happening in Libya, not here. No suicide bombers are doing here what they did today in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan.

None of the 10,000 homes in Christchurch, New Zealand that cannot be rebuilt are ours, and we have never even seen anything like Christchurch's train tracks. Our trains are still running.

We are not bracing for tsunami damage, as those in Hawaii, California, and Oregon are. And we most definitely have not watched our buildings tear apart, collapse, and kill or seen cars, trucks, and other heavy equipment wash up over our farms in a dark soup of salt water and toxic chemicals, like so many in Japan have today. We have not experienced even a 5.0 earthquake. We cannot imagine the terror of an 8.9 earthquake (almost 10,000 times as strong) and 70+ aftershocks of 5.0 and above in just the nine hours since it hit.

This is my lucky day. If you're reading this, it's probably your lucky day, too. And if you have a husband, a wife, or any life partner with whom to face whatever comes tomorrow, you have an extraordinarily lucky life.

March 7, 2011

March 27, 2011 - Celebrate Marriage

Sunday, March 27, 2011 is Black Marriage Day. Marriage will be celebrated in at least 300 communities nationwide, including Fayetteville, NC, Cleveland, OH, Dallas, TX, Milwaukee, WI, Richmond, VA, Boston, MA, and Los Angeles, CA.

Don't miss these events. Some are scheduled to begin on the 26th and some require reservations. Check them out now.

If none is scheduled in your community, encourage your mosque, church, synagague, community center, school, or marriage education organization to host one. Many plan to show the new film Men Ain't Boys, from Tyler New Media:

Marriage is the very real foundation of our communities, regardless of the color of our skin or our ancestors' nationality. Let's celebrate it everywhere!

March 3, 2011

How to Choose Your Life Partner

For Amna Ahmad, who asked tonight on Twitter whether Assume Love has anything for the "non-married and looking," here are a few tips.


  1. Don't try to sell anyone on commitment. Date people who are ready for it. If your date invents you (praising you for traits you may even possess but have not yet revealed), tells you in the first or second encounter he or she might move far away or take up a career or hobby that would leave little time for you, or is making an exception to date you in spite of not usually liking your type, run!

  2. Unless you're infertile and childless, don't date anyone you wouldn't want caring for your kids when you can't be there.

  3. Watch out for oxytocin. Skin-to-skin contact and orgasms make even frogs seem like princes and princesses. Get to know a person first.

  4. If your Love Language is quality time together, make sure you both like to do some of the same things. And watch out for folks whose time is tightly scheduled.

  5. You will need to Assume Love many times if you marry, so don't marry until you are sure of two things: this is a person of good character and he or she truly loves you.

  6. Whatever you expect about marriage, you are surely wrong. Everyone loves in his or her own unique way. You will miss out on a lot of love if you are expecting anything else from your wife or husband. Do not marry expecting anything but love.

  7. If you have any doubt about the value of taking a partner for life, read the Why Be Married section of this blog. (There is also an ebook version of Why Be Married.)

  8. Start practicing finding Third Alternatives while you are dating. Those who can't find them are doomed to fight or to compromise.

My thanks to Amna for the great question. She's running an 8-week writing workshop in Brooklyn that starts later this month and she's planning another online for the rest of us. She's also single and very smart.

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

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