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Articles from September 2011

September 23, 2011

How to Stay Married for 33 Years and Then Some

When my wonderful friend Gill Othen celebrated her 33rd wedding anniversary in August, she added this comment on Facebook: "It's funny — very few of my 'gang' at Durham have divorced, yet there seem to be very few people my age who haven't been otherwise."

I asked her for a guest post, then I clumsily never noticed it slip into my inbox until now, almost 3 weeks later! I am posting it right now, because I know lots of you read this blog over the weekend. Enjoy!

How did we do it?

Last month my husband and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary. That's amethyst, in case you're interested. We weren't. A solid amethyst tea service (we are English, after all) wouldn't suit our décor, and anything less than that would have been chickening out. In any case, according to Wikipedia, it's only a modern US thing, along with improved real estate for the 42nd and desk sets for the 7th, so we were excused participation. We had a meal out and one of our daughters was home for the weekend. What more could you want?

Well, lots more really, I suppose — wealth beyond imagining, a mansion big enough to hold all the books in the world, instant matter transporter so I could see my friends all over the planet. But none of those are going to happen, and our lives won't be impoverished without them. We know what we want by now, and what suits us. We know each other well enough to be aware when something material is important enough to fight for, and when it really isn't. Each of us has a quirk — I have to convince myself that I really want a particular purchase first. If I succeed there — and it's hard, because I argue back a lot — then I can persuade my husband, no problem. And vice versa. Each of us tends to see the mild wishes of the other as more important than our own, which helps a lot — except when we become fixated that our partner must have what was only a passing whim.

So, how did we get here? Firstly, we chose our families well. We had role models in front of us: our parents stayed married for 39 and 49 years respectively, ending only with the death of one partner. None of our relatives had break-ups either — not even our own generation of siblings and cousins. A presumption that marriage is for the long haul and that problems are there to be worked through is no bad thing to have, we've found.

We chose our friends the same way. Not that we knew it at the time — we were just a bunch of geeky students together in the magnificent cathedral city of Durham, with a lot of shared interests and shared senses of humour. We dated in different combinations, but, somehow, many of us paired off within the group, which has stayed close enough over the intervening three and a half decades for us to know all about key events in each other's lives. None of them have been divorces.

Am I sounding smug? I don't mean to be. We are very, very lucky as a group. I think I can identify a few common factors, though. We met each other through a common interest and found others. We were all in our late teens, hormones coursing through us like nobody's business, with single rooms in our colleges and precious little impediment to any activities we chose, when we chose. We lived in close proximity to each other; Durham doesn't have a campus as such, but colleges grouped together in two areas, with an enormous amount of traffic between them. We shared other things too — our backgrounds were different, sometimes very much so, but we all enjoyed learning, and not just about our own subjects. We shared knowledge, information, understanding as well as jokes. Sharing is important in any relationship, I think.

We all waited before getting married; all of us were "an item" for at least two years, in several cases more than four years before marriage. You can't keep parts of your temperament secret for that long. You are going to lose your temper, make a fool of yourself, get stupidly drunk — you will reveal something of the worst of yourself as well as the best. If a relationship survives several years of this before marriage it has a good chance of surviving many years longer.

We stayed in touch — we always had friends at the end of a phone who had known us as singles, who knew both of us, who could listen without judging. And when the children came along, as they did, we stayed close still, with holidays en masse and offspring who grew up as extra cousins of each other. When my father died, these friends gave me the space to talk — and not to talk. The same when my father-in-law died. We could share the burden with a spouse but also with a friend. A support network, even online or on the telephone, makes a heck of a difference when things are rocky.

It's not been a serene idyll. There's been unemployment, more than one, mental and emotional issues, worries about parents and children, money and housing. We had to move house, away from friends, jobs, networks, once with small children to protect through upheavals. What got us through the rough parts? We talked. A lot. And, even more important, listened — not just to the words. The set of a shoulder can tell a story if you observe closely enough, and so can the curve of a back. Sometimes silent presence or a hug is all that is needed, sometimes gentle questions. Sometimes, because we are far from perfect, a blazing row was needed, before apologies from both sides and a halting start on talking it through.

We talk about lots of things, though. Shared TV viewing — "Dr Who" or "Torchwood", my regrettable love for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", the science and history programmes we both adore. Politics and the news; our summer holiday in Italy this year was enlivened by fascination with scandals in the media. Our shared passion for history and travel; he knows way more than I do about castles and fortifications, but I know about the people who lived in them and the languages they spoke. It works for us. We both still enjoy learning, though we do it in different ways. And share what we have learned, what matters to us, why we want to know.

So, after just over 33 years, I consider myself incredibly lucky. I am that cliché — married to my best friend. Wish us luck for the next 33 years!

Much to learn from Gill, her husband, and their gang of college friends, whose marriages have all weathered many storms. Please join me in wishing them another 33 years of mutual support and friendship.

September 21, 2011

3 Tips for a Much Happier Marriage

Seems about time to summarize what I learned when my first marriage died. I learned three really key things that help me enormously in my second marriage. They have also helped a lot of other husbands and wives rediscover the best parts of their marriages.

  1. When you find yourself distressed by something your mate does or fails to do, Assume Love.
  2. When you find yourself needing more than your marriage provides, Expect Love.
  3. When you disagree with your mate, Find Third Alternatives.

I am doing a free teleclass on how to Find Third Alternatives on Wednesday, October 5, 2011. The time is 6pm PDT / 7pm MDT / 8pm CDT / 9pm EDT.

How frustrating is it when you realize the two of you are on opposite sides of a decision? There is a way to an agreement, not a compromise, but an option that will please you even more than winning. It's called a Third Alternative, and this class is all about how to find yours.

To receive email notices of all of my upcoming teleclasses, and to get the phone number for this one, please add your name to my mailing list at www.EnjoyBeingMarried.com.

September 19, 2011

Should I be Mad at My Mate?

A comment I received yesterday on this blog encouraged me to write this. I am so glad she asked! I'll bet most readers have asked this same question at some point in their marriages.

I'm writing this as I need to blow off steam and see if I am right or wrong about getting mad at my husband. I was busy Sunday afternoon catching up with work. My husband and I weren't planning on doing anything. His family calls him up to invite us somewhere. He automatically says he'll go since I was working, but didn't even bother to ask if that was OK with me. Next thing you know he just tells me..."hey honey, I'm going to such and such place with my family. I'll see you later!" I was furious he didn't bother asking me if that was OK. I let him know too. Should I be mad? Thanks so much!

Should you be mad? I remember wondering many times if I should be angry over something my first husband did. I was angry, but I needed to ask other folks if I should be. And, of course, since most of them wanted to please me and be my friend, they said yes. I believed them. As a result, I lost any chance to feel the love of the marvelous man I had married during what turned out to be the last two years of his life. He died at age 35. It still brings me to tears to realize what I lost by asking the wrong question.

Unless your husband's going out to a family event without you posed an immediate threat to your wellbeing, you have plenty of time to use a technique I call "Assume Love." (Can you tell from the blog title how valuable I find this technique?)

Here is how it goes.

  1. Interrupt the search for evidence of wrong-doing. We don't really want to know if we should be mad. We want to know if we are no longer loved and respected.
  2. Ask, "What might explain this behavior if I am still loved and respected by my spouse as much as ever?"
    • Is he doing for me what he would want done for him in the same circumstances?
    • Is he mistaking my current circumstances for other ones in which I actually suggested he should do this?
    • Was he torn between two loyalties and trusting I would support his choice?
    • Was he saying yes to his family while I am busy so he can say yes to me without any family guilt when I am not busy?
    • Was he unaware of any possible way his staying home could benefit me?
    • Did he grow up in an environment where everyone was free to do as they please as long as it hurts no one else, rather than one where family members ask before taking their leave of the others?
    • Could he be angry at me and doing this to keep his anger from interrupting what I must get done?
    • Could he be angry at me and trying to get my attention by doing something he knows will upset me but not harm me?
    • Are there any other possible explanations for a husband who adores me not asking my permission?
  3. After considering the ways a loving action might have accidentally pushed your "done me wrong" button, let your spouse know if you're feeling loving or angry or if you need more information to decide.

There are many, many ways to love a person, and many, many ways to be mean.

Some are so loving that we do not need to ask if we are loved. Some are so mean we will not need to ask if you should be mad. But most fall in the middle, and it makes a big difference whether we ask "should I be mad?" or "could I be loved?"

When we react to a loving act as if it were mean, our action is likely to discourage more loving acts from either of us.

When we recognize a loving act disguised as a mean one, because we Assume Love and look for possible loving explanations, we feel loved, safe, and able to ask, lovingly, for something different in the future. And then love grows and so do respect and trust. And that's why I write this blog.

September 14, 2011

Marriage Tips from a Long-Married Wife

This is a guest post written for Assume Love by Elizabeth H. Cottrell.

My husband and I are about to celebrate our 39th anniversary. In case you haven't already covered these "secrets," I share them now:

Listen to each other — REALLY listen, and confirm that you've heard by saying it back, "So, am I understanding that what you mean is...?"

Physical touching every day is so important — a full body hug, a quick hug around the waist, a sneak-up-behind kiss, and an "I love you."

Don't assume your spouse can read your mind. He/she can't and it's so unfair to think (or act like) they can.

Forget the giving 50/50 to a relationship...be willing to give 150%.

The worst advice I've ever heard: "Love means never having to say you're sorry." If you hurt your spouse or you did something stupid, you've GOT to be willing to say "I'm sorry." It can diffuse so much anger.

All of this, of course, is in the context of a normal relationship. I realize that pathological or toxic relationships may need a whole different set of rules :-).

Elizabeth H. Cottrell (@RiverwoodWriter) helps committed life-embracers learn to strengthen four essential connections: with Self, with Others, with God, and with Nature. She blogs at http://Heartspoken.com and is on a mission to revive the art of personal note writing! At http://RiverwoodwoodWriter.com, Elizabeth offers writing, editing, self-publishing and online visibility services.

September 12, 2011

Biggest Lesson Learned from 9/11

It was a trending hashtag on Twitter this weekend. My biggest lesson had a lot to do with marriage and family:

assumelove_normal.png@married
Patty Newbold


#biggestlessonlearnedfrom911 Our excuses for not making time for others are lame. We all CAN drop everything to do what matters.


September 8, 2011

Not Enough Sex? Look for a Third Alternative

It happens in a lot of marriages. One spouse starts saying no to sex so often that the other stops asking. Or, worse, that partner begins demanding, whining, or insulting. a huge turnoff that seldom leads to a blissful intimate moment.

What's the solution? Surely it is not the remedy doled out by a French judge this week, ruling that the uninterested spouse pay the other more than $14,000.

I believe it is looking for a Third Alternative. This means recognizing that almost any disagreement results from partners taking stands on just two of the many possible options. The two options get wrapped up in language that suggests there are no others: sex vs. no sex.

Elsewhere, others are happily married and enjoying quickies before they open their laptops after the kids are in bed. Some spend the weekend in a resort with nothing on their minds but slowly pleasuring each other, enjoying a leisurely recovery together, then doing it all over again.

Some shower first. Others prefer not to. Some use oils, others whipped cream and chocolate syrup.

Some start the romance over breakfast and keep it up all day, climaxing right before they sleep. Others wake up ready for a great start to their day. Some use sex toys. Some use one or two body parts. Others use them all.

Some seek orgasm. Others delight in being pleasured, whether or not it leads there. Some use prescription drugs or natural herbs to coax their bodies to behave as they once did. Some use alcohol to get in the mood. Others use music or candles or dancing.

Those with medical conditions or injuries that make the experience temporarily unpleasant seek only intimate conversation for themselves but find ways to pleasure their partner physically.

Some have a schedule. Others have a secret signal, a flower on the pillow or a raised eyebrow in the middle of a party. Others wing it.

Instead of, "Do you want to?" some ask, "How do you want to?" Others ask, "How soon do you want to?" Still others ask, "Where do you want to?" or just, "May I?"

In some couples, one does all the asking, and the other enjoys the freedom from rejection in such a sensitive area. In others, both ask and both feel free to say yes or no.

Some are timing their sex to improve their chances of conception. Others are using whatever works for them to prevent conception. Some are beyond conception and working with their bodies' new responses as they enjoy the freedom.

Some hide their bodies in special clothing, under the sheets, or in a dark room, enjoying sex more this way. Others flaunt them and watch the action in a mirror on their ceiling, adding to the experience for them.

Some seek therapy to learn to reduce any negative thoughts that interfere with their pleasure, thoughts planted there in their childhood, in a sexual assault, in the shock of learning their mate cheated on them, or in a bad prior relationship. Others seek it to learn how to avoid triggering thoughts that ruin the moment for their spouse.

When your spouse says no, it is no only to his or her expectation, seldom to all the other options open to the two of you.

Finding a Third Alternative to a sex/no sex disagreement requires dropping the catchall word, sex. If you replace it with your specific likes and dislikes and your partner's specific likes and dislikes (his or her current ones, because our bodies and minds are always changing), then you can find the sweet spot where both of you enjoy yourselves. Then you can give instead of taking, feel generous and happy instead of rejected.

And I am willing to be the outcome will be worth a lot more than to you than the French judge's $14,000.

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

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