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When Marriage Really Stinks

People have two big fears about marriage. The first is that they will trust their spouse and then be abandoned, whether literally or in other ways. Those other ways might include infidelity, overly long hours at work or with friends, or silent time in front of a TV or computer. They might also include failure to be supportive in the face of challenging in-laws or children. They worry even when their spouses have no intention of doing any of these and promise to stay by their side.

The second big fear about marriage is losing their freedom. They fear they will not be able to do things they love to do, go places they long to go, or dress as they damn well please. They feel marriage as a ball and chain. Even when they are doing what they want, they fear they might be stopped by their spouse.

For those with both fears, life is lived on a ping pong table. To avoid abandonment, they deny themselves freedoms out of fear their spouse might deny them. Then they complain about the restrictions or act out against them, driving their confused or offended spouse to avoid them, triggering their fear of abandonment again.

Many of us have just a little of one or the other of these fears. Others have an overdose of one or both. These fears form in our minds even before we can speak. We have little control over them. They will arise during a marriage. When they do, marriage really stinks!

It stinks because we see our husband or wife as the thing causing our fear. Spouses are not supposed to cause us fear, so we feel anger and attack, or we feel hurt and withdraw.

But we are no longer children who cannot speak or reason. We may feel the initial wave of fear, but we can decide to do something other than react to it.

The thing I do is Assume Love and look for a different explanation. If I am not in immediate physical danger and I am not so emotionally overwhelmed that I cannot think straight even after a short walk, I Assume Love. I remember my husband promised to love me. I remember I could once see and feel his love. I remember he was not unthinking or uncaring, a liar, or an idiot then, and I know people don't change personalities so radically without a medical cause or a lot of drugs or alcohol. So I ask myself what if he has not changed? What else could explain his actions if he were still that man?

For example, why would a loving man leave the house for a meeting with a prospective client and not be home yet eight hours later? And not call? I have a long list of reasons why an uncaring man might do these things, and they are making me create a laundry list of evidence out of perfectly normal things he has done or said over the past month. But why would a loving man do this?

I ask this question almost instantly now.

And that is when I recall he's driving in a state that does not allow cell phones unless you pull out of their awful traffic, and he's carrying a cell phone that is poorly served in the area he's visiting. And he is not a multitasker. He seldom stops doing one thing (like meeting with someone or driving) to do another (like giving his wife an update). It's not that he rejects calling me. He just won't even think of it until the first task is done.

I realize the client is in the IT business, where the normal work day clock has no meaning and where people drop everything, even interrupt a meeting, for a hardware or networking emergency. And that the client is located in a town where my husband used to work and might want to stop and revisit a favorite restaurant or store.

"Don't take it personally" is a lovely saying, but we are hard-wired to take everything personally until we will ourselves to think of causes that have nothing to do with us.

If you find yourself anxious because your wife had a hush-hush phone call with a colleague and giggled in the middle of it, Assume Love. If you find yourself angry because your husband objected to your plans to take a week-long writing course, Assume Love. If you freak out when you discover your life partner has just started downloading pay-per-view porn, Assume Love. If you are enraged that your wife committed you to a Thanksgiving gathering without consulting you, Assume Love.

If you just go with your initial gut feeling, driven by things that happened before you could speak, you will confirm you are married to a ball and chain or a walk-away Jo(e). If you ask friends or strangers what they think, they will side with you and often even scarier stories about what your spouse might do next. But if you Assume Love, you might discover you already know you and your relationship are most likely just fine, and you can just let events play out without a crisis or discuss them without exploding.

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

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