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Finding Sense

"Why doesn't he lend a hand when I'm obviously overwhelmed?"

"How could she spend money on this when we're trying to save for a house?"

"Why can't he see the consequences of putting this off?"

"What is she thinking when she leaves these here instead of putting them away?"

In every marriage, good or bad, and quite frequently, questions like these arrive. Often they come with rising rage or with a great sinking feeling about the relationship.

Don't run with those feelings.

Your brain is designed to protect you from some really huge threats, and it's doing its job. When it sees something that makes no sense and doesn't fit your picture of the way things should be, it aims to make sure you focus on the possibility of an immediate threat.

That's great news if your life partner is flinging the TV set your way or about to drive off and leave you and your young children alone in a tent far from civilization. It could save your life.

But the chemicals that create those feelings get released before you have time to assess whether this mysterious behavior poses a real threat or not. And they serve to keep you vividly focused on assessing the magnitude of the threat instead of finding sense in what happened.

To counter this, I have learned to Assume Love. This does not mean to act as if you know you are loved well, but to think as if you knew it, to help you find the sense behind what happened.

Let me give you an example.

"How could she spend money on a giant coffeemaker when we're trying to save for a house?"

Until you find the sense, it seems like she's (a) selfish, (b) sabotaging the effort to buy a house, or (c) practicing wishful thinking that will get in the way of every goal you might set together.

So, you change the question to this: "What might make a truly loving life partner of good character spend money on a giant coffeemaker when trying to save for a house?"

This does not rule out any of the first three explanations, but it tells your brain it's OK not to act on them just yet. You start to calm down as soon as you silently ask it.

Then pair up the words and see what memories this jogs:

  • Is money the only way to get a coffeemaker? Did she actually spend money on the coffeemaker? Could it be borrowed or a gift?

  • Was it money available for the house, or Is there a chance she spent money already allocated for it, e.g., as a gift to someone with whom you always exchange gifts?

  • Is there any way a coffeemaker could help buy a house?

  • Is money the only way to get a house?

Next, check the date:

  • Is anything coming up on her calendar that might relate to a coffeemaker purchase, maybe a shower or a church event?

  • Is the date or month she bought it linked to a childhood event that might be connected to coffee or a coffeemaker?

  • Is anything coming up on your calendar that might be made better with a giant coffeemaker?

These may seem like silly questions. They are not. Some of the biggest Aha! moments I have seen in teaching people to Assume Love have come from checking the date something happened or began. But even if the date questions do not help, they get you tapped into a lot more memories that might relate.

Consider the payoffs next:

  • What is she likely to do with a coffeemaker? How would this benefit her?

  • Is there a possibility it is a conspicuous purchase to draw you back into a discussion of the house-buying goal?

  • Is it a revenge expenditure? Have you done anything recently that might have seemed selfish or ill-advised to her?

  • Is there someone who matters to her who will admire or be envious about this coffeemaker?

  • Will she be one step closer to a dream of hers with this pot?

If you still do not see an explanation that makes sense here, reach out:

  • Ask people you know to tell you about coffeemaker purchases and what they led to, what made them feel good.

  • Ask your wife, with love and with the expectation she offers you only love in return, what led to the coffermaker purchase. Then listen well and confirm what you think you heard.

Finding sense can be an enormous relief and the start of greater intimacy and love.

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

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