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Articles from September 2012

September 30, 2012

Hidden Influences on Your Marriage

We all have both explicit and implicit memories. The explicit ones we can generally retrieve on demand: who taught our 9th grade Algebra class, what the weather was on our wedding day, what we ate for breakfast this morning. Alzheimer's erodes these memories, and we have none from our earliest years because our brains could not form them yet.

The implicit ones are the hidden influences on your marriage. We cannot intentionally retrieve implicit memories, but we recall them constantly.

A large group of implicit memories are about processes. For example, unless you had to relearn how to walk after a stroke or brain injury, you cannot intentionally recall the entire process of standing up and walking, but every time you wake or leave your chair, it all comes back to you perfectly. Every habit is made up of implicit memories, too.

Good luck trying to change an unconscious process your spouse developed decades ago. You can change your own (see Charles Duhigg's wonderful book, The Power of Habit), but not without willing yourself to pay close attention to what you're doing unconsciously. If you're trying to get a change while your spouse is paying attention to a new job, a difficult client, perfecting a golf stroke, or mastering the art of keeping a 2-year-old safe without a leash, fat chance.

Another group of implicit memories affects your marriage even more. These are associative memories that link a sensory experience with an emotion. Many of these come from before we could form explicit memories, others from emotionally overwhelming events since then. And some of them are pretty weird.

Ever find yourself horribly suspicious and on alert based on just a whiff of aftershave? Are there sounds that instantly make you feel safe? How about a texture, like satin, that makes you sad?

I suspect my son would feel instantly powerful if he ever got a taste of a dill pickle like the one from Aunt Fanny's Nosheria in Pittsburgh. It was his first ever solid food, snatched from the kitchen table in a high speed hit-and-run by rolling baby seat, and he loved it!

Had I not told him the story and added explicit memories to the implicit one, he would never have a clue why.

So why do I bring this up in a marriage blog? Because if you're going to Assume Love, you have to get in the habit of considering explanations for your mate's behavior that are nothing like your own reasons for doing things. You have explicit memories of many of his or her implicit memories. You can retrieve them, even when your spouse cannot. And you just might put them together while you are looking for an explanation.

If not, make note of the unusual sounds, smells, sights, textures, and tastes when you get caught in your mate's sudden mood shift, so that next time it might all make sense. For this time, just recognize the mood shift quite possibly has nothing at all to do with you and everything to do with Uncle Charley's pipe tobacco, smelled while Aunt Sarah inflicted a brutal and unwarranted punishment on your mate as a toddler and again, a moment ago, while waiting on line for something he's suddenly no longer willing to do, even though it's important to you.

Why is it good to recognize this? Won't it lead to sweeping your own feelings under the rug? No, not if you keep going. Once you realize it's quite likely not about you, your fears for your marriage should subside, allowing you to ask questions without an overlay of accusation that triggers your mate's fears. You can try a gentle, "What was that about?" Or perhaps, "Did you smell [hear/see] that?"

You're not done with the Assume Love technique until you have at least one explanation compatible with loving intentions that seems plausible to you and suggests what to do the next time this upsetting thing happens or how to prevent a next time.

If you've gone through enough of a search to conclude what happened upsets you and could only be done by someone who does not loves you, don't wait for a next time. Get yourself to safety.

Help your fellow readers get better at considering implicit memories when they Assume Love. Which colors, sights, textures, smells, sounds, tunes, or tastes trigger implicit memories that make you feel safe, happy, or strong? Which make you less fun to be around?

September 29, 2012

Not All Your Problems Are Marriage Problems

I learned this the hard way. My first husband dropped dead with no warning when he was just 35, making it quite clear how few of the problems affecting the two of us were marriage problems.

What's the difference? The marriage problems go away when your marriage partner dies or after all the dust settles from your divorce. The others, the ones that remain, were never about your marriage. Not enough money to live the life you want? Not a marriage problem. Not enough time for all the chores you consider essential without more help from your mate? Not a marriage problem. Want to do something new that will take some courage to try and your spouse isn't interested? Not a marriage problem.

If it wouldn't end when your spouse's life ended today, it's not a marriage problem. It's just a problem. One for you to solve for yourself. And having a husband or wife means you've got a support system, with very different strengths, to help you come up with a way solve it.

If you make the mistake of telling your mate you've figured out how he or she could--and therefore must--solve it for you, you add a marriage problem to your other problem. And when you wake up the day after your husband dies, it will be crystal clear which problem was which and how badly you robbed yourself of the enjoyment of being married.

September 27, 2012

When You Know You're Right

Have you ever had one of those discussions where you just know you're right and your wife or husband is wrong? Not the sort where you debate whether Bigfoot exists or not, but the sort where you think it makes sense to buy a bigger lawn mower or to stay away from Aunt Zelda's third wedding and you're getting an argument.

There are two ways to handle these. The most common seems to be what I call the "Tell Me My Spouse Is Awful" game. You phone a friend or corner folks in the kitchen at work and ask them which of you is right. Nine times out of ten, you hear what you wanted to hear: of course you're right!

Now you can continue the discussion, this time with ammunition in case your spouse does not yet agree you're right. Of course, if you're married to someone else who plays the "Tell Me My Spouse Is Awful" game, you had better hope you asked more people. They almost certainly heard from their people how right they are, too.

Nobody else cares as much about your husband or wife as you do. They care what you think of them, and you let them know what you wanted to hear: "Yes, your spouse is an ignoramus and you are much wiser." If they are any good at this, they even came up with at least one story to back you up. They went to a wedding they knew they should skip and they broke a leg or had a flat tire. They know a couple who bought a bigger lawn mower and now they have time to build beautiful zithers together.

Is your marriage better for this? You're no closer to making a decision you both can live with. And if the two of you work this out and find a Third Alternative that makes you both feel wise beyond your years, you're not likely to go back and correct the impression you gave of your mate. Years from now, when you really need friends to help you weather a storm in your relationship, they'll still be wondering how you can stand to stay with such a fool.

So what can you do instead? Assume Love. Assume you married a good man or a good woman who loves you and has your best interests in mind. Try to make sense of how he or she may have come to this choice, because there might be something to your spouse's thinking, even if you don't like his or her conclusion. After all, this is the person who chose you out of all the people in the world.

Before you offer any counterarguments, try asking what leads this man or woman who loves you to an option that doesn't immediately appeal to you. Are you being misunderstood, or are you overlooking something that hasn't yet occurred to you?

Remember that you should never lie to yourself when you Assume Love. You don't dismiss your own thoughts about the disagreement. You test the assumption that your mate is acting with love to see what you can learn or recall from this and to avoid acting on your lizard brain's (limbic system's) first take until your cerebral cortex gets up and running on this disagreement.

No matter what those folks trying to stay on your best side might say, neither of you is right if you disagree. It just means you've limited yourselves to two options that are not right for you two as a couple. If you argue for either of them, your relationship suffers. If you drag others into the debate, your support system suffers. Assume Love. Then find a Third Alternative.

September 26, 2012

Favorite Date Nights for the Happily Committed

What's your favorite? What sort of morning, afternoon, or evening with your partner in life helps strengthen your bond or increase your desire for each other? What gets you excited to be together again? What makes you happy you chose the person you're with? How do you take the ordinary out of being together for so many years?

September 25, 2012

Do You Want to Catch Your Husband or Wife Cheating?

There are many websites and blog posts devoted to the signs that a spouse is cheating and all the things you can do to confirm your suspicions.

Well before the showers and colognes, the unexplained late nights at work, the secret emails and spare cell phones, there are clues you may find a lot more helpful, because you can do something about them before things get worse. Recovering your marriage is a lot easier before either of you have broken your vows.

I probably don't even need to list them for you. You'll know them by your reaction, which is most often withdrawing a bit from the relationship, hoping this will pass. But you know your wife or husband is unhappy with your sex life, your lack of availability, the amount of attention or affection you offer, or your criticisms. You sense a loss of some of the respect he or she had for you. You know more is wanted from you. And you withdraw to avoid a conflict or to avoid the emptiness. You busy yourself with something else.

You are not responsible for the affair if one follows. However, your spouse is more vulnerable now, more ready with a self-satisfying justification if morals and longings come into conflict.

You have no control over whether he or she stays strong, and you both know that strength was promised to you. But it was promised to you by a human being, not a perfect being. If you come back into your marriage now, fully present, fully ready to love and to deal with the pain, you make it easier to deliver on that promise. Your strength in closing up the painful distance greatly adds to your mate's strength.

Instead of playing detective later, play detective right now. Walk into your bedroom like a detective. Is this the room of people who enjoy their sexuality together? If not, make the room over. Make it more playful or more sensuous, a place both of you would love to take each other to.

Inspect your living room. Is this the living room of people who have both individual hobbies and shared interests? Is it the sort of place a couple falling in love would love to be left alone in?

Inspect your yard if you have one. Is this a child-centered place with chores to be done or a yard that invites the grown-ups to come out and play, too?

Search for a place where conversation is natural and comfortable. Check for a place to store remembrances of happy memories together where they are easy to rediscover. Look to see if accomplishments are celebrated here. Search for clues that living their dreams matters to this couple.

Inspect where and how this couple eats. Is the refrigerator filled with meals for one or leftovers from shared meals? Is the place where they eat covered with reading materials or stuff from work?

Look around for places to find one's privacy and for enticements to come together again. And check the bookshelves for guides to creating a great marriage, so they're not alone when something's not working quite right.

If anything's missing, start adding today. Build your marriage. It's a lot more fun than rebuilding it after you prove to yourself your husband or wife was not as strong, not as able to keep a promise, as you hoped.

September 24, 2012

Marriage Doubts and Marriage Success

There's a new study out of UCLA making the media rounds. Doctoral candidate Justin Lavner and his psychology professor co-authors, Thomas Bradbury and Benjamin Karney, conclude that having doubts or hesitations about getting married increase the odds you will divorce within the first four years of marriage.

They report that "wives who had doubts about getting married before their wedding were two-and-a-half times more likely to divorce four years later than wives without these doubts."

What should you do about this if you're engaged or thinking about proposing?

If your doubts stem from worrisome behaviors by your spouse-to-be, take your time and check them out. Postpone the wedding if necessary--no one-day event is worth jeopardizing the rest of your life. But if they are more general worries about marriage as an unknown frontier, get yourself some marriage education to improve your skills and have a great wedding.

Why? Because 64% of the couples they interviewed had at least one partner with doubts. And 62% of the couples still married four years later came from this group, the ones we could call the "normal" couples, since they form a large majority.

When neither reported any doubts, 94% of the couples remained married four years later. Where one or both had doubts, 85% remained married. There is a real difference, but the doubts hardly doom the marriage.

If you have doubts about getting married, separate them into two categories. For those that stem from worrisome things your partner has done, get to work on some healthy Third Alternatives that suit the two of you. This is not the time to Assume Love and try to see what worries you in a different light. It's the time to calmly ask for explanations, so you find out if you can truly make the promises of marriage.

Always late for dates can be a style of dealing with time that you can find a way to accommodate or it can be a sign of alcohol or drug abuse. Argumentative or judgmental behavior can be fine if it's balanced out with five positive acts for every negative one, or it can crush your spirit as soon as the excitement of falling in love or enjoying sex with someone new passes. Generosity can be thrilling while it's your partner's money being spent on it but scary when you pool current and long-range expenses. Time apart can be healthy or a source of secretiveness that feeds your jealousy and resentment. If your doubts revolve around such things, work them out first, unless you truly believe you can vow to deal with whatever they may signify.

For those other doubts that stem from not knowing how to deal with what might happen to you two because it's happened to others, take a marriage class or two. Take it from someone who screwed up, good marriages don't just happen and they don't take a lot of hard work.

September 21, 2012

3 Things to Remember When Marriage Seems Hard

Think there's something terribly wrong with your non-abusive marriage? Change that thought before it ruins a perfectly good day.

  1. Divorce does not magically make money troubles go away. In fact, it usually increases your total expenses and makes it harder to earn what you earn. Marriage counseling also costs money and doesn't make more for you. And you don't need to divorce to stop enabling a spouse with an addiction to spending or gambling money you earn. If you've got a money problem, it's not a marriage problem.
  2. Developing any one strength means developing less of another strength. If your spouse has too little of some strength you value (sustaining a loving relationship, courage, integrity, creativity, optimism, perseverance, modesty, teamwork, gratitude, generosity, whatever), there's another strength you're not noticing. Use your own strengths to give yourself whatever is missing and enjoy what you're getting.
  3. Neither sex nor conversation become more enticing when you talk about their absence. Change the timing. Change the subject. Change the foreplay. Change the setting. You're the one with the motivation, which makes you the perfect choice to start the change.


September 19, 2012

Usher Gets Divorced

Yesterday, one of my Google alerts took me to this story about Usher's divorce and child custody fight from WXIA 11 Alive News in Atlanta. It's about an interview he did with Oprah Winfrey.

I don't have any other details of his life or his marriage, but several things in this interview cried out for comment.

Why they married:

"I impregnated this woman, we were in a relationship, we were in love, so I felt like, this is the right way."

It's not a new story, but it's becoming an incredibly common story as people marry later. People intentionally sabotage their marriages by keeping separate their beliefs about honorable behavior or the best for their future children and their choice of who they let themselves fall in love with or risk conceiving with.

"The right way" is honorable, but it's not the best way to start a marriage or a family.

"I always felt like maybe we weren't ready. Maybe this wasn't the time or the way to do it. Part of that, I think, played into the demise of it."

Well, duh! If you decide to marry, decide to get yourself ready for it. If you fear when you've got a kid on the way with someone you're unsure of is not the right time or the right way to do it, you're right. But once you decide marrying is what you will do, switch gears. Start gathering every bit of evidence you can that this, the future mother of your child, is the right person and the timing is exactly what it ought to be.

You're already off to a tougher start than most who marry, with pregnancy hormones and a very short time left as a twosome. Don't entertain your doubts. Whether you marry or not, this person will always be your child's other parent, an incredibly important person in your child's life whether in it every day or completely absent and uncaring. Find things to love. Find talents and values to encourage. It's like dancing; the best dancer is the one who makes his partner look best.

"It's hard being married and working the way that I work, period. It's hard being in that position and wanting to make someone happy, and there not really being anyway that you ever can, because they've got their own s*** they've gotta deal with."

I cannot imagine what Usher's job and the lifestyle it requires do to a marriage. My life is simpler. But that second part, wanting to make someone happy and realizing they must do it themselves, this I know well. And I used to tell myself it would be easier with a lot more money, but I know it's not, even with all the money and pull of someone like Usher.

But here's what I know now, as a 60-year-old remarried young widow who once was ready to divorce. When you stop trying to make your spouse happy, the best thing you can do, for yourself and your marriage, is everything in your power to enjoy being married. If you don't, you're headed for the end Usher describes:

"[T]owards the end of our marriage, I found myself lost, and I just wanted out."

September 18, 2012

Love Overlooked

Until a crisis erupts, it's pretty easy to overlook many of the ways your spouse or life partner shows love for you. Pay attention to them now, and the crisis may never erupt. Which of these have you been receiving without noticing them?

  • Trust for your driving, your fidelity while away from home, your care of the kids
  • Respect when talking about you to others, asking your advice, relying on you
  • Encouragement when you feel uncertain of your abilities
  • Congratulations on your successes
  • Affectionate words
  • Hugs and kisses
  • Attentive sex
  • Compliments
  • Unexpected gifts
  • Unexpected favors
  • Help with a difficult task
  • Conversations in which you learn or think or smile
  • Humor to brighten your day
  • Playfulness
  • Time spent together
  • Planning fun activities
  • Handling social expectations you don't want to handle
  • Brainstorming with you
  • Cooking or cleaning
  • Showing up at a job he or she does not love
  • Doing what it takes to increase your household income
  • Support through an illness or rehab
  • Learning something that matters to you
  • Enticing you to become more curious
  • Expressing gratitude
  • Making things for you
  • Encouraging your self-improvement efforts
  • Loving your children
  • Putting things away so you won't have to
  • Making your home look and feel calmer or cheerier

When we pay attention to the ones we are not receiving, we are less happy and vulnerable to seduction by others and by our vices. When we pay attention to the ones we do receive, our gratitude increases our day-to-day happiness and the strength of our bond to the person we pledged to love.

September 17, 2012

Which is Worse? Cheating or Abusing?

Is one worse than the other? Both happen when we don't care about our mate or when we are so overwhelmed with emotions we feel entitled to or unable to control our awful actions.

Surely, infidelity causes as much emotional pain as emotional abuse does. And because it can lead to deadly diseases or a fiercely angry lover or lover's mate, it runs the same risk of permanent or fatal injury to the person we promised to cherish until death.

Stopping either of them before we inflict this pain and risk requires that we deal with our resentments. Learn to Expect Love (and only love), to Assume Love when upset, and to Find Third Alternatives to your disagreements. You are a compassionate, loving person. Don't ever believe your excuses for becoming something else.

September 16, 2012

Daytime Date Nights

Date nights help you stay close, replenish your passion for each other, and grow in the same direction over time. But they don't have to happen after dark.

Some of the best daytime date nights bring you transcendent experiences, the sort where you rise above yourselves, feel your inner selves expanding, sense your spirits lifting.

Take an Introductory Ride at Your Local Flight School
Aerial views of the places you drive and bike around are so different. You'll discover new places, marvel at the influence of nature on your built environment, and most likely get a kick out of overcoming any fear of traveling through the air and its surprising currents and pockets. When the trees are colorful is a great time for such a trip. Most flights schools at small airports around the US offer a $50 first-time introductory flight.

Go Up in a Hot Air Balloon
I have never done this one, but it sounds like one notch up from riding in a small plane. Seems to call for a very special kiss.

Visit the Top of a Canyon or the Bottom of a Cavern
Nature humbles and awes us. It's a great experience to share with your beloved. On the drive there and back, avoid talking about kids, bills, and work. Recall great shared memories. Ask philosophical questions. Talk about whatever has recently fascinated you. Get back in touch with each other as lovers, not financial or parenting partners.

Go Spiritual
Find a place to pray or meditate with thousands of fellow believers. Show up for a sunrise service. Listen to great religious music in a place with terrific acoustics. Or create your own opportunity for a shared spiritual event in a special place.

Give Back
Volunteer together and help others. Whatever you can do, it will remind you of how great your lives are, instead of what's missing from them.

Watch a Broadway Play or Musical
Choose one with a top-notch cast and director who can transport you into a world of their own creation. Check the reviews for one with a great set or scenery for the full experience.

We humans thrive on transcendent experiences. And on love. Enjoy!

September 15, 2012

Married to an Awful Gift-Giver?

Good gifts make me feel loved. But they don't have this effect on everyone. Some claim there is no good gift: if they really wanted something, they would have already bought it or made it. Others receive gifts and feel long, uncomfortable strings attached. They feel indebted, and almost no gift is special enough to welcome this feeling.

People who cannot imagine a good gift or receive a gift without feeling bad give awful gifts if they bother to give any at all. To them, every possible gift looks the same, so they buy the first thing they see or they agonize over the choice for days and still end up buying something unappreciated most of the time.

We who give gifts to show our love feel loved when we receive most gifts. Not only can we rate every object we see as a potential gift, we can tell you which of our loved ones would most appreciate it. We can picture the look on the face of each possible recipient, imagine the joy it will bring.

Ask us to teach someone else to do this, and we have no clue how. We cannot imagine not seeing the joy factor in an item. We can help someone who sees it refine their skill or encourage them to consider more possible items. But we cannot list the things we consider in the moment before our flash judgment, so we cannot teach it.

The best we can do is to give an unskilled life partner a list of what would bring us joy. But, of course, much of the joy comes from surprise.

So, what can we do with an awful gift-giver? Give the gift of understanding. Already under pressure to do something they have no clue how to do, adding pressure to do it well to prove their love won't work. Instead, we can help them make their own love language—read Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages if you are unfamiliar with love languages—feel more like ours.

Invite them to frame or engrave their words of affirmation. Suggest they create coupons for their acts of service or tickets for quality time activities and wrap them. And if they show love through physical touch, suggest they purchase clothing, bed sheets, a comforter, or lotions that will make you even more touchable and make a big deal of letting you open the box or the door to them.

This way, they will actually feel loving when you feel loved. It's a powerful combination.

September 3, 2012

3 Ways to Find More Time Together

If you miss having time for fun together or time to talk, here are three quick ways to find more:

  1. Make plans in advance. Come up with something to look forward to or just block out the time for something spontaneous. Do in advance all the things that make it so hard to get out the door (or into the bedroom) for something unplanned.
  2. Question your givens. If your spouse is often available when your non-profit executive committee meets, look for ways to serve the cause at a different hour. If you're working different shifts, consider the possibility of changing your sleeping hours. If you have a long commute, consider ditching it for a job nearer to your sweetie.
  3. Break your together time into smaller chunks. Buy a notebook to keep track of conversations that must take place over six car rides instead of one long afternoons. Make up your own rules for a shorter version of your tennis game. Dance at home instead of making the drive to the club. Move closer to where you ride your bikes or take your hikes.
Watch out for the all-or-nothing trap. There is almost always a Third Alternative in which you get your time together without blowing off everything that competes with it.

The Author

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

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