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What I Believe About Marriage and How to Enjoy It

I've been blogging for quite a while now, since Valentine's Day of 2006. If you're new to this blog, the Assume Love Archives must seem a bit overwhelming. So let me try to sum up the basics for you.

First, I write about marriage and committed life partnerships, not about relationships in general. I write for people with a mutual and public commitment to love each other, an intention backed by one's personal integrity. If you're with someone for as long as you both feel love for each other, you may find some of my approaches counterproductive, even when the problems you face are similar to those faced by committed life partners.

Second, I think communication and compromise are highly overrated as techniques for improving your marriage. Save compromise for a last-ditch solution to your unresolvable differences. No one enjoys compromising, and it's seldom necessary. If you had no complaints about communications while you were falling in love, you can expect good communication to return as you enjoy being married more.

Third, I think marriage is for love. You can earn your own money. You can pay or barter with other people to do your household chores and yard work, watch and teach your kids, travel with you, support you in your new endeavors, or listen to you. You may want a life partner to provide these, but you don't need one. Love is different. If you push love away while waiting for help with your taxes or a clean floor, you cannot easily replace it.

Fourth, if you want to enjoy being married, I believe you will should master these three key techniques:


  • Assume Love When someone vows to love you, there is a good chance your distress comes from a misunderstanding. Check it out before you retaliate or pout.

  • Expect Love If you're expecting something else, you will overlook it when it's offered or convince your life partner not to offer so much.

  • Find Third Alternatives Don't get stuck on the first two that come to mind if you disagree about them. Marriage is not a contest. The only way to win is by making sure your spouse wins.

And fifth, I respect whatever religious beliefs about marriage you hold, but I won't be bringing any of mine to this blog or to my teleclasses.

Comments

I love this blog and refer to it frequently! Thank you for creating it.

I'm facing a problem with a husband who has stated he doesn't and can't love me. What then? Should I still assume love only because he has said he plans to stay anyway? We have a 4.5yo child and another due in 5 months. The second child was conceived while I was still under the assumption that my husband loved me. He has since told me regarding his agreeing to my going off birth control again, "Well, we aren't getting any younger, if it was going to happen, it had to happen now." Ouch.

We are on the recovery side of alcoholism and infidelity on his part. His alcoholism led to my own inappropriate actions of attempting to control and berate him to "set him straight" - this left him feeling unsupported, and he strayed emotionally and sexually.

We've both sought counseling (marital and individual), and support groups, and he is sober and not cheating any longer, but while I have chosen the path of forgiveness and re-opening my heart to him, he can't seem to let down the walls and defenses he built up around his heart. He has told me that he simply can't open his heart up to love or trust me out of fear that I might become "mean" again, despite the last 2 years in which I've made significant changes in the ways I treat him. He often admits to being surprised, again and again, at how "nice" and supportive and accepting I am. I have no plans on changing - I like the new me!

But, it's hard... I give love freely and unconditionally, I have often struggled with wondering whether he loved me, and went ahead to assume love (even before finding this blog!), only to be told in the last few months that it was never really there.

Should I continue to assume love and be a "good wife" in the hopes that he will eventually soften his heart and come back around? The ache of unrequited love from one's own spouse is unlike any other heartbreak I've ever felt. We have been together 9 years, married for 6. Our recovery together started nearly 2 years ago. Please help. Our marriage counselor hasn't been able to address this effectively.

I am so sorry for how painful your path has grown. I am not licensed to give advice on particular cases, nor would I do so if allowed without learning a lot more about your circumstances.

Allow me to make some general comments that may apply to your situation. First, a lot of us get lost in the difference between the emotion of love and acts of love. We cannot imagine the feeling returning, and we think our loving acts must follow from feeling love. In my experience, the feeling is more often the result of the actions. While many women would be thrilled to hear about any emotions from their men, I suggest you ignore what yours says and watch what he does.

If you've got a good handle on giving love, you might want to hone your skills at receiving love. This means actively looking for and dwelling on the loving acts he shows you. One way men show love that we women can overlook is through respect. He obviously respects your ability to change from mean to supportive, even if he can't yet trust that it's permanent. He must respect your parenting skills to consider fathering another child while he's so unsure of your future. For more on signs of respect, look for Emerson Eggerichs' Love and Respect and Love/Stosny's How to Improve Your Marriage without Talking about It.

Have you read Chapman's The Five Love Languages? If you recognize his Love Language, it will give you another area to shine a light on to discover more of the love you're offered.

The other item I want to bring to your attention is the difference between assuming love and pretending love. My suggestion to Assume Love never means accepting crappy treatment and denying your experience while you assert that he loves you. That is pretending love. But we all have a lot of hair-trigger responses that get us angry or scared or hurt before we really know what's happening. That is when we can Assume Love long enough to look at what happened with a clear head instead of one pushed by that emotion to look for more threats or offenses.

To Assume Love is to ask, "What else has happened that might make my spouse do this in spite of loving me?" If the answer is nothing, you don't pretend it was love. In your current situation, it's possible your husband is not yet sure of his sobriety and has a story in his head about what would happen if he fails even once. It's also possible his experience of your pregnancy is very different this time, without alcohol. If either of these fits with what you've seen, then you can try looking at whatever upsets you from this different perspective. You might still find it upsetting, but your options for dealing with it would change, and you might deal with it successfully.

Thank you for your thoughtful and quick reply! Yes, we have both read The 5 Love Languages. He claims his is Receiving Gifts but I'm somewhat doubtful. His actions have always led me to believe his Love Language is Acts of Service (even though he often says he only does those things because they need to be done). He has never responded very positively to gifts from anyone - including his own mom!

Perhaps that assumption is what led me to believe he has been showing me love when really he's just being a responsible person. But then again, I suppose that is a form of love in itself, in some way.

I will look into the other sources you've mentioned, and we will continue our counseling. I'm trying to be smart about this, I hope I'm not pretending, but I will watch out more acutely and try to be careful not to pretend and instead see things for what they are.

Ouch! That must be rough, having Gifts as what makes him feel loved and never getting any he enjoys from his own mother.

What sort of gifts did he give you when your relationship was good?

Good question! He really never did give me much, outside of a funny little elephant he built out of random items he found on one of his many trips to the hardware store (It was a gift on our first date - I had mentioned I collect elephants!) He has always spoken disparagingly of greeting cards and flowers and considers them a waste of money and space. He tends to prefer to buy things for himself, any time someone tries to give him something, it's never quite what he would get for himself - the thought of the gift is lost on him.

I know lots of people who would agree with him, but none who claim Gifts as their love language.

I notice he gave a handmade gift and rejects the ones that can be purchased. Think there's anything to this? What's his reaction to things you 4 year old makes for him?

Gifts from our son appear to elicit a lukewarm reaction. Hubby was on a 2-week trip recently, during which our son create a series of paintings and drawings for Dad. It took a couple days for Hubby to even take the time to sit down and look at them and the descriptions I'd written, and they've randomly floated around the house since then. This strikes me as odd, as handmade gifts seem to mean more to him than purchased ones. Although, he has said before it's the thought that is more meaningful to him than the actual item. Or as he's said, "The why more than the what."

You're right about the fact that his one gift to me was handmade - this is an integral part of who he is. His favorite self-description is, "I Make Stuff." The man loves carpentry, metalwork, building cars, and home improvement projects. He does these kinds of things all over our home, and has fixed or built things for me many times over the years. When we were dating, he often told me he wanted to build a house for me. I've always figured this might be a more accurate gauge of the way he shows caring.

I've tried to reciprocate in his language by cooking great meals every day, packing lunches every day, and by giving him handmade items like the knit cap he still wears when it's cold out. He does appreciate these things and thanks me every day, so I guess that's good.

I guess a lot of this is stuff we will need to continue addressing with our therapist. His dedication to staying together and continuing our counseling together is something that gives me hope.

I am very glad you have someone to talk about it with. To me (a fellow member of the Gift Love Language clan), it sounds like he's given you a lot more gifts than you realize. Gift language people often don't observe any calendar for gift-giving, and they would be very surprised to learn the things they make for others are not seen as gifts. If you want to feel a bit more loved while his feelings are out on break, try walking around your house with a note pad to make a list of things you've been given by someone who tells you and your counselor he shows his love by giving.

If you missed it, be sure to read http://www.assumelove.com/2012/10/let_go_of_the_how_to_find_the_1.html after you have the list.

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

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