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Articles from November 2012

November 26, 2012

Great Gifts for Your Husband or Wife

'Tis the season for gift ideas. Some are clever and fun to read. Few actually help with gift-giving.

Why? Because your spouse is a unique individual, not a category, and so are you.

Let's start with attitudes toward receiving gifts.

For some, all gifts feel like they come with strings attached. They create an obligation instead of delivering a message of love. The underlying beliefs creating this discomfort may have been planted long ago. The best gift you can give is one you don't need any gratitude for, because your expectation of gratitude is a premeditated resentment. So don't go overboard trying to please a spouse who has never been happy to open your gifts, unless you get a kick out of doing it regardless of how the gift is received.

For others, gifts are a waste of a precious resource, whether time or money. They receive your gift with a sense of guilt for contributing to the waste. Oddly, even extravagant gift-givers may feel this way about receiving gifts. They would rather control how money is spent on them. Give them time or money instead: a coupon for some of your time or a gift card they can spend. Or donate to a cause they support in their name.

Still others value the exchange of gifts more than the gifts themselves. Don't raise the ante by spending a lot more than they do or investing more time in choosing something perfect for them. Instead, pay attention to the presentation: beautiful wrappings, delivery well ahead of time if they enjoy watching a pile of unopened gifts build in anticipation of the holiday or at their perfect moment if they prefer surprise.

Some, however, view gifts as their love language. Receiving gifts fills them with feelings of being loved. The more you personalize the gifts to their interests and tastes, the better. The more of your own efforts and talents you put into their gifts, the better. The more creative or elegant the wrappings, the better. Even the more you spend, the better.

Now add on your feelings about giving gifts. Does it make you feel loving and happy to give them? Fantastic! If you're married to someone who shares this way of expressing love, get going. Put all the time you can spare into making your gifts perfect. You will both be uplifted. But if you are married to one of the other categories, remember that rejecting or minimizing what you perceive as an offer of love is not a rejection of your love. Faux delight won't bring you closer, so don't demand it.

If both of you find gifts unexciting, consider dropping out of the game. It's no one's business but your own. And if one or both of you are into gift-exchanging as a tradition, consider creating some new traditions that make it easier and more fun for both of you.

OK, ready to look for or make your gift for your spouse? Choose uplifting, confirming, supportive gifts. Take some time to list his or her best traits, favorite clothes, most loved tools, great talents, sources of pride and happiness. Add to them. Give more stuff like the stuff your mate loves or give gifts he or she can use to get even better at those traits, talents, and sources of pride and happiness. This says you value these things about your spouse and add your support to his or her journey.

Unless, of course, neither of you reads love into gifts. Then give your geek one of this year's top gifts for geeks, your exec the latest in executive toys and accessories, your beauty the latest clothing and accessories, your home improver the latest in tools and gadgets. Or skip the gift giving altogether.

November 24, 2012

Why Would a Man Stay If He Can Have a Younger Woman?

A married woman on Quora wondered about this a few months back. She married her husband while both were in college. Today, in his 30s, he's got a good bit of money, success, and younger women who would like to "bag" him. They have no kids to tie him to her, and she wonders what would make him stay.

Here are a few things men stay for. Each one suggests a possible strategy for strengthening their relationship and another thing to watch for if you are trying to quit trying to mold your guy into some imaginary husband and Expect Love instead.

  • The respect his wife shows him is about much more than his looks or his income or his career status. She respects the effort, persistence, talent, curiosity, risk-taking, and sheer courage it has taken him to get here.
  • She knows money is far from his only goal in life and has supported the others for years, perhaps even without regard for his income.
  • Great sex matters to him, but not as much as a great life does.
  • He values all that his wife knows about the times in which he grew up, the music and art he likes best, and the questions that matter to someone no longer just getting started in a career and an adult life.
  • He and his wife have many wonderful memories to savor. New is stimulating but never as deep and rich as a decade of shared memories.
  • He takes pride in his ability to love a woman and build a relationship.
  • He doesn't want to show anyone the ropes. He likes being married to his equal in life experience and self-understanding.
  • His wife and he keep sex interesting and fun. Why give everything else up just for a different sex partner?
  • He is a man of integrity and would feel like a failure or a fraud if he broke his marriage vows.
  • He can't be "bagged." He loves knowing his wife accepted him for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, at a time when he was not at all sure he was a good catch.
  • Leaving his wife, or leaving the door open for a divorce due to infidelity, would mean giving up his business partner, dance partner, tennis partner, yodeling buddy, llama co-owner, steel guitar gig-getter, or best-ever source of book reviews. Life would be very different without her.
  • He is already planning his 50th anniversary or trips to take when they retire or buying a little house on the lake they both love.

Men, can you add to my list?

November 21, 2012

Ask for What You Want from Your Spouse

If you want to enjoy your marriage more, own your own needs. Don't dump them on your husband or wife.

Ask for what you want or need, but before you do, let go of any notion that your spouse is obliged to say yes out of fairness or marital obligation.

Why? Well, first, it is only your own story that you are somehow entitled to what you ask for that can make you angry or hurt. It is not the "no" that hurts. If you think it is, try asking your spouse to go work your job or to buy you a commuter jet. Both of you can laugh at the shocked "no" you will get.

Second, your entitlement story emerges from your overestimation of what your spouse is good at or capable of. Guess what? This is a good thing. People who think their spouse is better than or more capable than even their spouse's friends believe have happier marriages. Keep the belief, but let go of the expectation and you will enjoy being married a lot more.

Third, humans love to help when they can feel good about doing so, rather than feeling like they are doing what they are told. You will actually get more of what you ask for without demand.

So, ask away. And Expect Love, which means let your spouse choose which requests to fill. Don't expect any particular one, but expect you will be shown love in some ways of your choosing and some that surprise you.

November 19, 2012

First Thanksgiving Tips

Is this your first Thanksgiving as a couple? What goes without saying in your head on this holiday?

Is preparing the meal and setting the table a joint project? Or should the non-cook stay out of the way?

Does the football schedule dictate the flow of the day? Or is it your nieces' and nephews' schedules, as they try to fit in two divorced parents and three or four sets of grandparents? Or perhaps the turkey's popup timer?

Does cooking the meal get you out of washing the dishes? Is dishwashing a communal project and gab fest for the women at your gathering? Or is it best left for after all the guests have gone?

If you're not hosting this dinner, should couples stay together and support each other among so many slightly familiar faces or join in with whatever group or activity interests them?

Are guests expected to bring something to a gathering? If so, is it wine? Green bean casserole? A dessert? Or a gift for the hostess?

I ask because no matter what your picture looks like, it is not the one in your spouse's mind. And that makes this holiday a chance to get angry over dashed expectations or to try something new and see how it goes. You choose.

November 18, 2012

Giving Thanks

Thanks to the two wonderful husbands who have given me their love, especially the current one, who goes with the flow on so many surprising changes in our lives.

Thanks to my incredible son, who has given me a marvelous daughter-in-law and, with her, the wonderful experience of being a grandmother.

Thanks to Barbara Sher for pushing me to do what I love. (This blog is a big part of it.) And these days for funding it (through the work I do on her fascinating projects). Thanks to her, too, for the wonderful group of WriteSpeak grads and others I have met through her who encourage me constantly and lead the way.

Thanks to Seth Godin for creating Triiibes.com, another source of enormous inspiration and great conversations, and to all who gathered there for this weekend's reunion. To see all that Seth has inspired and all that the Triiibe has encouraged and supported just through this one website is awesome.

Thanks to my in-laws for giving me both husbands and to the first set for standing by me and providing such great support in my widowed years.

Thanks to my dear friends who see me through tough times and celebrate the good ones with such gusto. I wish I lived nearer to each of you.

Thanks to all who have been members of my Success Teams and all who have attended my Idea Parties. You have made the world a better place, full of opportunity and celebration. I will launch another Success Team in January.

Thanks to all who have purchased or downloaded anything from my EnjoyBeingMarried.com website. I promise more there in January, too.

And thank you, thank you, kind readers and commenters of Assume Love. Writing for you clarifies my thinking and improves my own marriage. Hearing from you brings tears to my eyes, whether sharing in your pain or delighting in the improvements you've made in your marriages.

I wish you all a Thanksgiving Day full of gratitude for the past, savoring of the present, great company, and love given and received.

November 16, 2012

The Tasks We Give Our Mates

Make a list of the chores you're waiting for your spouse to take care of. Now go down the list and ask yourself how you would take care of them while he or she is off in intensive care at the hospital.

Feel that shudder? Sense yourself pulling away, wondering how long you could let it go until your beloved is back on the job? Are you telling yourself you're not strong enough or skilled enough to tackle them yourself?

Most of us hand our mates the very jobs we don't know how to do or really don't like to do. And then we make ourselves miserable by concocting some story about fairness when it turns out they avoid the very same tasks we do. Or we get them to promise they will take care of them and blame them for breaking a promise when they find out what the tasks entail.

It turns out the fastest route to a happy marriage is to do those unpleasant chores, pay someone else to do them, or decide they don't need doing. If, instead, you choose to keep up your story that these are your life partner's chores, not yours, eventually the chores will revert to you anyway, but the love in your life--both the trickle that gets through while you're blaming your spouse and the flood when you're not--will be gone.

November 12, 2012

A Great Resource for Those Hurt by an Affair

I just received the sad news last night that infidelity support expert Peggy Vaughan has died after a four-year struggle with cancer.

Before she left us, Peggy made sure her Extramarital Affairs Resource Center website, DearPeggy.com, would live on. Her great body of work is still there to help those hurt by an affair or heading for one. So is her Beyond Affairs Network (BAN), offering in-person support groups in cities around the world and now run by Anne Bercht.

Bookmark the DearPeggy.com website today. I hope you never need it, but I want you to know where to find it if a friend does. Peggy has left us free downloadable PDF copies of all but two of her books. 150 of her articles. Answers to more than 450 questions. And her story, including both her husband's affairs during their first 25 years together and the heartwarming story of their second 25 years together. (They celebrated their 50th anniversary seven years ago.)

In fact, you might want to check it out today if this foreboding description of the start of their marriage sounds familiar to you:

We had a beautiful wedding on May 29, 1955, with all our friends and family. The joy of being together was dampened by the serious way I approached my role as a wife. I was dedicated to working very hard and doing everything that could possibly be expected of me. I had a full-time job, took three courses at school, and still tried to be the perfect housewife. I cooked biscuits every morning. I made homemade rolls each week. I ironed a white shirt for James to wear every day to his part-time job downtown. In short, I submerged myself in my new role.

You, too, if this description from her husband James rings a bell:

The conclusion [to his discussions with other men of the surface issues with their wives]: "Women are different. They are emotional. They don't deal with things the way we (men) do. That's the way they are. We'll never be able to understand them or change them, so we may as well accept them as they are. It's tough to live with them, but tougher to live without them." Slowly, but surely, I joined the mass of men who view women not as individuals, but as members of a mysterious group.

This is a great body of work, and it has helped many, many people already. How wonderful that it will continue to do so now that Peggy has left us.

Let me close with a tip of the hat to another woman with a great body of work, Diane Sollee, for passing along Peggy's request that we make her website known to everyone who might need it. Diane's website is SmartMarriages.com, and you could get lost for days in all that it offers us. Thank you, Diane. Rest in peace, Peggy. Enjoy being married, dear reader.

I Wish My Spouse Would Assume Love

One thing greatly discouraged me about my training as a marriage educator. Most of the exercises and techniques were for becoming a better spouse. I see the same thing in most books about marriage.

When a person is unhappy with their marriage, becoming a better spouse is difficult and kind of risky. Will trying something new cause our partner to do anything that will make us any happier?

This is why, when we read a marriage book or learn a technique, we want to know how to get our spouses to read it or learn it, too. This is why people drag unwilling spouses to therapy and to classes. This is why I refused to get certified as a marriage therapist. "You first" is such a powerless way to deal with a problem.

So, I write about how to be a happy spouse, how to change your marriage without waiting for your guy or gal to read the book or try the new idea. And even so, I get comments that say, "If only my husband would Assume Love." Or "how do I get my wife to Expect Love instead of her long list of expectations?"

The answer? You don't. You Expect Love. You don't expect the person you married to read what you read or learn new skills as you learn them. You expect your beloved to show you love. And that's all you watch for, all you measure. You take delight in discovering a loving act you might have overlooked in the past. And you own your own needs, set your fair-share line at everything you would need to deal with for yourself if you had no partner, no love.

And please don't Expect Love because it's the virtuous or right thing to do. Expect Love because your marriage is a lot more fun, a lot less competitive, a lot less anxious, a lot more fulfilling when you Expect Love. And while you might want this for your wife or husband, too, you cannot give it. He or she must claim it. And that will happen when it happens.

In the meantime, watch for and savor all the love your mate can offer you now from inside whatever he or she currently sees as the story of your marriage, and return as much love as your grateful heart allows.

November 11, 2012

Avoiding the High Cost of an Affair

Today, on Veterans Day, the New York Times is calling General Petraeus, a highly decorated veteran and four-star general, simply David H. Petraeus. He stepped down as head of the CIA this week after the FBI learned he was having an affair with one of the authors of his biography, a married mother of two.

No one entrusted with a nation's top secrets or a publicly held corporation's revenues and reputation is likely to remain employed or find similar employment once the dishonesty, distraction, and betrayal of an affair is revealed. But this post is not about those people. It is about you and me.

Affairs are extremely common. The more you have to lose, the more likely someone will offer you the opportunity for one, but people of all walks of life manage to find their way into them. Even if you have no money, no savings, no house to lose, no career to kill, you put your honor and your relationship with your spouse and family at risk when you take this route, even if it never gets beyond the emails, text messages, and phone calls stage.

The time to protect yourself from his fate is not when a coworker leans in too close or a Facebook reunion with a high school boyfriend or girlfriend steps over the line, it is today. Today, you have the choice to get closer to your spouse or drift further apart. Today, you have the choice to expect love and stop building the story in your head that you are more deserving than your mate because he or she fails to do what you expect from a spouse. Today, you have the choice to feel miffed about your difference of opinions or find a third alternative that pleases both of you.

Today, you have the choice to consider that whatever upsets you about your spouse is actually a reflection of his or her love for you. Today, you have the choice to pay attention to your spouse's character strengths and encourage them or to focus on his or her faults.

When you enjoy being married, you easily smile at temptation and say no thanks. When you enjoy being married, you don't feel you deserve better than the person you married. When you enjoy being married, you create new sexual excitement at home and don't look for someone else to bring it to you on the sly. And whether you enjoy being married or not largely depends on the stories you tell yourself about your relationship and the choices you make because of those stories, unless you fear for your life at the hands of your mate.

When affairs are discovered, most of those in them discover how much they would NOT enjoy losing their spouse, but the choice is no longer in their hands. Today is always the best day to make that choice.

November 9, 2012

Has Assume Love Helped You?

If perchance this blog has helped you improve your marriage, would you be willing to share your story with a national women's magazine reporter? The request appeared in Bill and Steve Harrison's Reporter Connection this afternoon. Submit your story by Monday, November 12, 2012, at 6 pm eastern.

If you're not up for appearing in a national magazine, would you consider submitting a comment letting me know how this blog has helped you? Feel free to ask me not to publish it if it's private. Thanks!

November 7, 2012

3 Mistakes Your Wife Makes (and Why)

Guys, this is about three mistakes women make that may be behind whatever your woman is doing to drive you nuts.

These are honest mistakes, not negligence or intentional abuse. I tell you about them because they might come in handy if you Assume Love and try to find a different, more loving explanation for her behavior than the first one that comes to mind when she upsets you.

Mistake Number 1. She makes you feel like an incompetent child instead of her man. To her, loving is about caring, nurturing, protecting, and cherishing, not so much about respect. It's a hormonal difference between us. Instead of getting angry, explain what you need. If you can do it in a caring, nurturing, protective way, so much the better.

Mistake Number 2. She almost never initiates sex. Men are billed as being perpetually interested in sex. If you think you worry about getting turned down, imagine how worried she is when you're not pursuing her. Tell her you would welcome it, even if you sometimes say no. And remember, she did not spend her teen years studying ways to get the opposite sex interested in sex like you probably did. Give her some ideas.

Mistake Number 3. She equates utterly unequal contributions and comes across as ungrateful for the big ones. Women, much more often than men, are multi-taskers. They have long lists of what needs doing and they get as many as possible done each day. When they feel exhausted by today's list, they more keenly notice the undone items on your list. Once you (or they) have checked off "go earn a living for 8 or 10 hours," it's just one check mark, rather than the 157 you experienced it as and the reason you're lucky enough to have household tasks. She's not ungrateful, just focused on the list. Thank her for keeping track of all that needs doing. Then tell her you're exhausted and will take care of whichever item she's concerned with tomorrow. Then invite her to do the same and relax with you, because overwhelmed women don't take cold shoulders well at all.

November 5, 2012

Love Your In-Laws

Many of us have a rough time at first dealing with our in-laws. Why? Because our claim on our life partner is so much newer than theirs is. Everything we do to protect it makes them uneasy.

So don't set yourself up as competitors. These are parents and siblings, not your competition for wife or husband or life partner. When you want to explain your point of view, begin with words like:


  • "I know you love _____, and..."

  • "You are very important to ____, and..."

  • "I appreciate how you want the best for ____, and..."

I put the "and" in there deliberately, because we so often use "but" when we mean "and." "And" is a lot more effective.

You will never persuade anyone of anything until they understand that you two already agree on something. These are things you can agree on.

You are the one who changed the family. You are the one who doesn't have a relationship based on who your spouse was as a child; for this reason alone, it is a less complex and complicated one. You can afford to be generous to them.

You can also afford to get to know them as adults, as real people instead of parents and siblings, unless you sink to childish behaviors when you watch your spouse relating to them as if still part child.

Real people have great strengths, quite likely in areas where you don't. You can see this as threat or as opportunity. If you see it as threat, you will always be working way too hard to appear as good as them in these areas or feeling unfairly judged. If you see it as opportunity, you will ask for help and maybe even for mentoring, which is extremely flattering. Whatever our strengths are, we all enjoy life more when we find opportunities to use them.

Remember, too, that we are all capable of quite a lot of loving. What your mate does for his or her parents and siblings in no way diminishes what is available for you.

November 4, 2012

Investment Improves Your Odds

One of the things Caryl Rusbult discovered about relationships is that the more both parties have invested in them, the less likely they are to end.

What is your partner up to in which you could invest some time or money this week? What does your husband or wife need that you could provide? What could you do to help your life partner be braver and take the risk that makes the difference?

And what could you ask for as an investment in your future that would benefit both of you down the road?

November 2, 2012

Date Night Ideas for the Class of '70

It's 42 years since my husband and I graduated from high school. I went to a fairly affluent and well-run high school in the northeast corner of NJ. He went to high school in an impoverished steel mill town in Pennsylvania that had the foresight to apply for and win a grant that gave him the ability to star in his own TV show every school day, doing stand-up comedy.

Most of my date night suggestions are for folks still raising kids. Today, I thought I might offer some for folks our age, folks in the class of 1970, some of us married for 35 or 40 years now, others in second marriages now.

It's snowing as I write this, but I remember a popular date from our high school years was miniature golf. If you're in a warmer climate, how about a night of miniature golf, just the two of you? I'm pretty sure you would need to start it at a pizza shop or a sub shop and finish it off with a long and passionate kiss at your front door. While you're playing, remember back to those days, so you don't forget which strokes really count on a golf date.

For my high school comedian husband, how about a night out at a comedy club? Check around for one with a comedian from our generation. Laughter is a wonderful way to feel closer to your mate. By now you don't need to be told that too much alcohol is not. Sip slowly and take the time to watch your beloved having a good time.

We also remember going to the movies on dates in high school. Back then, the theaters were a lot larger than they are today. Take advantage of the tiny ones and find a showing where you might have the entire theater to yourselves. Do something that would seriously gross out your kids during the show. Head for a restaurant or your candle-lit dining room table after the movie, for an adults-only, restful meal.

And if you're raising your grandkids now, don't bring them along. You still need time to be you, to be a couple, and to act your age, which is a wonderful one!

November 1, 2012

Do We Need to Worry?

Our brains are designed to notice what's not as we expected. Why? So we will notice and pay attention to threats in our environment. This business of living in houses with locking doors and heat and a supply of food that keeps for weeks (unless a giant storm comes along and knocks out your power, that is) is all pretty new, and our brains haven't yet caught up.

Living with someone else pretty much guarantees frequent not-what-we-expected events. Our brilliantly designed brains quickly shift into detective mode when they occur. What else is wrong with this picture? What else is out of whack? How bad could this possibly get?

It's as if our brains cannot tell the difference between a stranger who just broke into our home and the person with whom we built it and filled it with love. Or maybe they can, because we wouldn't really be more worried if the stranger said, "Why are we out of orange juice again?" instead of "Good morning, beautiful! What have you got in store for today?"

The worry is natural. It's just not helpful to our marriages. It makes us treat someone who promised to love us and has been doing a pretty good job of just that with even more suspicion than the teenage boy taking our daughter out on a first date.

Unexpected events are usually not the sign of a real threat when they come from a husband, wife, or life partner. Take some time to check them out. It turns out you often know why they are saying what they are saying or doing what they are doing, but you have put it out of your mind to focus on yourself in that very natural moment when your mind jumps on protecting you from a not-what-I-expected on the order of tiger attack or abandoned in the snow. Assume Love and see what you can figure out about the real reason for the unexpected action.

The Author

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

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