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October 18, 2012

It Doesn't Happen Very Often

Mentally healthy people don't hit, push, punch, or throw things at loved ones who could be seriously hurt.

Mentally healthy people do not ever have sex with an unwilling partner through force or threat.

Mentally healthy people don't load their kids or their spouse into the car and drive drunk.

Mentally healthy people don't stay in the vicinity of those they love when they cannot control their angry words or actions.

Mentally healthy people don't have unprotected sex with someone who might be infected with HIV, HPV, herpes, syphilis, or gonorrhea and then go have sex with their life partner.

Mentally healthy people don't blow the mortgage money or food budget on betting or shopping for things they don't need.

They don't. They know how to stop themselves, and they stop themselves before they do something that could hurt those they love and cause them great shame.

Mentally unhealthy people do these things, feel ashamed, and promise it won't happen again. When it happens again, they invent stories about why they did what they did. These stories usually involve blaming their victim. It reduces their shame.

What mentally unhealthy people need is not a second chance or a third or a fourth. They need help finding the courage to get mentally healthy, to admit they need to learn new approaches to old problems, to do without the alcohol or drugs they are sure they cannot live without, to get surgery to remove a brain tumor or bleed, to take the drugs that will stop cravings or thoughts they cannot otherwise control.

Even if the awful consequences don't happen very often, these people are mentally unhealthy all the time. Living with this takes an awful toll on the mental health of everyone around them, because no one can predict when the fear and the shame will return. Children grow up anxious and with no basis for trusting others. Spouses grow overly cautious and self-protective. Those with the problem may start to see their spouses and children as the problem, because the consequences would be less without all the shame of hurting loved ones.

Not every mental health problem can be cured or managed, but many can. It takes courage, though, to choose to get treated. It may take even more than allowing an amputation or a mastectomy or a prostatectomy. To find this courage when death is not the alternative, it helps to know it is their only option to keep their loved ones in their lives. Second chances say otherwise.

It is definitely not easy to separate to protect you, your mentally unhealthy mate, and your children while your mate finds that courage. It is often very expensive. It requires protection from an out-of-control reaction. It calls for lots of support for you and the children. This, too, takes courage.

Many wait to find their courage in the anger that propels them toward divorce. This is understandable, but the message it sends comes out a lot like this: "I no longer see you as a man or woman with a treatable mental health problem that affects all of us but as a defective individual not deserving of love." Not many of us would find the courage for an amputation if told we would die with or without one.

"It doesn't happen very often" is the first step to writing someone off as a defective person who cannot be loved. If it happens even once, it's a serious problem. If it happens again because neither of you took precautions to prevent it from happening, the second step is likely to be a very slippery one that hurts both of you and any children you share.

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 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.

April 19, 2012

The Alcohol Explanation

When you Assume Love and ask how a truly loving husband, wife, or life partner could say those words, spend that money, or get that violent, beware of the alcohol explanation.

Many people are quicker to anger and less diplomatic in their ways of expressing it when they drink. Most, however, cannot violate their own moral code even when drunk.

If they would protect your college fund or your retirement fund from a thief while sober, most won't take it themselves when they are drunk.

If they would defend you from a stranger who hit you, threw you on the bed, or even raised a hand to threaten you while sober, most will not hit you, throw you on the bed, or raise a hand to you while drunk.

They might use harsher words. They might get angry over different things. They might be louder and more demanding. But they won't violate their own morality, their deep knowledge of what is right and wrong, their human urge to protect loved ones from harm.

For those who do, the explanation is not alcohol. The explanation is a loss of control over the connection between their intentions and their behavior when they drink.

If they have no control, no ability to act in accordance with their intentions when they drink, they cannot protect you or your relationship. When they are sober, they may express their intentions to treat you better, but this is not within their control when they drink. You might forgive them because they have such a good heart most of the time, but their behavior while drinking is not affected by their good intentions.

You and your relationship are no safer when they drink than you are standing in the middle of the road counting on that stranger driving the tractor trailer to see you and apply the brakes in time despite the pea soup fog between you. You are the only one who is going to stop this carnage. And you're not going to do it by bravely sticking one arm out like you're Superman. You must get yourself out of the road.

If the only explanation you come up with when you Assume Love is that, while drinking, your spouse cannot control his or her actions, cannot act in accord with his or her good intentions or moral code, your only loving act is to get yourself out of the road.

The only fix for a loss of control while drinking is to stop drinking or to learn new skills for managing oneself while drinking. And the latter only works for those not yet addicted, those who can drink a little and stop themselves from drinking more when they reach the point where they must depend on their broken autopilot.

Choosing either of these takes a lot of motivation and a good bit of courage. Getting yourself out of the road (leaving the house at the first drink or living separately until you see a real change) helps your mate find that courage. It also takes courage to do, so be sure to turn to the rest of your support network, so you can do it sooner rather than later.

Alcohol can explain a change in language, volume, or modesty. If you Assume Love and come to this explanation, ask for what you need when your mate is sober.

But if the real explanation is that your spouse's behavior is not under the control of his or her good intentions, insist that your spouse re-establish this control, and stay out of the road until it happens. If you have a kind bone in your body, don't let your spouse be that truck driver who cannot stop the truck in time to spare a loved one.

March 20, 2012

Emotional Abuse Boot Camp by Webinar

Emotional abuse is a serious problem in any marriage, whether you're dishing it out or taking it. Dr. Steven Stosny developed a unique and highly effective way to help both the abusers and the abused. Until now, if you wanted to learn it, you had to get yourself to Maryland or hope he took his Boot Camp on the road to a city near you.

I just received an announcement from him today of a Love without Hurt Boot Camp Webinar. This is not the typical recorded 60 minutes. It's a live boot camp with him, just like his 3-day events in Maryland, that you can attend from your own home. It's May 5 and 6 (a weekend), with the third day on the following Saturday, May 12.

He will even allow you to submit your questions in advance and hear your answers when you listen to the recordings at your convenience, but I am going to strongly urge you to participate live and do all the exercises he gives you between sessions. What he teaches will likely change your life, no matter which side of the abuse you're on, even if your spouse walks out on your marriage.

Dr. Stosny teaches compassion, so you can be pretty sure he won't be shaming either of you. Instead, he will teach you a technique you can use whenever you're angry or full of resentment.

From his announcement today:

The Boot Camp produces dramatic change in a short time for those who do the work. The tone is healing, not accusatory, compassionate not blaming, valuing not devaluing, and, most of all, empowering.

I have no personal connection with Dr. Stosny and receive nothing from him for letting you know about his boot camp. I share it with you because I care about you and because I have heard him speak, read what he's written, purchased one of his audio courses, and seen his follow-up study. I think the opportunity to do this boot camp by webinar is a great opportunity at a very low price. It's also a great way to do it in private if your spouse is at all hesitant.

You can watch a video of one of his Oprah appearances, take his Walking on Eggshells quiz, and learn more about the boot camp on Dr. Stosny's CompassionPower website.

Please note that the webinar version of the boot camp is for emotional abuse only. If you are dishing out or receiving any physical abuse, I hope you will watch for the in-person version, his private boot camps, and his phone consultations.

February 27, 2012

Should Rihanna Forgive Chris Brown? Wrong Question

What I did not get until my first husband died is how difficult relationships can be when you ask the wrong questions about them. Should Rihanna forgive Chris Brown is one of those questions. It takes you to all the wrong places, hides the truth you need to succeed.

Should she forgive him? It will probably make her life a lot happier to do so.

Should she be alone with him again? A very different question.

Here is what I would say to Rihanna and anyone dealing with abuse. When a man you love abuses you, there are only two possible explanations.

(1) He does not care about your wellbeing. If this is true, you are not safe being alone in a room with him. Even if you love him dearly, you must protect yourself from his harm, whether you forgive him or not.

Or...

(2) He cares about you, perhaps more than anyone else ever has. If so, the abuse proves he lacks the ability to control his behavior, to act the way he intends to act. If this is true, he may show great remorse. Or he may instead claim you caused the abuse, because it's pretty scary to accept that he is unable to control what he does to you.

He may think his ability to control himself when he's not drinking or doing drugs or overstressed means everything is OK, but if he does not control whether he drinks, does drugs, or gets overstressed, there is nothing OK about it.

Even if you love him dearly, perhaps especially if you love him dearly, you must protect yourself from his harm. You must do it because he cannot. Hurting someone he loves will lead to great shame or magnificent excuses, but neither fixes the problem and both erode the relationship.

You are the least likely person to help him regain control. You must protect both of you from his problem until he finds help with it. If it's treatable, like addiction, alcoholism, growing up in an environment where he could not learn self-management skills, or an operable brain tumor, your best bet is to physically separate until he recovers.

It's not difficult to forgive someone once you decide their abuse was not intended. I hope Rihanna has forgiven Chris. But you do a man no favor at all if you forgive without also protecting the woman and the relationship he values. He cannot do this for himself until he treats the underlying cause. There is no hint that Chris Brown is yet in control of his behavior when annoyed by anyone. I hope Rihanna keeps her bodyguard with her at all times while he's around, especially if she actually cares about Chris.

February 9, 2012

The Loving Perspective, Part 5

Yesterday, in Part 4 of this series on how to explain a loving spouse doing something that upsets you, I wrote:

"I am not talking here about pushing, shoving, hitting, cutting, damaging something especially dear to you, making remarks known to bring you to tears or render you helpless, or repeating angry outbursts or making threats until you fear being in the same room as your mate."

Today, I want to talk about all of these. Abuse happens, and fear of becoming its victim is probably our biggest obstacle to even considering loving explanations for distressing acts.

When you Assume Love, you try to explain how a loving person might come to do whatever your wife, husband, or life partner just did that upset you so. How do you explain acts like these?

My guess is that your husband or wife would try to stop a stranger who did any of these to someone he or she loved. Most people would.

This leads me to a conclusion that there are only two explanations for such behavior. One, there is no love. Two, there is love but no self-control, no ability to act as he or she intends.

The first is dangerous. Living with someone violent or manipulative who has no love for you risks your life and sanity. It often also risks the wellbeing of those you love, including your children, siblings, and parents.

However, this is the only dangerous situation. If you Assume Love and find explanations for your spouse's other behaviors that leave you feeling safe and loving, even if you are wrong about them, it will do you no harm. In fact, you could stay happily married, giving your husband or wife time to fall back in love with you.

Pushing, shoving, hitting, cutting, damaging something especially dear to you, making remarks known to bring you to tears or render you helpless, or repeating angry outbursts or making threats until you fear being in the same room as your mate? These are dangerous. Don't tough them out. Don't pretend they did not happen just because your mate apologizes a day later or says you deserved them.

Instead, check whether you can explain them as an inability to act in accord with his or her intentions toward you.

  • Is your spouse also unable to control his or her consumption of alcohol, painkillers, other prescription or illegal drugs, porn, sex, food, or gambling? If so, you and your relationship will be safe only after he or she deals with this problem. Only he or she can make the choice to get help dealing with this. If you overlook or buy into the notion that you caused the unloving behavior, you make this choice harder. Love your spouse from a safe distance to make the decision easier.
  • Does your mate have a brain tumor, stroke damage, Alzheimer's, uncontrolled bipolar disorder, severe depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, other brain disorder, or recent head injury? If so, and the problem is not immediately treatable, you may need to find one or more caretakers strong enough to handle the violence or abusiveness so that you can focus on loving your mate and your mate can stop feeling remorse or shame for what is beyond his or her control.
  • Has your partner lost jobs or friends due to difficulty controlling his or her anger? If so, and it is not due to any of the things above, it may be a lack of training in techniques for controlling resentment and anger. One great source for this training is Steven Stosny's Compassion Power.

If any of these are true for your mate, you have a shot at a fix, but only with others' help. If not, I urge you to find others to help you safely separate yourself from a non-loving and dangerous spouse. You should not give up your life, your health, or your sanity for love.

But let's come back to something else here, because such intentional cruelty is not all that common. Most of us have witnessed a victim of unintentional cruelty and cringed when he or she accepts the blame or the apology for the second or third or twentieth time. We become highly self-protective in our own marriages and overreact to any behavior we don't like, from arriving late for dinner to cutting the kids' hair too short, hoping to stay in control of our own marriage or recognize when it's time to bolt.

It is impossible to enjoy being married while staying this guarded. If you Assume Love, you do not need to remain so guarded. If you can explain an act as possibly loving, there is no harm in doing so, whether you are right or wrong.

If the act is undeniably unloving, as the ones discussed here are, there is only one explanation for a loving person doing it: he or she cannot control his or her behavior for some reason. This loss of control does not happen because you were not vigilant enough. It happens because something messes with your beloved partner's brain. And it puts the job of protecting you on your shoulders, at least for a while. Do not pretend that love will protect you.

If your partner appears to be in full control of his or her actions, an undeniably unloving act will be a very clear sign it's time to put yourself first and enlist everyone else who cares about you in doing so, too.

As long as you can recognize an undeniably unloving act, you can let your guard down and enjoy your marriage the rest of the time. You can actively look for and enjoy whatever love you are offered. If you overestimate your spouse's good points, you will be in good company. Most happily married people do.

And this is why I think it's so much better to Assume Love than to vigilantly keep score or to sweep your anger under the rug and pretend you feel loved until you no longer can.

January 21, 2012

Is Your Marriage Anyone Else's Business?

This issue always comes up during election years, doesn't it? Some of us find the news that a candidate left his wife for his mistress a bad sign. Others want to forgive it as a mistake or simply keep everything about a candidate's personal life off-limits.

I would argue, though, that marriages matter. They are not entirely private. They are not entirely our own business.

Yes, we make mistakes. LOTS of us make mistakes. Many of us cheat on our spouses, whether once or many times. Many abandon our spouses or decide it is just not worth dealing with our irreconcilable differences any longer.

But it is not entirely our own business.

Christianity Says Yes

Many Christian churches read Matthew 19:6 (repeated at Mark 10:8-9) at weddings: "Therefore they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." In other words, if any of you attending this wedding pursue one of them as a sex partner or spouse, or if you encourage one to abandon the other to better share their earnings or efforts with you, you're way out of line.

The Catholic Church outlawed secret marriage at the Council of Trent in 1563, when it required marriage banns, in which the bride's and groom's parishes were asked on three different occasions, "If any of you know cause or just impediment why these persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it." Among the reasons to be reported: living together before marriage, previous marriage not annulled or ended by the death of a spouse, or causing the spouse's death to get around that rule. This rule endured for 420 years, until 1983, and both the Lutheran Church and the Church of England went along with it, too.

The United States Says Yes

In the US today, the rules may have changed, but marriage licenses are still required, and they are a public matter. When I first married in 1973, we had to publish notice of our marriage in the local newspaper.

When you marry, your fellow citizens give you a rather large wedding gift. If one of you ends up supporting the other for any reason, we give the other one a nice tax break. In other words, we help pay the cost of supporting your spouse, because it is important and valuable to all of us that you do this.

When you marry, we cut you a break in court proceedings. You are as likely to know of your spouse's illegal misdeeds as a business partner or paramour, but you alone cannot be forced to testify to them. Why? Because this relationship is that important to the functioning of society.

When you marry and stay married for ten years, even if you later divorce, Social Security, a program funded by all of us who work for a living, gives you a choice of receiving the Social Security payment you personally qualify for or one based on what your spouse qualified for, and this continues beyond the death of your spouse. Free money, in many cases, to say thanks for staying married for at least ten years.

Buy a house and live in it alone or invite a friend to live with you, and you must pay tax on any capital gains in excess of $250,000 when you sell. In 2013, you may also need to pay Medicare tax on some or all of that $250,000, too. Bring a husband or wife to live in it with you for at least two years, and you can avoid both taxes on another $250,000 in capital gains. Your fellow taxpayers offer you up to $47,000 in additional tax savings just for being married.

Do married folks deserve all this? I think they do. They reduce welfare costs, home health care costs, long-term health care costs, disabled care costs, prison costs. Their lifestyle is typically greener. Even if they divorce, the law holds them responsible for each other's care through alimony and division of assets deemed to be shared regardless of who purchased them, much to the dismay of many who might prefer just parting company like two roommates moving on. Society invests in marriage because there is generally a good return, for society, on the investment.

Are Candidates' Marriages Our Business?

What does this have to do with candidates for president, vice president, senator, and representative? A good deal, I think. Forgive them for their private mistakes, sure. However, as you choose stewards for society's investments in our common good, consider how they have treated society's investments in their marriage(s). As you choose those who will untangle thorny problems in our relationships with other nations and with industries supported by government, take note of how they have handled the thorny problems in their primary relationship with a person of their own choosing, even if it ended in divorce or annulment.

Is Your Marriage Our Business?

Marriage is far from irrelevant and far from a private matter. We all have a stake in each other's marriages. I want so much for yours to be satisfying and long-lived. Please reach out if you need help insuring this. Not all marriages succeed, but many more could if we reached out to others instead of to those willing to put our marriage asunder for their own benefit.

January 3, 2012

The Stupidity of Cheating

Some folks cheat on their wife or their husband to put one over on them, to win at some game of deception. They might get more sex, but they lose intimacy. You cannot feel close to someone you treat as your opponent. You cannot feel known by someone you must lie to. You cannot have a close relationship and one on the side.

Some folks cheat because they feel they deserve it. They continue to provide whatever they view as their spousal duties robotically, with no living, breathing relationship left. Then, perhaps because they have seen others do it before them, they take the lover they feel they deserve. Oddly, they seem surprised when neither partner is all that delighted to have access to only half of the man or woman they could be.

Some folks cheat because they want their marriage to survive. Ironic, no? Something huge is missing from their marriage during their spouse's illness, addiction, layoff, or pregnancy, and they figure if they can just get this from someone else, they can keep their marriage alive long enough for it to recover. Again, it does not work. When you add deception and divided loyalties to an illness, addiction, layoff, or pregnancy, ti makes recovery a lot more difficult.

Some unmarried folks join in, helping one spouse cheat on another. A few do it because they somehow expect a healthy marriage to emerge from such a compromised beginning. They feel certain the odds that apply overall do not apply to them. Others do it because they want what married people have without any of the risk of loss.

Unfortunately for them, tolerating the risk of loss is the only way to get what happily married people gain from their relationships, which is far more than sex or money. The other benefits include loyalty, protection, kindness, acts of service, the intimacy of being known and appreciated without any mask, synergy, shared goals larger than those you could tackle alone, shared memories, being part of two families instead of one, and opportunities for great personal growth.

To put these at risk by cheating on your spouse or to miss out on them by cheating with someone else's spouse? Pure stupidity. Happy people have good relationships.

November 12, 2011

Is This Emotional Abuse?

scowl.jpgEmotional abuse can do just as much harm as physical abuse. While anyone can hurt you physically, someone who knows you as well as your husband or wife does has a real advantage when it comes to doing emotional harm.

What is emotional abuse? It is using whatever causes a person fear, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, or rage for the purpose of manipulating them.

If you argue with your spouse to the point where he or she gets emotionally flooded and can't think straight, because it lets you win the argument, you are an emotional abuser.
If you repeat a story of the time your spouse froze up while making a presentation in order to discourage him or her from running for office or seeking a promotion at work, you are an emotional abuser.
If you really, really want your husband or wife to agree to something and you hint or say that you will refuse sex if you don't get it, you are an emotional abuser.
If you get your mate to change clothes before going out by painting a picture of how he or she might be embarrassed, just so that you will not be embarrassed, you are an emotional abuser.

I point these out because most of us briefly resort to emotional abuse at some point in our marriage. These are strategies that gave us some of our first power as children. They don't die easily. But they are inappropriate for adult relationships.

If your spouse is emotionally abusing you, recognize that it might be a sign of feeling overwhelmed or powerless, returning to childish ways just as we do when we whine or curl up in a fetal position. If you can do something about whatever is overwhelming your spouse or giving you too much power in your relationship, do it.

If you are able to ignore or avoid the manipulation attempts until your spouse recovers from a temporary period of great stress, do it.

If it is related to alcohol or drug abuse, deal with the addiction.

But it may also be that you are being manipulated by a spouse who has little or no real love for you. If you think this might be the case, you are going to need a bunch more information. I recommend The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing by Beverly Engel. Wiley, 2003.

[Note: This is an Amazon Affiliate link, which means they pay me a very small sum for suggesting you buy from them.]

October 7, 2011

How to Keep Your Husband or Wife from Cheating

Lots of married people, men and women, cheat. Some do it repeatedly, believing they are somehow entitled to do so. Others do it once, looking for emotional or sexual relief when there is great tension in their marriage. This second group usually decides never to try that again, whether they get caught or not.

Cheating is contagious. Research shows that those who know someone who has cheated are more likely to cheat.

You can never control your spouse's behavior, but you can do things to influence the environment in which he or she makes a choice.


  1. Cultivate friendships with people of especially high integrity or exceptional relationship skills.

  2. If you learn someone you both know (or somebody in the news) has cheated, share how you would feel if you ever found yourself in the shoes of the cheater's spouse. Avoid making any threats. Stick to how you would feel, not what you would do.

  3. Stay present in your marriage. Actively love your spouse. Actively watch and listen for all the ways your spouse loves you. Acknowledge them.

  4. Do not belittle your man or take your woman for granted.

  5. Keep the number of positive interactions with your spouse at least five times the number of negative interactions. Strong marriages are not ones that avoid conflict or self-assertion; they are ones with a positive/negative ratio of 5 or higher.

  6. Avoid snooping. While it may help you discover cheating sooner, it creates an environment of distrust, rather than love and respect. This will not help when your mate must make the decision to go with a feeling or honor those vows.

  7. Assume Love and look for other possibly valid explanations for anything your wife or husband does that upsets you. Avoid unleashing your anger, resentment, or tears over misunderstood motives.

  8. Expect Love. Let go of your expectations about how a loving person will behave (like taking out trash, saying I love you, spending time with everyone whose company you enjoy, or joining you in all of your hobbies).

  9. Find Third Alternatives for your disagreements, ones that satisfy both of you. Avoid bullying or caving. Save compromise for a last resort.


While you can influence the environment in which your husband or wife makes the decision, you are in no way responsible for your spouse's choice to have an emotionally or sexually intimate affair with another person. If it happens, don't blame yourself.

And don't give up. Almost everyone who has ever been cheated on survived it. Many of them remain married and happily so after a healing period. Others decide to leave, and most of them find love again.

Cheating is just one of many rough spots your marriage may encounter. Obsessing about it in advance will leave your marriage weaker for the others, the ones neither of you has any say over, like floods, tornados, fires, disabling illnesses, and the deaths of loved ones. Worse, it will leave your marriage less ready for the uplifting events and those moments of pure joy. You cannot be fully open to these, you cannot amplify each other's delight, while you are on guard.

August 24, 2011

The Secret to Stopping a Violent Spouse

battered woman in bathrobe looking up at her abuserThe on/off cycle of love from an abuser can mess with your mind. Which is real, the over-the-top words of affection or the underhanded, life-threatening acts of violence?

If your mate still loves you, both. And he or she can control one of them, not the other.

No one who loves you will assault you intentionally. Think about this. No one who loves you will assault you intentionally. Assume Love and try to explain the violence. Only one explanation fits: he or she hurts you in spite of choosing not to. Your mate is incapable of protecting you.

Either you are living with someone incapable of protecting you from his or her violence or you are living with someone who no longer loves you. Either is a very dangerous place to be.

This means the apologies and the love that follow mean nothing at all about the abuse. The only thing that will stop the abuse is stopping whatever causes the abusive behavior. That out-of-control rage comes from something that screws with your mate's executive functions in the brain: alcohol, drugs, addiction, mental illness, a brain tumor.

Choosing to face and fix any of those takes a lot more than love. It is much easier to apologize or to find a way to blame you for what happened. The more you overlook, the harder it will become.

New research by psychologists at Ohio State University, reported by Sophia Dembling of Psych Central, pinpoints a critical moment in protecting yourself and your marriage.

If you did not physically separate sooner, this moment holds the secret to stopping the violence.

Your or a neighbor calls the police. They take your abuser into custody. Here is what the researchers found is quite likely to happen to you when your mate phones you from jail. I will use "he" because they studied only male abusers, but I doubt the pattern is limited to men.

First, an angry conversation about what happened or did not happen. You stay strong.

Next, a second angry conversation about it. You stay strong again. You know what happened. He cannot convince you otherwise. You know you are in danger.

That is what the researchers call phase one. He's angry. You are strong.

Phase two is the critical one. He minimizes the abuse, hoping to convince you it was not nearly as serious as what you have done, what he is facing in prison. He may tell you how much he misses you and the kids or even that he is so depressed by what happened that he will kill himself.

He wants your sympathy. As soon as he gets it, you head off into phase three, which is a very dangerous place for both of you. In phase three, you side with him against every possible source of help to get him well and make you safe.

He wants your sympathy. He knows every one of your buttons to push to get it, too, because he knows you well. He wants your sympathy because jail is scary for anyone but overwhelming to anyone with an addiction that demands to be fed constantly.

No matter what words he chooses, you will know they are the lies born of an addiction or mental illness. You will know this because his loving side would care deeply about the harm done to you. If it were accidental, he would care about it even more than you do. You would have plenty of his sympathy. He would offer to bear your pain if he could.

If he seeks your sympathy, there is nothing you can do to help him now, especially not allowing him to ignore his out-of-control behavior and its consequences. If he threatens suicide, report it to the warden, so they can take away any means of killing himself.

The most loving act you can do right now is leave him to deal with the consequences of his behavior in a place that prevents him from doing any further harm to the person he loves. It will surely require a lot of courage to deal with his problem. Sympathy will only get in the way.

The secret to stopping a violent spouse is to keep your sympathy for yourself and your marriage until he deals with his problem.

March 13, 2011

Earthquakes and Extramarital Affairs

Earthquakes and the discovery of your spouse's extramarital affair have a lot in common.

You can live in a place for decades before an earthquake big enough to cause damage occurs. Day after day, even though you know the odds of an earthquake in your lifetime are high, you live your life normally. To do otherwise would keep you tied up in knots.

Then one hits. Overturned shelves, collapsed buildings, fires, leaks of poisonous gases, pancaked overpasses. Everything stops. You attend to the damage and the clean up.

Afterward, you cannot easily trust you will be safe through the night. You have a hard time trusting you will see your loved ones again at the end of the day. But you have no choice. As soon as you rebuild your home, your school, your workplace, you must begin to rebuild your trust that this will not happen again any time soon.

Or you can move away, hoping to escape the threat. But as you move far enough away to reduce the earthquake threat, the hurricane threat increases or the tornado threat or the bombing threat.

Extramarital affairs are a lot like earthquakes. The odds of one are actually pretty high over the course of a marriage. They say 60% of men and 40% of women make this monumental error in judgment.

But they are low on any given day, and you will tie yourself up in knots if you don't live day to day trusting your mate.

If the earthquake of discovering an affair hits, your world comes to a stop for a while. Then you deal with the damage, rebuild your marriage a little stronger than before, and begin to restore the trust.

Or you get out of Dodge (or Christchurch or Sendai or Northridge): you divorce. Better? No. The odds of a post-divorce unmarried relationship or second marriage surviving turn out to be a good deal worse than the odds when you married the man or woman who shook up your world.

The good news is when big earthquakes hit or when spouses cheat, lots of folks go on to live great lives right where they were before the catastrophe. We are a resilient lot.

February 28, 2011

Assume Love When You're Being Emotionally Abused?

I am reading an excellent book by Beverly Engel on emotional abuse and what to do about it. But I keep imagining her asking, "You don't really expect a man or woman who is being emotionally abused to assume love, do you?"

I do. In addition to bringing back a lot of the warmth and joy in a lot of marriages, this simple practice can actually protect you against any type of abuse.

Here's why. When you assume love, you try to explain how a loving person might come to treat you as you have just been treated. If you just act as if what happened was a loving act, even though it felt awful, you do not assume love; you pretend love. When you look for explanations as if you are confident of your mate's love, you assume love.

Emotional or Physical Abuse

Now, imagine you have just been treated abusively. Your mate has done something to you that he or she or even a kind-hearted stranger would defend you from if a stranger did it. You have been hit, threatened, belittled in a way that cuts you down, yelled at viciously, or told you must comply with an unreasonable request to prevent your spouse from leaving or commiting suicide.

These are not loving acts. There is only one explanation for a loving person treating his or her beloved in such a manner. That one explanation is that your partner has no ability to act as he or she intends to act. Your spouse has lost or perhaps never gained control over his or her actions when frustrated, angry, drunk, drugged, or unhappy.

Intentional or Not

If you have been treated in a manner that a stranger could not get away with if you had any caring friends or an in-control spouse present, and you assume love, this is the only explanation that could explain what's happening. And you most likely know your mate well enough to know if this is a lack of control or intentional cruelty.

If it is intentional cruelty, there is no marriage left to save. Find a safe exit route and get out.

But if it is a lack of control, whether due to drinking, drugs, a mental illness, an abusive childhood, or simply a lack of skill at handling emotional stress, it is a lack of control. Being a quieter or more compliant spouse won't fix it. Accepting an apology tomorrow won't fix it. Yelling or hitting back won't fix it.

You Cannot Fix This

The only thing that will fix it is if your mate gains or regains the ability to do the loving things he or she intends to do, whether by taking a class, going to therapy, getting sober, finding a spiritual mentor, or going through rehab.

This is going to take some guts. In the meantime, hurting someone he or she intends to love leaves your mate a choice of shame or blame, feeling ashamed or blaming you for his or her unreasonable behavior. Either shame or blame does great harm to your relationship.

You Can Protect Your Relationship

Since by definition your mate has no control over hurting you, the only way to avoid shame and blame until your spouse finds the guts to get help and make a change is for you to make it a lot harder for your mate to hurt you.

This may mean moving apart for a while. It may mean having someone else move in with the two of you. In the case of a brain tumor or dementia causing the loss of control, it may mean hiring someone else to provide care instead of you.

As the only one with any control over what happens until your spouse finds the courage to change the underlying cause, it falls on you to act or to watch your love and respect for your partner drain away.

Book Recommendation

And this is where Beverly Engel's book is a huge help for anyone experiencing emotional abuse. She offers lots of specific advice for the abused and, if the abuser is ready to change, for the abuser.

The Emotionally Abusive Relationship: How to Stop Being Abused and How to Stop Abusing by Beverly Engel. Wiley, 2003.
[Note: This is an Amazon Affiliate link, which means they pay me a very small sum for suggesting you buy from them.]

August 26, 2010

How Couples Survive Infidelity

A great quote from Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, in her article After the Storm in the Psychotherapy Networker about which marriages survive and which don't after she helps them get beyond an act of infidelity.

When we seek the gaze of another, it isn't always our partner we're turning away from, but the person we ourselves have become. We're seeking not another partner, but another self. Couples who reinvent themselves can bring this other self into their existing relationship.

Love it! What a goal! If we recognize this in time, we could skip the cheating and reap the benefits without all the pain.

June 11, 2010

Husbands Who Cheat

Husbands who cheat — and wives who cheat — cause great harm for selfish reasons. A lot of them have made the news recently, in part because our strong reactions to such news help pull in viewers and readers.

Why do we have such strong reactions? Whether we want to see the harm avenged, can't abide public scrutiny of any private relationship, or don't believe such a commonplace act of selfishness warrants attention, almost all of us react with alarm to news of cheating spouses.

Maybe we react because of the clarity. Being unfaithful violates most folks' rules for a good marriage. Only two questions remain: what will be the penalty and who will impose it?

The rest of the time, the line between a good marriage and a failing one gets lost in the details. Fighting? Might be bad, but could be nothing serious if the ratio of positive to negative interactions exceeds 5 to 1. Avoiding fights? Might be good, could be bad if it prevents emotional intimacy or builds resentment.

Self-improvement or education? Could be great, might be the start of one partner looking down on the other. Self-sacrifice? Might cut off avenues for receiving love even more than it creates avenues for giving it.

We like cheating, because we know where things stand. We know who's guilty and who's injured. It would be unkind and unfair to bring up what happened leading up to the big transgression. No accumulation of small damages justifies this huge one.

So, we pay attention to the cheaters. And we allow ourselves to become smug in our partners' and our own faithfulness. If we're not actually enjoying the marriage, we assume there will be plenty of time to fix this, as long as neither of us steps out and cheats.

And then a well-known couple like Al and Tipper Gore, married more than 40 years, obviously in love with each other very recently, with none of the money problems the rest of us deal with, calls it quits.

It makes us so uncomfortable we have to speculate if they are lying about their fidelity.

October 12, 2009

Tell Your Infidelity Story

Received this request from True Entertainment via the Smart Marriages newsletter today.

Infidelity is among the most delicate and difficult experiences a couple faces. Yet, while statistics show that more than 50% of all adults have cheated on their partners, it is still a very isolating experience.

True Entertainment, an Emmy Award winning production company who has produced TV documentaries for Discovery, The History Channel, ABC, Lifetime,TLC and many other networks, is producing an insightful exploration of infidelity and its effects on a relationship, family, loved ones and friends. This documentary-style show will take a comprehensive look at cheating, with the goal of understanding the nature of infidelity, as well as providing hope to viewers who are experiencing it in their own lives.

We are looking for couples who are willing to share their stories with our viewers whether they have found their way back to each other or ended up ending the relationship.

We are also looking to include the point of view of anyone who was vital in the couples journey (therapist, marriage educators, family or friends).

If you know anyone who might be willing to participate or you would like any further information, please contact Michele Friedman at friedman@trueeentertainment.net. Our deadline is Friday, October 23rd.

May 2, 2008

Is My Husband (or Wife) Cheating on Me?

While driving in New Jersey a while back, I listened to a radio talk show about relationships. The topic of the day was whether we have the right to read our spouse's mail and email and check his or her cell phone text messages and call logs.

No matter which answer callers gave, the question itself, and their eagerness to engage it, disturbed me. A better question would be whether we stand to gain or lose by checking up on a spouse.

When we marry, we take a big risk, in exchange for an even bigger payoff. This question recognizes the risk. A spouse who steps out on us could bring home a deadly disease or destroy his or her career through scandal. An affair might result in the birth of a child or the death of our marriage.

We can reduce the risk by leaving our spouse no privacy. But we can't protect the payoff, the love we need in our lives, the feeling of being special to another human being, the support for our mission in life. Suspiciousness pushes all this away. We can't receive love and look for harm simultaneously. We can't distrust and feel love at the same time.

Whether we have the right to behave this way or not, by checking up on phone calls and email, we choose to give up the payoff that justifies the risk. We choose to lose.

A much better approach to dealing with our fear is to Assume Love and Find Third Alternatives.

March 19, 2008

David and Michelle Paige Paterson: What We Can Learn from their Admissions

NY Governor David Paterson and his wife made some tough public admissions of infidelity as he starts his service as governor of the state where Eliot Spitzer just stepped down.

“I betrayed a commitment to my wife several years ago...both of us committed acts of infidelity.” It's an awful thing to confess to, and many cannot understand how a decent man or woman could be unfaithful or how a marriage survives such a violation.

I think Governor Paterson explains it pretty well: “The fact is for my own action, I was angry, I was jealous and I exercised poor judgment. One day I realized it and I just decided I would go to counseling.”

He's on the same page I was in my post on Eliot Spitzer:

We don't suddenly fail at the moment when we cheat on our spouses or hit them; we fail every time we choose to tolerate our own resentment, anger, or disappointment about our marriages, because this is when we create the conditions for monumentally bad judgment.

Resentment isn't the antithesis of love. In fact, we probably resent because we love. Paterson acknowledged this when he said, “I was in love with Michelle even when I knew the marriage was in grave danger.”

Eventually, though, resentment will snuff out love and leave us only with the commitment we made to the person, a tough spot for any man or woman of good character. Best not to go there, not to let resentment or anger simmer without coming back to love. Assume love and look for a different explanation, then a Third Alternative for getting what you both need, instead of aiming to get even for an unfair, hurtful action.

Some argue the high rates of infidelity in marriage--higher than the rate of divorce--argues against even aiming for monogamy. I see them instead as evidence we can and do learn from our mistakes and recognize the value of love and marriage in our lives.

Bravo to David and Michelle Paige Paterson for a good recovery from whatever resentment began their marriage problems and for revealing their past mistakes so we might see couples do recover from affairs and learn from them.

March 12, 2008

Eliot Spitzer: What Can We Learn from His Downfall?

Politicians can wield a great deal of public power, but it is often how they conduct their personal relationships that takes it all away in an instant.

People are human. They make really foolish mistakes, especially when it comes to feeding their very human desires for love, respect, intimacy, and sex, mistakes almost as shocking to them as to the rest of us.

The preventative medicine is not fear of consequences. Eliot Spitzer knew better than almost anyone the consequences, and he allegedly compounded his risk by engaging in felony crimes to cover his tracks to avoid those consequences. The real preventative medicine for these career- and family-crushing mistakes is a marriage we fully enjoy. And, except in extreme cases, such a marriage is available regardless of whom we married, as this blog tries to show.

We don't suddenly fail at the moment when we cheat on our spouses or hit them; we fail every time we choose to tolerate our own resentment, anger, or disappointment about our marriages, because this is when we create the conditions for monumentally bad judgment.

October 23, 2007

Save $300 and Your Marriage

Here's a terrific offer in my inbox tonight for everyone who has been walking on eggshells in their marriage, feeling resentful toward their mate, or getting out-of-control angry at them. It comes from one of my favorite newsletters, Smart Marriages.

Steven Stosny is trying an experiment to make his highly-regarded Boot Camp, featured on Oprah and in many other national media, available at a substantially reduced cost. He is experimenting to see if he can fill it without having to pay for advertising, which would mean he could offer this invaluable program for 40% lower than his usual fee.

While I haven't been to a Boot Camp yet, I've read Stosny's book about them (You Don't Have to Take It Anymore) and heard him present his remarkable success story with this program. He's saving marriages most people wouldn't think could be saved.

The Boot Camp takes place November 30 through December 2, 2007, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. That's in the Washington, DC area. The $300 discount is available only through November 4, by calling (301) 528-7067 or registering online at www.compassionpower.com.

This is not anger management training or a class for shaming abusers. It's real help for those who want to stop hurting their spouses, whether physically or emotionally, and for those who have been walking on eggshells around them. Expect to learn how to replace resentment, anger, and jealousy with compassion and love.

Read my earlier review of Stosny's book.

April 11, 2006

You Don't Have to Take It Anymore

I've just finished reading You Don't Have to Take It Anymore: Turn Your Resentful, Angry, or Emotionally Abusive Relationship into a Compassionate, Loving One by Steven Stosny, PhD. What a great resource for anyone in a marriage where they are walking on eggshells!

Stosny, a psychologist who runs programs for abusive men, credits his abused mother for suggesting the core of his program. He identifies resentment as the problem and compassion as the solution.

Continue reading "You Don't Have to Take It Anymore" »

February 25, 2006

Assume Love from an Abuser?

When your spouse has just struck you or threatened to take a knife to you while you sleep, can you Assume Love? Absolutely. But you want to be very careful not to pretend love. You Assume Love to check whether it's possible this act could happen if you are still loved.

Sometimes the answer's no. If there's no intention to protect you from harm or threat of harm, there's no love. Love requires that intention. So, you check for intention. Does your spouse apologize or try to repair the relationship? If this isn't the first time, has your spouse made a real effort at self-control since the last time? Would your spouse protect you from a guest in your home doing the same thing? If not, seek protection from this person immediately.

Most times the answer's yes. Something interfered with your spouse's self-control -- alcohol, drugs, brain damage, a brain tumors, dementia, or never having learned the skill of managing anger or frustration. The love was there, but your spouse responded to anger or frustration like a two-year-old with an adult's strength, unable to control his or her actions. Don't just kiss and make up.

Continue reading "Assume Love from an Abuser?" »

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

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