Thursday, November 12, 2015

Foreign Languages

I used to write quite a bit about issues in our marriage. Stepping back from this topic had very much to do with protecting myself from the vulnerability of exposing these deeply held, delicate feelings to the world's entirety of internet-abled humans. It is hard to post a really honest raw post about an issue and get a rude anonymous comment or even a smug non-anonymous comment from someone who just doesn't get it.

But I know a lot of you do get it. And your varied experience and insight is one of the main reasons I'm still here writing, so I'm going to step back out on the ledge. Also, things aren't going so well, and I've been thinking about & researching (but of course! that's what I do!) this topic and need to work out some thoughts.

First of all, its really hard if not impossible to find any kind of marriage-related advice or information without falling immediately into a snake pit of "family values" propaganda, "Jesus is the third person in your marriage" and the answer to your problem is to pray on it and ooh here's an applicable proverb. And that's the best case scenario, where there is no mention of wife serving husband, etc... Its sometimes just too difficult to "read around" the heavy-handed Christian focus to find the actual useful information*.

Thankfully I did find some blogs & websites that were more Christian-lite with a healthy dose of feminism, and in reading about common issues in marriages and tools for working through them, I'm pretty sure I'm getting closer to the root of our problems.

Pretty much anything written recently about marriage can be traced back to the Gottmans---the psychologists who created the concept of "love languages" and tells you that rolling your eyes at your spouse puts you on the fast track to divorce. I've taken the Love Language quiz before, was not surprised at the outcome, and worked on trying to get more of what I thought I needed: Quality Time. We set aside time a couple of nights a week to hang out together, talk, play games, watch a movie or do a puzzle**.

And yet, I still didn't feel like I was getting what I really needed from my marriage. I mean, doing puzzles is fun! But I do puzzles with my 5 year old and its equally fun. I get just as much (if not way more, because I alone chose the content) enjoyment watching TV on my own as I do watching a movie with my husband (I really don't find "watching things" to really be "quality time" anyways, but he is always wanting me to watch movies with him so I have started to say yes more often).

Anyways, we've been fighting about various things, and I took again to the internet and I found a blog written by a married couple with 3 kids and they were major Gottman devotees and dissected all his research throughout their posts. And I read about their love languages and the ways they tried to "speak" each others' preferred language and I went back and took the test and...

I filled it out honestly this time, and I got very different and surprising answers. See, the first time, I was filling it out the way I thought I "should". I thought that what I wanted was more time, so I filled it out to reflect that. I don't really want more TIME. Time is great, but we're sort of short on time in this season of life, and sometimes I'm just tired and I want to get more sleep.

I was not expecting my love languages to actually be: gifts, and words of affirmation (in equal measures), followed closely by physical affection. I suspect I purposefully did NOT pick any of the "gift" answers because it sounds so shallow & materialist. It wasn't until I read that post where the husband talks about hand-written notes his wife left him as "gifts" that it clicked. I'm not a big fan of material gifts but I do like tangible reminders that my husband is thinking of me. I kept for years a post-it G put in my lunchbox just saying "I love you, have a good day" during a rough time at work. I keep forever the cards he was written heartfelt messages in. I also would really love a thoughtful (not generic!) present every once in a while---though I don't want him to feel obligated to buy me anything for a certain occasion, and we do not do birthday/anniversary/holiday gifts as a rule. Gifts can be obligations, but when given freely they can also be looked at & used again & again to re-create that warm, fuzzy, surrounded by love feeling.

Words of affirmation were another one I think I initially avoided because it sounded "cheesy". I definitely do NOT want wrought out declarations of love, nor would I be able to keep a straight face should my husband start spouting love sonnets! But you know what would be nice, particularly as I find myself in a career where I am constantly bombarded by criticisms and self-doubt, kids that never fail to bring up that I'm "mean" or "stinky" or hated, and the daily affront of the mirror showing me that I really don't look anything like I imagine myself in my head anymore? Real genuine compliments & validation that something about me is special, lovable, and worthy. I so do NOT get this. For years we had a lot of fights about G being too critical, and to his credit he has toned that down a LOT. But I can't remember ever hearing a specific compliment about any aspect of my actions, person, or personality other than an occasional "oh you look nice today" or "good job getting all those chores done".

Physical affection, well, what can we say about that. Its hard when two people have vastly different needs in this realm, and its not something you can force.  

So, yay! I know what I need. The hard part is figuring out how to get it. It is pretty easy to ask someone for more time together. How do you, really, without sounding like a demanding needy a&shole, ask for gifts and compliments? And how can I get HIM to take this quiz and answer it honestly (I've tried to bring it up, he just...seems to be ALLERGIC to stuff like this)***.

Oh and just for the record****.

*yes, yes, I know you are perfect and can navigate any relationship naturally and easily and if you need to "research" having a happy marriage clearly there is something wrong with you/your spouse, or, most likely both of you. This post is not for you

**in retrospect, what helped these things happen is a great period of months with easy kid bedtimes, no major work deadlines, and unbroken sleep.

 ***don't say counseling. his allergy to THAT is beyond epi-pen level. (long time readers may remember a disastrous attempt at couples counseling 2-3 years ago). Plus OMG with my own therapy  and B's behavioral therapy I really don't have the bandwidth for that right now!

****No seriously if your marriage is perfect and you can't relate, I'm happy for you & you can go cuddle with your spouse, you don't need to comment to tell me that!


  1. I regularly demand "words of affirmation" from my husband (especially when I've had a bad day), and he is happy to oblige ("Tell me that you love me," "tell me why you love me" are my go-tos). I occasionally demand that he "do something romantic" and that takes longer, but he generally follows through with something wonderful. I do not think there is *any* problem asking for these things. Spouses are wonderful, but they *are not mindreaders*. If we have needs and wants, we need to ask for them! Realizing that that was ok and that it was ridiculous to want DH to read my mind and do something romantic (which we probably figured out from reading it somewhere, probably on some 1990s precursor to buzzfeed) made a huge difference in our relationship (which is perfect... but maybe it's perfect because we're totally ok with doing things like being demanding needy a&sholes?)

    Re: physical stuff, that's an entire TMI post (with triggers for infertility/pregnancy loss/etc., and also why I didn't go back on BCP after pregnancy), but there the trick was him not pressuring and not being disappointed and me realizing that it was ok to not be pressured or disappointing, which took the pressure off and ironically led to more intimacy.

    So I dunno... I've been with the same guy since I was 16. The stuff you're talking about, we've been through, but with lots of communication and trust we honestly do have a perfect wonderful marriage that seems natural and easy. I mean, I even make him take stupid internet quizzes sometimes which I know he thinks is silly (though I haven't in a long time) because I love him and always want to get to know him better, and they are silly, but they're still fun.

    I guess my bottom line is that if you keep working on trust and communication, you too can eventually be irritating in other people's comment sections. :)

    1. way my husband would respond positively to an out of the blue request for "why do you love me" or "do something romantic". I just don't think he'd get why I was asking for that stuff suddenly. I think we have to start at the basic issue that people express& receive love differently. He is really stuck in the "acts of service" way of expressing love which honestly to me is more of an expectation (yes you are going to do your share of the chores, and if I'm sick or on call, yes you will take over mine) doesn't make me feel SPECIAL though. We've tried this conversation many times, but I'm not sure how to convey it clearly

    2. All I got is do more talking like you suggest. Honestly, I am *sure* DH and I had these discussions back when he was DBF. But they were probably ~15 years go.

      Since your DH sees acts of service as a way of showing love, would he also respond well to verbal appreciation for doing them? My husband does-- me (or anyone, really-- he's not that picky) verbally appreciating the work he does makes him feel loved.

    3. I'm really good at expressing appreciation/gratitude when he does things. I do not take it for granted, even though its sort of expected. I compliment his cooking, thank him for doing any tasks or home repairs, am very appreciate when he does things in "my realm" like laundry & making kids lunches...and I always do it in front of the kids so they understand that these aren't things they should take for granted either.

  2. anonymous for this oneNovember 12, 2015 at 4:20 PM

    Oh, this one hits close to home. My husband is a good husband and father, objectively he does his share of child care and house work and he takes care of the kids on his own when I travel. So I don't have serious reasons to be grouchy at him. I just feel so disconnected from him, and the worst part is that I don't particularly care that I am. In all honesty, if there were a way to not be married right now that didn't involve a huge upheaval in everyone's lives and that wouldn't fuck up my kids forever, I would totally go for it. My deepest darkest secret is that I don't want to be married. I love my kids and I am fond of my husband, but I generally just want to be left the fuck alone. The kids and my job demand a lot of me, and that's about all I can and care to give. I feel that the husband also is just another person who wants something from me, and I just don't have anything to give. As for sex, I have no interest in sex with him, but I do it on occasion. I could do it more often if he didn't insist that we only did it when I was in the mood (which is never); I can't tell him that I have no interest in him, or anyone else, and am perfectly happy just getting myself off, which I do fairly regularly.

    I don't know what happened with us. Somewhere something broke. We had sex no n-stop when we met and were first married. No, I couldn't care less. I think I am getting more and more inward focused overall. I have duties to others, but what I want is just to be left alone to do my thing, maybe because there is so little time for me. Taking care of husband's emotional and physical needs seems like another obligation that I have to fulfill, similar to needing to feed the kids.

    I sometimes use him as a sounding board for interpersonal conflicts at work, but for the most part he doesn't care about what I do and generally wants me to work less and devote myself more to family. I personally want to work more, because work is fulfilling, and I dread spending time on family activities. I love spending time with kids, but whenever he's involved with me and kids, he annoys me. Any requests to share something nice or asking for affirmation are annoying for him, because he doesn't understand why I need them.

    I also wish we entertained more, but he doesn't like most people. I would have people over much more if it weren't for him.

    And the big pink elephant in the room: I did leave him years ago; I was convinced he didn't love him so I found someone who did and I had an affair. It was sordid as these things always are. But we reconciled and had more kids thereafter, but things were never the same. I am committed to staying with him, in part because I owe it to him for the past heart-ache and because he's a good dad and a good roommate. He supports my work, which is more than I can say for many husbands, and he's a good and attentive dad.

    I know what I wrote sounds gloomy and crappy, and it probably is, but I suppose it could be worse. I certainly don't want to be married to anyone else. Just want to be left alone if possible. It may be that I am the monster here and he's the poor soul trapped in a crappy marriage to a monster. But we do have fun sometimes, we have compatible tastes in movies, books, humor, etc. I do feel sometimes that I am not fair to him and that he deserves so much better. I have no intention of bringing any of it up, and neither does he. We'll stay together, bored and disconnected, into old age. But together, I suppose...

    I bet you feel better about your marriage now, don't you? ;-)

    1. Thanks for sharing. And no, this doesn't actually make me feel better about my marriage (I know you were joking about that!)...I can see a version of this as a potential future, except I don't love working nor do I find complete fulfillment from it...I don't want to end up in this stage of roommates. I DO want to be married, but my idea of what it means to be married isn't meshing with my reality.
      Your summary of your story raises a lot of questions in my head, none of which you need to answer, of course, but what does he think of this? have you NEVER discussed it? Could it be that he is just as "meh" as you are vs. being "trapped in a crappy marriage"? would you separate when the kids are grown if you still feel this way? Do you think your "not caring" about being disconnected is a defense mechanism so that the loneliness/sadness don't overwhelm you?

    2. anonymous for this oneNovember 12, 2015 at 9:34 PM

      defense mechanism so that the loneliness/sadness don't overwhelm you
      Oh, definitely. But I also think that maybe I am just not made for relationships. I need a lot of space. I remember the guy I dated for 8 years before I met my husband; I loved that guy so much for a few years at the beginning, but by the end I was sick of him, I felt suffocated, and couldn't wait to get out, so I put an ocean between us. Seems like I am treating my husband the same.
      As for discussing it, I feel like I have no right to rock the boat unless I am going to completely flip it over; I feel that I wronged him so with the affair that basically I have no right to inflict pain on him any more unless I am ready to amputate, or something. I can't go say "I am not happy, I don't love you" because there is no going back from that, and I suppose I am not ready to pull the plug.
      He's a simple dude. If we had sex more and I cleaned the house more, I think he'd be completely content. I don't think he knows the awful things I think about, and it's for the best, because if he did there would be no turning back.

      But I do appreciate the freedom, I do my thing, he does his thing.

      As for the comments below that husbands don't read links, mine reads some things and doesn't others, so there are links I don't send him at all; those I think would interest him he will read, but many that interest me he won't, so I don't even bother. He does get upset if I don't read something he sent, so I make sure I do or he pouts; granted, he doesn't bug me much with links. He does buy me presents I find often stupid and intrusive: e.g. just got me a woolen scarf, and I never wear scarves; now if I don't wear it he'll be upset that I never wear what he buys me, although he should know by now that I am a pain in the butt to shop for and he should not do it.
      (I do seem like a jerk, don't I?)
      Anyway, sorry to hijack your thread.
      I know that if I got divorced, I would never attempt to get married again. I have absolutely no intention of ever again having to mold my life to someone else's. I am definitely too old for that and have zero romance left in me.

    3. Not highjacking at all, I find your perspective really interesting in this discussion. There are so many things related to marriage that never get discussed at all (for obvious reasons). Just like not everyone wants or loves parenting, not everyone really wants or enjoys marriage, I guess.

    4. anonymous for this oneNovember 13, 2015 at 10:51 AM

      Thanks! Three more, very specific things (two are even positive):

      1) Throughout all this I have been thanking my lucky stars that I have a well-paying job that I love, so from the economic standpoint I can walk away at any point. Too many women stay in subpar marriages because they have given up their earning potential.

      2) I adore my kids. The love I have for them is nothing that I could have imagined based on my previous experiences loving parents, friends, or men. While I have loved men, often with wild abandon, it has always ended up underwhelming, disappointing, and something I want out of (i.e., I am too immature for long term relationships and don't want to put in the work or whatever). But with kids, it's different. I don't mind the work. The love is absolutely unconditional and I could not have imagined it had I not lived it. My kids are perfect and wonderful, and I think I am a good mom, even if I am far from a perfect wife.

      3) After the affair, husband and I tried counseling, but it didn't go well. The joint counselor was so obviously on my husband's side and against me, recommended all these books for "healing" where the focus is on one partner being hurt and the other unfaithful, i.e., "healing" while never losing sight of who the bad guy is (me); I figured I didn't have to pay to get crapped on, I can get it for free at home.
      So we went to separate counselors, and the one I started seeing then was lovely and positive and recommended a very nice, uplifting book (my edition is older): Iris Krasnov's Surrendering to Marriage: Husbands, Wives, and Other Imperfections. I liked it at the time, maybe I should reread it. Sometimes I feel we expectations of marriage that are too high.

    5. #1: YES. My mother always went on about how my sister & I should be able to "stand on our own two feet" no matter what happened & I took that to heart (my parents marriage was happy, but there are some terrible stories in our extended family).
      #2 D'awww! So sweet. I'm sure you are a terrific mother, your love for them comes through the page.
      #3 Yes, I can see how that type of counseling is not helpful. And really, while I'm not condoning cheating, it almost always seems to me a sign of something else, and if you are not addressing that "something else" in addition to the "healing" of the cheated-on partner, I can't imagine it helping the marriage long term. The title of that book is sort of a turn off (the idea of "surrendering" to marriage is a very religious concept) but I'll check it out, based on your recommendation!

  3. The love languages thing is useful but also tricky. For me, part of it is the feeling that I'm supposed to pick ONE. Quality time is my #1, but the others certainly help. It took me awhile to realize that physical intimacy is a big one for me, because I (like many women) initially interpreted that language to mean sex. But more casual touches are huge for me.

    And as far as asking for what you want, like Nicole&Maggie mentioned- I try to remind myself that if K didn't love me, he would not indulge those requests. When I ask, and he complies, it's because he genuinely wants to make me happy. It's still awkward to ask, but that helps. The one thing he WILL NOT do is to tell me WHY he loves me. I don't know why. I think it's hard for him to articulate, or he feels that it should be some indescribable feeling.

    Anyway, as you probably know, our marriage is pretty turbulent, with lots of rough spots. I couldn't do it without friends and my therapist to talk to! But overall, I feel like we're getting better with time, and we love each other a lot. So.

    1. I guess this is the crux of my problem: you say" if K didn't love me, he would not indulge those requests". So what should I think if my husband doesn't indulge those requests? That he doesn't love me? I'm more inclined to think he just doesn't GET why I'm asking/why its important---and when there are so many things on each of our plates, I sort of understand that if he doesn't see it as important/understand why its important, it falls to the bottom of the list

    2. And I'll admit I can only be this forgiving in abstract, when I'm seeing it from a distance. In the moment it is very "if he loved me, he'd do this for me"

    3. I think you're right - he doesn't get why it's important to you. And at the same time, sometimes it can feel (at least in my marriage) like you/I are saying the same thing over and over again, and how could he possibly not get it???? And then sometimes, something does click, and I'm thinking - why did you not get it the first 1,000,000 times I said it?!?

      Sorry, that's not advice. :)

    4. exactly---it really is like you are speaking different languages (which I know you two quite literally do!)

  4. I have tried the love languages quiz, but I haven't even asked my husband to do it. I find that every time I ask him to read something, etc that is important to me so we can discuss it, he just doesn't bother. And that upsets me, and makes me feel like I'm not valued. And we are rather disconnected as well- we have been for a long time. It scares me half to death, because even though I feel so alone much of the time, I look at him and just love him so deeply that it would kill me if we split up. Sigh... this marriage stuff is really tough.

    Not a helpful comment, but just know that you're not alone.

    1. YES to your first sentence. This is exactly it. He never reads ANYTHING I ask him to, about marriage or parenting or finances or...anything that is important to me. Yet he is constantly reading SOMETHING on the internet, so he can't say he's "too busy"

    2. Wow, I feel like I could have written that part about the husband not reading things you ask him to and you feeling devalued. That happens all the time in my house. All. The. Time. It has created some deep cracks in our marriage.

    3. My husband would never read articles either. I don't even try. But then, he's not much of a reader anyway. I don't take it personally, although sometimes I do wish he were more like me. It's just one more way that we're so different.

  5. I very much empathize with needing/wanting different things in a relationship. I want to advocate for asking directly because it took my husband months to work up the courage for one of those conversations, and it took a few tries, but it eventually lead to some real improvements for us. The example that comes to mind also wasn't a trade, he wanted something and I worked on it.

    My husband really wanted more incidental physical affection. I agreed, tried, and things were a little better. We had another conversation when he specifically said that he wanted me to kiss him goodbye if I left in the morning before he woke up. This level of detail helped me realize how different we are in this area. I do NOT want to be woken up. I still think he is crazy and needed positive reinforcement to keep doing it. But now it's not an issue and is becoming a habit. It wasn't "natural" but that hasn't really mattered.

    So I vote for going for it. Ask for what you want, as directly as possible. And it doesn't need to be a trade. For me it was pretty satisfying to know exactly what he wanted and be able to do that.

    1. thanks for this sarah. I think the direct & specific ask as well as the positive reinforcement is key. Its true, that if he asked for something (especially something that didn't take a whole lot of effort on my part!) that made him happier, it would be super-satisfying for me to be able to do that for him. I have to give him the benefit of the doubt that he would feel the same way about doing something for me. The hard part is thinking of how to be as specific as possible about my requests; to be honest, I'm still trying to figure out a specific type of gift/affirmation that would be easy for him to do and satisfy my needs for that

    2. Sometimes if my DH hesitates too long (which he says can happen if the question seems really important and he doesn't want to get it wrong) I will say something like, "acceptable answers include: my wit, my charm, my intelligence ..." And then he has a much better idea of what I want to hear.

  6. I can relate to many aspects of this post. My marriage is hard and has many, many moments of extreme disappointment. I read all of those posts about people talking about how close they are to their husband all of the time, how they talk about absolutely everything, how they are all about their weekly date night and morning kisses they would never forget and I am like we must not inhabit the same world.

    Sometimes I think that we just expect too much from marriages and our partners. I don't know if in generations past people expected as much fulfillment from their spouse as we do now (of course, I also don't know if that is a good or bad thing). I've tried to dial back my expectations a lot. He's a good father, a good person and he does care about me. Maybe that just has to be enough right now (for me).

    Whenever the husband and I fight it resolves absolutely nothing. The original issue is still there and now we are just even more enraged after fighting with each other. Then I feel compelled to apologize even when I don't mean it one little bit. Not exactly a picture of the perfect marriage people talk about in their posts.

    I decided one day that, as much as I would like to at times, I can't change my husband. I can only change me and my reaction. My husband is not much into self improvement but I am. So I started by working on me (it's still a work in progress). And since arguments for us resolve nothing ever and only make things worse I decided I would choose not fight with him (unless it was over such a big giant issue it absolutely could not be avoided). I still rage in my head at him but I stopped saying it out loud. I will still sometimes snap at him but shut it down after that first sarcastic angry phrase. I know a lot of people would say I am bottling up my emotions in an unhealthy way (and maybe I am) but it works better for me than having the fight, resolving nothing and then feeling like you need to apologize even when you don't mean it. Our marriage is less strained than before, FWIW. I know this is not for everyone.

    I don't know what the answers are for you but you are not alone in this at all. Best wishes.

    1. I could have written every word of this, thanks for sharing. I think the higher expectations HAVE to be a negative, because the unmet (maybe unreasonable) expectations to result in unhappiness. I also find that fights change nothing & make things worse, so I am working also on trying to bite my tongue. I don't think everything I think needs to be said, if its not going to help anything long term and makes things more stressful for me in the moment, I'm better off bottling it up until I either let it go or decide to discuss it without anger (if possible). Or I'll vent it to someone else or at therapy (or here) to get it out of my system.

  7. One thing that has helped us, is to make it a "family" issue, not a "marriage" issue.
    So, at dinner we each say something we appreciate about every other person at the table. This way, we're involving the kids, and expressing appreciation for each other.
    If it was just the two of us, it would feel weird and forced...

  8. Hey Ana, I read your blog all the time but really never comment. Posts like this are why I like it though - this is real life. It's so tough to say these things and put it out there, so I appreciate that you do, and you totally get people talking.
    So sorry to hear that things are so hard, and also that you feel so alone/like everything on the internet is so unhelpful.
    I don't have any words of wisdom, but I will say the website is probably where I've found the most real/feminist/generally non religious talk about marriage. Yes, the book and website started with wedding planning, but they have a whole marriage section with stuff about kids/work/'wife' and lots of people talking about the rougher parts. Anyways, may not be what you're looking for but thought I'd mention it. Virtual hugs your way!

    1. thanks for reading & commenting and for the website rec. I'll check it out.


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  10. I'm here from Grumpy Rumblings and reading a few posts back and now here I am reading something that's probably none of my business. And offering advice, even though I'm not married. Because I'm older and have thought about this a lot!

    One problem is that we all have certain unspoken ideas of what marriage should be. And some of those things are things we don't even want. But in modern times, we can make marriage be whatever works for us and not just some stereotype or what our parents did. The tough thing is that a lot of these thoughts are almost subconscious and also, our ideas of marriage don't even match, but we don't realize it, because it seems like things should be so obvious.

    There are some things that we all feel we can only get from marriage. Most of us feel this way about things like having sex, kissing, having children, buying a house together. Most people don't feel this way about bowling, going to work, or knitting. So it's important to find out what you and your partner feel you need from the marriage and then work with that. For example, I'd like someone to go ballroom dancing with me, but at the minimum I need someone who lets me dance. With other men. Which involves touching them. And I really want cuddling. Spooning has been a compromise that has worked for that.

    Second, people are unique. We all have things we are good and bad at. We all have some things we are flexible about and inflexible about. Try very hard to be flexible about things you don't care about that the other person does. For example, Astroglide can help women who don't care about sex. And people can get used to having the toilet paper the wrong way. I like the phrase, "please humor me" for helping to ask the other person to do something they really don't want to do. (That's how my mom can get my dad to go to the doctor sometimes.)

    My favorite advice has been called something about the four horsemen, I think. The idea is that if your partner is doing something you hate, it's best to not assume that he's doing it for the thrill of making you miserable. Normally, he's just oblivious. Often he has some good reason you haven't thought of.

    But apparently there are generally some important issues that couples never agree about and you have to figure out a way to deal with those. Like my partner doesn't like to visit my mom, probably because they're both control freaks. But I think I should visit my mom and would like support. I've started visiting her without him sometimes, even though he's not a fan of that either! And varying sloppiness levels! We've had to declare some areas "sacred"!

    As for asking for gifts and compliments--I don't know, those aren't my love language. But I bet you do get these occasionally. So when you do, I recommend thanking him profusely in some way. You can probably figure out some things about his love language by observing and maybe asking, and maybe you can thank him in his love language. Why, yes, I am a psychology major.

    1. PS, Oops, I don't know how I ended up at such an old post. I haven't actually read this far back.

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