The Hard Work of Marriage?


Lots of folks say a good marriage requires a lot of hard work. I disagree.
The hard work comes in when we struggle to provide a spouse with more love by stretching our abilitiies at loving and going beyond what we feel like giving. I applaud the effort, and it’s saved lots of marriages, but I think there’s an easier route.
Those newly in love also stretch to do more, learn new ways to love, find a few extra hours a week to outdo themselves at loving, but they never describe it as hard work. What’s the difference?

The difference is the flip side of love, our ability to be loved. We’re not open vessels, into which our beloved can pour the sweet elixir of love. No, some of us have very narrow openings. Some have a bottomless vessel that never registers as even half-full. Others offer a moving target.
Loving more is hard work when we feel unloved. When we feel loved, though, it’s a joy, almost a compulsion. And when we feel loved, we don’t keep score, like we do when it feels like hard work.
We can learn to open wide and drink love in, to lean in and catch every precious drop. We can get better at being loved. And one very easy way to do that is to assume love.
Save your hard work for something else, like pursuing a dream together.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • Dear Patty,
    Thank you for this very helpful post. It really got me thinking about how much responsibility I take to make myself happy. This weekend, I was in the company of a person who did a ton of complaining and found the negative side of everything. I noticed that I was beginning to also get very angry and frustrated by listening to her. Her bitterness was beginnng to affect the way that I thought about my marriage. I started to look at my husband and think you’re not perfect and this is what you need to do to change. That is truly stinking thinking in my book but I was falling victim to it until I read this post.
    You are so right. It is much easier to sit back and point the finger of blame elsewhere as opposed to stepping up to the plate and making yourself accountable for keeping your happiness quotient up.
    As a Certified Energy coach, I focus on working with women who are emotional eaters and teach them how to lose weight without dieting.
    In doing that, I often see many parallels with women who claim to eat because their husbands sabotage them or push them to the point of a binge.
    It seems to me that what you are proposing is for the individual to become aware of what they need and begin to fulfill those needs from within rather than seeking to find the answer from an outside source like another person or a substance, like food.
    As a woman who has been married for over 17 years, I’ve realized that I am happiest when I treat love like a verb. Rather than just sitting around and expecting my husband to make me happy, I find that our relationship flourishes when I act on my love for him. When I take time to show him I care by doing little things or telling him how much I appreciate him for so many things, then I know that I am in the right place in myself. It feels good to notice what I like and to share that with my husband.
    The law of attraction applies. I find that if I pay attention to the things that he does that I really appreciate and I mention them, all of a sudden those blessings will seem to multiply.
    Instead of criticizing him and putting him down, I know that it benefits our marriage when we both find the good in each other and share those insights.
    Thank you for reminding me of this. Your wisdom is very timely and deeply appreciated.

  • Thank you, Andrea. You are so right — there are two sides to loving, how we give it and how we receive it. Paying attention to the love we’re offered is an often-overlooked part of marriage.
    I’ve fallen into the trap you mention of using food to dull my needs, instead of finding ways to meet them. It never works, because the need’s still there and the food offers no more than a couple of hours of comfort. When my husband offers tempting foods, I have to stop and assume love, because I see it initially as diet sabotage, instead of the comfort he intends it to be.

  • Patty – I’m crying as I read your words and the many posts of your readers.
    I am 35, have never been married and live with fear that I never will, or that I will ruin it if ever I am married.
    My last relationship just ended. Partly due to the fact that he does not want to marry or have children. But beyond that, it would have ended anyway because I was guilty of many of the errors you mention.
    I did not Assume Love. He is a good man – very loving and affectionate – but imperfect of course. I constantly pointed out his “mistakes”, his failure at meeting my needs. I belittled him in front of others, I complained, I was angry, I felt lonely, I pushed him away, I couldn’t seem to get any perspective and look at things from another angle.
    I knew we were making things worse every day. We fought like children, we cursed each other. But even now, I know he loves me. But I don’t trust it. I don’t feel worthy of his love. I feel like a horrible person, a terrible girlfriend, a woman who will probably make a bad wife… unless I “meet the right person”. I have long wished for my “fantasy husband” because somehow HE will bring out the good in me and resolve my issues.
    Of course, this makes no sense. I need to dig deep to resolve my own anger, distrust and my constant need to criticize and judge. Where does that come from?
    The relationship in question will probably never be more than friendship now since we want different things. And now that it’s no longer a “relationship”, I can see things more clearly. I hope to continue learning through my friendship with him. I am so thankful to Barbara Sher’s newsletter that I found you today. Your work is EXACTLY what I need right now to move forward with hope and to someday be happily married.
    It helps so much to be able to admit my shame, and to know I am not the only woman out there who fails to respect her man and accept his love. I felt that I had no one to admit this too, until today.
    I look forward to learning more by following your posts and I look forward to your book.

  • Heather, thank you so much for your story. You are right — fantasy husbands are in short supply. If you found one, you might foolishly conclude that’s the only route to a great marriage and spend your life in fear of losing him.
    Fortunately, you have a lot of say in how your marriage goes. Criticizing and judging are signs of our fears. When we close ourselves off to receiving love, we can’t possibly give enough love to get back the love we need. So we start giving directions to the person who is trying to love us.
    That’s the hard way. Sort of like telling someone how to give us a good massage while refusing to take off that overcoat.
    However, I don’t want you to trust too much before you’re married. That’s the time to be skeptical.
    Finding out whether you both want kids is exactly what you should be doing. Finding out whether the person you’re dating wants a life partner, whether he wants to be your husband — this is critical.
    You should also be evaluating a man’s character — is he especially courageous, industrious, persistent, creative, wise, spiritual, playful, generous, kind, curious about the world, a good leader, a good citizen? If you can’t list at least four or five ways he outshines most folks, or if the one or two that really matter to you aren’t on the list, you’ll have a harder time assuming love for the rest of your lives.
    And if that’s the case, please don’t try to fix him — just keep looking. When you find one, wait to hitch your wagon to his team until he lets you know he intends to love you for the rest of your life. If that’s your intention, too, relax.
    Eight out of ten college grads like you (I saw that impressive Fordham BA on your website) never divorce their first husband or wife. Think they all found (or badgered into existence) a perfect mate?
    If you use the tool of assuming love when your fears come to visit, you’ll open up to his love and receive all that he gives. The more love you receive, the more he’s likely to give. Now, please save this powerful knowledge until you meet a real candidate for the rest of your life.

  • Patty, you are so right that when we feel loved, it is easy to be loving. Almost all the things that get labeled “hard work” in a marriage are things that we do naturally and eagerly in the honeymoon stage. We take delight in pleasing our partners, and making them happy makes us happy. If we really take time to remember the past and start re-applying that attitude to the present, it can make a huge difference.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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