The slow and uncertain route to a happy marriage looks like this:
- Do the things a good wife or a good husband should do.
- Make sure your spouse knows what you expect him or her to do.
- Schedule time to talk about your distress when you’re unhappy.
- If things get tense, make sure you protect your assets and your feelings, just in case there’s a divorce.
- Always check whether your friend or therapist agrees that what your mate does to upset you is as unfair as it feels.
- Avoid marital conflict by spending more time with your kids or more time working to support them; if you don’t have any kids, have one now, before the relationship gets any worse.
- See a therapist who can help you reach a good compromise if you disagree about anything important.
A faster route to a happy marriage has three simple steps:
- Assume Love: When something your spouse does upsets you, recall that you married a good person who promised to love you. Take a second look at what happened. Try to figure out why a good person who loves you might do this thing. It will jog your memory, just in case nothing bad (and perhaps even something very good) was intended by it.
- Expect Love: Instead of putting energy into earning your mate’s love, put it into noticing all the loving things he or she does for you daily. Once you see them, you will not need a list of “shoulds” to inspire your own loving acts. And you won’t let another list of “shoulds” keep you from recognizing what a great person you married.
- Find Third Alternatives: Welcome disagreements as a great opportunity. A Third Alternative is at least as satisfying as your original position, but it comes with the extra bonus of delighting the person you love. No need to avoid conflict. No need for heavy, accusatory discussions. Just another chance to discover another way to grow happy. If you involve your friends or therapist, ask them to help brainstorm Third Alternatives, not to put a magnifying glass to your wife’s or husband’s faults.
Marriage is not a competition against your spouse. If the results seem fair, it’s probably not yet as good as it could be.