I have noticed a lot of marriage advice for unhappy couples encourages them to reduce each other’s unhappiness. Personally, I never found this model very helpful.
There is a time for helping reduce your spouse’s unhappiness, but it’s not while you’re seeing him or her as the cause of your own unhappiness. It’s when you’re happy. It’s when love frees up your generosity and kindness and delights in doing whatever you can for the wonderful person you married.
That happiness is within your reach. In fact, while your spouse could help you become less unhappy, happiness is something you can only give yourself. But that’s not the subject of today’s post. This one is about what you can do, once you rediscover the happiness in your relationship, to reduce your mate’s unhappiness.
- Look for reasons to be grateful to have this man or woman in your life. Try to find at least three new ones every day.
- Express your gratitude often and in as many ways as you can come up with: love letters, favorite foods, thank you gifts, small favors, public declarations, notes to be found unexpectedly, welcome home kisses with a thank you for whatever happened while you were apart.
- When you cannot or will not do what your spouse asks of you, instead of “no,” say, “Tell me more about what you’re looking for, and not just how to get there. I want you to have it, and I am willing to help come up with a better way to get there.”
- Set aside time in your day for being present with your spouse, even when he or she is not necessarily ready to be present with you. Turn off your phone and email. Put down whatever you are reading. Turn off the TV. If your spouse is willing to talk, listen actively and reflect back what you are learning about what your mate feels or believes, whether you agree with it or not. Just feeling understood makes a huge difference. If he or she is willing to have sex, take your time and give it your full attention. Or cook a meal together, take a walk together, or play a game of tennis.
- Don’t walk away from a complaint or a jab. Try something like, “Thanks for being married to me in spite of my shortcomings. What else could I do to make our relationship better?”
- When your spouse has good news, respond positively (“that’s wonderful!” or “fantastic”) and constructively (“what a great reward for your hard work on the project” or “sounds like your extraordinary social skills paid off again”). The way you handle good news is even more important than how sympathetic you are to bad news.
- Watch that you do not expect anything in return. When you give to get, you don’t give at all.
Nothing in return means this is not how you fix your marriage. It is how you celebrate it. If you are not yet ready to celebrate it, first Assume Love, Expect Love, and Find Third Alternatives every chance you get. That is how you enjoy being married.