The easiest way to a happier marriage does not include changing your spouse. Spouses are hard to change. Even when they know what you want from them, it can be hard for them to give it.
Accusations about their failures to provide what you expect will get you defensiveness from all but the most self-aware spouses, because it’s a threat to their core relationship. Defensiveness is not pretty and often far from honest. It’s also one of marriage researcher John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the four signs that your marriage is headed for divorce.
While I definitely believe you should expect to feel safe from physical or emotional threat or danger in your own home, beyond that, your expectations make you unhappy.
If you expect to be shown love in any particular way, it’s probably because of the great and awful experiences of your earliest years, not because those are the official or best ways to show love.
Or perhaps your expectations exist because you bought into those movies you watched, the ones where partners were incredibly romantic, usually before the wedding but sometimes even in old age (On Golden Pond, for example), or where men swept women off their feet with their power or personality or women were so incredibly alluring that they could not be resisted.
Sorry, there’s no scriptwriter, director, or editor creating your marriage, and those folks in the movies are fictional and stuck at one point in time.
Happiness comes from noticing you are loved. That’s what you notice when you respond to those movies. Someone is loved. If you enjoy different movies than your spouse does, nothing in any of them matters to your marriage.
If you want to notice you are loved in your marriage, you need to look for the signs. You can do it with the tunnel vision of your early childhood or your favorite fiction, or you can do it with an open mind.
Ask for whatever you would like. Just don’t expect it. Expect love. You will find it. Let your spouse know you noticed it, and there will be even more.
Beware if you find yourself telling friends, “I did this, so I expected he would do that, but he didn’t.” It’s the sound of you making yourself unhappy in a marriage where you could very likely be quite happy.
Two weekends ago, I had bought us tickets for a play, and we started the 45-minute drive to the theater, but the remnants of a hurricane were making the drive there way too dangerous, so we pulled off the highway at the next exit. What happened next was a delightfully unexpected Mexican dinner at a restaurant we happened upon and a lovely conversation, followed by a slow and careful drive home. At no point did either of us curse the hurricane and ruin our good time.
This weekend, I had purchased tickets for a lecture and dinner in the same area. It was to be a gorgeous day with a local festival, and I am trying to get more walking done, so I asked if we could head there early. He said yes.
When I thought it was time to leave, I put on my coat and looked for my husband. He was running a shower. To avoid ruining my day or pushing him into defensiveness over his very different expectation about our schedule, I said, “OK, I’m going for a local walk. I’ll be back in time for our trip to the lecture.” He wasn’t taking a shower because he doesn’t love me. He was taking a shower to smell nice, despite his loose relationship with the notion of time, which I’ve known about for 25 years.
When I got back from my walk, he still was not ready to go, so I had to choose between leaving without him or waiting for him to say, “So, we’ll arrive a little late.” Neither appealed to me, so I had a Third Alternative ready to propose, an evening as enjoyable as the planned one, without the driving and rushing. We had a very nice time, perhaps even nicer than the one we had planned.
My husband’s sense of time is as much a part of nature as the tail end of a hurricane. If I expect something else, I will usually upset myself.
So, I expect love. And I look for it where I’m more likely to find it. It’s always there. Looking where it wasn’t made the last two years before my first husband suddenly died quite miserable, even though he was always on time.
Expect love. Enjoy being married.