How to Become Your Spouse’s Best Friend

girl shares, gives or feeds boy with her ice cream in studio isoEvery day we hear yet another bit of advice about what it takes to have a marriage that lasts. The latest: Find a spouse who can be your best friend.

Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?

Kindness, companionship, a special someone to come home to…

For many of us, the friendship we have with our spouse is what we value the most in our relationship. And according to recent research, friendship plays a key role in what makes a good marriage even better.

Mind you, the researchers aren’t saying that you have to start out as best friends. They’re saying that, over the course of a lifetime, those who consider their partner to be their best friend are happier, in part, because their friendship is a comfort to them as they face life’s ups and downs.

As happens with all research, the skeptics and naysayers chime in.

Some say that expecting your spouse to be your best friend is a set up for disappointment — citing (here come the gender stereotypes) women who complain that their husbands don’t show the same measure of interest and empathy that their women friends do; and men who wish their wives would be more into, say, the NFL Draft.

Others maintain that best friend status turns spouses into roommates, claiming best friends come to bed in old sweat pants and gym socks while lovers show up wearing… well, that’s yours to imagine.

Still others take issue with the word “best” — as if your spouse as best friend means he or she will, by definition, replace your dearest, life-long friend. The one you love like a sister. Whom you wished, in third grade, had been your actual brother. Who knows your deep and dark secrets… You get the point.

The good news: you’re not in seventh grade. There’s ample room in your heart for two best friends — perhaps even more. Never mind just choosing one.

Sadly, for many, the issue isn’t whether or not to be best friends with their spouse — it’s whether they’re able to be friends at all.

Married life can be hard. With all the demands and frustrations we juggle — managing children and work, finances, in-laws, and who’ll do what, when — the friendship aspect of our relationships can be neglected or lost.

Sometimes our struggles can leave us feeling like enemies.

Whether your goal is to be a good friend, a best friend or simply a better friend, here are some ways to start:

1. Show up.

18240625_sFriends show up when it matters. They show up — at the door, at the hospital, when we’re carrying things in from the car.

They’re there when we need someone to listen, to lean on, when we need some well-thought-out advice. Maybe not all the time, or in perfect form, or with a smile on their face.

In a good marriage, mostly is good enough.

2. Cut your partner some slack.

Have you ever forgotten to lock the back door, pick up the dry cleaning, leave the porch light on when your spouse is coming home late?

Maybe you’ve been impatient, or grumpy, or used a sharp tone.

Chances are your spouse has, too.

We all make mistakes. You, me, and the person you married. Nothing says love quite like having your missteps met with a smile or a shrug, instead of a scolding.

3. Give.

Even, (especially) in small ways. A hug. A smile. A goodnight kiss.

Besides being a sweet thing for your spouse, generosity does a host of good things for the one who’s doing the giving.

4. Bring Your “A” Game

Couples often complain that they feel taken for granted. They say, “She comes home grumpy and tired, but when the phone rings she answers as if she’s all sunshine and light!”

Or they say, “The people he works with call him the human dynamo. It’s all I can do not to feel envious or roll my eyes.”

Why give the best of ourselves out in the world and bring the worst home? Raising your standards — a lot, or a little — will go a long way.

No news here: Allot quality time. Turn off your phone and the TV and set aside work.

Listen. Ask questions. Engage.

When something needs to be done, why not just do it? And if you have to say, “no,” being kind is far better than being gruff.

Remember: Even tired, overworked people can be nice. In most cases, nice begets nice.

5. Draw your lines.

Remember the saying, friends don’t let friends drive drunk? There are a good number of things friends should not let go by. Like nastiness, rudeness, shoddy behavior, and blame.

You’ve heard it before, you can’t control what your spouse says and does. What you can do is make choices about how you respond.

Keep in mind that it’s both loving and supportive not to take too much guff.

6. Go bowling.

Or to the opera, or the rodeo. Or be willing, for the twentieth time, to watch It’s A Wonderful Life.

Yes, there are limits to the ways we’ll hang out with our spouse, doing the things they love to do. The key is to play in their world, even once in while.

A close friend of my husband wanted to celebrate his 60th birthday by flying to Dallas for a four day Dallas Cowboys extravaganza. His wife couldn’t bring herself to say yes, though she truly wished that she could, so, good friend that he is, my husband joined him instead.

7. Tell the truth.

Honesty builds trust, and trust is a cornerstone of every good friendship.

But telling the truth is not always easy. Sometimes what we say will provoke anger or hurt. Sometimes we don’t trust our perceptions, so we hesitate to come forward. Sometimes our fear of being judged or rejected makes us want to clam up.

There are also times that it’s fine to keep our thoughts to ourselves.

One of the best ways to create a solid friendship in your marriage is to be courageous enough to reveal your thoughts and feelings, and steady enough to hear the truth without being defensive or punishing.

If you ask each other to tell you the truth, no matter how upsetting it is, the most loving and respectful response is to say, “Thanks. I appreciate your honesty.”

Woman Leaping Up8. Be a card carrying fan.

I’ve never heard anyone complain about getting too many positive strokes.

Having a spouse who’s an avid supporter — knowing that someone is cheering you on from the sidelines, wants good things to happen for you, believes you can do it — makes life’s victories sweeter, and it’s difficulties, just a little bit easier to face.

There’s no need to hold back and there’s no success too small. You can say, “Hey good for you!” or, “Nice job!” when he gets the burnt stuff off of the roasting pan, when she fixes the leak in the faucet, when she finds your lost keys.

It’s not possible to adore everything about the person you married. And, thank goodness, a good marriage doesn’t require that we do.

What’s important is that you behave in ways that say I love you, I’m rooting for you, I’m glad to be with you. If you do, chances are, your spouse will feel the same way about you.

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How to Have a Happier Marriage — Without Changing a Thing

imageJanuary 1st. The day of fresh starts and new beginnings. The day we vow to eat more green vegetables, actually use our gym membership, and try, once again, to lose those hard to lose pounds.

As we look to the new year, we often focus on ways to be “better” — resolving to do more of what’s good for us and less of what’s not. To (at least most of the time) come from our best.

For a good many of us, finding ways to have a more satisfying marriage is high on our list.

But in our rush for improvement, we overlook this key fact: Much of what makes marriage challenging is the stuff that’s not easily changed. The stuff that’s more about who we are and what we value. The stuff that can, unfortunately, drive us totally nuts.

A spouse’s need for order or solitude, another’s call to adventure. A tendency to dawdle or multi-task, a penchant for losing one’s keys.

This year, rather than list out your goals for change, why not commit to change nothing at all?

No, I’m not suggesting you live under miserable conditions with a spouse who’s mean, or ignores you, or makes you sleep on the couch. And I’m not saying you can’t also lay plans to, say, leave work by 6:30, or learn how to forgive.

I’m suggesting that you vow to make peace with your spouse just as he or she is.

Including her messiness, grumpiness, pickiness. His shoes left underfoot. His procrastination. His terrible jokes.

Think it’s impossible?

I promise, it isn’t.

If you’re up for the challenge, I suggest you start here:

1. Take stock of what’s good.

There’s a boatload of research documenting the value of gratitude. The same goes for paying attention to the aspects of life that are satisfying and good. If you have any hope of coming to peace with what is, it’s crucial to focus on what you appreciate, what makes you smile, what makes you glad you chose the person you did.

2. Right-size your complaints.

You’ll get no argument from me if you say your spouse is annoying. Each of us, in our own way, can be as annoying as hell.

Still, the things we swear we can’t live with — mail strewn on the counter, cracker crumbs in the bed; or worse, a spouse who will never apologize or insists she’s always right — these are things we’ve quite likely lived with for years.

Think that they’re deal breakers?

Probably not.

Unless you’re planning to make 2015 the year you divorce, you’re better off not working yourself into a twist.

3. Come down to earth.

Much unhappiness is derived from our “grass is greener” fantasies — from our idealization of the perfect spouse or the perfect marriage we assume others possess.

Think there’s some flawless person out there waiting for you? Think he or she will graciously overlook whatever foibles you have?

There’s a lot to be said for loving and being loved, warts and all.

4. Venture into new worlds.

The sooner you learn to tolerate and accept that you and your partner are not one and the same, the happier you’ll be.

Think your way is the only way? I guarantee that it not.

We all have our preferred way of doing things. Stepping out of your comfort zone will make you more flexible (and a lot less self-centered) — both of which are good things!

image

5. Take a walk on the wild side.

Much of what happens in life is beyond our control. Politics, weather — and how our partner behaves.

Learning to accept that is no easy task.

While we have choices about what we ourselves do, we have zero ability to change or control anyone else.

I find it challenging enough to change the things I need to change in myself, never mind wasting my energy trying to change someone else.

We can fuss and freak out, or we can let go.

6. Laugh.

Given the alternative — tearing your hair out — this one’s a no brainier, if you can wholeheartedly pull it off.

Laughing about the things that won’t change creates needed space and perspective. It acknowledges the absurdity inherent in marriage.

It is, I believe, the ultimate act of acceptance.

7. Open your arms.image

When it comes to marital happiness, generosity beats stinginess, hands down.

Learning to love and accept the person you married, as he or she is, will go better when you focus on being as kind and giving as you can be.

When we withhold love and affection, we shortchange our spouse and our marriage — and, consequently, ourselves.

Generosity says, I know you’re imperfect and I love you anyway. It’s says, I’m willing to forgive your shortcomings, even though I find them challenging.

Though there’s no guarantee, in a climate of generosity, chances are we’ll be forgiven our shortcomings as well.

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36 Things I Know After 36 Years of Marriage

P & W Yosemite 2014IMG_0086 copyNext week, my husband and I will celebrate our 36th anniversary.

Some years we’ve gotten dressed-up and gone out to dinner. Other years we’ve simply marked the day with a kiss.

Once, we were both sick with the flu and I vaguely remember clinking our glasses of orange juice together and then sleeping right through the day.

Then there was the year when we were so embroiled in struggle that we let the day pass without even a word.

That’s what marriage is: richer, poorer, good times and bad. Each year with its surprises and challenges, its hard fought lessons, its moments of sweetness.

To honor our many years together, here are 36 lessons I’ve found most valuable:

1. If you think marriage would have been much easier with somebody else, you’re probably wrong.

2. Most marital problems are fixable. Really. Even the tough ones.

3. The D word (divorce) is a dangerous weapon. I suggest the F word instead: frustrated. Nobody’s heart will be broken if you say, “I’m so FRUSTRATED I could scream!”

4. The term wedded bliss should be stricken from every couple’s vocabulary. Marriage is wonderful in many ways, but expecting bliss makes the inevitable rough times seem like a problem when they’re simply part of the deal.

5. That bit about how your partner won’t change: Wrong. My husband and I met in our early twenties. If we’d both stayed just as we were, we’d still be two naïve kids, stubbornly insisting we have to have things our way, thinking marriage shouldn’t be as challenging as it is.

6. Marriage doesn’t get good or stay good all on its own.

7. Every one of us is, in our own way, difficult to live with. Beginning to work on even one of your own problem behaviors will make a big difference in the quality of your marriage. Added bonus: your spouse will greatly appreciate it!

8. People who are unhappily married sometimes think marriage is the problem — that marriage is unnatural or outdated or impossible to do well. There’s not a third entity called marriage. Everything that goes on between you is your creation. Each of you playing your part. Why not create something worthwhile?

9. Marriage is a “learn on the job” proposition. None of us comes into it with all the skills we need for success. When the going gets rough it’s most often a sign that we need some new skills — not a sign that we need a new spouse.

congratulations-defying-marriage-anniversary-ecard-someecards10. Struggle in marriage is not only inevitable, it’s necessary. None of us can grow a strong and healthy relationship without having to face and resolve difficult issues.

11. Even the best marriage can’t make up for the difficulties we faced growing up. We all come with childhood injuries. Thinking your spouse can make you feel safe and secure when you’re wobbly inside is too much to ask. The sooner (and more effectively) you deal with your “stuff,” the healthier and more satisfying your marriage will be.

12. Love grows as much from the challenges we face and surmount together as from the delights that we share.

13. Marriage is a long negotiation about how two people are going to run things. Money. Intimacy. Parenting. Chores. You can battle, or you can collaborate. Collaboration is a lot more rewarding.

14. Even the most stubborn among us can learn how to yield. Trust me on this one.

15. Most of your spouse’s upsets and frustrations aren’t about you — but some are. The sooner you figure out which is which, the better off you’ll be.

16. During hard times, commitment may be your saving grace. The fact that, way back when, you said “’till death do us part” may be the only reason you keep two feet in long enough to fix what’s not going well. And that’s reason enough.

17. Marriage can make you a better person or a worse person. It’s your choice.

18. Complaints and criticisms aren’t the same thing as requests for change.

19. Discouragement is one of the greatest threats to marriage. I’ve seen struggling couples give up on marriages that could quite likely be saved had they been given the proper guidance and encouragement to hang in there and fix things.

20. Thinking you have a 50-50 chance of ending up divorced makes it seem like a coin toss. It’s not. There are some behaviors that nearly guarantee failure. We all know what they are. It’s a good idea to not do them.

21. Being nice helps.

22. Saying thank-you does, too.

23. The happier I am about my own life, the less irritated I am about my husband’s irritating behaviors.

24. A good marriage will have its share of conflict, frustration, boredom, unresolvable arguments, slammed doors and nights where one person sleeps on the couch. The key is to have enough good things to balance them out.

25. It’s not always easy to keep your heart open.

26. Love matters. While love doesn’t heal all, even (especially) during hard times, love is a touchstone, a reminder of why you got together in the first place.

27. Marriage is not an antidote for loneliness. While marriage provides companionship, closeness and connection are not a constant. Sometimes we’re in sync. Sometimes we’re not. It’s important to be able to soothe and comfort yourself when need be.

28. It’s easy to get into a rut when you’re with the same person, year after year. Sex. Vacations. Dinner. How you spend Saturday night. Change things. Add some spice.

29. Most good marriages have one person who plays the role of the relationship “guardian”: The person who brings up difficult subjects. The person who stays hopeful in hard times. The person who acts as a steadying influence when one or both of you are getting worked-up. In an ideal world, that role would be shared. In the real world it only takes one.

30. One of the best things to do in the midst of a fight is to stop fighting. Take a break. Cool down. Come back to it later. Hotheads are terrible problem solvers.

31. Some conflicts cannot be resolved by compromise. (We can’t have half a child or buy half a vacation home). When there’s no such thing as “meeting halfway,” the solution becomes a matter of generosity, where one person says “yes” to their second choice and the other acknowledges that as a gift.

32. Fights are never about content. Where we store the dish soap, whether it’s quicker to take the frontage road or the freeway, whether it’s horribly rude not to answer a text — none of these are worth getting ourselves all in a twist. Our upsets are about the larger meaning we make of that unanswered text, that resistance to influence, that refusal to take seriously the things we request. It’s really helpful to accurately name what’s setting you off.

33. There’s a big difference between being happily married and living happily ever after. None of us are happy 24/7. Thank goodness we don’t need to be.

34. When you think to yourself, I really shouldn’t say this, you’re probably right.

35. Learning how to make up is essential since you’ll never, ever, get to a point where neither one of you screws up.

36. One of you has to go first. Apologize first. Be vulnerable first. Yield first. Forgive first. Why not let that person be you?

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5 Myths About Marriage That I’m Glad Aren’t True

Couple-Sleeping-in-Bed

Ask ten happily married people, “What’s your key to success?” and you’ll get fifteen answers — many of which contradict each other.

Some will say couples should never to go to bed angry. Others will say it’s fine to sleep on your arguments. For them, World War III or not, it’s lights out at 11.

Many will say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” while an equal number will tout the virtues of talking things out.

Do opposites attract or should we be birds of a feather?

Are we better off lowering our expectations, or setting a high bar?

And do couples really need to be each other’s best friend?

The truth is, many of the widely-dispensed bits of marriage advice are more fiction than fact. Continue reading

10 Daily Choices For Building a Marriage That Lasts

There are a hundred paths through the
world that are easier than loving…
But who needs easier?
— Mary Oliver

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before:

Marriage is not a noun, it’s a verb.

bricks_and_trowelIt’s hard to dispute, isn’t it?

Anyone who’s been married longer than, say, a week, knows that marriage requires effort. Not back-breaking-drudgery kind of effort, but make-it-count, put-your-heart-into-it effort.

We build a marriage the way we build a house: day by day, brick by brick, from the ground up. Continue reading

The Hot Headed Couple’s Guide to Keeping Your Cool in a Fight

Humbling, isn’t it?couple-arguing

There you are, you and your perfectly otherwise sane spouse arguing, yet again, about…what? The quickest route to the freeway? The proper way to stack dish towels? Whose fault it is that you’re even having an argument? Continue reading