How to be Happily Married in a World of Naysayers

imageWe’ve all heard the jokes: The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.

I married Ms. Right. I just didn’t know that her first name was Always.

Marriage is talked about as if it’s a jail sentence, a ball and chain, the mistake of a lifetime.

Some have said that marriage is irrelevant and outdated. Others have called it a failed experiment.

Failed? Really?

I’ll be the first to admit that marriage can be difficult. Marriage asks us to grow and to stretch; it calls for flexibility and fortitude and a capacity to love — even (and especially) during really hard times. And anyone who’s been married for more than a month knows that hard times do come.

But there are also sweet times and easy times, times of deep love and affection, times when we’re glad that we’re married to the wonderful, annoying person we picked.

The “marriage is broken” folks seem to be saying that because some marriages are truly miserable, and because, even under the best of circumstances, marriage can be hard, we need to change the rules.

They say we need to stop expecting marriage to last a lifetime, to meet our needs for intimacy, to bring satisfaction and joy.

The trouble with the naysayers is that they talk about marriage as if it’s an entity — as if marriage is some sort of troublemaker; as if there’s something inherent in marriage that sets us up to fail.

To further bolster their argument, they trot out the inaccurate, “bad news” statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce.

Here’s the good news: when it comes to first marriages, 60-70% of them will be marriages that last. And yes, a lasting marriage isn’t necessarily a happy one, but the happiness part — that’s in our hands.

Senior couple kiss situation in white isolated background

If you’re looking to prove the naysayers wrong:

1. Accept that marriage takes effort if we want to do it well. Many things in life are difficult, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing. Why should marriage be any different?

2.  Relationships don’t just happen. They don’t succeed by magic and they don’t fail on their own. Marriage is something we build from the ground up. It requires care and attention. The more creative and committed we are, the better our marriage will be.

3. The best marriages are based on generosity. No, I’m not talking about over-giving and sacrifice. True generosity is a wholehearted desire to offer the best of what we have. Love, affection, not believing we need to have everything our way in order to be happy.

4. Some of the worst marriages I’ve seen have gotten as bad as they are because neither partner is willing to risk: to apologize, to reach out, to be vulnerable, to name what needs to be addressed. Remember, you have to step out of your comfort zone if you want your marriage to grow.

5. Pay less attention to what your partner is doing that gets in the way of having a satisfying relationship, and pay more attention to what you’re doing, which is the only thing you can control anyway.

6. Accept that sometimes you’re going to be disappointed by your partner, just as your partner will, at times, be disappointed by you. Disappointment is not a sign that something’s gone wrong. It’s simply a challenging fact of life that we, as partners, must learn to handle as gracefully as possible. Freaking out about your inevitable disappointments will make you unnecessarily unhappy, or discouraged, or both.

image7. Don’t expect  your spouse to be a mindreader. If something is important to you, it’s your job to speak up.

8. Accept that your partner won’t be thrilled about everything you do. Relationships are about being a twosome and about being two separate people who want different things. I don’t advocate behaving in ways that are harmful or inconsiderate, but there are times when we have to act alone — to confront something difficult, to make a bold move, to challenge the rules.

9. Don’t underestimate the importance of quality time. Show up. Make eye contact. Open your heart. And, for goodness sake, turn off your phone.

10. Never believe you’ve tried everything. Most of us do the same ineffective things over and over, and think we’ve given it our all. Yes, some relationship problems are complex and overwhelming, and we have no idea what to do to solve them. But before you think you’re out of options, ask yourself this: What one thing can I do that would make a significant, positive difference in my relationship? Before you give up, go ahead. Go all out.

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The Ultimate Garage Cleaner’s Guide to Marriage Repair

A few years ago a client gave me a refrigerator magnet that reads:

image

Yep. I agree.

Especially when one of the chores involves the word garage. That’s how our garage ended up looking like a scene from the reality show where they bring in five guys in hazmat suits while a team of kind social workers comforts the hoarder. Continue reading

10 Everyday Relationship Issues That Aren’t Worth Freaking Out About

One of the best parts of my job as a couples therapist is that I get to deliver good news.

Woman Biting On Her LipCouples come in fearing that their marriage is too far gone to fix, and I get to tell them it’s not.

Yes, some people are in serious trouble and if they keep going in the direction they’re headed, their worst fears will come true.

Still, most couples are simply facing normal and ordinary relationship challenges that they lack the tools to address. Continue reading

10 Reasons Not to Be a Valentine’s Day Grinch

wallpaper_20100115103718_16542854972It’s that time again — Valentine’s Day. The holiday of romantic love, chocolate hearts, and passionate feelings about whether Valentine’s Day should be celebrated, or banned.

Yes, a dozen red roses, plus dinner, will cost as much as your car payment. And yes, love is as sweet on February 15th and every day after that (and should, indeed, be expressed all year long.)

And it’s true, Valentine’s Day is a red ribbon sales day for Hallmark and Hershey and a host of others who peddle “romance” for profit, creating enough hype and hoopla to turn even the ultra-romantic among us into a Valentine’s Day Grinch.

Still there are those of us who like to make the most of the day. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

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: Continue reading