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.

Which is good news to me.

If the following common beliefs about marriage were true, my husband and I, and many of the happily married couples I know, would be sunk:

1. A good marriage requires good communication.Couple Pointing Each Other Over White Background

In the midst of a heated disagreement, few of us are able to follow all the “rules” of good communication. Most of us get defensive. We interrupt. We throw up our hands — especially when we’re being criticized.

Sometimes the closest we get to an I-statement is, “I think you’re wrong.”

Fortunately, messy communication isn’t nearly as harmful as most people assume.

Yes, in an ideal world we’d remain open-minded and calm, curious about our spouse’s point of view, able to yield. In the real world we have a dust-up, and when the dust settles, we have to clean up the mess.

More than good communication, a good marriage requires good self-development. It takes strength to advocate for what we feel is important, to tolerate being contradicted or challenged, to know how to proceed when we don’t get things our way. To be able to stay calm or calm down when our partner attacks us. To apologize and forgive after a big fight.

2. Couples need to have shared interests.

Really? What if we don’t? What if I want to do yoga while my husband’s in spin class?

What if I’d rather die than watch golf on TV?

The good news is that in order to have a good marriage, we don’t need to give up our passions or do things we don’t like. The fact that my husband and I both love to walk, that we enjoy a good cup of tea… well, those things are a bonus. But, even without them, I know we’d be fine.

We are, after all, two separate people with our own set of interests and our own full, busy lives. All of which makes the time we do spend together more lively and fun.

More valuable than a couple having shared interests is the wholehearted interest they take in each other’s lives.

3. Marriage starts out great and goes downhill from there.

As I approach my 36th Anniversary, thank goodness this one isn’t true!

Yes, people wax poetic about the honeymoon phase, as if early marriage is all fireworks and hot sex. As if we all start out in a state of unwavering bliss.

We’re told, “After the honeymoon… reality sets in.”

Wait. What’s wrong with reality? 

In a long marriage, reality is building a life together. Making a home. Coming to know each other deeply, over time.

Reality is seeing each other struggle and seeing each other grow. It’s exploring new things, taking risks, learning to let go. It’s recognizing the ways that we’re loving and generous and the ways we are not very nice.

Reality is the richness and delight of creating a relationship that can get better and better with time.

Differences4. Most of the trouble in marriage comes from our differences.

If our differences are truly the source of our marital troubles, then we really are doomed, since we’ll never find someone who’s exactly like us.

No matter how wonderful a partner we pick, he or she will be different from us — in many ways we like, and some that we don’t.

Fortunately, it’s not our differences that make trouble for us; it’s the ways that we deal with them.

Say you’re a filer and you married a piler, or you’re obsessively punctual and your spouse has never once been on time. What doesn’t work is to flip out and demand that your partner be more like you. What does, is to become more open-minded and flexible, to tolerate your differences — or, better yet, to embrace them.

Remember, differences add novelty, which in the long run will make your marriage all the more interesting.

5. Some marriages are destined to fail.

If ever there was a marriage that seemed destined to fail, it would have been mine.

Like many couples I work with, my husband and I had plenty of love — but, along with it, we had many of the bad behaviors that are the harbingers of divorce.

The well-cited foursome — defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt — made regular appearances in our all-too-frequent fights. And though statistics would say we we would inevitably divorce, we, instead, figured out how to keep them at bay.

I see these same bad habits in the couples I treat. Habits they can change before it’s too late.

Most of these struggling couples have simply lacked the skills they would need to succeed. Or they’ve gotten bad advice, or no advice at all. Many have had poor role models that they’ve unwittingly followed. Some have been told by experts that they’re beyond help.

Experience has shown me that no matter how far down the wrong road a couple’s marriage has gone, if they’re willing to work at it, there’s no reason to believe they can’t turn it around.

Now it’s your turn. What myths about marriage are you glad aren’t true?
__________________________________________________________

Have a friend who might like this post? Please share!

Looking to have a more satisfying marriage? Get my free bonus article:
75 Ways To Improve Your Relationship Starting Today — plus new blog posts delivered straight to your inbox!
(Use the Sign-up button on the right or below.)

For news and inspiring cool stuff about relationships, follow me on twitter: @winifredmreilly

 

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. We build it with love and respect, with gestures of kindness and generosity and expressions of gratitude — along with an unshakeable commitment to keep two feet in.

What happens, though, when that house is neglected, or it’s hit by a hurricane; when the foundation is crumbling; when the house is in such disrepair that it seems too far gone?

A reader recently asked, “What can I do to start every day on the right foot and then keep going in a positive direction? My husband and I set out with the best intentions,” she said, “then some little thing happens and we go downhill from there.”

As I considered her question, I realized that her goal is the same goal we all have in our marriages, whether we’re desperately struggling or doing well: to be happy and thrive.

Each day we have an opportunity to choose, in large and small ways, what we we want to invest in our marriage, how we want to respond to our spouse, how it is that we want to love.

And those daily choices make all the difference.

Starting today, make one, or two, or all ten of these choices and see what happens:

1. Resist the urge to super-size.

One of the quickest ways for things to go sideways is let every hint of trouble mean BIG trouble; to say, see…here we go again, the moment things go off track.

Yes, every couple has problems — some of them may be big ones that need to be addressed.

Still, the worst thing is to throw up your hands or tumble down into hopelessness or start thinking, let’s just call it quits.

When you keep trouble in perspective, you’ll be able let more of the little things pass and you’ll have more positive energy to bring to the big issues that require a collaborative effort.

Young woman watching closely wildlife with his binoculars. Studi2. Quit searching for bad news.

As with loving, there are, at least, one hundred paths that lead to unhappiness.

One of the most frequently traveled: focusing on the ways that your spouse has let you down.

Face it, that imperfect person you married isn’t always going to give you her undivided attention, won’t always remember to lock the back door, will sometimes wake up in a bad mood and have a hard time shaking it.

You can focus on that, or on the good laugh you shared when you learned that the President’s credit card was denied in a restaurant. Or you can note how your wife insisted you take the last square of chocolate even though she hoped you’d say no, or that your husband spent forty-five minutes trying to straighten out the cell phone bill — without raising his voice.

(In my book, that last one deserves an award!)

What we focus on heavily influences how we treat each other. If we’re searching for evidence that we have a bad deal in our spouse, we’re bound to find it.

Seeing the good in each other makes us more likely to treat each other well. There’s plenty of evidence that nice begets nice.

3. Redefine giving.

One of the most powerful choices we can can make is to be generous — to offer love and support, whether or not our partner responds in kind.

Too often, we withhold in response to a partner’s withholding, creating a climate of stinginess, which then feeds on itself.

I’m not suggesting you turn yourself inside out to say “yes” when you really, truly mean “no.” Nor would I advise that you gnash your teeth while extending your hand.

True generosity is not about over-giving, or resentfully giving to a partner who’s consistently unappreciative or selfish.

It’s about genuinely offering what we can, when we can. It’s about reaching out when we have something loving and good to give.

The happiest couples are those who give without keeping score.

4. Jump without a parachute.

Playing it safe isn’t nearly as “safe” as one might think. In our attempt to avoid discomfort, we often side-step important issues or remain silent about things that need to be spoken. When playing it safe, we resist reaching out, being honest, letting down our guard. All of which are needed if we want to truly connect.

It is often said that marriage isn’t for the faint of heart. I’ll second that. Marriage asks us to step towards our difficulties, rather than away from them, to be courageous and resilient, to reach for what we want even when it scares us.

Remember: the risks that we take are the very things that give us our best shot at a satisfying marriage. We cannot stay in our comfort zone and expect to grow.

5. Look through a telescope, not a microscope.

One of the most discouraging things is to think your difficulties are permanent, that what’s happening now will go on forever:

We’ll always fight about money.
We’ll never agree on a vacation.
We’ll never, EVER have sex again.

Why not take the long view, instead?

Think: How can I best maintain some perspective?
Think: What can I do to make things go better tomorrow, next week, six months from now?

Remember: change is not for the impatient. Some changes, especially big ones, take time.

6. Step out of your shoes.

9807ba92e4fe69fd7d41075afc3569df-1Trouble comes when we get so caught up in our own stuff that we forget to consider what’s going on with our spouse. There may be a “good” reason for his or her unpleasant behavior.

A bad day at work? A lousy night’s sleep? A nagging concern about that aching tooth?

I believe most spouses have the best intentions, even though those intentions are sometimes poorly executed or hard to discern.

Before getting irritated or leaping to the worst possible conclusion about the person you married, consider a more generous and forgiving explanation.

7. Carry an olive branch.

One of the best ways to keep things moving in a positive direction is to have a good plan to address the inevitable hard times.

Though every couple needs to devise their own repair strategy, here are the key ingredients:

Repair begins with a readiness to lay down your swords. It calls for shifting from the offensive and defensive to the receptive. It means talking honestly about what happened, without blaming or reigniting the fight. It means being curious about the other person’s point of view, setting aside your grievance so that you can listen. And it means owning up to your part in the mess, whatever it was.

Solutions come from openness, not restating your position.

Though many fights that couples have do not resolve, successful couples find a way to be loving and accepting, even when they disagree.

8. Clean out the garage.

Why hang onto a lifetime of grudges and the misdeeds that preceded them?

Keeping track of every late credit card payment? Every nasty outburst? Every basket of unfolded laundry, or poorly-washed dish?

Got a filing cabinet full of unhappy memories?

Forget the garage sale. I say have a bonfire and let it all go up in smoke.

9. Mind your Ps and Qs.

This was one of my father’s favorite sayings, though as a kid, I had no idea what P and Q actually meant. While the saying’s origin is up for debate, most interpretations offer sound marriage advice.

Some say P and Q are a reference to good manners, as in minding your Pleases and thank-Qs, while others believe it’s a typesetter’s reminder to pay attention to small details — p and q being the same letter faced different ways. Both are wise things to keep in mind.

My point here is to suggest we pay attention to the way that we speak to each other — to choose our words carefully and speak thoughtfully.  Especially when tensions run high.

It’s possible to be kind even when angry, though I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t easy to do.

The happiest couples care for their marriage one sentence at a time.

10. Carry some sunshine.

All the positive psychology research confirms that — no surprise here — positive feelings generate more positive feelings. During hard times, or anytime for that matter, it helps to remember what you love in your spouse.

What made you fall in love in the first place? Her smile? Her sharp mind? How he goes out of his way, with no second thoughts?

Think about what you appreciate and admire in your spouse, what you respect. And if you’re up for the challenge, what you’d miss if they were gone.

_____________________________________

Know someone who might like this post? Please share!

Looking to have a more satisfying marriage? Get my free bonus article:
75 Ways To Improve Your Relationship Starting Today — plus new blog posts delivered straight to your inbox!
(Use the Sign-up button on the right or below.)

For news and inspiring cool stuff about relationships, follow me on twitter: @winifredmreilly

25 Ways to Say “I Love You” — Without Saying a Word

LASTchocolate-chip-cookie-bite-taken-97737Recently, on a cross country flight, my husband and I were seated on opposite sides of the aisle. Several times, he leaned my way to ask, bite of my sandwich?” “Can I get you some water?”

Once he offered to share the last bite of his cookie. A while later, he reached over and put his hand on my arm, just to say hi. At the end of the flight the woman next to me said, “Your husband really loves you. I can tell.”

And she’s right. He does.

As couples, we often express love through our actions — a note left on the bathroom mirror, a gentle touch, a twinkle in our eye. We say, “drive safely.” “Take an umbrella.” We kiss each other goodnight.

For many of us, these small gestures say I love you more powerfully than if we’d actually spoken those three little words.

While it’s always sweet to hear or say I love you — it is our simple, everyday acts of kindness, the ways we treat each other, day in and day out, that truly communicate our love.

We all have our own tried and true ways. Here are some to add to your list:

1. Do the stuff neither of you wants to do. Someone has to call the plumber, resolve the mystery charge on the credit card, figure out what in the refrigerator is making that smell. Go ahead. Be the one.

2. Cut your partner some slack. We all forget things, lose things, or screw things up. Why rub it in?

3. Flirt. You’re never too old or married too long to make it clear that the two of you have still got it going on.

4. Be patient. Like it or not, sometimes you just have to wait. Skip the eye roll or foot tapping that says, what took you so long? Take a few deep breaths. Relax.

5. Pay attention. As in full-on and undivided. Not every minute of every day, but show up when it counts.

2296932_s6. Let down your guard. Vulnerability and intimacy are one and the same.

7.
Keep two feet in, especially when things are difficult. Commitment is about staying with your challenges long enough to make things better.

8. Clean up, above and beyond the call of duty. Not your dirty cup? Who cares?

9. Receive and acknowledge your partner’s acts of love. The happiest couples are those who notice and respond when their partner reaches out. A thanks or a smile is all that it takes.

10. Stop a fight in its tracks. One of the most loving things you can do is stay calm when your spouse is getting worked-up.

11. Look for the humor in those less-than-endearing behaviors. What’s not to love about someone who second guesses the GPS?

12. Leave enough gas in the car, enough hot water for a shower, enough milk for coffee.

13. Choose — at least once in a while — not to elbow your snoring spouse. Chances are you’ll eventually snore, too.

14. Hug back. Kiss back. Smile.

15. Give your partner some space. Space to watch the ballgame in peace. Space to go for a run, call a friend, or curl up with a book.

16. Be willing to sleep with the window open a little more than you like.

17. Be willing to sleep with the window closed a little more than you like.

18. Stay in touch. You’re busy. I’m busy. No one is too busy to text xoxo.

19. Your spouse wants to go back to graduate school, eat more fruits and vegetables, train for a marathon. Your response: that’s great!

20. Be the first one to reach out after a fight. Don’t think for a minute that the first person to give ground is admitting fault. Marriage isn’t a game of chicken. It takes courage and kindness to yield.

12383231_s21. Make dinner. You don’t have to be Julia Child. Simple is fine. Just give it your best shot.

22. Make your relationship a priority. Marriage doesn’t stay sweet all on its own, year after year. Have a date night, a weekend getaway, keep work hours within bounds. And for goodness sake, when you’re together, turn off your phone.

23. Think your spouse deserves a standing ovation? Tell someone how talented, smart, loving, gracious she is. How patient he is with the kids. How he makes the world’s best pie crust. Make sure he overhears you.

24. Do what it takes to stay healthy and sane.

25. Keep in mind that life is short. Don’t waste time holding grudges or focusing on petty upsets that, in the big picture, mean nothing. Focus, instead, on the ways that your marriage is loving and good.

Now over to you… What are your favorite ways to show your spouse that you care?
_______________________________________________________________
Know someone who might enjoy this post? Please share!

Looking to have a more satisfying marriage? Get my free bonus article:
75 Ways To Improve Your Relationship Starting Today — plus new blog posts delivered straight to your inbox!
(Use the Sign-up button on the right or below.)

For news and inspiring cool stuff about relationships, follow me on twitter: @winifredmreilly

Check out this week’s cartoon on Facebook!

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

4 Reasons to Put Date Night on Your Calendar — In Ink!

510ff0fbe181e_supreme_clientele_concierge_reservationWhether you’ve been married five weeks, five years, or even five decades, date night is a ritual you should regularly observe.

I know. This is hardly a news flash. Read any advice column about how to keep the spark alive in your marriage and you’ll find date night near the top of the list.

Yet, if you’re like most couples, Continue reading