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!

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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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14 thoughts on “How to Have a Happier Marriage — Without Changing a Thing

  1. I’m so glad I discovered you this year Winifred! When I read your pieces, I feel like you are talking to me. I totally relate to your perspective & sound advice for navigating the joys & trials of marriage. I am grateful for your blog!

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  2. I am feeling very blue about my marriage on this last day of the year, and was trying to focus on gratitude, so thank you for some other tips as well! Here is to what is hopefully a better 2015.

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    • Hi Jo-
      Holidays can be extra hard when things aren’t going well– as if unhappiness isn’t hard enough on an ordinary day! I do hope this coming year brings good things for you and your marriage.

      Wishing you the best,
      Winifred

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  3. I’m actually not married, but in a relationship I feel is headed that way. I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog. It makes me feel like marriage isn’t something I’m destined to fail at like statistics suggest. I appreciate the simple, straight forward, and applicable advice. That’s hard to find these days. I look at your blog as a “jump start” to a better, stronger marriage and being a better, stronger wife….when the time comes. Thanks for the great advice!

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    • You’re very welcome!

      Those statistics (the 50% divorce rate) are both discouraging AND inaccurate. These days it’s looking like 65% of first marriages are keepers.

      I’m of the belief that two people who put their energy into building a successful marriage will succeed. It’s about making a commitment to do your best, day after day. Not to be perfect, but to be willing.

      Wishing you the best,
      Winifred

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  4. Oh so true, important to reconnect with the interests and flexibility we started off with… all the wasted time being focused on the others irritating habits and rigidity while maintaining our own.. know thyself!

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