How many people do you know who would wholeheartedly say that their marriage is great?
How many would say that they’re happier now than when they first got together, that their marriage is one of the most satisfying parts of their life?
Five? Ten? None?
It’s not all that hard to have an okay marriage. If you look around, many people’s marriages are just okay. They plod along, putting in little or no effort, feeling disgruntled or disappointed or just uninspired, wishing there was something more satisfying to be had.
Wondering if okay is as good as it gets.
I’ve heard couples say they’ve tried “everything,” when what they’ve done is simply complain a whole lot about the things that are wrong. Some say marriage is just too much work. Others admit that they’ve stopped trying at all.
It’s true, marriage takes effort. But not chain-gang-in-the-blazing-sun kind of effort. Just the right kind of effort with the right intent.
Marriage is like most things in life. The more care and attention we bring, the more of our heart and soul we invest, the better our marriage will be. And if we’re willing to challenge ourselves, to go against our instinct to be self-protective, it can be better still.
If your goal is to be one of the people who says their marriage is great, be prepared to do the following:
1. Quit playing it safe.
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 avoid 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.
2. Stop seeking perfection.
It’s often said that perfect is the enemy of good. Perfect is a glittering star next to which all of life — including our spouse or our marriage — pales in comparison.
Perfect will fool us into thinking that we have a bad deal. It will distract us from the inescapable fact that every one of us will be disappointed by something in our marriage. Every one of us will, in some way or another, be the source of our partner’s disappointment, as well.
My suggestion: set high standards for yourself and strive to reach them. Recognize and accept that a great marriage is one that’s not great in every way.
3. Be willing to lose an argument.
When your find yourself in a tug-of-war with your spouse, why not drop your end of the rope?
Why go in circles when all that arguing does is erode your sense of good will?
Most arguments are ridiculous anyway: Who left porch light on. Who spoke in a snippy tone. Who promised to call the babysitter and did not follow through.
Being right is a short-lived pleasure; a win at your partner’s expense.
The real win is discovering that when losing, you, in fact, lose nothing at all! The real win is that by losing you set yourself free.
No, I’m not suggesting that you pitch a fit when you don’t get your way. And, no, it’s not good to throw sand when you’re mad.
When I say act like a kid, I’m talking about being spontaneous, playful, knowing how to laugh, how to be silly, how to have fun.
In a great marriage, people can laugh at all sorts of things, including themselves. They can laugh at the ridiculous nonsense that they get caught up in as a couple. They can use laughter as a way to let go and forgive.
5. Fire the bean counter.
The most unhappy couples I know keep a ledger, tracking who does more, who’s slacking off, who’s got a better deal. They live in a climate of scarcity, fearful of being the one who gives more, fearful that they won’t get their fair share.
In a great marriage people aren’t worried about fairness or giving too much. They give because it feels good to be generous. They give because giving is an expression of love.
6. Be willing to leave the window open.
People say all the time that they want to be close and connected but they open themselves for barely a moment. The window is open; the window is closed.
Yes, vulnerability is risky. Nobody enjoys reaching out and not being met. Nobody leaps at the chance to go out on a limb and then… well… just hang out there for who knows how long.
Intimacy and connection require openness, vulnerability, a willingness to risk. Intimacy does not come with a guarantee that our bid for connection will be met with a smile or a kiss.
If you want a great marriage you need to be willing to open your window, to wait and see. You need to acknowledge the courage it takes to be open, come what may.
7. Have a keen eye for kindness.
Unhappy couples tend to take note of every slight and offense while being oblivious to most gestures of affection and kindness. It’s what’s known as a negativity bias: what positives there are end up being minimized or ignored, and the clearly visible and focused-upon negatives stand as “proof” of how truly dreadful things are.
No surprise, happy couples notice the good. They pause to appreciate it. They express thanks. Even (and especially) for the small, everyday acts.
It’s one of the first positive shifts troubled couples report:
“She was much more affectionate this week.”
“I’m really glad that he noticed!”
Yes, happy couples have their unhappy times, too. What they have going for them is they have plenty of “positives” to balance things out.
8. Know when to do a 180.
Most of us will walk right into trouble never considering that we have an alternative. We’ll step right into the same crummy argument, give the same ineffective response, make the exact move that has set our partner off every time that we’ve made it.
The alternative: when you’re at the edge of your personal danger zone, why not step back? Why keep going in a direction that is guaranteed to come to no good?
In a great marriage, one spouse or another will have the good sense to say, Lets not keep going with this. Let’s turn around.
And on the off chance that the other is bound and determined to forge ahead anyway, the steadier spouse can be the guardian of the relationship and simply choose not to follow.
9. Be willing to make the first move.
In all instances, someone has to go first. Someone has to be the first one to initiate a difficult conversation, extend an olive branch, reach for a kiss.
Couples who wait, hoping the other will make the first move, expecting the other to meet them halfway, may wait a lifetime, with both partners ending up feeling disappointed or unloved.
In the best marriages, couples step out of the “it takes two” paradigm. In the best marriages partners have the courage and willingness to be the one who goes all out.
My question for you — Why wait? You can have an okay marriage or a great one. Go on. Be fearless. You have nothing to lose.
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