How to Get a Happier Marriage: Stop Gnawing on Your Grievances Like Hot Wings
I'm certain I'm not the only person out there who -- upon entering married bliss -- assumed my way of living was the best way, if not the only way. I may be a unique case in that I assumed finances should be attacked immediately and with death-ray focus, that random piles of paper were a sign of of the Armageddon and that birthdays should be celebrated with fanfare and ticker tape parades. However, I was unprepared for my husband's ability to tell with psychic intuition whether or not I had really ironed my shirt before I stepped out of the bedroom. And it mattered to him.
What? You mean we had to explain our pet peeves and expectations to each other?
Yeah, you do.
Why You Have to Share What Bothers You, Then Shake It Off
You have to explain what bothers you so that he knows that you know that he knows. (Or she.) And then you have to realize "point taken" is an acceptable response and stop gnawing on your grievances like hot wings long after the conversation ends.
You don't have to do this because it's the nice thing to do. It is, but that's not the point. You have to let it go because if you don't, even minor irritations compound yearly like credit card interest until the bill comes due for many couples who find themselves wondering who the hell they married.
I am not a very good shaker-offer. It's taken years of therapy to teach me I was getting something out of holding grudges, and that thing was the lovely self-righteousness of martyrdom. Except ... I'm not a martyr. And nothing was really wrong. And all the victim behavior was really just giving me a headache and making me miserable.
I had the power to stop that crap any time I wanted to. So one day, I woke up and realized it was pretty damn selfish of me to expect my husband to do things my way. I could continue to play the victim and moan that I was the only person who ever cleaned the toilets or I could stop expecting him to read my mind, hand him the toilet bowl cleaner and smile sweetly as I fired up the lawn mower to relieve him of the chore that I had never done since he came into my life. I could silently seethe at the sight of a full dishwasher or I could start scooping out the cat litter more often without even mentioning that I was doing it, instead leaving him a pristine pile of unscented goodness at the end of a hard day. I could focus on the chores or I could focus on getting them done as fast as possible in order to have some fun, already.
The No Drudgery Rule
I wasn't the only one feeling bogged down by our lives. He felt the exact same way. And so, eight years in to wedded bliss, we instigated the "no drudgery" rule.
It goes like this: You have to scrub toilets sometimes. No matter who you are, you still have to give your kids a bath when you have a pounding headache or weed the flower bed when it's 8,000 degrees outside or stay late at work when you just want to go back to bed. Life is full of little chores and petty inconveniences. You can either keep a tally of who's doing what and when or you can divide up chores, play to your strengths and preferences and try to pick up the slack for whoever had the worst day as often as possible. And you do it without pointing it out, without needing praise, because in your own head you know you did something nice out of love and not to get some extrinsic reward.
The other part of the no drudgery rule is this: You realize that no matter how annoying all the extra steps you have to take to make life easier for the other person are, they're far less painful than living with the simmering undercurrent of unhappiness in a long-term relationship. Climbing a mountain with a two-year-old sticking her fingers in your nose is easier than spending five minutes in a room crackling with the electricity of hurt and anger. The effort it takes to make life more pleasant for everyone involved is nothing -- nothing -- when compared to the effort of being miserable in the same room as the love of your life.
BlogHer Contributing Editor Melissa of Stirrup Queens experienced that feeling when she found a pair of panties (in what turned out to be a colossal mix-up) in her husband's work bag. Even though her fears were unfounded, she felt the force of what is harder:
Because for ten minutes this morning, life felt so fragile that two beings could be cleaved apart by a bad choice. That there are no absolutes in determining what one should do; we are left feeling our way through the dark. My heart broke all over again for every friend and family member who has experienced divorce because even feeling the heat from the figurative flame burned so badly and deeply that it was excruciating. I cannot imagine how it feels to actually stick your whole hand into the fire.
It can be easy, from the safety of the relationship, to get really amped up about minor brush-ups until you have a moment like Melissa's when you realize how hard it is to be self-righteous about a relationship when two people live in the world. How hard it is to say how you would react in any given situation.
Sheri at Unexpected Bliss is the type of person who sticks to one path. She writes:
What I always have to remember is that when I got married and when I had kids, I chose a path. A path with great blessings and rewards, but also a path with a few less opportunities than the open road I was on before. A path with fewer exits. The key for me is that I chose it.
I know a lot of people who feel that way, and I think it's actually admirable, but it's just not me. I'm on my fourth or fifth career at 36. I tried to have my tubes tied at 18 and am now the mother of my much-cherished young daughter. I recognize that the more I try to force myself down a path because "it's what I chose," the less attractive that path becomes for me. But I've also learned to value my relationship so highly that I try to see any anger coming my way from his perceptive before I let loose in defense.
He and I have been honest with each other: We are not staying just because we chose to stay eight years ago. We are here because we are what's best for each other now. As long as we continue to treat each other and our lives together with respect, as long as we focus on the fun instead of the drudgery, nothing else will ever hold a candle to our marriage. We can't worry about the outside world, because as long as it's better in here, nothing out there can hurt us.
How to Let It Go
It's easier to apply the "no drudgery" rule to marriage when you're applying it to your entire life. I called Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, to ask her how I could get happier. We talked for a long time, but a few points kept bubbling back up for me. They were:
- Hug more, kiss more, touch more. It doesn't need to be penciled in. It doesn't require extra time. You'll be happier, they'll be happier. Try it.
- Get enough sleep. (This one made me laugh, as someone who edited a book sarcastically called Sleep Is for the Weak.) Everything is easier when you get enough sleep -- it is the foundation for a healthy, happy life.
- Give proof of love. Cut your partner some slack. Do something that's not "your" job, and do it cheerfully, because you love him or her. If you're getting your guests a drink, get one for your partner, too.
- Realize when you do things, you're also doing them for yourself. You don't need to wait for other people to recognize your efforts. You can recognize that what you are doing -- cleaning the kitchen, for example -- benefits you as well as the people you live with. Give your own gold stars.
How do you combat boredom and frustration in your day-to-day life? What could you do today to make yourself and your partner happier?
This is the second post in our How to Get a Happier Marriage Series. If you've missed one, check out the archive.