If You Were To Do One Thing To Improve Your Marriage, Make It This
With the Bachelor on break and being all caught up on the Kardashians, I was recently faced with the terrible dilemma of finding some other form of nightly entertainment that requires zero brain power and that helps me shut my mind down for the night.
Talk about a first world problem. 🙂
Anyway, after succumbing to a new personal low with Mariah’s World, I started bingeing on the first season of Married At First Sight.
Married At First Sight may sort of fall in the category of brainless reality TV, but if you are fascinated by human relationships, then it’s actually rather interesting.
If you are not yet familiar with this TV gem, here’s how it goes down: Relationship experts use scientific criteria to pair up single wanna-be-marrieds who literally meet each other for the very first time at the altar. After living with each other for five weeks, the couples make a decision to either stay married or get divorced.
The kinds of arguments and conflicts these couples got into not only provided juicy entertainment while I was lounging on the sectional with my bowl of cashews, but they also brought back memories of the early years of my own marriage. (There was even a clear introvert – extravert conflict!)
My husband and I have been married for 18 years, together for 24, since the ripe old age of 17! I consider myself fortunate to have met my life partner so young – there is a certain irreplaceable bond that comes with many years of shared life experiences.
BUT… being so young, we didn’t understand shit about ourselves, let alone each other, when we decided to spend the rest of our lives together. And maaan, did we clash during those early years! We were teeter-tottering on the brink of divorce a gazillion times. Once I even created a spreadsheet to divide up all our possessions. And browsing the internet for vacant apartments was a regular past time during that period of time. 🙂
But our love and commitment to each other was always just a little bit bigger than the moment’s anger. And over time we figured out how to make it work without constant battle.
You wanna know how?
Well, if I had to pick one thing that has made the biggest difference – the one thing without which I probably would be busy decorating that single-lady one-bedroom apartment right now – it would be this:
Figure out what makes your spouse tick and then honor it!
While my husband and I have a lot of important stuff in common in terms of interests and values, we also clash in a few crucial ways – so bad that some personality experts would call us a terrible match.
And for many years, we both made these mistakes:
- Thinking that my way of being is superior.
- Thinking that if the other person would just act more like I do, everything would be better.
- Waiting for the other person to change.
Until we learned that the vast majority of our conflicts were not a matter of right and wrong.
Until we learned that we were simply two very different human beings, with different preferences.
Until we learned to find words to describe, understand, and, yes, even value our differences.
Until we learned that our differences can make us a stronger team – not weaker.
Here are the steps we have taken along the way for a better marriage and a few resources we have found particularly helpful:
How To Improve Your Marriage
1. Make Sure You Are In A Two-Sided Relationship
I believe very strongly that in order for any relationship to work, both parties need to be willing to work on it and to compromise. Sometimes one person might need to make the first move and convince the other one to play along. But it really does take two in the end.
If you are in a perpetually one-sided relationship where you are the only one ever making the effort, it might be time to evaluate whether the relationship is worth continuing.
2. Understand Why You Clash And How To Stop
My husband and I used to get into the same tired arguments over and over and over. The reasons why became startlingly clear when I read Just Your Type: Create the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted Using the Secrets of Personality Type by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger. With shocking accuracy, this book laid out exactly how and why we clash plus gave recommendations for overcoming these conflicts.
The awesome thing about this book is that the advice is not generic – there are chapters for every possible personality type pairing, so once you figure out your and your partner’s personality types, you get advice that’s very specific to the ways your particular types clash.
I’m a head in the clouds, idealistic, philosophical, abstract-thinking intuitive introvert forever searching for new possibilities and ways to change things for the better. My husband is a practical, down-to-earth, status-quo loving, busy bee extravert. We have fundamentally different temperaments, but now that we understand each other better, we have learned to see the value in our differences.
Another great book based on the same idea is Intimacy and Type: Building Enduring Relationships by Embracing Personality Differences by Jane Hardy Jones and Ruth Sherman. But it’s not quite as specific, so if you were to only get one book, make it Just Your Type.
3. Learn To Love Your Spouse The Way S/he Needs To Be Loved
It never occurred to me until I read Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts that different actions make different people feel loved and cared for. According to Chapman, there are five love languages:
- Words of affirmation
- Acts of service
- Quality time
And if you only show your spouse love in YOUR language and YOUR language is not the same as your spouse’s, your spouse will never feel loved.
For example, my husband’s love language is acts of service, while mine is quality time. So we used to end up with lots of variations of this:
“Why the f*ck is she just sitting there? Why can’t she help?”
“Why the f*ck is he always doing something? Why can’t he ever just sit down and hang out with me?”
Lesson learned: Love your spouse not how you want to be loved, but how s/he wants to be loved.
Conveniently we also realized that neither one of us values gifts, so we quit wasting money and effort on a love language that neither one of us cares about. 🙂
So there you have it. The one thing we needed more than anything else was a deeper understanding of where the other person was coming from.
What about you? What’s your biggest relationship struggle? I would love to hear from you in the comments below. 🙂