I’ll start with my disclaimer: I’m on my second marriage after being unable to save the first. In other words, if you don’t want to hear my relationship advice, I totally get it. I have learned a lot, though, and I’m eager to share my experience and wisdom gained if you are willing to lend a few minutes.
For starters — yes, marriage is hard! I’ve seen, heard, and lived that reality. Of course, running a business or a marathon is hard. Or having a baby. But throughout life, we go through quite a bit of pain for a little pleasure. Most of us work 50 weeks for a two-week vacation, right?
My first marriage rewarded me with, among other things, my children (who I could not possibly love more). My second marriage rewards me with a more respectful relationship and a deep level of fulfillment that I can’t imagine getting elsewhere. Love, security, friendship, companionship, sex, and someone who listens. It may not be the stuff of movies, but is the stuff that holds us together!
The Power of Giving
When it comes to growing your marriage, think giving, giving, and more giving. If you are with the right person, they will always try to give back; even if it takes them a while to catch on. My first wife and I tried to get a lot for ourselves, but I don’t think we took enough time to appreciate the power of giving. As humans, we want sex, to have someone listen to us, to have a nice meal, to live in a nice home, etc. But, a word of caution: you can’t get there from a place of selfishness.
I don’t mean to suggest that all marriage difficulties boil down to selfishness or laziness, and certainly don’t mean to trivialize more serious problems like physical or emotional abuse. What I’ve experienced and come to believe is that we can define our own reality based on simple choices and actions. If you are struggling with a marriage or relationship crisis, try asking yourself these three defining questions:
Which Lens are You Looking Through?
In a marriage or cohabiting relationship, partners easily fall into a trap of hyper-awareness about the other’s mistakes or shortcomings. Meanwhile, they unintentionally minimize the positive aspects of the relationship. So I ask, “Which lens are you looking through?”
All too often, we zoom in on the things we don’t like — a bad habit, a pet peeve, a disagreement – and leave the rest out of focus. I get it. But if you’re feeling annoyed at your partner, it can be useful to check the lens. Are you using a zoom lens, whereas a wide-angle lens might better reflect what you hoped to see?
The happiest people tend to ignore the petty little things — and even some of the big ones. They simply admire the traits of their partner that they love.
How Will I Fix It?
This question is a call to action that can jumpstart a change in one way or another — but, more than that, it is a point of responsibility. If you are in a relationship, it is your responsibility to fix it, not to stand in judgment. You are not a film critic. It is not your position to stand back and explain what is wrong.
It is simply your job to solve it. This is not a 50/50 proposition, it is a 100% proposition. Each person needs to give their all.
The way it works is like this: When something is wrong in the marriage, stop and ask yourself how you’ll fix it. Telling the other person what to do or what to change will not fix things. This also serves to remind you of what the problem isn’t. It’s not you or them. People aren’t problems that can be fixed. Instead, the ongoing problem is something specific. Uncovering what it is (if you don’t already know) is the first step to fixing it.
In some cases, you may conclude that you’re dealing with something that can’t be fixed. It may help you decide to let go of the issue or it may lead you to realize that the relationship is unsustainable. In any case, the decision you make will be one you reached logically, not emotionally or irrationally.
Who Said So, Anyway?
We tell ourselves all kinds of things like, “She shouldn’t have done that,” or, “I always knew I was bad at relationships,” or “This is going to ruin my life.” But wait — who said so? Many of the stories we tell ourselves are just mashups of what we learned to think and believe somewhere along the line. As adults, we can choose to believe them, ignore them, or better yet rewrite them.
If I hate it when my wife doesn’t empty the dishwasher, I have several different choices. I can empty it myself. I can leave it alone and decide I don’t hate it anymore, or even hire a maid. Sure, I can really draw a line in the sand and say this is the last straw, but really?
What issue is really so important that I am going to spend my life being an unhappy, grumbling upset person? Since that is not who I want to be, I am certainly not going to let my notions of what is and isn’t important control me.
Starting today, you can become good at relationships. Don’t let things ruin your life. Be the person who can manage this marriage. Be the person who is more patient, understanding, and tolerant. Practice being the person who is great for this exact relationship.
You may find that if you practice and practice, you can become a master at doing things you never thought you could.
Redefining Your Marriage Isn’t Easy — But It Could be Worth It
There may be an infinity of questions you could ask to help reframe your perspective around your marriage, or even around relationships in general. For me, I have discovered that I can have a happy marriage, and can be happy myself in my relationship. It is not my wife’s job to make me happy. That is my job. It is also my job to make her happy.
Remember the part about it not being 50/50? I realize that happiness is 100% my job. That is what has helped me. I hope it can help you, too.
This post is republished on Medium.
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