Most of us marry for love. We naively assume that because our love is different or we’re more determined that we’ll be one of the lucky couples who will arrive and remain at the magical place of “Happily Ever After” from the moment we say “I do.”
At least that’s how my first marriage started out. And I’m not alone. 99% of couples walking down the aisle for the first time believe they have arrived at the mythical land of “Happily Ever After” and that all they have to do is start enjoying the magic of it.
OK, I totally made up that statistic up because I couldn’t find any data on it. But seriously, the number of couples who believe their married life will be blissful has gotta be huge! Right?
If you’ve been married beyond the rose-colored haze of the honeymoon phase, you know that marriage is not always happy. In fact, there are moments when marriage is absolutely hell on earth.
It’s in these moments (or hours, but hopefully not days, months or years) of hell that you’re most likely to question whether or not divorce might be worth it.
Before you start Googling “divorce attorney”, take a step back, take a deep breath and let’s get real about what it does take to live “Happily Ever After” more of the time.
(Of course, if there’s abuse, untreated mental illness or addictions, throw what I’m about to say out the window. Stop reading this and get back to Googling “divorce attorney.” You need to get divorced.)
It takes a daily commitment and effort to making your marriage work. There’s no magic wand you or anybody else can wave that will make your marriage perfect, so roll up your sleeves and get ready to work on yourself.
Yup, you read that right. You need to work on improving you and not your spouse. If you focus on what your spouse has to change, all you’re going to do is drive a wedge between the two of you. Do what you can to make things better even if the one thing that will change everything is if your spouse would only do x.
But don’t worry, you’re not the only one who will change. What happens is as you change, your spouse is more easily able to change without feeling like you’re pressuring them into it. (Read more about this phenomenon in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.)
One of the things you need to do is hold your spouse in high esteem and maybe even higher esteem than they have necessarily earned. Over the years many researchers have observed that people tend to live up to the expectations others have of them. (Here are a couple of references for you: How the Power of Expectations Can Allow You to ‘Bend Reality’ and How Other People’s Unspoken Expectations Control Us.)
Holding your spouse in high esteem will probably mean you’ll need to change your perspective of them. You’ll need to start assuming they have the best of intentions when they do things instead of what they’re purposefully doing something to piss you off. You’ll also need to kindly let them know when they’re doing something that really is beneath them because you both know they’re better than that.
“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Another of the changes you’ll want to consider making is creating a climate of emotional stability (yup, even when you fight – The Atlantic). Nothing makes life more miserable than a bunch of drama – well, sure it is exciting for a while, but we’re talking about “Happily Ever After” not an entertaining weekend.
How do you create an emotionally stable environment? There are 4 key elements to this type of climate:
- You are generally happy.
- You see the possibilities instead of obstacles.
- You choose to accentuate the positive.
- You genuinely celebrate each other’s successes.
In fact, University of California at Santa Barbara psychology professor Shelly Gable published research in 2006 showing that how a couple celebrates is more predictive of strong relationships than how they fight. Other research shared in 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships reports that people who see their partner’s success as being a shared success are 63% more likely to feel that their relationship is satisfying. What this means is the next time your spouse has some good news to share, if you get involved and share their joy you’ll get your marriage headed back toward bliss.
Sharing your mate’s excitement about good news is one thing, but being an interesting person who can create a sense of excitement and anticipation is another thing all together. Remember: Boring is bad for relationships.
Having a passion for life and taking an avid interest in something that thrills you (like mountain climbing, gardening, cycling, volunteering, etc.) will make you glow and be even more attractive to your spouse. Psychologist K. Daniel O’Leary and colleagues at Stony Brook University found that living an engaging life is a necessary ingredient of long-term love. And you gotta put a little love in your heart for the trip to “Happily Ever After”.
You can also create excitement and anticipation in your marriage by trying new things together. Two ideas that science says help improve relationships are pretending your date night is a first date and playing together. Yeah, take that however you need to so long as it’s fun!
Hopefully, you’ve loved all this research as much as loved pulling it all together. But sometimes it’s really easy to believe that research is one thing and real life is another. So let me share with you some real life.
My first marriage ended in divorce. All of the determination I had that we were different was wrong. I didn’t know that it was up to me to change and that making suggestions and hoping for my husband to change would never work to keep us together.
Now in my current marriage things are entirely different. Although, things did start out a bit rocky. And I “knew” that my husband needed to change in order for things to get better.
But then I did some research and some growing up. I got busy changing me and my perspectives. And you know what? My marriage has continually gotten better since then.
Have we arrived at “Happily Ever After”? No, but we each commit every day to continue our journey there together.
Originally Published on DrKarenFinn.com
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