After numerous rounds of marriage counseling, time spent thinking about why my marriage failed and what part both my ex and I had to play in this failure, I have a whole new way of looking at marriage than when I first said “I do.” Despite everything, I still 100 percent believe in marriage and love. I see couples all the time that remind me that marriage can be lovely. And then I see couples that should be happy, but they’re not. There are no major issues, but they seem to exist in misery.
When you’re unhappily married or having minor marital issues, you’re not typically announcing it to people. It’s like a dirty secret. Who wants to say that her happily ever after stinks? But here’s the good news: while there are indeed quite a few people in hopelessly bad marriages, most are perfectly capable of happiness. And I am here to say as someone who lived through this that there is one costly mistake you may be making in your marriage that is causing friction. In fact, you may be doing this mistake without even realizing it. And you may be doing this even if you’re in a relatively happy marriage.
Do you find yourself nagging your partner a lot? Or do you find yourself saying how your partner never does X or always does Y? For example, does your husband never clean up after himself? Do you frequently vent about this issue, whatever it is? Is it a constant fight between the two of you? If you answered yes, that’s the mistake I’m talking about.
Too often, people focus on what their partners are doing wrong rather than what they’re doing right. Even though it would be preferable and polite for your messy husband to pick up after himself, in the large scheme of things, is he doing things mostly right? Every single person in this world has flaws. When we sign up to marry someone, we’re basically signing this invisible document that says, “When exchanging vows with person X, you must tolerate his or her flaws, and remember the good every day despite the fact that person X may be utterly annoying at times” sign at the X. It’s all too common that over time as people get comfortable and take each other for granted, these little tiny issues become large in our mind and we forget to savor what our partner does so well because we’re focusing on that one thing he or she can’t do right. Fixing this issue takes two steps. The first one is realizing you’re doing it if you don’t already. The second is how to stop and what issues are worth letting go and what aren’t.
Are You Slamming Your Partner Too Much?
How often do you point out to friends, co-workers, and maybe even family what your partner is doing wrong? Do you frequently get irritated with your partner? Are you nagging your partner constantly? Do you resent him over these flaws of his? Do you hold back sex or affection? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are most likely focusing on your partner’s flaws too much.
What Issues Are Not Worth Letting Go
If your partner is abusive verbally, physically, or emotionally, you cannot let this slide! If he’s cheating, reckless with money, or abusing substances, he’s not a keeper! If he’s mean to the kids and irresponsible with their care,you’ve got a real big problem. These are issues that should be taken seriously.
Issues You Should Let Slide
Is he messy (not a hoarder, but simply messy)? Is he bad with romance, planning dates, or just average in bed? (Yes, I said that.) Is he overwhelmed at times when handling the kids? Is he forgetful? Does the concept of folding laundry befuddle him? These are the issues you should let slide. Most likely, you knew he was this way when you said “I do.” For all the times he left the clothes in the dryer, I bet if you focused on it, you could find another 50 times that he was there for you as your husband.
How to Stop
First, why are you obsessing over these small issues? Are you happy with yourself and where you two are as people and parents? I found that my ex and I tended to be harder on each other when we were feeling down about ourselves or our circumstances like money issues, unemployment periods, and pregnancy loss. The reality for both of us was that we were dissatisfied with situations in our life, and instead of placing accurate blame, at times we made each other the fall guy for our unhappiness. If you aren’t happy with yourself, you may unintentionally pick at your partner. It’s time to get yourself back to happiness, and that may mean seeing a counselor.
Have you gotten too comfortable, or are you simply bored? Sometimes we take our partners for granted because like our favorite pair of yoga pants, he has been there forever. And in case you didn’t get the memo, marriage can be utterly boring sometimes. It’s not like when you were dating and dealing with the intense roller coaster of love. Perhaps you need to invest in some alone time with your man. Maybe it’s time to even spice things up sexually a bit. Or why not try a new hobby or activity with your partner? We all get in marriage ruts from time to time. The trick is to snap out of it when it’s happening. I tried to pull my ex out of the rut we got in, but he was resistant. Don’t resist. Be open to change.
Take five minutes a day to reflect on what your main squeeze does right, and tell him! If you start to share not only your complaints but also your compliments, imagine the return you will get from this. Consider these compliments as deposits in your marriage. Every time you have something good to say, you’re investing in your partner. Every time you have something bad to say, you’re withdrawing. Put nagging in the category of “something bad to say” as well. I nagged too much at times, when I should have let it go or not bothered to beat a dead horse. Nagging is often destructive and doesn’t get your guy to do what you want. But when you share with your partner something great he did and focus on all he does bring to the table, I guarantee he will step up to the plate more and more. That was something my ex failed to do. I didn’t get positive feedback, and it hurt me deeply until I started to withdraw. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy when we focus on the negative in our partner: the more we tell them these things, perhaps the more the person starts to believe he or she is bad, and possibly even “become” what we have envisioned. It’s not good for your partner’s self-esteem, and it’s a negative place for you to be in.
At the end of the day, marriage means waking up each day and saying, “Even if you drive me crazy, I love you too much to be without you, so I’ll just let you make me slightly insane.” Reflect on all the wonderful things your partner brings to the marriage, and I promise the small things won’t seem so “big” anymore.
• Laura Lifshitz writes for www.popsugar.Mom, an online organisation on women and children