As we look to the new year, we often focus on ways to be “better” — resolving to do more of what’s good for us and less of what’s not. To (at least most of the time) come from our best.
For a good many of us, finding ways to have a more satisfying marriage is high on our list.
But in our rush for improvement, we overlook this key fact: Much of what makes marriage challenging is the stuff that’s not easily changed. The stuff that’s more about who we are and what we value. The stuff that can, unfortunately, drive us totally nuts.
Such as a spouse’s need for order or solitude, or another’s call to adventure. A tendency to dawdle or multi-task, a penchant for losing one’s keys.
This year, rather than list out your goals for change, why not commit to change nothing at all?
No, I’m not suggesting you live under miserable conditions with a spouse who’s mean, or ignores you, or makes you sleep on the couch. And I’m not saying you can’t also lay plans to, say, leave work by 6:30, or learn how to forgive.
I’m suggesting that you vow to make peace with your spouse just as he or she is.
Including her messiness, grumpiness, pickiness. His shoes left underfoot. His procrastination. His terrible jokes.
Think it’s impossible?
I promise, it isn’t.
If you’re up for the challenge, I suggest you start here:
1. Take stock of what’s good.
There’s a boatload of research documenting the value of gratitude. The same goes for paying attention to the aspects of life that are satisfying and good. If you have any hope of coming to peace with what is, it’s crucial to focus on what you appreciate, what makes you smile, what makes you glad you chose the person you did.
2. Right-size your complaints.
You’ll get no argument from me if you say your spouse is annoying. Each of us, in our own way, can be as annoying as hell.
Still, the things we swear we can’t live with — mail strewn on the counter, cracker crumbs in the bed; or worse, a spouse who will never apologize or insists she’s always right — these are things we’ve quite likely lived with for years.
Think that they’re deal breakers?
Unless you’re planning to make 2015 the year you divorce, you’re better off not working yourself into a twist.
3. Come down to earth.
Much unhappiness is derived from our “grass is greener” fantasies — from our idealization of the perfect spouse or the perfect marriage we assume others possess.
Think there’s some flawless person out there waiting for you? Think he or she will graciously overlook whatever foibles you have?
There’s a lot to be said for loving and being loved, warts and all.
4. Venture into new worlds.
The sooner you learn to tolerate and accept that you and your partner are not one and the same, the happier you’ll be.
Think your way is the only way? I guarantee that it is not.
We all have our preferred way of doing things. Stepping out of your comfort zone will make you more flexible (and a lot less self-centered) — both of which are good things!
5. Take a walk on the wild side.
Much of what happens in life is beyond our control. Politics, weather — and how our partner behaves.
Learning to accept that is no easy task.
While we have choices about what we ourselves do, we have zero ability to change or control anyone else.
I find it challenging enough to change the things I need to change in myself, never mind wasting my energy trying to change someone else.
We can fuss and freak out, or we can let go.
Given the alternative — tearing your hair out — this one’s a no brainier, if you can wholeheartedly pull it off.
Laughing about the things that won’t change creates needed space and perspective. It acknowledges the absurdity inherent in marriage.
It is, I believe, the ultimate act of acceptance.
7. Open your arms.
When it comes to marital happiness, generosity beats stinginess, hands down.
Learning to love and accept the person you married, as he or she is, will go better when you focus on being as kind and giving as you can be.
When we withhold love and affection, we shortchange our spouse and our marriage — and, consequently, ourselves.
Generosity says, I know you’re imperfect and I love you anyway. It’s says, I’m willing to forgive your shortcomings, even though I find them challenging.
Though there’s no guarantee, in a climate of generosity, chances are we’ll be forgiven our shortcomings as well.
Winifred M. Reilly, MA, MFT, is a psychotherapist specializing in marital therapy and relationship issues, with a private practice in Berkeley, Calif. She is the author of the relationship advice blog Speaking of Marriage and a forthcoming book that explains why relationships are so predictably frustrating and difficult and shows what couples can do besides fight, give up or drive each other crazy.
Winifred’s other articles on Kindness Blog include;