Author note: This is one of a series giving a sneak peek into what I discovered about what makes happy marriages so happy! After years of nationally-representative research with more than 1,000 couples, I reveal the twelve most important little habits in The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference. See www.surprisingsecrets.com for more!
To have a happy marriage, you must treat your spouse with kindness instead of “brutal honesty”; although you must be able to be honest and transparent, address difficult issues, and/or joke around, be careful to never do it in a way your mate will perceive as hurtful or disrespectful.
Have you ever been out in public and heard someone talking to their spouse in a way that made you wince?
Like: “I cannot believe you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning again! I asked you three times. What were you thinking?”
Whenever I have heard someone use that tone, I have always thought to myself: Would you ever use that tone with a close friend? If not… why would you ever speak that way to your spouse?!
It is so easy in marriage to take our spouse for granted, and to take intimacy for license. We subconsciously can think Since we’re married, I don’t have to be as careful to be polite. We have to love each other regardless, so I can just speak without thinking about how it is perceived.
It is easy to assume that – but it is poisonous to the relationship. In the research with the happiest couples, I noticed something quite different: a high degree of kindness. These couples would certainly be transparent and share the “real deal”…. they would joke around… but that is when they are also especially careful to not do it in a way that their mate would perceive as hurtful.
I hear the term “brutal honesty” thrown around a lot when I interview people – people say “you have to be able to be brutally honest in marriage”. But you know what? I have never heard those words from the highly happy husbands and wives. They’re respectful of each other in public and in private. They are very aware that when you need to be “honest”, it is when you need to be most careful not to hurt the feelings of the person you means the most to you. Kindness, for them, is a way of life.
The sad truth is, the spouses I talked to who have a “take it or leave it” attitude about how they come across expressed feeling deeply insecure in their marriage and emotionally “unsafe” at home. And so did their spouses.
I’m not saying we should walk on eggshells around our mates. Sometimes a difficult truth must be spoken, but that doesn’t mean we have to fling any eggs, either!
From Chapter 10 of The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, by Shaunti Feldhahn.