Tip 13: Realize that several small changes usually make the big difference
One of the most effective things we can do to encourage our marriages is to knock down the widespread myth that marriage is utterly hard and complicated and that having a good marriage, or fixing a troubled one, requires a Ph.D. in psychology. Or a Master’s in mind-reading.
When things are going great, we don’t think about that. But the moment we face trouble, start arguing, start having hurt feelings, it becomes a subconscious stumbling block. Why? It makes it all too easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed. After all, thinking that we will have months or years of exhausting struggle or intensive therapy ahead, with no certain outcome, predisposes us to give up all too quickly.
But in all the research I’ve done over the years, it is clear that having a great marriage or healing a broken one is usually dependent on the little things, not the big ones! And hundreds of marriage therapists have confirmed this. Most marriage breakdowns are not caused by what you might call the deep, systemic big-ticket problems—for example, by one spouse being a blackout alcoholic or having been sexually abused as a child. Those problems do happen and it is tragic when they do, but they aren’t the majority of cases.
Instead, most of us deeply care about our spouse and are trying very hard – but we don’t realize that we are trying hard in the wrong areas, so we aren’t making the other person feel cared for in the way we think we are. Or we are doing something that is hurting the person we care most about. For example, a husband might be exhausting himself, working 70 hours a week to provide nice things for his wife and say “I love you,” and simply doesn’t understand that for her (like most women), she wants him more than anything he could provide… so she is feeling unloved! Or a wife has no idea that when she tells her husband what to do a lot (just trying to help!) she is sending the message that “you are inadequate,” which for him (like most men) is his most painful feeling.
So despite our best efforts, the hurt feelings spiral, as we start believing that the other person “just doesn’t care.” We subconsciously begin to see everything in that light. All too soon, things seem dark; we have been trying so hard but nothing is changing. We helplessly feel like we are at the bottom of a deep pit and we don’t know how to get out.
All of that may feel true, but – in most cases, at least – it isn’t! Instead, it is as if there is actually a door right beside us in the darkness. We just need to open it and see that the place we are isn’t actually a pit, and we don’t have to make an exhausting climb to get out. Usually, we can learn some key things about our mate’s unseen needs and insecurities, change a few actions and habits of thought, and see some radical differences in our relationship right away (see a few examples below). Sometimes we may have to be completely one-sided for a while if our spouse has “checked out.” But in most cases (although sadly not all) a few strategic changes will in the end make a huge difference.
We don’t have room here to discuss what all those are, but many of them are part of my Marriage Month and Marriage Monday partnership with Christian Post; you can see these by signing up for the feed on my blog. But here are just a few little examples of actions that are, statistically, particularly high-leverage:
- What a wife can do: Look for things for which you can say “thank you.” The For Women Only research showed that where women wonder does he really love me? most men wonder does she really appreciate me? So your sincere appreciation for the little day-to-day things he does (“thank you for changing the lightbulbs that were burnt out”) makes your man feel, down deep, she cares about me.
- What a husband can do: Reassure your wife that “we’re okay” when you are displeased– especially if you have to pull away and get some space. Because most women have that subconscious question, would he choose me all over again?, some painful feelings are triggered in conflict. Saying “I need some space for a few hours, but we’re okay” reassures her.
- What both of you can do. Whenever your are hurt by your spouse, look for the more generous explanation and act as if that is the real one – because it probably is. One of the most important things that the happiest spouses do differently is to refuse to believe the worst of their mate’s intentions. If you think “He knew how that would make me feel, and he said it anyway”, that translates to “he doesn’t care”: and it’s downhill from there. But more than 99 percent of people deeply care about their spouse – and a huge reason why some couples are struggling is that one or both partners doesn’t believe it. Changing your assumption to “I know he loves me; he must not have known how that would make me feel”, will make everything about your response different.
Yes, some marriages face problems that are extremely complex to solve, but those are rare. Most of the time, seeing that you can accomplish a great deal with a few simple changes will give you the hope that having a good marriage might not be so hard and complicated after all.
Join us tomorrow for the secret need of men that women need to know.
Drawn from Chapter 6 of The Good News About Marriage, by Shaunti Feldhahn.
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage (now through June 30, buy a copy of Good News from your favorite retailer, and receive an additional copy FREE from Multnomah Books – up to 100 copies!). A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Shaunti speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and corporate events. (Inquire about Shaunti speaking, or visit www.shaunti.com for more.)
Welcome to Marriage Month! From June 5 to July 4, join us here in the Christian Post Book Corner as I share my top findings on the little, eye-opening things that make a big difference in creating great marriages and relationships. Today’s post is one of a series on the difference hope makes in marriage – and the 8 year investigation that debunked the discouraging myths we have all believed about marriage and divorce.