Back in the day, I was an analyst on Wall Street. In the world of finance, there are all sorts of sexy, exotic ways to earn and save extra money, but one of the most proven methods is also the most basic: a phenomenon known as compound interest. Dave Ramsey calls it a “mathematical explosion.” If you invest money, you receive the return back with the interest earned. If you then reinvest that return, you earn interest on the interest. Mathematical explosion…boom!
It turns out, we can do the same thing in marriage. Over the course of several research studies, we discovered a few specific ways to “invest” in marriage that deliver compound results—results that end up being far sexier than you might expect. (And yes, one of them involves sex!)
Whether you’re in a great place in your marriage or are really discouraged and barely hanging on, try these five steps and watch your marriage respond in an explosive way.
Step 1: Assume the best of your spouse’s intentions toward you
Straight up, assume that your spouse cares for you, and doesn’t mean to hurt you. In my research for The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, this one habit was clearly the most important for those who want a happy marriage.Assume that your spouse cares for you, and doesn’t mean to hurt you. Click To Tweet
When your spouse hurts your feelings (since we will all hurt each other’s feelings from time to time!) don’t assume “he doesn’t care” or “I’ll never be able to please her.” Instead, assume the best of your spouse’s intentions toward you: in other words, that your spouse really does love you, respect you, and wants the best for you. In my research, more than 99% of people cared about their mates — and the number was almost the same even among the most struggling couples! (97 percent.) In fact, out of the 1,261 people officially surveyed, only nine people said they no longer cared. Not 9 percent but nine people! Even the best among us can be a jerk sometimes, but it doesn’t mean we’ve stopped caring.
So, the next time your husband is late for a big dinner (when he knows how important it is) or your wife forgets to take her car in to the shop (when she knows that that means you’ll have to miss the football game to do it yourself), remember this step. It is fine to acknowledge being disappointed. But absolutely stop yourself from thinking “he/she doesn’t care about me.” Instead, remember that because they do care they are not intentionally trying to disappoint you or selfishly exploit you.
By choosing to respond as if the most generous explanation is the true one, you will find that it is suddenly easier to respond well. The choice to believe in your spouse’s goodwill may start out being difficult, but you’ll also find that it quickly becomes natural.
Step 2: Learnt little things that most hurt or heal your spouse’s feelings — not yours.
I spoke at a women’s lunch yesterday and shared a few truths about men and relationships that women tend to not realize. And in the book signing line afterward I heard, yet again, from a sweet single mom, the saddest thing I routinely hear: “If I had known just a few of these things two years ago, I wouldn’t be divorced right now.”
There are so many marriages that are suffering from something as tragically stupid as a lack of a little information: especially about what most hurts or heals the feelings of the opposite sex. And gaining just a little new knowledge about those things that hurt or heal our mate’s feelings are often life-changing!Gainingknowledge about what hurts or heals our mate’s feelings is often life-changing. Click To Tweet
For example, ladies, we don’t realize that men look all strong and confident – and can be absolutely crushed by what seem like minor words of criticism that we toss out without thinking. (“I can’t believe you forgot to give Parker his lunch box for school today!” “Did you even look at how wrinkled the clothes were getting when you crammed them in the drawers?”) Why? Because unlike us, men live with a deep-seated doubt about whether they measure up. Feeling inadequate is, statistically, the most painful feeling a man can feel. Those sorts of off-the-cuff statements wouldn’t bother us in quite the same way, so we simply don’t realize how much they hurt his feelings—or how often we say them.
On the other hand, men, you can crush your wife without realizing it, by (for example) working a gazillion hours to provide for your family and not realizing that, statistically, your wife would probably trade off the extra money and extra stuff if it just meant she could get more of you. Instead, you sacrifice going to Parker’s soccer games to provide more for the family—and don’t see how deeply your constant absences hurt her heart.
Once we learn what matters most – not to us but to our spouse – suddenly we will see every day how a few simple changes will make a big difference. (I don’t want to make this a commercial, but truly, the simple information in For Women Only and For Men Only is often enough all on its own.)
Step 3: Be the first one to change
Now that you are assuming the best in your spouse and willing to learn, stop waiting around! You be the change agent! Don’t say to yourself, “I’ll do my part once he does his,” or, “I’ll stop being distant once she apologizes.” Because if you wait, that means you’ll be actively withholding the words or actions of affection or appreciation that will end up making all the difference!
And doing those things actively changes how you see your marriage. In my most recent research project, on the 30-Day Kindness Challenge, I found that when you purposefully look for the good in your spouse and applaud it daily, the most important and immediate change you’ll see will be in you. You will see “applause-worthy” things you simply never noticed before—which makes you like your spouse more! Which then makes continuing the change easier and easier over time.Look for the good in your spouse and applaud it daily. Click To Tweet
So today leave a note on the mirror letting your husband know you’re wishing him luck on that construction deal, and that you’re proud of him. Or tell your wife how nice she looks when she comes down the stairs ready for work. Your perception of your spouse will become more positive the more you act loving first — and keep it going, regardless of whether it is reciprocated.
Step 4: Prioritize sex
Here’s that topic I promised. Many different research studies — both my own and those of other researchers — have found that one of the most crucial little things a couple can do to strengthen their marriage is to connect in sexual intimacy on a regular basis.To strengthen a marriage, connect with sexual intimacy on a regular basis. Click To Tweet
It is very easy to let sex go, or even actively avoid it, when we are busy, stretched, or at odds with one another. And yet that creates a negative spiral. Because as I discuss elsewhere, our desire for sex (especially among women) actually decreases as we stop having it. Which leaves this absolutely crucial type of marital connection and intimacy something that can feel like a chore or even a selfish demand. And yet as we make sexual connection a priority (ideally once a week or more), science has found that we will want sex more, and it will become a positive spiral instead.
Step 5: Watch for and build on any dividends you see from your spouse
Now it’s time to reinvest those dividends! When you are assuming the best in your spouse and working on the things you can do, you are showing one-sided kindness toward your spouse. And in almost 15 years of research, I’ve found that kindness really is a superpower. It is supernatural and transformational. So statistically, at some point in your one-sided effort you will start to see improvement. Not only will you begin to change the way you see your spouse but your spouse will begin to change as well.
So, keep a sharp lookout for anything different. When you begin to see a tiny spark of something new and positive from your spouse, love and honor them even more. Respond positively to that spark! It means an explosion is on the horizon.When you see something new & positive from your spouse, love & honor them even more. Click To Tweet
Helping people thrive in life and relationships is Shaunti Feldhahn’s driving passion, supported by her research projects and writing. After starting out with a Harvard graduate degree and experience on Wall Street, her life took an unexpected shift into relationship research. She now is a popular speaker around the world and the author of best-selling books about men, women, and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage)
Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to almost every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.