In part one I covered the importance of helping your partner and what real help looks like. Today in part two I will share with you the second ingredient in my recipe for a happy marriage …
State what it is you want clearly and without too much emotion
This rule sounds simple enough, but again there is a lot to it. So today I will only cover the first half about being clear about what you want and next week we will talk about why it is important to not use too much emotion in these kind of statements.
Before you can tell anyone else what you want, of course first you need to be clear about this in yourself. Doing this well requires vision …
Creating a Clear and Compelling Vision
Do you know what makes you happy? Have you thought about how what you are wanting right now will really make you feel?
Research clearly shows that most people are very bad at knowing what will make them happy in the long term.
Technically speaking this is described as the frontal lobe of our brain being a faulty simulator.
To demonstrate this to yourself take a moment now and think back to the last special event you planned.
- Was it something you thought would improve your marriage and family life and make you feel good?
- How did it end up?
- Did all your work and planning for that event really make you any happier?
- Now think about how that same kind of event has turned out for you in the past.
Should you have known better?
Steve and I used to think having parties was a good way to have fun and bring people together, eventually however we figured out that parties usually just end up making us feel tired, anxious and behind in our work (and housework) and are not a good way to form deep connections with people we like.
In a similar way I have learned that Steve is often better at knowing what makes me happy than I am.
So now, when I see Steve looking at all worried about my plans, rather than trying harder to sell my ideas to him, I stop and ask him questions instead. Sometimes I discover he is just being lazy (and I do have some pretty big and energetic ideas at times!) but other times I end up having to admit that what I was excited about probably wasn’t such a good idea after all. In the same way I have helped Steve see that watching football on the weekends often ends up making him feel bad. I don’t tell him he can’t watch the game, but sometimes I will laugh about him ‘gambling with his emotions’ as a reminder that watching a game of football can sometimes make him tense and emotional in a way that isn’t as much fun as he thinks it will be.
Steve and I have got so much better at this over the years. Now rather than going on holidays with our kids, we have started sending them on holidays with relatives (or a church or school camp) and we stay home and get caught up on our work instead. Are we being work-a-holics by choosing to stay home to work instead of choosing to go on holidays and relax? I don’t think so. Because I know that being caught up with work really is what makes us feel happy and relaxed. It also helps me enjoy my time off work better when I know that, not only am I caught up on the work I have to do, but that I am also finding time to work on my own projects and interests. Even more important is that when the kids get home from holidays, we are relaxed and feeling in a very good place to make their homecoming warm and welcoming.
This is just an example – but take a moment now and think about your own life and how the things you are planning right now are really likely to make you feel?
Have You Put Yourself in Your Partner’s Shoes?
You want to be loved and listened to and cherished and adored, right? But if that is all you are looking forward to in life I wonder if that is really going to be all that fulfilling for your partner? Just because someone loves you doesn’t mean their life will hold no other interests. This is why a good vision needs to incorporate challenges that help encourage your partner to work on their own projects, personal development and developmental gaps. Developing a compelling vision in which everyone gets their needs met is a leadership skill that requires insight into your loved ones’ hopes, dreams and fears.
Is Your Vision Realistic?
How many wives in history have said they want a love, “Just like Romeo and Juliet?” But think now how that ended. Do you really want that kind of romanticised, over emotional devotion? Our marriage help has nothing to do with this kind of crazy fantasy. I want to help you shake all of that crazy nonsense out of your head right now and start learning how to have a happy marriage for real.
Or likewise – maybe you want to be swept off your feet and carried away to the life of your dreams? I wonder if your partner even knows how to make themselves happy, let alone provide you with that kind of level of care? I look back in horror at all the expectations I had of Steve when we first married — when I should have seen that really he was still just a boy inside. Try not to make the same mistake!
But what about ambition? Isn’t it healthy to aim your sights high and pursue a vision that other people may say is unrealistic (because it is currently beyond your means)? Research would discourage this. It is important to have standards and to stretch ourselves a little in reaching our dreams, but it is also very important that we set goals for ourselves that we are actually able to achieve. If we find we are needing to deny our authentic self, lie, steal or cheat in the quest to obtain our dreams, it is time to stop and rethink what it is we are trying to achieve. In a research study where a year after one group of people had won the lottery and another had become paraplegic – both groups estimated that their happiness was about the same. What does this mean? It highlights once again that we are not always very good at predicting how outcomes will affect our happiness. In that light I wonder if there is any future worth denying your own peace of mind in pursuing?
Does Your Vision Give Your Marriage a Purpose?
What are you hoping your partnership will accomplish? As dull as it may sound to anyone still looking for thrills in life – right now Steve and I see our purpose as creating a stabilizing emotional base for our teenage kids, their friends, our neighbourhood and our extended family. That was a vision I put to Steve years ago and is one that has taken us a long time to achieve. But it has worked and has been worth every bit of effort required from us to make that dream real. The kids now all love our home and are drawn to the calm stability of our marriage and our cheerful daily domestic routine, much more than if we were trying to be exciting or cool. We have a beautiful small apartment right in town, where the kids friends often need a bed at night after they have been out. It might be a mattress on the floor of our lounge room – but they always know we are here and that they will always be greeted warmly and by name.
That simple vision of a stability so grounded and solid that it extends a stabilizing effect on the world around us has given our life so much more meaning than other more grandiose or self centred dreams.
Steve and my vision for the future sees us one day moving from the city to the country – where we hope to plant a small orchard and making our own cheese and traditional foods such as Kim-chee, Natto and sourkraute, on a property (with a tire swing out the front) that our grandkids can come share with us and enjoy. And if finances allow we might even build some small cabins for friends to come and stay for awhile – if they need to take some time out and find a bit of quiet time and healing now and then.
So what is your vision for your loved ones? Does it offer them security and emotional stability – with room for them to develop and explore their own talents and skills? What will you be doing in that vision? I wonder if you can start adding a little more of whatever that is into your life right now?
Steve and my stable community is growing and I hope that you will share this post and help our stable influence continue extending out into the world.
– In Part 3 I share more about the second part of today’s ingredient in my recipe for a happy marriage.