All couples want to be happy in their marriages. But is that even possible? The reality is that on any given day I experience happiness in one moment, and not so much in another. This is normal. In my work as a counselor, I’ve come to understand that couples who describe themselves as “happily married” aren’t talking about the feeling of happiness necessarily. They’re describing a certain kind of positive emotional closeness they experience with their spouse that is satisfying and consistent. With that in mind, here’s three things that emotionally close “happy” couples do every day.
Express appreciation and thanks
No surprise here. One of the primary ways a person feels happy and fulfilled is by being appreciated. To have another person say “Thanks. I appreciate you. You’re a valuable part of my life.” This is true in friendships, in the workplace, and certainly in marriage. What is surprising is how often married couples forget to do it. The temptation is to take for granted the people closest to us. Most times, we do appreciate them, but we fail to say so. As a result, our spouse feels unappreciated, overlooked, or even unloved. So it’s critically important to say thank you for something every single day. Even better, express appreciation multiple times throughout the day, for even trivial things.
In our house, one of my jobs is to make coffee for us every morning. And I don’t just mean brewing coffee. I mean grinding the whole beans, measuring the coffee and water just right, heating the half and half, then frothing it right before pouring the perfectly brewed coffee into the mug. It’s quite a process. And every single morning, without fail, Marlina always looks at me and say “Thank you for making our coffee. It’s great!” And can you guess what I feel? Happy. Appreciated. All that good stuff. And when Marlina cleans the kitchen (which we both hate) I’m quick to say, “Thanks for cleaning the kitchen. I know that’s no fun.” And what does she feel? Happy. Appreciated. It seems like such a small thing, but it’s relationally HUGE. So take time to express appreciation to your spouse for something, every single day.
Disagree with a smile
Yes, happily married couples disagree about something almost every day. Whether it’s simple things like which restaurant to eat at, or what route to take. Or bigger things like parenting issues, happily married couples have disagreements all the time. The reality is, conflict is inevitable in any relationship, but it’s how we handle conflict that leads to either intimacy or isolation. Emotional closeness or emotional distance. The way we express our disagreements makes all the difference.
When we express our disagreements with a smile, we maintain this all-important positive emotional connection. A smile says “I like you. I care about you. I may disagree with you on this, but it doesn’t change the way I feel about you.” A smile frees your spouse to share their point of view without feeling judged or criticized. This leads to greater intimacy in the relationship. On the other hand, when we frown, or worse yet, give an angry, exasperated look, our spouse feels rejected and/or unsafe and tends to either be defensive or withdraw. This leads to isolation. So feel free to disagree! Without being disagreeable.
Give each other permission to NOT be okay.
Okay, I’m not saying your spouse is going to be in a bad space every single day. What I am saying is happily married couples give their spouse room to have a bad day. Or week. A healthy spouse is able to say, “It’s okay for you not to be okay.” And here’s what I mean by healthy. We don’t take it personally when our spouse is upset about something, even if their upset with us. We don’t automatically assume we’ve done something wrong, or there’s something we need to fix. Instead we (wait for it…)
We create a safe place for them to tell us what they’re feeling, without judging them…or ourselves. We say things that invite dialogue like, “What are you feeling right now?” And when they share, we say things, “It’s okay. Tell me more.” We don’t rush to resolve it. And if our spouse doesn’t feel like talking about it right now, that’s okay too. We simply practice presence. “I’m here. It’s okay.”
We don’t say things like, “What’s wrong with you?” or “What have I done now?” We don’t jump in and try to fix it, or solve the problem. If our spouse wants help with something, they’ll ask for it. And whatever they share, it’s always right to say, “I’m so sorry.” This doesn’t mean we’re necessarily apologizing for anything, as though something was our fault. It’s empathizing with what our spouse is feeling and saying, “I hear you. I see that you’re hurting.” Happy couples recognize that their spouse is not always gonna be happy…and that’s okay.
Cove Church Marriage Momentum Weekend – September 28-29
If you’d like to learn more about how to create the kind of marriage you’ve always wanted, then join us for the next Marriage Momentum Weekend at Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge! You’ll learn valuable communication lessons like these and take home practical tools to implement after the retreat. For more information and registration, go to: http://brucewmartin.com/marriage-cove/