Recently, I was sharing with a friend how my daily happiness in my marriage improved when I finally realized two important things. Thinking more on the subject later, I added a third to my list.
I once expended a lot of emotional energy being angry or resentful or frustrated or disappointed with my husband over small stuff. He didn’t even have to be near for me to see constant reminders of his lack of love. I mean, surely a guy who loved me wouldn’t leave such a big mess for me to clean up. Surely a guy who loved me wouldn’t ignore my worry about unlocked doors, risk-taking children, and noises in the night. And surely a guy who loved me wouldn’t meet my can’t-you-see-it? explanations with his own store of anger, resentment, frustration, and disappointment.
Yeah, things were not going well in my marriage.
While some marriages suffer from huge problems in the happiness department, I believe many spouses are like me, with small stuff and daily letdowns piling up until you’re standing in a heap of hopelessness. So how did I get past it? What realizations released the weight of emotional pain I once carried around?
1. It’s not personal. Ask yourself: Is this truly directed at me? Is my husband maliciously trying to hurt me? Most of the time, the answer is no. Whether it’s leaving his dirty clothes on the floor, interrupting while you’re speaking, or not feeling like making love as much as you’d like, he’d behave like that whether he’d married you or not.
My hubby didn’t one day decide, “Hey, I think I’ll leave twelve pairs of shoes around the bedroom floor, just to trip up my wife and stub her pretty little toes.” Nor do I forget to go by the dry cleaners with my husband’s shirts because I want him to dig deep into his closet for his least favorite shirt to wear to a big meeting; trust me, I’m just forgetful everywhere in my life.
It’s not personal.
Even difficulties in your sexual intimacy may have little to do with you. Now, I’m not saying these things don’t have a real impact on you. (I have stubbed toes to prove it.) If your wife isn’t having sex because of an incident in childhood that had nothing to do with you, or your husband won’t patiently pursue your climax because he was erroneously taught that sex is for men, you are still experiencing consequences. But it’s not personal. So don’t add to an already-difficult issue by taking it personally.
I stopped feeling rejected and resentful when I learned to give my husband grace and remember he loves me. The man who would take a bullet for me wouldn’t turn around and plot my death-by-size-11-shoes. He just forgets to put them away. And once I diagnosed the problem more accurately . . .
2. The spouse to whom an issue matters most should take care of it. I wrote an entire post about how my husband cannot return the Worcestershire to its proper place in the refrigerator. Whenever I lovingly — or less lovingly — pointed it out, he was not opposed to my request. But ultimately, he didn’t care where the stupid bottle ended up in the fridge. It just wasn’t important to him. And me complaining that he should think it’s important didn’t get us much of anywhere — at least, anywhere good.
So when I open the refrigerator and see the Worcestershire
taunting me sitting on the wrong shelf, I move it. I’m the one it matters to, so why not just take care of it? If something matters a lot to you, and not so much to him, just do it. Consider it an act of loving service and take pleasure in caring for the small stuff that makes your home and relationship a little better.
Wait! you say. How earth does this apply to the bedroom? Am I supposed to “take care of that” myself? No. Not saying that! Some things in marriage — the big stuff — should involve cooperation and unity. Whether you have sex is big stuff, we stuff. But you can take on some of the small stuff surrounding sex. For instance, if atmosphere matters to you, don’t wait on your spouse — just create the ambiance you want. If you can’t relax and make love in a messy bedroom, clean it up. If you want her to wear something more sexy, go buy it (taking her into consideration, of course). If he’s not as romantic as you wish, take charge of the romance.
But cease being upset that your spouse didn’t do something when you could easily take care of it yourself. Then you’re both happier. Which leads me to the final attitude shift . . .
3. Own your part. This one is so straightforward, and I’ve talked about it before. Basically, take responsibility for yourself in this marriage. So you think she‘s hard to live with? Well, are you rainbows and roses every day? You think he doesn’t pay attention to your emotional needs? Well, have you listened to his emotional needs and tried to meet them?
You know the saying: When you point a finger at someone, there are still three fingers pointing back at you. I spent way too much time and effort thinking about, praying about, and talking about what my husband was doing wrong. And I couldn’t change him. But I could work on me and make myself the best person I could be, and — wouldn’t you know it? — when I became a better person to be around, he was more motivated to make changes. No guarantees, of course, but owning your part of things can make a big difference in your marriage.
Thinking about your marital bedroom: Are you as understanding as you should be? Loving and kind? Listening and patient? Concerned about her arousal or his pleasure? Have you made sexual intimacy in your marriage a safe topic or a mine field? What can you do to own your part and make things better?
There they are: three attitude shifts that made a huge difference in how I feel day in and day out about my husband and my marriage. And when I stopped “sweating the small stuff,” we were able to better tackle the big stuff. Years later, I can easily say I am a very happily married woman.
And currently, there’s only one pair of shoes my husband left out on the bedroom floor; I think I’ll go put them in the closet for him.
What attitude shifts have improved your marriage? What wisdom can you share with others from your experiences?