Want a Happy Marriage? Three Ways to Nix All Marriage Negativity
There’s a couple I know who just seems to have their act together. They’re a joy to be around and it’s obvious that they genuinely like being around each other, too! No, they’re not perfect (they have kids and jobs and, ahem, they’re human!) but their drama seems to be kept at a minimum. Over coffee one day, I asked my friend what her secret was and you know what she said? She and her husband have an understanding in their marriage: they nip negativity in the bud.
In my research with more than 1,000 couples for The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, I discovered that the happiest couples have a very important quality in common: they intentionally keep negativity out of their marriage by choosing what they feel about their spouse. They actually choose to feel positively rather than to dwell on whatever could make them annoyed, angry, or frustrated!
If you want a similarly happy marriage, here are three tips for kicking that negativity to the curb (even when we’re annoyed!):
Tip #1 Choose to stop the negative train of thought
I grew up believing that we don’t choose feelings; they choose us. Our culture would have you believe that if you are angry or annoyed at something your spouse has done, you can choose what you do in response, but you have no choice in how you feel. Not true!
In fact, here is how the highly happy couples do it: they quickly stop a negative train of thought or action and replace unhappy or angry thoughts or actions with positive ones. When your wife accidentally forgets to drop off your dry cleaning (again), you can stop and consider the fact that she had a sick child at home, a furnace repairman knocking at the front door, and dinner on the stove. Or when your husband seems to be tuning out of a conversation at dinner, you can stop and realize he has an important meeting tomorrow with his boss about a possible promotion.
Stopping our negative thoughts and rerouting that train is a huge tool in creating happier marriages. Choose to say, “I’m not going there!” and focus on the reasons why you fell in love with your spouse in the first place.
Tip #2 Herd those feelings in the right direction
Picture a sheepdog herding a flock away from danger. It isn’t always easy, but there is mighty power in the simple act of changing direction. If a sheepdog doesn’t take control and herd the sheep in a different direction, they could easily get lost, injured, or killed. Likewise, you can (as one woman put it) “boss your feelings around” and decide which direction you want them to go.
You might find yourself feeling frustrated that your husband wants to watch the game with some friends on the weekend. Now, you would have every right to think (and say!) that you might enjoy a little time away from home too! But during the moment that you’re annoyed, you can turn those thoughts toward how hard your husband has been working overtime on a big project, and how burned out he has been. As you focus your thoughts, you can even herd those feelings into a place where you actually feel happy he has an opportunity to unwind! And once you are in that better place, you’ll be far more able to address with your husband, at the right time and with the right attitude, how glad you are he had fun, and would he mind being with the kids for a few hours one evening so you could meet Sarah for coffee?
Once you make a conscious effort to think on the good and reject the bad, you will find that you feel more positive about yourself, your spouse, and your circumstances.
Tip #3 Take the action, and the feelings will follow
Sometimes, changing our feelings requires acting as if something were true…and then you might actually discover it is true. You think your wife doesn’t appreciate you? Act as if she does and you most likely will see evidence of her appreciation. You don’t think your husband can handle the kids while you’re out for a girls’ night? Act as if he can and you most likely will see how happy and secure the kids are when you get home. As one couple I interviewed put it, “We have found that when we act loving, then eventually, wow, we are loving!”
We can’t buy into the lie that we are powerless to control our feelings. We have the ability to choose to be positive instead of allowing ourselves to be constantly dissatisfied. Practice “happy” and nix the negative, and watch your marriage go exactly the direction you are steering it!
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