This week we bring you a blogpost from the Good Dads archives. This article was originally published in May 2020, but we think you’ll find that the topics we cover here are just as relevant in 2023!
“Many things have been said about how to save your marriage. Some of them are even true!”
A few years ago, for instance, John Gottman, an expert in couples therapy, suggested husbands needed to say, “Yes, dear” to their wives more often to improve their relationship. He also said women needed to “soften their tone” or the “start-up” to their comments, but that didn’t get as much press.
Mental health professionals also widely agree that to remain happy in marriage you should “never go to bed angry;” or “don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” While this is a noble ambition, it is not very useful for handling those disagreements occurring after 10 p.m. when both parties are tired, irritable and definitely not at their best. If sleep-deprivation or fatigue kills almost as many drivers as drunk driving, it might be logical to assume weariness is a poor precursor to problem solving.
Does a happy wife really equal a happy life?
Perhaps you have heard the adage “happy wife; happy life.” While there is some statistical truth to this statement, it is insufficient in and of itself. It certainly does not follow that a husband must forego all happiness in order to please his wife and thereby have a decent union. However, it does suggest a wife’s happiness is often a good barometer for the health of the marriage.
It also has been said that a husband will pay a therapist good money to hear what his wife has been telling him for years, which suggests paying attention to a wife’s marital satisfaction may forgo the need to see a therapist at all.
When it comes down to it, I like the advice of three researchers out of the University of Denver – Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades. These psychologists have devoted their lives to helping thousands of couples through PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program). Their research-based program has demonstrated again and again the key components necessary to maintain a healthy relationship.
You can check out an online version of the program at the Love Takes Learning website, something I hope you’ll do if you want to keep your relationship in good shape. In addition, I’d like to share three additional factors Markman, Stanley and Rhoades see as critical for healthy relationships.
Make It Safe to Connect
What does this mean? Basically, it refers to one person’s ability to receive input and feedback from the other. Is it okay for your mate to tell you what she likes or prefers, especially if it’s not your preference? Do you feel the need to debate or defend when you hear something with which you don’t agree? How easy is it for your partner to tell you about hurt feelings or frustrations? Would they be likely to confide in you as a safe person, or more likely to stuff their feelings down or turn to someone else?
Decide, Don’t Slide
It’s so easy to put off until tomorrow or next week or next month or next year what should be done today. When two people marry, they don’t put a divorce attorney on retainer. They don’t sit down and decide how to divide up their property and time with the children. They plan to be happy. They expect to stay together. Sadly, over the course of time, as the inevitable conflicts of married life are poorly handled, happiness and satisfaction can erode. Sometimes, the good is outweighed by the bad, and two people decide to part company. If you don’t want this to happen, don’t slide through life, avoiding the need to handle the eroding good feelings in your relationship. Start sooner rather than later to make repair efforts.
Do Your Part
It’s easy to focus on what your partner is doing wrong—how he or she is unreasonable, disagreeable and never happy. It’s much harder to consider your own shortcomings, how you might be experienced by your partner, and what you might do to improve the relationship. Yet you are the only one you can control.
Gottman is right on this. For husbands, accepting influence from a wife, i.e. thinking about how to say “yes, dear” more often could be the key. For wives, “softening one’s tone” or avoiding a harsh or negative start-up to a conversation (e.g. “Did you think I was your slave? You never do anything to help out around here”) is critical to resolving conflict more successfully.
People in happy marriages are healthier, live longer, and have more resources—in short, they do better in life. So do their kids. If you want to have a happy life, happy wife and happy kids, think on these three things. And if things aren’t going so well, don’t hesitate to act. Checking out Love Takes Learning could be one of the best things you ever did for yourself and your family.
Dr. Jennifer L. Baker is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is also the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She can be reached for question or comment at [email protected].