Building Up Your Marriage

Books and movies often come to a close shortly after a couple has learned of their passionate love for each other, and therefore live ‘happily ever after.’ But in real life, that’s where a true love story begins. Fairytales aside, it takes more than a passionate feeling to maintain a fulfilling and committed relationship, day in and day out, for the rest or your life. One of the biggest challenges after entering into a marriage is the inevitable shift from a ‘me’ focus to a ‘we’ focus. In a society that values independence and the pursuit of personal enjoyment, the idea of putting another person’s needs above our own does not always sit well, nor is it easy to make a habit (especially when that person NEVER does the dishes, even though you have asked them to a thousand times). But if you really want your marriage to last, your personal needs must become secondary to the needs of the relationship.  I am not suggesting that we need to relinquish our identity or deny all of our own needs; however, we need to embrace the idea that we will have to sacrifice personal desires or habits for the sake of our partner and our marriage–and in doing so, we might be surprised to find a whole new level of personal contentment that comes through giving so freely (i.e., without expectation or resentment).

One behavior that tends to break things down rather than build them up is compiling a list of faults or items that your spouse needs to change in order to make things better between you. No doubt they have a mental list of their own, detailing everything that should be different about you. And you both wonder why the other one doesn’t simply make those changes already! If you really want to spark a change in your marriage, focus less on your partner’s deficiencies, and more on your own. You can’t control what your spouse does or doesn’t do, but you do have control over yourself, so use it to your advantage! Instead of getting caught up in the same old argument, change your role and react differently. Swallow your pride and humbly tell them they are right, even though every fiber of your being fights against ‘giving in.’ Acknowledge where you have gone wrong, and do what you can to make amends. Do that thing that they are always asking you to do. When one partner initiates a positive change like this, and starts to do so regularly, it is very likely to lead to a different response in the other, and you may find them more open to doing what you wanted to begin with!

This idea leads into the next, which is that you don’t have to agree with your spouse in order to do as they wish. You can make your opinion known (hopefully in a calm and respectful way), and then still choose to follow their will rather than your own. (Again, doing so without expectation or resentment is key for you to really benefit from this!) You might not think it’s a big deal that you leave your shoes and coat by the door, but they throw a fit about it every other day, so why not just do what will please them? It is harder to yield in matters that you feel more strongly about, but minor issues are an easy way to help build yourself up to handling the bigger situations differently.

What is the moral of this love story that I am telling? When you both fully embrace the ‘we’ mentality, you will find yourself in a true partnership, giving and receiving in equal measure, actively loving more than you thought you were capable of doing, and feeling overwhelmingly fulfilled because of it. It sounds like a fairytale, but I have seen it happen in broken and hurting relationships, so why not in yours? And the great thing is, you don’t have to wait on your spouse to start changing your story.

Jayna Pyke, MA, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor