When I first married, I deferred. A lot. It's not that I didn’t have a backbone (well, that's what I like to think). It's that by nature I'm a peacemaker. A middle child. Which frustrates Matt, who is a first born.
He'd say, "Can you go to the grocery store?" and I'd say, "Yes." Because in theory I could. And I knew it'd make him happy. But with three children, some days are unpredictable. Think triage: a bruised knee, a broken toy, a dirty diaper, an inconsolable baby. When Matt came home from work, he'd say, "I thought you were going to the grocery store today." And I'd fume—I'd worked hard, darn it—but say nothing. Because I'd get over it, right?
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Well, no. According to Anna Kudak, Ph.D. and co-author of What Happy Couples Do, that’s the problem when you hold things in. Eventually they tumble back out. "You start to resent your partner, and you start to resent yourself," said Dr. Kudak. "If you’re not happy with yourself and your partner, you're not going to be happy in your relationship. And your marriage can deteriorate when that happens."
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Here are six simple steps to keeping your marriage truthful—and harmonious.
- Be honest. The truth can make you feel vulnerable. But when you're not honest, your act of self-preservation can create space between you and your spouse. "When you're not being honest, you're not living what’s real," Dr. Kudak said. "It's kind of like keeping a secret." While you don't need to share everything with your partner, when you start to feel resentful, that signals there is a problem.
- Think long-term versus short term. "After working out your problem, you could have a more peaceful and happy marriage—you have that much more to gain,” Dr. Kudak said. "Focus on making sure that you're always becoming a better couple, even through your challenges."
- Weight the cost/benefit. "The cost is you may grow more miserable, and the risk is that you start an ongoing fight or make your partner unhappy," Dr. Kudak said. The question you should ask is: "Is this something worth bringing up for my long-term happiness with my partner?"
- Use love in your approach. Let your partner know that you want to improve your situation so that you are both healthy and happy in your marriage. "By discussing things, you're both better partners with each other," Dr. Kudak said. When you don't engage, you run the risk of your partner feeling you are detached from your marriage.
- Share your feelings, and be vulnerable. "Communicate why the situation frustrates you, what you would like done, how and why you think the change could happen, and what you hope the end result will be," said Dr. Kudak.
- Learn to say no. "By saying no to your partner, you say yes to your sanity," Dr. Kudak said. "If you’re happy and not feeling overworked, you’re going to be a better spouse."
What do you think? Can fighting actually make you happier?