It's not how much the experiment changed my husband or my marriage — but how much it changed me.
I don't know about other people's marriages, but my three-year marriage has certainly been no walk in the park. I adore my husband and I'm not saying this for pity or to get a reaction; it's just the truth.
In hindsight, both my husband and I agree that we got married too soon and have struggled a lot as a result of our hastiness. Thankfully, things have gotten better because we work hard on our relationship but it's still challenging sometimes.
So, when we hit a rocky patch about a month ago, I started to brainstorm ways I could help make things better — how I could be a part of the solution instead of just the problem.
This desire inspired me to randomly decide that for two weeks straight, I would do one nice thing for my husband everyday, without him knowing. An "experiment," if you will.
Rather than planning my good deeds ahead of time, I decided to let my experiment flow more organically. It took about a week for me to get into the rhythm of it all before doing one nice thing each day eased into my regular routine.
Gradually, my motivation shifted from "Ugh, I have to do something nice for him today?" to "What nice thing can I do for him today?" As the experiment progressed, I sensed our connection strengthen as well.
So, what kinds of things did I do for my husband throughout the two weeks? Well, I kept a log to keep track. Here are a few of the highlights:
Day 1: I promised my husband that I'd do his laundry, but accidentally took a nap instead. He ended up doing it himself and when I woke up, he was pretty upset with me.
He said that it's frustrating when I promise to do something and then don't follow through, which makes perfect sense. I ended up taking the dog out so he wouldn't have to, and went to bed feeling bad that I upset him so much ... and that my experiment was already off to a shaky start.
Day 2: To make up for the day before, I woke up at 6AM to finish the laundry he started. He was very appreciative.
Day 4: We traveled to Chicago to see if he could get into the last Grateful Dead show, but unfortunately had no luck. I suggested that we watch a live-stream at a local theater and sat through five hours of Grateful Dead music. It's incredible how much I disliked the music, but loved seeing my husband so happy.
Day 5: It was a busy day at work for my husband, so I offered to do a few errands for him. He needed a few random ingredients for his restaurant, so I ventured out to buy jicama (a Mexican turnip), pumpkin puree, and eggs. I also unpacked his luggage from our trip.
Day 6: I tried something new today. Rather than wracking my brain to think of a good deed, I asked my husband how I could help him out. I know that sometimes I assume to know what he wants and needs, and then feel resentful when he's not as appreciative as I think he should be. He couldn't think of anything specific, so I showered him with compliments.
Day 10: I told him I'd do his laundry and I actually followed through this time.
Day 12: I had dinner with friends, but instead of rushing home, I called my husband first to see if he wanted me to bring him back from grub. He was super grateful for the moo shu chicken I ended up bringing home.
Day 13: My husband wasn't feeling well, so I went shopping with him (he shops every day for his restaurant). I carried a lot of the heavy items for him, so he wouldn't have to.
My purpose for this experiment wasn't to spoil my husband in over-the-top ways, but to take notice of the numerous opportunities I have to love him in ordinary ways. Over the course of two weeks, I slowly realized that I often miss many of these opportunities, choosing instead to focus on my own needs.
For fourteen days, I challenged myself to be hyperaware of these opportunities, and to seize them.
I'll admit, the whole thing felt disingenuous at first. I couldn't decide if it was a bad thing that I was doing something nice for my husband each day, not because I felt like it but because I was conducting an experiment.
Eventually, however, I concluded that my motivation for doing nice things was beside the point. Why? Because so many awesome things happened as a result.
First, my husband and I had not one major argument during my two week experiment. In fact, our bickering went down majorly, too.
Then, about a week and a half in, I noticed his mood lift. He seemed much happier during the second week and would often ask me if there was anything he could do for me as well.
At first I felt weird "letting" him do nice things for me. Then, I realized that the point of this experiment was to strengthen my marriage as a whole, not for me to always be the nice one. Besides, that's how energy between two people works; one person feeds off the other.
Ending the experiment after fourteen days was a little disappointing. That's why I've kept up with it and plan to keep doing so. As a wife, I've come to believe one of my roles is to help make my husband's life easier, trusting that he will do the same for me. Also, I know that as a therapist, consistent kindness helps couples weather crises more effectively.
Dr. John Gottman, renowned marriage researcher, calls this filling your relationship's "emotional bank account." Before beginning the experiment, our emotional bank account was pretty low. Nowadays, it feels like we're on the right track.
So what's my biggest takeaway from the experiment? Surprisingly, it's not how much the experiment changed my husband or even my marriage — but how much it changed me.
Going into it, I imagined that my husband would be so appreciative of my sacrifices and would really take notice of all the good deeds I did for him. But about a week into it, I started to not care much about the accolades.
It was much more enjoyable and less stressful to focus on me than it was to focus on my husband's reactions. When it comes to strengthening my marriage, it proved to be more effective, too.
Simply put, this experiment helped me to better understand the importance of taking responsibility for my actions within my marriage. There's not a lot I can control in life but I can certainly control when I choose to be kind. And who more deserves my kindness than my own husband?
Yes, I know that one day soon I'll be blaming him for something. I'll wish he were different or try to convince him to do what I want.
In those inevitable moments, I really hope I can remember what I learned from this experiment. Because if the last 14 days have proven anything, it's that you really can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
And it seems that when it comes to my marriage, especially when I'm upset, I probably need to offer some honey more than my husband needs to be caught with it.