Tips for laying the foundation for making your unhappy marriage happier.
As I mentioned in Part 1, if you're in an unhappy marriage you're probably feeling trapped and hopeless.
But you can create some hope that things will get better. All you need to do is create your idea of what "happily ever after" means to you now and everyday find one thing that's good about your marriage.
(If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you can read it here.)
Now that you know what you want from your marriage, you can start laying the foundation for your new "happily ever after". Begin by asking yourself what would you have to do to get it if you really want to change your unhappy marriage to a happy one.
My guess is you'll discover these 5 areas (connection, caring, congruence, competence, and freedom) are the most critical for you to take action in.
- Connection - Of all our relationships, our intimate relationship has the most impact on our happiness. We all have a deep-seated need for connection. It's one of the things that makes us human. According to Brendon Burchard in The Charge, "Our desire to bond and belong outweighs almost every other desire - often even our desire for survival."
Despite our desire for connection and belonging which often requires conforming to our spouse's needs and wants, we also want the freedom to do, think and feel as we want without challenge or question. This desire for both belonging and freedom is where conflicts in unhappy marriages come from.
And that's why learning to understand each other and learning to communicate clearly and compassionately with each other fosters the connection you crave from your marriage.
One of the first things you can do to improve your connection is to ask your mate what their vision for your marriage is and then LISTEN to what they have to say. This conversation is all about understanding their point of view - not using it simply as an opportunity to tell them all about yours. (Unless, of course they ask you.)
It takes guts to have this conversation. But by being courageous, you begin making your lives together better.
- Caring - You can only build a great marriage with love expressed as caring for each other. It implies generosity and mutual respect. And among the fruits of caring for each other are attention, acceptance, affirmation, adoration, affection, empathy and respect. (A relationship like that sounds absolutely blissful, doesn't it?)
Notice that I'm not talking about just one spouse being caring. These qualities must ultimately exist in both spouses to turn your marriage around.
Although I'm not saying there's no hope if your spouse isn't currently able to treat you in a caring manner. They may just need to learn how to. If they're willing to display caring and to accept caring there is definitely hope for your marriage to be happy again.
For that matter, you may need to learn about caring too.
Caring is easiest to do in a caring environment. It doesn't matter if the caring environment is internal or external. When you're caring toward yourself (internal), it's much easier to care for others. When you're around others who are caring (external), it is more natural to care for yourself.
So, helping your spouse to learn to be caring might be as simple as you caring for them. Yes, it may seem weird, but it's just a matter of you get what you give.
(Actually, there's a more brain science-y way of describing this whole thing by talking about mirror neurons, but it boils down to you get what you give and you get what you surround yourself with.)
- Congruence - Congruence in marriage is all about living aligned with who you are, your vision for your life with your spouse and being treated by your spouse in a manner consistent with who they are (which is someone who deeply cares for you).
Congruence helps us to feel safe because we know what to expect from each other and ourselves. It's through lack of congruence that things can get sideways or even completely upside down.
So how do you start creating more congruence in your relationship?
You start with your definition of "happily ever after" and boil it down to three words that will remind you of your whole vision. Using the example from Part 1, the three words might be: honor, support and love.
After you have your three words, you need to put them to use. EVERY time you interact with your spouse think the three words and behave that way. Using our example, that means you would treat yourself and your spouse with honor, support and love.
By living into the best you and your best marriage, you and your spouse will begin feeling more engaged and happier together.
- Competence - It may seem odd to say that competence is an important piece a marriage's foundation, but it really is! You and your partner both need to know that you're good at being married and that you each appreciate that about the other.
Most couples treat their marriages as just a fact in their lives. They have lost sight of how much more rich and vibrant their marriage could become by gaining competence. (Competence means that you understand what marriage is to both of you and that you each work to successfully create the one you both desire.)
A natural question is then, "How to you get competent at marriage?"
You do it by paying attention to your spouse, doing things that support your marriage, being adaptable and resilient when things don't go exactly as you wish they would (like when you argue), and putting in the effort to make your marriage great!
- Freedom - One of the easiest ways to make sure you're both miserable in your marriage is by trying to control each other. No one likes to feel caged or stifled. And that is exactly how it feels when your spouse tries to control you, isn't it? (It's also how they feel when you try to control them.)
That's why freedom is a critical foundation piece of a happy marriage. And I don't mean freedom without boundaries. I mean a freedom consistent with your marriage vision - ideally your shared vision that you were able to create during your conversation about connection.
This freedom can also be described as a deep trust that you each bring your best to your marriage and each other. No, that doesn't mean you never have a bad day or argue. It simply means that you make a conscious decision to be the best you that you know how to be.
Obviously, it's going to take time and effort to change your unhappy marriage to one that's less strained. And it's also not a straight shot. You'll have times when things go great and times when they don't.
The key is to evaluate (at least once a week, but ideally after each interaction with your spouse) what you can do better next time.
It's by focusing on your shared goals for your marriage that you'll make the fastest progress. However, if you're working solo on this you'll still be able to make progress which will challenge your spouse to start working with you to make your shared lives so much better.
But the important thing is that you work on it. It's only by working on making your marriage better that you have any chance of making it happy.
This article was originally published at Dr. Karen Finn's blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.