3 Things You're Doing Right In Marriage (And 3 You Screw Up)

marriage mistakes

Our marriage isn't perfect, because neither my wife nor I am perfect, but we're both fully committed

By Tor Constantino

Most anyone who's been in any type of committed relationship understands how difficult it can be to stay together. I'm living proof of that as my wife and I are celebrating 20 years of marriage this year.

To be clear, it hasn't been easy to make our marriage last this long, but it has been worth it.

While we've had our share of ups-and-downs during that two-decade stretch, we've managed to overcome most of our individual shortcomings to keep our relationship moving forward. And as our relationship has changed over the years, we've both matured and grown as well.

However, there are some stubborn, negative character traits in myself that have continued to linger over the years. These are the three most persistent ways I continue to hurt my marriage and my wife.

1. Wrong: I often fail to use kind words or a kind tone. Every couple fights and has disagreements - it's part of being in a relationship. But how those exchanges occur needs to be controlled.

I am fully aware that my tone and word choices during verbal discussions and fights with my wife are not kind. That's not to say I'm malicious or hurtful, but I tend to want to win. To do that, I often get loud and domineering, not speaking to her kindly with a measured tone of voice. That's not good - and I know that.

Growing up, my father exhibited two main styles of communication during disagreements with my mom. He would either "stow or blow," meaning that he would either stuff his emotions and not share his feelings, or he would simply yell and escalate the disagreement into a shouting match.

So while I didn't see a lot of positive communication skills modeled by either parent growing up, those childhood experiences are not an excuse for me to speak unkindly to my wife in an aggressive, domineering manner.

2. Wrong: I tend to exhibit False Attribution Error. This is where I assign incorrect intent to my wife's words and actions - it's the emotional equivalent of jumping to conclusions. I tend to do it a great deal, which makes it difficult to communicate. 

For example, she might ask how long do I have to run as part of my marathon training this weekend. What I falsely assume she's trying to say with that harmless question is that the time I spend running needs to be balanced with chores around the house. She said nothing of the kind, but I assume that's her intent. 

By then, my mind leaps to specific things she wants me to do such as rake the leaves in the yard since the municipal leaf collection happens Monday. Additionally, she almost certainly wants me to swap out the air filters in the furnace, shut off the external water valves, and seal the windows with weather stripping.

In this fictional escalation in my mind, my whole weekend is now shot! 

That's where my mind goes sometimes and I'll cop an attitude about it - when in fact she was only curious to know if I had to run 10 or 12 miles as part of my training.

The "honey do" list was the furthest thing from her mind, but my guilt over knowing those things needed to get done automatically makes me assume that's top-of-mind for her. It's not - and I know that, but usually only after I've exchanged a few unkind words with her.

3. Wrong: I am frequently late when I tell her I won't be. Usually this manifests as me telling my wife I'll be leaving work at 5:00 p.m. when I actually end up leaving anywhere from 30-60 minutes after that.

While it might not seem like that big a deal, it's actually very inconsiderate. I know that - and I still do it anyway. The rationale I tell myself is that she'll understand, and that in the vast scheme of our mutual existence who cares if I'm a half hour late.

Well she cares, because I told her I would be on time. Indirectly, I'm telling her that she can't trust my word, and if I can't be trusted in the small things like punctuality, why should she trust me with big things like her heart and her feelings.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that I strive to be on time for work functions and business travel. That conveys another unspoken message: that keeping my word to acquaintances and strangers is more important than keeping my word to her.

I'm not proud of these behaviors or the tears they've caused my spouse over the years. I tend to default to them because I'm selfish, and sometimes that selfishness overwhelms my self-control - even though I deeply love my wife.

I personally know several relationships that have fallen apart from some iteration of each of these problems. So how have my wife and I been able to endure?

Here are the three things I have consistently learned to do over the years to overcome the corresponding personal failures I continue to exhibit above.

1. Right: I try to do many, consistent small acts of kindness. I truly believe that actions speak louder than words. Even though my words are not the kindest words spoken when we argue, I strive to demonstrate my love through an ongoing pattern of kind behaviors.

Every day I consciously tell my wife I love and appreciate her. Those few kind words help inoculate our relationship from the vicious virus of unkindness I tend to inject when we verbally spar.

Additionally, I'll reinforce the kind words I speak to her daily by randomly doing the dishes without her asking, or surprising her with a Chai latte, or folding the laundry piled on the couch, or getting her oil changed … etc.

Metaphorically speaking, my intent is to make more positive deposits into our relationship than negative withdrawals, because if all I did was make negative withdrawals, our relationship would be bankrupt.

2. Right: I strive to make communication a priority. Despite my penchant to assign incorrect motivation to my wife's actions and words, she and I tend to overcompensate when it comes to daily communication and interaction.

We talk a lot about issues big and small as well as strive to chat with each other every evening after the kids go to bed so we can connect and share our respective events of the day. While we're both tired and drained, we both recognize the importance of these intentional connection times, because they help clarify our mutual expectations, reduce relational ambiguity, and solidify our commitment to each other.

3. Right: I strive to apologize first and fast. Whatever happens in our relationship, whether it's my fault or not, I am ready and willing to apologize sincerely for the role I played in any situation that hurts her or our marriage.

As soon as I see that I'm wrong, I admit it quickly and ask her forgiveness. Even the times we've argued and we both know I'm right, I will apologize quickly and let her know that I value our relationship above anything else - including my pride and need to be the winner.

Our marriage isn't perfect, because neither my wife nor I am perfect, but we're both fully committed to it and to each other - flaws and all.

This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.