Love

The One-Word Momentum That Will Instantly Transform Your Marriage

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Couoke spending quality tome together

Janet Lansbury discusses the concept of Confident Momentum as it applies to positive parenting. She writes:

Confident momentum has nothing to do with speed or rushing. It’s a positive, sometimes heroic kind of energy, an I-can-do-this-thing attitude of helpfulness that stems from the understanding that it’s perfectly normal for young children to stall, resist, and test limits. This is particularly true during transitions of any kind or whenever they’re experiencing uncomfortable emotions or stress, tiredness or overstimulation. It is in those situations that confident momentum is most helpful and respectful.

Confident momentum means coming in (not on) strong, the way athletes do as they wind up for a pitch, or swing a bat, racket or golf club. We’re prepared for the likelihood of resistance and will meet it with positive action. Acting as if helps us find our groove. It gets more comfortable and fluid with practice.

This is why your kids listen to preschool teachers better than they listen at home. The teacher is calm and confident and is moving proactively toward a goal and sweeping up the children along with her. If they resist, she does not blame them or take it personally. Instead, she continues even more enthusiastically (not in some kind of crazy hyperactive way, but calm and centered enthusiasm), and assumes that the kids will go along with her. And when this is assumed, then this is what kids do.

It is very similar to your partner, although most people do not recognize this.

When their partner is having a bad day or feeling insecure about something, most people underestimate how deeply their interactional style in the moment can improve their partner’s mood and the general tone of the day. Men, in particular, tend to feel like they have limited agency over their wives’ moods and vastly underestimate how much they would be able to comfort and cheer up their wives, improve the dynamic, and propel the moment or even the entire day into a happier place.

People who grew up with depressed, angry, or avoidant parents (parents with addiction issues often hit this trifecta) were unable to change their parents’ moods when they were kids, no matter what they tried. Being a good kid didn’t help things, nor did confronting the parent (which would lead to terrible outcomes). This true powerlessness as a child then manifests as assumed powerlessness as an adult. The child actually could not impact the parent. But now, the adult can impact their partner, but assume they cannot because they did not have any success at impacting a loved one earlier in life.

Photo: Alex Green/Pexels

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Often, in couples therapy, a client tells me that there is nothing they can do to cheer up their partner.

Yet, I can come up with multiple examples on the fly of things they could have tried, if they used confident momentum and truly believed these interventions would work. Many of my ideas hit the nail on the head for the upset partner, and they say, “Yes if you had tried X I could see myself feeling happier.” Certainly, in some cases, the partner is overestimating how much they would have felt cheered up at the moment, but in many other cases, they would have truly felt better if their partner had swept in and changed the game with confident momentum. Within marriage (as well as within parenting), I have seen confident momentum work best when combined with recognizing and utilizing the partner’s love language.

Let’s turn to two examples: a woman using confident momentum plus her partner’s physical touch love language to redirect him and soothe him when he is very angry with their son, and a man using confident momentum plus his wife’s words of affirmation love language when she feels ignored and disrespected.

In the first example, picture a man who is angry because his son crashed his new car. A wife who grew up with a difficult, angry father whose mood was unpredictable and volatile may just go into her room and assume the night will go terribly and there is no way to avoid this. Or, some women with this upbringing will defend the son, which undermines her husband’s relationship with his son and invalidates his distress, but subconsciously addresses her childhood feeling of powerlessness. Neither approach will change the dynamic in the room or comfort her husband and turn the night around.

However, if she approached her husband with empathy and love, moving toward him confidently and giving him a hug and a kiss, this might immediately lower his stress response in the moment. It would be even better if she then stood by his side as he addressed his son with her hand on his arm. If this wife expected her husband to respond calmly to their son and stood next to him with quiet confidence in his ability to navigate this interaction, 99% of men with a physical touch love language would rise to the occasion. They would be swept along by their wife’s confidence that things would go okay and would exhibit a much better, calmer response when confronting the son.

RELATED: How To Prove Your Love Every Single Day, Based On The Five Love Languages

As an important aside to this example, women consistently massively underestimate how much the average male partner would respond to a hug and a kiss in any situation including when they are angry, sulky, sad, frustrated, tired, stressed, and anything else.

Irrespective of gender (although men more often highly prioritize touch), anyone who does not have a physical affection love language but whose partner does have this love language underestimates the tremendous and immediate mood-altering impact of touch. A man could have had the worst day ever, and if he is a very physically oriented guy, a hug and kisses from his wife will make him feel 100 times better and also stop sulking fairly quickly.

Let’s turn to the example of the wife who feels frustrated and disrespected. It would go something like this:

Woman: I am so upset and I don’t even think I can go out with you tonight. All you do is leave crap all over the house and I feel like your servant and I think sometimes this marriage is a joke.

(Here is when most men would assume the night is just going to go to crap and they would take her at her word and cancel the sitter, completely missing their opportunity to sweep in with confident momentum PLUS the wife’s love language and redirect the evening. So let’s see what this more positive approach would look like…)

Man: I love you and I am so sorry about that. I was just thinking how excited I was to go out with you tonight and how I love it when we get that time to spend together. I was looking forward to seeing what you were going to wear too. You are beautiful and I love you.

Woman: Okay. Well, I mean… look, don’t leave crap around the house. It makes me feel like you don’t respect me at all.

Man: Okay I won’t, I’m going to work on it, I’m sorry, you go upstairs and get ready while I wait for the sitter and the pizza delivery.

Woman: Okay.

Here, we see that our hero swept in using the confidence that she would warm to him and that he could change the script from “this night is already over before it started” to “I get that she is upset but nothing can ruin the night for us.” Like the parent in the confident momentum description at the beginning of this post, he understood and respected her frustration but moved forward anyway. (He also used empathy and validation which is important for words of affirmation people.)

Photo: Tiger Lily/Pexels

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Another super important side note: Men who do not have a “words of affirmation” love language consistently underestimate the power of completely off-topic compliments, affirmations, and expressions of love for wives who have this love language.

I have defused deep-seated conflicts about long-standing issues within marital counseling sessions by randomly asking the man to tell me some positive thoughts he has had about his wife that week or to recount for me how he felt about her when they met. Despite this being entirely unrelated to the tense discussion at hand, most women will soften immediately and dramatically from hearing nice, genuine expressions of love from their partners even if these are completely irrelevant to the stated current topic. When men learn to do this at the moment at home, they can completely change the mood of the house and even stop incipient fights in their tracks, as in the aforementioned example.

Discuss this post with your partner if you feel that it speaks to you. If one or both of you become paralyzed and hopeless in the face of the other’s bad mood, then it is likely both an upbringing issue as well as the solidification over the years of a dysfunctional and codependent view that moods need to be shared by both partners. You do not need to allow your partner’s bad mood to make you feel stuck and hopeless, and this is not even really being a good partner at all.

Instead, come forward with confident momentum, empathy, and your knowledge of your partner’s love language to flip the script and help them get out of their head, be their best self, and have a good day with you (and your kids if relevant). By the way, this whole idea is highly related to learning to step back in the middle of conflict and recognize that the relationship itself is more important than whatever fight is currently occurring.

Think deeply about the ways that you can utilize these new ideas and suggestions to be a better partner and have a happier and less frustrating relationship. 

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Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.