“You can measure the happiness of a marriage by the number of scars that each partner carries on their tongues, earned from years of biting back angry words.”― Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage
Do you remember the first few months of your relationship? Whether you are in a marriage, dating or divorced, you’ve experienced the “honeymoon stage” at the beginning of a romantic relationship. This is a time when everything your partner does seems to thrill you. Things are perfect, and there isn’t a thing you would change about each other. You love spending time together and all you can think about is the other person. Every touch and kiss feels magical.
While in this magical phase with my husband, Victor, I went on an already planned two week trip to Tuscany with pals. During the longest two weeks of my life, I wrote Vic a forty-page letter specifically listing all of the things I loved about him. (You know you are in love if you would rather be in Elizabeth, NJ than the countryside of Italy!) At that moment in time, he was perfect.
Then like in most relationships, real life set in and things changed. Which is not bad, just what happens. Vic and I and the boys got into therapy to help us negotiate our newly formed family and help heal some of the existing wounds. Conflict can be an opportunity to communicate on a higher level or not. As time goes on, you may still love many of the qualities that drew you to your partner, but suddenly there are things about them that get on your nerves as well.
Brilliant marriage therapist and world-renowned author of the book, Getting the Love You Want, Harville Hendrix proposes that “Marriage is a psychological and spiritual journey that begins in the ecstasy of attraction, meanders through a rocky stretch of self-discovery, and culminates in the creation of an intimate, joyful, lifelong union. Whether or not you realize the full potential of this vision depends not on your ability to attract the perfect mate, but on your willingness to acquire knowledge about hidden parts of yourself.” After counseling many couples and being in a successful marriage for the past eighteen years, I agree with his theory. It is easy to fall into the trap of blaming your partner for your lack of satisfaction and avoid looking at yourself by scrutinizing and criticizing your partner’s behavior.
Many couples use “sweating the small stuff” to avoid dealing with themselves or handling the big stuff. The belief that falling in love should equal instant and eternal personal happiness is a myth. You are responsible for your happiness and self evolution, in or out of a relationship.
While your partner may in fact exhibit certain behaviors that are irritating, a more productive way to navigate such a situation, rather than blaming them, would be to consider why you feel the way you do. Just as it is your job to create joy in your life, it is also up to you manage pain, such as anger, frustration and contempt. The way you think and feel about yourself has a direct connection with how you think about and behave towards your partner. When you take responsibility for how you feel you have the power to choose to be loving towards yourself and your partner.
I want to challenge you this week not to sweat the small stuff. This includes in your friendships, your relationship with your parents, your kids and most certainly in your marriage. Criticize less and give the people you love the space to be human. Choose kindness and focus on your own growth.
Drop a comment below and share with me one nitpicking habit you vow to release this week. I look forward to hearing from you.
Take care of those you love and as always, take care of you.
Love Love Love
*image courtesy of Neil Moralee