People who are unhappy in their marriage sometimes look around at other happy couples and wonder if they possess some secret that allows them to keep the love alive in their marriage. It may seem that those couples are just naturally blessed with compatibility while you are not. However, couples who find contentment and satisfaction in their relationship are no different from other couples; they have simply learned to put each other first and to work very, very hard at making their relationship work.
One of the biggest contributors to unhappiness in marriage is criticism. Finding fault with a spouse is easy to do. Living with another person naturally creates conflict. However, learning to overcome the tendency to criticize your spouse is one of the key ingredients in a happy marriage. The following suggestions will help you to avoid letting criticism take over your marriage relationship:
1. Don't focus on the negative
The couples that are the happiest tend to focus on what they like about each other rather than what they don’t. Whenever your spouse does something that bothers you, instead of fuming about it, stop and list a few of the things that he or she does that makes you happy. For example, you may hate the way she leaves her makeup all over the bathroom counter, but try to remember the loving way she greets you whenever you come home.
2. Don't let your anger become disproportionate to the offense
Learn to let things go. Some spouses take mental note of each and every offense and keep it stored away in the back of their mind, continually adding black marks to their spouse’s “ledger.” This only serves to increase resentment and unhappiness. As each little infraction adds to another, it becomes easier and easier to let small things bother you in a big way. If you find that you are getting angry about things that shouldn’t matter, like whether or not your husband puts the cap back on the tube of toothpaste, examine whether or not you have been “keeping score". If this is the case, try to put some of that energy into maintaining a positive perspective and remembering the things you love about your spouse.
3. Don't treat your spouse worse than you would treat a stranger
Set aside some time, such as a day, several days or a week, to pay close attention to your words and actions toward your spouse. Try to imagine doing or saying those same things to a perfect stranger, or even to an acquaintance. Would you be embarrassed to say them to someone other than your spouse because they sound rude or harsh? If so, then you should not treat your spouse that way, either. Sometimes, husbands and wives become complacent and begin to take each other for granted. In reality, your partner should get the best of you, not the worst. Remember to say things like “Thank you” and “I’m proud of you.” Be your husband or wife’s biggest fan and don’t be afraid to let them know it. More likely than not, your spouse will start doing the same for you.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.