So what is the difference between a happy relationship (where both partners feel connected and desired) and an everyday one (which might look OK to outsiders but inside one or both partners are not getting their needs met)?
It’s not just what you are doing right. I will explain the three secrets of a happy relationship in a moment. It’s also avoiding these habits which undermine a happy marriage.
Seven Failed Strategies
None of these strategies are particularly effective – beyond in the short-term – but we keep on plugging away regardless. Which of the following have you used?
- Definition: Assuming the position of an expert or all-seeing prophet (who can foresee all the pitfalls) and telling your partner the errors of his or her ways – over and over again.
- How it backfires: Assuming that you know best invites rebellion either overtly or covertly.
- What’s the alternative? Offer help and then step back; your partner will either learn from his or her mistakes or return and ask for advice.
- Definition: Using mocking or contemptuous put-downs which are designed to control by making the other person feel small or stupid.
- How it backfires: Nobody likes criticism and most people fight back with similar ammunition.
- What’s the alternative? However strong the temptation to respond to your partner’s barbed comments, don’t rise to the bait – but simply walk away. When your temper is more under control, explain how you feel and discuss the issues with your partner.
- Definition: Issuing commands rather than requests. If you use this strategy you do not expect to be told ‘no’ or to be contradicted.
- How it backfires: Although people may give into demands, they subvert in sneaky ways, like finding millions of excuses for never quite getting round to the task.
- What’s the alternative? Negotiating. In this way, your partner is allowed to express her or his opinions – which may or may not be valid – discuss the time scale for a project and take joint ownership of a project.
- Definition: The first time is asking, the second time reminding, but further repetition becomes nagging.
- How it backfires: Nobody likes to nag and nobody likes to be nagged. It creates a slow poison that seeps through a relationship.
- What’s the alternative? Bring all the hostility up to the surface by asking: ‘How can we resolve this problem?’ Be prepared to listen to your partner’s viewpoint and this will encourage him or her to listen to yours.
- Definition: Manipulating a partner by making him or her feel responsible for your upset or by convincing them that they have committed an offense.
- How it backfires: Whether you are using smiles (that are put on), too-ready agreement or forced humor, you are still trying to control. Worse still, this strategy often makes the other person even more annoyed.
- What’s the alternative? It is much better to address the issues – however unpleasant – rather than side-step a row.
- Definition: Hoping your partner will guess or know what is needed, rather asking outright for it.
- How it backfires: Clues can be misinterpreted and hints can be so subtle that they are missed altogether.
- What’s the alternative? Value yourself and accept that it is okay to have needs and to express them.
Secrets of a happy marriage
Once you have stopped wasting energy and good will on strategies that do not work, there is space to look at what does.
The failed strategies have one thing in common: a power imbalance. In the first three, the more powerful partner tries to bludgeon the other into submission and the last three, the less powerful partner tries to manipulate the more powerful one.
Put yourself in your partner’s shoes
From where we stand, our solution makes complete sense. We understand the thought process that helped us reach this conclusion. If our preferred option seems a little one- sided, there is a good reason or a good excuse.
Meanwhile, our partner has been through a parallel process – but while we expect her or him to listen to us, we are not quite so ready to offer the same courtesy.
All too often, we half listen, throw in a bit of our own interpretation and jump to the wrong conclusion. So while we put our actions down to the best possible motives, we can easily put our partner’s down to the worst ones. But what would happen if you understood your partner’s position as well as your own?
The secret is to understand that behind every bargaining position there are not only needs and desires but concerns and fears too.
Our natural inclination is to close down debate, as we fear that the more competing interests come to the surface, the harder it will be to find a solution. However, Win/Win depends on identifying as many interests as possible. In fact, the more we know about both our own true needs and those of our partner, the easier it becomes to find a solution that benefits everyone.
What changes do you need to make?
One of the secrets happy couples know is regularly taking stock of their relationship and not waiting until it is too late.
I discuss this in the video below:
Need more help?
You can find out more secrets of a happy relationship in my book The Happy Couple’s Handbook.
It is full of powerful love hacks to turn round your marriage or keep it just a strong as the day that you walked down the aisle.