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Make Your Spouse Happy

August 8, 2013 | by Sarah Chana Radcliffe, M.Ed., C.Psych.Assoc.

The “Just Do It” rule in marriage.

Wife to Husband: When you ignore my birthday, it makes me feel unimportant. What I really want is for you to acknowledge my birthday.

Husband: I don’t do birthdays.

Really? You don’t do birthdays? Surely you meant, “Before I was married, I never felt that celebrating birthdays was important. But now that I see how important the practice is to you, Dear Wife, I’ll be happy to make that little change and begin celebrating birthdays right away!”

You meant this because you understand that the primary goal in marriage is to make your spouse happy. If you know that something will make him or her happy and it’s within the realm of things you are capable of doing, you will do it. After all, your happy spouse is your happy marriage. (And of course, your unhappy spouse, is your unhappy marriage!).

Marriage Requires Changing

Why would anyone do something or refrain from doing something, knowing that their actions will cause pain to their spouse? In other words, why would the husband in the birthday scenario respond the way he did? He’s not an evil person or even a selfish person. He’s just a man who hasn’t yet realized that his task is to make his wife happy. He thinks that by making himself happy – doing what works for him – he’ll experience the greatest happiness in the least amount of time.

Unfortunately, he is SO wrong! If he’s married, he can’t make himself happy at his wife’s expense. He is no longer operating solo; everything he does and says is reflected right back to him. His wife is his mirror: smile at her and she smiles back. Frown at her, and she frowns back. Send a sour attitude and….guess what comes back?

The same reality works for the wife. When they treat each other well, husband and wife both radiate in the glow of the love they express and when they treat each other poorly, both suffocate in the cloud of gloom they generate.

Good treatment involves taking your spouse’s wishes seriously.

Good treatment involves taking your spouse’s wishes seriously. “I’d really like to spend more time with you,” “I’d really appreciate it if you could hang up your clothes,” “It would make me so happy if you would call my Mom once in awhile,” “I really need your help putting the kids to bed,” “I prefer it when you wear your nice clothes around the house.” Whatever it is that your spouse longs for – just do it! Making your spouse happy will make YOU happy and making your spouse miserable will cause you to suffer too.

If you don’t do it, consider how your spouse will feel. Even if he or she stops complaining to you about it, the dissatisfaction stays inside. People who come to marriage counseling after 25 years of marriage often complain that they have experienced disappointment about the same issues for the full two and a half decades. That’s a lot of pain and negative energy. In fact, the reason people divorce after managing to stay married for so long, is often that they can no longer tolerate the mound of hurt that has festered inside. Don’t make the mistake of confusing your spouse’s silence with compliance. You just might be too difficult to talk to; your spouse has chosen not to open up to you.

Exceptions to the Rule

Making your spouse happy need not involve making yourself crazy. Therefore, if what your spouse longs for is too difficult for you to do or outright unreasonable, adjustments must be made to the “just do it” rule. For things that are difficult, but not impossible nor strictly unreasonable, you can often modify the criteria for a better fit. If your spouse wants to celebrate birthdays with huge parties but you actually hate parties you could offer to make him or her a party for every decade rather than every year. This would involve a stretch for you and a compromise for your spouse – both of which are marriage-minded activities.

However, if your spouse asks you to wake up at 3 a.m. each morning, feel free to say “this is something that I can’t do.” Additionally, if your spouse has excessive demands and/or endless requests, you needn’t feel that you must comply with all of them in order to make him or her happy. Most likely, professional counseling can help sift out the reasonable from unreasonable wishes, helping both partners identify healthy limits.

Apart from these exceptions, get in the habit of asking yourself this question when your spouse wants something from you: “Can I do it (without undue pain and suffering)?” If the answer is “yes,” then just do it. If the answer is “no,” then ask yourself this question: “Can I find another way to do it that I can do?” If there are too many “no’s” to both questions, then enlist the help of a professional if possible. Remember, both partners must work together to create the “just do it” marriage. So just do it.

Excerpted from Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s recently published Make Yourself at Home. Click here to order your copy (Menucha Press 2013)


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