8 min read
Secrets to a happy marriage.
I collect marital wisdom. No matter where I am – on a plane, at a wedding, in the doctor’s waiting room, I look for people who seem happily married and ask, “What is your secret?” Here is the best of my collection:
1. Don’t assume he will change.
What you see is what you get. Never marry someone based on the assumption that “he will change”. He may indeed change, but you cannot count on it. You have to walk in and commit to this marriage assuming he will never change one thing about himself.
There are many women who have a “rescue complex” and actually fall for guys who have major issues that they think they can “fix”. It is a mistake. Remember, you are not someone’s therapist; you are someone’s wife.
2. Don’t try to change them.
You can’t change people, you can only change your reaction to them. Once you change your reaction, that often creates an environment where they can change. But even if they don’t, your change of reaction will likely help both of you to have a happier and more harmonious marriage.
3. Be a giver.
Do one extra act of giving every day. You think it's just for your marriage? It's not.
I once had a group of ten couples commit to doing one extra act of giving for their spouse every day, for 40 days. The kids started catching on to what was happening. One of the husbands sent me a picture of two gifts that their kids had bought and wrapped. They gave them to their parents to give to each other. Their note said, "Kids love it when their parents love each other."
4. Keep your parents out of your marriage.
Once you invite them in to the conflicts and struggles between you and your husband, you will never get them out. This can be highly toxic and destructive to a marriage. Many people have told me that they went through rough times in their marriage; they told their parents all of the terrible things their spouse was doing. Then, when the marriage got back on track, they wondered why their parents had bad feelings towards their spouse.
Your marital troubles are best left to discuss with therapists, clergy, and other people of wisdom who are not so emotionally invested in you.
This also includes issues of finance. I have seen many marriages destroyed because parents are financially supporting the kids, and thus feel it gives them the right to interfere in their marriage in many ways. In almost every case, it is simply not worth it. Better to struggle financially than let parents or in-laws control your marriage.
5. Be the first to say, “I’m sorry.”
You never lose with this; you only win. Keep your eye on the ball. Your goal is to have a happy marriage where you both realize your potential. “Winning” an argument may mean you won the fight, but perhaps it also means that you will lose the battle. Don’t lose the forest for the trees. It is easy to get distracted from our ultimate goal, and get sucked into the conflict of the day.
There is no mitzvah to be right. There is a mitzvah to have peace. My mother always said, “The secret to a long marriage is a short memory.”
6. Your spouse cares for you, and even if he or she hurts you (which will inevitably happen), know that it was not on purpose.
Unless you are, God forbid, in an abusive situation, no one gets up in the morning and says, “I am going to hurt people today.” People in general do not want to hurt those they love, and if it happens, it was not intentional.
7. As parents, always show a unified front.
Parenting children in different ways will cause stress and conflict in a marriage. And children, picking up on this, will often play one parent against the other in order to get their way. When faced with a situation where you disagree on disciplining the children or have to make a decision that impacts the children, always discuss it apart from them and come to a common conclusion. In the long run, it is much more damaging to the children if you are publicly disagreeing. Even if you are wrong, Judaism teaches that parents should speak with “one voice”. Unifed parents give them more security and a strong foundation for life.
8. When something is intolerable to your spouse yet tolerable to you, give in.
Although we often hear that compromise is the key to a happy marriage, actually, compromise means both parties feel they lost out. No one got what they really wanted. The key to a happy marriage is letting the other “win” – and taking pleasure in the fact that you made them happy. Now that’s a win-win, instead of a lose-lose.
9. Don’t complain.
I met with a woman a while back who was having trouble in her marriage. She said her husband wanted to leave her, as he was sick of and tired her nagging and complaining. “But every Jewish woman nags, right?” she asked. “Wrong,” I answered.
If you point out to your husband every little mistake that he makes, you will have no credibility left when it comes time to discuss something very serious that he is doing wrong. Just as our kids will tune us out when we are perceived as critical and nagging, so will our husbands.
No one likes nagging and complaining.
10. You don't have to tell your spouse all the bad things about yourself.
When we were dating, we put our best foot forward. We were always at our best. We didn’t make bodily noises in front of each other, leave the bathroom door open when we were using it, and point out all of our faults, lackings and failings. For some reason, we think that once we are married, we can just “let it all hang out”.
It’s a mistake. It’s not like your husband doesn’t see your flaws; he does. But not every last one of them. It’s all right to create an illusion of beauty and fineness throughout your marriage. You are not being someone else; you are being you, but the best of you.
11. You marry someone to make you happier, not happy.
Don’t expect to be transformed from an unhappy person to a happy person, just because you are married. It is important to be a happy and complete “half soul” before you meet your other half. Marriage will definitely add a lot to your life, but it does not solve all of your problems. It actually now brings in some new ones!
12. Always have a sense of humor.
Having a good sense of humor can get you through a lot. Don’t take everything so seriously. One tool in this is to have some objectivity. A friend of mine was having trouble with her four little children. When they fought with each other, it made her crazy. I sent her to a wise rabbi for counsel. He told her to look at her kids like she was watching a sitcom on television. Would you be sucked in emotionally and get heated if you were watching a show? No. In fact, you would actually find some of the drama and hysterics kind of funny.
In a surprising amount of situations, you have a choice: to be angry or to laugh. Choose the latter, for both of your sakes.
13. Express positive feelings.
My friend, author and psychologist Sarah Chana Radcliffe, writes that when speaking to our children there is an 80/20 rule. Positive interaction should take up 80% of our speech, and 20% should be instructive and/or constructive. Unfortunately, we usually do the opposite – 20% being positive, and 80% we are telling them what to do – which they do not even perceive as constructive; rather it is interpreted as negative.
With spouses, she says the rule is 90/10. That means out of every 10 things we say to our husband, nine must be positive, and only one can be instructive and/or constructive. That means if we want to ask him to do something or remind him about something, you have to balance that with nine other positive interactions. That’s hard! Exactly. No one said this was going to be easy.
14. You are not your husband's mother, sister or therapist.
You are his wife. It is a unique relationship. Believe me, he does not want or need another mother. Don’t order him around; respect him.
15. When having a disagreement, remember that you’d rather be happy than right.
And happiness comes from connection. The goal of the disagreement is to understand the other person's point, use the disagreement as an opportunity to get closer rather than farther apart, by focusing on how the other person is right, not on being right yourself. A conflict of interests never has to result in a conflict!
16. Never ever make a joke of your spouse in the presence of others.
While everyone may laugh, your spouse is guaranteed to be hurt by this.
17. Make your spouse feel that he or she is the most important person in your life.
Excerpted from Lori Palatnik’s new book, “Turn Your Husband Into Your Soul Mate” on the keys to a successful marriage. Click here to order.