I was recently asked for advice on marital happiness. Mark and I have been married almost 25 years which is longer than most of our friends and acquaintances. Like all couples, we’ve had our ups and downs, but are genuinely happy together most of the time. We like each other’s company and we have a very good emotional and physical connection. I’m usually pretty free with advice being that my day job is as a primary care doctor / advice giver, but this question is a really difficult one to answer. Relationships seem to have their own personalities. Our relationship’s personality is based on mutual respect, responsibility and logic. We do not spend a lot of time engaging in conflict, but when we do, we try to understand one another’s point of view before moving on. We don’t have a strong need to convince the other that one way is right or wrong and I can usually move on once I feel heard. While our head typically rules our heart in our relationship, we still always find a daily way to show each other affection even if it is only with the morning good-bye kiss. Because relationships have such unique personalities, I’m not sure you can apply what works for one to another, but I will offer a few general observations on our marriage and conflict management.
Go to bed angry.
Always go to bed angry. Early in our relationship, I fell asleep after a deep disagreement. The next morning Mark expressed regret for going to bed angry stating that was something we should never do. We were young, but we had been in prior relationships so I replied, “No, that is something I will not agree to.” In my opinion, going to bed angry is the best thing you can do when you disagree and there is no resolution in sight. Through the power of sleep, the anger dissipates and the energy for a fight relaxes. The morning brings sunlight and clarity so you can revisit the issue with a renewed perspective and a desire to not ruin the full day ahead. It is easier to be heard and move on in the light of day. So, if there is no end in sight, just go to bed angry.
Ask for what you want.
Ask for what you want. Individuals in new relationships often feel cheated when their partner cannot read their minds. They expect that with all of the energy put into getting to know each other, their wishes and desires do not need to be spelled out. Well, they do. Spell them out again and again, forever. Do you want a certain gift? Ask for it. Do you want to be held a certain way? Tell your partner. If you are worried your partner will say the wrong thing, warn them in advance. Never presume that someone “gets” your needs and desires. Your partner wants to deliver or they wouldn’t be there, so give them the gift of asking for what you want or need. That said,leave some room for spontaneity in gift giving and surprise adventures or misadventures. I love telling people that Mark once bought me Dennis Rodman’s biography for my birthday. WTF? And he bought me the same jacket I already owned because he was pretty sure I’d look good in it. Hmmm, I wonder why he thought that? Plus, there are many gifts I would’ve never asked for, but now can’t picture my life without.
Never belittle your spouse.
Never belittle your spouse. Some of the most uncomfortable situations with another couple are when they put their partner down or make a joke at the other’s expense. It can be innocent fun, but always beware as you can easily cross a line even if the banter is playful. Because of a new shirt I didn’t like, I once joked that Mark was a “metrosexual wannabe”. That did not go over very well. He didn’t really speak to me for the rest of the night. However, even though I got the cold shoulder, he did it effectively so that it didn’t ruin the vibe for everyone else. And, I moved the conversation back into safe territory. Mark will sometimes take conversations where I don’t necessarily want them to go. I often use the kick under the table method to make this known and he no longer asks “Why are you kicking me?”. He was incredulous recently when we made it through an entire dinner with friends without my kicking him even once. And, it has only been 25 years!
Mark and Laura Beaty were married June 25, 1994.