Written by Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, the Marriage in a Box blog shares insights into common relationship struggles, gives ideas for moving beyond the roadblocks, and helps you find your path to happiness – both individually and within your relationship.
Respect means “ to honor or to hold in high esteem”. Being considerate and acknowledging opinions are two pieces of respect. A marriage without respect lacks integrity. When you lose sight of your spouse’s value, you are more apt to treat them in disrespectful ways.
Verbal signs of disrespect can cause an argument or escalate an argument. Examples include sarcasm, minimizing, interrupting, talking over your spouse, yelling or screaming, or name calling.
Nonverbal disrespectful behaviors while your spouse is speaking send signals to your spouse that you do not consider them to be someone worth listening to. Examples are eye rolling, smirking, finger pointing, yawning, scrolling through cellphone texts.
Value is a decision and a gift
Value should not be based on what someone does for you or how you feel. It is a decision you make and a gift you give. When you took your marriage vow to love, honor, and cherish, you made the decision to view your spouse as a person of high worth and value.
5 ways to show you value your spouse’s opinion
- When your spouse talks to you, look into his or her eyes to connect.
- Make sure you actively listen to what your spouse says to you. Don’t appear to listen but actually be occupied in your thoughts and actions.
- Make sure your body language says, “I care” when your spouse needs your attention. Don’t turn away or be busy with something else.
- Create an honor list for your spouse. Take some time to list all of the positive character traits, things they do, roles they play and positive things that you appreciate about your spouse.
- Say thank you not just for what they do, but also for who they are. “Thank you for being so willing to listen when I had a bad day today.”
The spouse who feels appreciated and valued by the person they have chosen to partner with is likely to engage in more physical intimacy and openness in communication.
Work is a major part of each individual’s life, and it can be challenging to balance work and career needs while maintaining a healthy, happy marriage. Couples often find themselves in the midst of conflict over the jobs of one or both spouses. Here are 5 strategies to help you create a work-life balance.
- Set Boundaries at Work.
Be clear about how full your plate is and what you’re able to take on. Don’t become the go-to person who says yes to everything. Make a promise to yourself to leave work at a reasonable time.
- When you go home, turn it off.
When you leave work, leave your work behind. Shut everything off and disengage. Don’t lose valuable time with your family by staying connected to your job 24/7. Work will be there when you get back.
- Share the high and low points of your workday.
When one or both of you is very invested in your career, the other might end up feeling left out of a major part of your life. If you want your spouse to open up a little more about their work, start by showing an interest in what they do. Listen to your partner and empathize with his or her situation.
- Respect and Support Your Spouse
Respect and recognize that each partner’s contribution to the marriage is equally valued and necessary to a successful career and a solid family life. Express confidence in your partner’s abilities and provide encouragement. Show you care when your spouse is having a hard day.
- Work together to keep the home running smoothly.
Keeping up a household is a full-time job in itself. Add one or two full-time careers and a child or two to that mix, and you’re likely to get overwhelmed very quickly. That’s why it’s so important for the two of you to work together to keep your home running smoothly. If you’re so busy or stressed that neither of you can do an adequate job of keeping up your home, don’t be afraid to hire a housekeeper, a lawn maintenance worker, or even someone to help you cook. Whatever the case may be, sit down with your spouse and negotiate whatever you think might work best for your situation.
As important as it is for husbands and wives to carry their own weight, expecting a completely equal division of chores and money is a good way for people to get hurt. While the intent is to support each other, too often it becomes about keeping score. Expecting a 50/50 relationship leads to 3 things that can destroy a marriage.
- Losing sight of your spouse as a person
Marriage doesn’t come with a chore chart that awards you with gold star and stickers, checking off every time you fulfill a responsibility. Thinking your spouse must do his or her 50 percent leads you to focus on the other person’s performance. You then lose sight of your spouse as the person you vowed to cherish.
- Resentment and negativity towards your spouse
Trying to obtain a 50-50 balance in roles and responsibilities can lead very quickly to the highly toxic elements of resentment and negativity. A 50/50 marriage often has designated chores. They decided one of the husband’s chores is to mow the lawn. The wife gets home before the husband who ends up having to work late. The lawn doesn’t get mowed. This happens a few nights in a row. The wife loses patience in her husband for not completing his chores and either begins to nag him about the lawn or begrudgingly mows the lawn. The wife did not have empathy for her husband having to work so many extra hours at work. Instead her energy was focused on resenting him for not mowing the lawn.
Whenever you do something for the relationship or the family expecting to get something back in return, it changes the thought process from “What can I do to make this relationship better?” to “If I do this, what am I getting out of it?” It changes the focus of your relationship from making your partner happy to making you happy. A marriage is about putting the needs of your spouse first and doing everything you can to make the relationship work.
Long-term relationships require flexibility to work. The strongest marriages have partners that seem to accept that the equation changes day by day, and sometimes by the hour, and is open to negotiation. It’s likely never going to land on 50 percent.
Most people have an image in their mind of how a relationship should work. For many, it’s that both people share responsibilities 50/50. For others, it’s a traditional view that the wife takes care of the household while the husband takes care of the job and yard. The reality lies somewhere in between.
Most marriages involve two working spouses with hectic schedules and high expectations for their home life together. It is almost impossible to divide the labor 50/50 because at any given time one of you is going to be unavailable to get something done. The traditional division of labor doesn’t work either because you both work. So how do you divide the labor?
You’re sharing a life together, so you need to plan and account for each person’s needs and resources.
- Respect each other’s time and work constraints.
My husband is a planning manager at a pharmaceutical company and works 45+ hours at the office every week. I work from a home office. It does not make sense for my husband to take care of the parenting duties. However, it’s not fair for me to take care of all the parenting duties. So, we split it up. I get the kids fed, clothed and off to school, and take them to after school activities. When my husband comes home, after dinner, he gets the kids bathed and off to bed.
- Figure out what you are each good at, what you each love/hate doing, and then arrange the division of labor accordingly.
I love to cook but my husband can barely boil water. So I cook and he cleans up the dishes. My husband is very picky about how his clothes are cleaned, whereas I just need them to be clean and unwrinkled. I have allergies so I can’t tolerate dust in the house. Our solution: He does the laundry and I do the dusting and dust mopping.
- Discuss everything that’s going on in the household and what each of you can do to change the things that aren’t working.
Set aside a pre-arranged time for you both to sit down and talk about each of the things that need to get done in the household and evaluate how the current arrangement is working. Is there is something that is not getting done to one or the other’s satisfaction; talk about alternative ways that specific item can be done better.
The common thread is continuous communication. Communication is what keeps you in touch with each other and how you read each other’s needs. It is also how you avoid conflict and arguments about who should do what and when.
According to a study in the American Sociological Review, an unequal division of labor increases the risk of divorce. As more women have taken positions in the work force, the traditional roles of marriage where the husband is the breadwinner and the wife is the homemaker, have changed.
In couples married before 1974, who might have more traditional views on the division of labor between spouses, wives who did 75 percent of the housework were less likely to divorce than wives who did 50 percent of the housework. In marriages since 1975, the study found that women were still doing the majority of the housework, although men were expected to pitch in more and typically did.
Issues around the division of labor are common in most marriages
Issues around the division of labor are common in most marriages and there’s a lot that goes into what you each perceive as being “normal” or “fair”. Equal is a numbers thing, where household labor is divided 50/50. Fair is a perception thing. For most of us, our expectations are that husband and wide share the household labor 50/50. However, our perceptions often create barriers to that equality.
Barrier #1: The husband wants to do more, but the wife prefers it done to a higher standard. So, she feels he’s not doing enough.
Barrier #2: Wives who earn less than their husbands often feel the need to make up for it by doing more around the house.
Barrier #3: The husband may have a tendency to compare what the wife does to what their mother used to do or what so-and-so ‘s wife does. The same is true for the wife.
How do you overcome those barriers?
- Have a really good conversation with your spouse about actual tasks, chores, work and childcare. Talk about roles and expectations. What happened in your family of origin, what you expect to do the same and what you expect to do differently?
- Be willing to be flexible and pick up the slack when your spouse is particularly busy at work. You are in this together, so work as a team.
- Don’t compare your spouse to someone else. You married her or him for who they are. Show appreciation. Be willing to acknowledge each other.
Many people have pets that they dote on. They spend endless hours feeding, grooming, praising, talking to, cleaning up after and enjoying the company of their pets. Do we treat our marriages like we would treat a treasured pet?
There are three things that cause trouble and can ultimately kill a marriage.
- Selfishness. It affects how we talk to each other, how we divide responsibilities in the home, how we resolve conflicts, and even how we spend our time.
- Lack of Forgiveness. Holding on to a past hurt, mistake, or slight becomes a weapon that you can drag out at any time and use to hold your partner hostage.
- Expectations. Within your mind you have a picture of how you or your partner should act as a husband or wife, father or mother. And chances are this image is so perfect, so idyllic, that it is completely unattainable.
Even if they’ve taken over your marriage, even if you have decided your marriage is lifeless, It’s never too late to make a decision to change.
How do we break those damaging marriage killers?
Start treating your marriage like a living, breathing pet you are responsible for keeping alive.
Feed Your Marriage. No matter how hard their day has been dog lovers always give their furry friends a warm hello, a belly rub, and maybe a walk around the block. Think what it would do for your relationship if you always gave your partner a hug and a kiss, and spent a half-hour together after work.
Forgive your partner. Dogs and cats occasionally pee in the house, steal your socks, chew up your favorite pair of shoes, or throw up on the carpet. We don’t withhold love or affection from them. We don’t continuously scold them for the one time they chewed up the slippers. We forgive them because we love them so much. So when your partner makes you mad, tell them calmly why you're upset and address the problem, then forgive them completely, move on and continue to give them your love and affection freely.
Groom Your Partner. Rather than viewing your partner with a critical mindset, groom them with praise. When your husband pitches in and helps with household chores, say “Thank You”. When your wife has had a hard day but cooks a delicious meal anyway, say, “Honey, this meal is delicious.”
Be kind to your partner. Research has shown that taking more loving actions actually makes you feel more in love and fosters a deeper level of intimacy. In any interaction with your partner, whether it’s personal or practical, try to be kind in how you express yourself. This softens your partner, even in heated moments.
Communicate with your partner. Don’t assume your partner knows what you are thinking or show should know when to do this or that. You need to talk to your partner and let them know what you need. If you do not like something they have done or you want them to do something, you need to talk to them about it.
Spend time with and enjoy your partner. Make time each day to spend with your partner. Plan dates and activities together. The more time you spend together doing things you enjoy and talking, the more intimately you will begin to know your partner.
When couples love each other, it’s normal to feel attached, to desire closeness, to be concerned for each another, and to depend upon each other. Their lives are intertwined, and they’re affected by and need each other. When one partner’s self-esteem depends on the other partner and they plan their entire life around pleasing the other person, the marriage relationship has become an unhealthy, codependent relationship.
What is Co-dependency?
Co-dependency is a learned behavior that affects an individual's ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. One partner’s self-esteem and self-worth comes from sacrificing themselves for their partner, who is only too happy to receive their sacrifices. Codependent couples usually are out of balance. Frequently, there are struggles for power and control. They’re often anxious and resentful and feel guilty and responsible for their partner’s feelings and moods. Then they try to control each other to feel okay and get their needs met.
Characteristics of a co-dependent relationship:
- Can’t tolerate disagreement and blame one another for causing their problems without taking responsibility for themselves.
- Do not respect each other’s separateness and individuality,
- Despite their pain, they feel trapped in the relationship because they fear that they cannot function on their own.
- Mutual codependency and insecurity makes intimacy threatening since being honest and known risks rejection or dissolution of their fragile self.
- Relate to each other in unhealthy ways with patterns of obsession, self-sacrifice, dysfunctional communication, and control.
- Often the relationship involves emotional or physical abuse.
What makes interconnections healthy is interdependency, not codependency. Characteristics of a an interdependent relationship:
- Both partners share power equally and take responsibility for their own feelings, actions, and contributions to the relationship.
- Each partner can manage their thoughts and feelings on their own and independence does not threaten the relationship.
- They allow for each other’s differences.
- Their self-esteem does not depend on their partner and they don’t fear intimacy.
- Mutual respect and support for each other’s personal goals.
Treatment for Co-depending Relationships
- Find a hobby or activity that you enjoy outside of the relationship.
- Practice open communication about wants and needs and shared decision-making.
- Seek Individual or group therapy and support groups.
By the time you reach adulthood, what you want is heavily diluted with the thoughts, opinions, and actions of parents, friends, teachers, coaches etc. Adding a spouse often makes the puzzle much trickier to solve with two lives superimposed on each other. How do you clear the path to see what you each want and deserve to have in your relationship?
As a relationship progresses, it’s easy to focus on its problems.
As a result, when we communicate with a partner, we often say what we don’t want instead of what we do. Somehow, it’s easier to complain or vocalize dissatisfaction than to directly state or ask for what we actually desire.
Two reactions to problems in a marriage
Unfortunately, most people automatically take a defensive, self-protective stance in relation to the inevitable hurts they experience with their partner. When in this defended, self-righteous posture, they lose track of their ultimate goal. The conversation becomes about being “wronged” or winning an argument instead of resolving an issue that’s making them not feel as close to their partner.
While many partners tend to be combative, others take the opposite approach: Rather than say what they want, they shut down or turn inward. They may feel quietly resentful toward their partner or indulge in destructive thoughts toward themselves.
In either of these reactions, the person is avoiding expressing, or sometimes even acknowledging, his or her basic wants and desires.
What do happy couples have in common?
The two most important elements for a successful marriage are clarity and being deserving. In harmonious relationships, both partners are generally clear about what they want and believe that they are deserving of it. Four ways to move towards getting what you want and deserve from your relationship.
- Drop Your Side of the Argument.
First calm down within yourself, refuse to lash back, and instead say something warm and honest like, “I care more about feeling good with you than winning this argument.” Taking these steps often softens the other person, and he or she, too, is more likely to drop his or her side of the argument. You can then communicate from a more direct, vulnerable stance that isn’t about blame or being right.
- Drop the “I”
Try not to speak in an entitled manner, as if you’re demanding something, or using words like “I deserve.” When someone in a relationship acts like their partner owes them something, it only serves to alienate or irritate a partner. You shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed to simply state what you want.
- Drop the victim.
No one can or should expect any one other person to meet all their needs. Rather, you should strive to feel like a whole person in yourself. There’s an important difference between saying what you want as an adult and feeling like a dependent child whose survival depends on your partner giving you what you need. Your words should be an authentic expression of what you want, not a demand for what you “need” or an expectation of what you’re “entitled” to.
- Drop the “You”
Many people tend to accuse their partner, saying, “You don’t act excited to see me anymore," or, "You’re always distracted.” It is valid to give your partner feedback, but if all he or she hears is a stream of complaints, it is more likely to drive them away than to get them to move closer to you.
Every one of us has defenses surrounding our wants and desires, but it’s beneficial to let your guard down and take a chance on being direct in your adult relationships. Try using open, direct statements like..”I feel…”, “ I want to feel…..” When you express yourself in this way, you learn that you are worthy of what you want—and much more likely to get it.