One Small Shift That Will Improve Your Marriage

If you’re looking for ways to make your marriage better, there’s a strategy you may have never considered. It’s surprisingly simple, and it addresses a common point of tension. Yet very few women use it.

Ready? Here it is: Give partial credit.

That’s it.

What do I mean by partial credit? Let me explain by giving you an example I hear about all the time. A wife asks her husband to take care of some things around the house while she is out. He accomplishes almost everything she wanted him to do. But maybe he doesn’t do the job exactly as she would have.

What do you think she focuses on? That’s right: the fact that the task is not finished in the way she defines it. She’s only giving credit if everything is done and done right according to her standards— which doesn’t help anyone. The husband loses his motivation to do more around the house, and the wife loses out on the work he could be doing.

Giving partial credit works out a whole lot better for everyone. Let’s look at why that is.

Why We ‘Grade’ So Harshly

I don’t think women intentionally avoid giving partial credit. It’s just a function of how we are used to doing things and the stress we are under.

Women are taught to look for ways to be helpful without being asked and to go the extra mile. If one woman is doing a task, another will typically jump in and try to help if she can. Men, on the other hand, won’t usually insert themselves into a task another man is doing unless he is asked to do so. Men consider that being respectful.

In general, men also approach delegated tasks a little differently. They will usually strive to do exactly what is asked, and only that. So, if you’re mad at him for not doing more, he’s not really going to understand that. For example, if you asked him to run the dishwasher and he did that, he might be frustrated when you’re upset he didn’t also clean the kitchen counters because it was so “obvious” they were dirty.

Women are often multitasking and juggling more than men, thereby carrying a larger mental load. We want tasks to be completely done, with nothing left to address or worry about, so they can be totally off of our minds. There’s a psychological phenomenon at play here: the Zeigarnik Effect. Our brains remember incomplete tasks more readily than those that have been completed. Having too many loose ends can literally create mental stress by nagging at us.

What’s the Real Issue?

Shouldn’t he just know that the rest of the kitchen needed cleaning? Well, yes, but is that what you specifically asked him to do? If the only thing you did in response to the work he completed is to complain about what he didn’t do, he’s going to feel discouraged and micromanaged. He’s also going to eventually feel like nothing makes you happy.

Instead, try giving partial credit. Just say, “Thanks so much for loading the dishwasher.” This doesn’t mean you are giving up on his helping to clean the rest of the kitchen. But instead of implying he “failed” at the task you asked him to complete, make a more specific request next time: “Would you mind loading the dishwasher, cleaning the countertops and emptying the dishrack please?” Trust me, he’s not going to be offended by this level of detail.

The other important thing you can do moving forward is having a farther-reaching discussion about how the mental load of the household is distributed. This is especially important if you’re the one with a to-do list a mile long. At the end of the day, the problem isn’t really that he didn’t clean the rest of the kitchen, it’s that you are managing far too many details in your household, and that’s exhausting. Open his eyes to this so that the two of you can work out a better division of both physical and emotional labor.

Extend More Credit

Especially this time of year, partial credit is a useful concept to remember in your other relationships too. The holiday season brings a lot of expectations — and hurt feelings when those expectations don’t get met. How would it feel to give partial credit to your sister for at least waiting until after dessert to start complaining about her ex? Or to your in-laws for not overspending as wildly as they used to on the kids’ gifts even though they didn’t follow your wishes exactly?

I’m wishing you lots of peace and joy in all your relationships this holiday season. For more advice on better communication in marriage, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Vulnerability: The Best Gift for Anyone

As we get closer to Thanksgiving, you are probably starting to kick your holiday preparations into high gear.

But amid your shopping, decorating and travel planning, I want you to steal a few moments for one simple activity that will set the stage for a more meaningful season.

Now is a great time to watch or rewatch Brene Brown’s seminal TEDX talk “The Power of Vulnerability.” It will take you only about 20 minutes.

The holidays can stir up all sorts of feelings and expectations that make you feel more vulnerable this time of year. You may already be feeling some anxiety and stress in anticipation of all that needs to be done before year’s end. Of course, looking cheerful while trying to tame your perfectionism over every detail makes this a much harder task!

Some of you are anticipating sadness and heartbreak about loved ones who will not be with you this holiday. All these emotions can be so powerful that it can be tempting to hide from them through overeating, overdrinking or overspending.

The gift we all really want is to be able to share our vulnerable feelings with others and still feel safe and loved. Unfortunately, many of us — even kids — have had experiences that make us feel unsafe being vulnerable.

Making Space for Vulnerability

You can’t make people be vulnerable with you. But you can create an atmosphere of love and security that encourages vulnerability. What might that look like during the holiday season?

  • Deciding to skip a party you had planned to attend because your husband is at the end of his rope with end-of-year work stress.
  • Not telling your shy kid they “shouldn’t feel that way” if they voice nervousness about seeing their raucous cousins.
  • Taking a timeout from holiday activities to be with a friend who’s grieving or going through a crisis like divorce or a family illness.
  • Giving your aging parents some one-on-one time to just talk to you instead of getting lost in the busyness of the season.

When you show up for others in ways like these, you build trust and intimacy in your relationships which is necessary for anyone to be vulnerable.

Of course, you also need relationships where you can be vulnerable yourself. Before things get too stressful, think about who gives you a sense of safety and acceptance. Who can handle it when you’re not feeling merry and bright? Who would take it in stride if you need to express sadness that your budget is smaller this year or that your parents are having some health troubles?

If you feel that you and your husband are not open and vulnerable enough with each other, think about some small steps that might help bring you closer. You can’t just go from closed off to totally vulnerable overnight — and neither can he. Instead, think about a low-risk way you can test the waters. Maybe that’s something as simple as asking for his help wrapping gifts when you would usually handle the job yourself. You could use that opportunity to connect and find out how he’s really doing. Slowing down your flurry of activity and engaging creates opportunities to share any vulnerability either of you are experiencing.

I hope that this holiday season brings you closer to everyone you care about, especially your husband. To keep strengthening your relationship together, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Be Honest: Are You Hard to Live With?

You love your husband. But, if you’re being real, you have to admit he drives you crazy sometimes. He has all these annoying quirks and bad habits. The longer you’re with him, the more irritating he is to be around.

Nothing like you, right?

You’re so much easier to be around. Or are you?

Seriously, stop for just a second ask yourself what you’re like to live with. Is it possible you might be hard to live with, too?

The truth is that it can genuinely be hard to recognize ways you might be driving your partner crazy. After all, how often do any of us step back and analyze what we’re doing?

How you behave as a wife and as a parent has probably been heavily shaped by what you observed in your own family. That’s what you consider to be “normal.” But your husband came into your marriage with a different idea of what normal looks like.

For example, maybe it was routine in your family to always be running a few minutes behind. But in your husband’s family, “on time” meant “get there early.”

Differences in promptness are not as big a deal as having different ideas about handling conflict or loyalty in the marriage. But how your husband interprets your actions is always important. In this case, your habitual tardiness is a big deal if he views it as disrespect.

It’s good to take a step back and reflect on your own behavior in your marriage sometimes. Now, admittedly, this is a little harder than just focusing on all the stuff he does! But it’s really good for your marriage to look in the mirror occasionally.

Neither of you is ever going to be perfect. But both of you should be aware of how you affect each other. You may be surprised by how much the things you do bother him. For example, maybe you’re already aware that your perfectionism doesn’t serve you well, but you didn’t know that it’s also really stressing him out.

When there are obvious differences, it’s helpful to explain where you’re coming from: “I’m not late because I don’t care about you. I just never developed the habit of being on time. It’s something I’m working on now, though.”

That last part is the key. Maturity means being aware of what you bring to your marriage, taking ownership of it and making an effort to change anything that’s detrimental to your relationship.

Think of this as ongoing maintenance work on your marriage. It can go a long way toward heading off bigger problems later.

As you and your husband work to better understand the motivations behind your actions, you may enjoy my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Women, Men and the ‘Breadwinner’ Stereotype

breadwinner

Couples tend to underestimate how much what’s going in our society as a whole affects their marriage. Cultural norms and expectations about men, women and families play into our relationships, whether we agree with them or not.

And sometimes those norms and expectations change more slowly than the realities of our lives — which gives today’s busy couples yet one more thing to navigate.

Take family income, for example. In 2017, Pew Research Center found that in almost one-third of U.S. cohabitating couples, women brought home at least half of the earnings. That’s a big leap from 1981, when that figure was just 13%. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 38% of wives earn more than their husbands.

While women’s earning power has increased over the years, there’s been less change in our perceptions of who “should” be the breadwinner.

The Pew Center also reports that 71% of adults believe that a good husband or partner should support his family financially. Only 32% say the same of women. On top of that, a study by a Harvard professor found that couples are at a nearly 33% greater risk of divorce when the husband doesn’t work full time.

All of this is important information to be aware of if you make more money than your husband does. The two of you could face criticism (veiled or otherwise) from friends and family, especially if your husband stays home with the kids — which means the two of you are breaking another norm.

You might also discover that the income disparity brings up some surprising feelings for both of you. In theory, both of you may have always supported the idea that it doesn’t matter which spouse makes more money. But, in practice, you might run up against some ideas about men and women left over from the way you were raised — ideas that you weren’t even aware affected you anymore!

None of this means that there’s anything wrong with how your family’s income breaks down. It’s up to you and your husband to decide together how much money you need and what you both want from your careers and your work-life balance. The important thing is just to understand the power of these entrenched expectations, how they might play out in your relationship and how you can manage these challenges together.

For more tips on negotiating all of the expectations and pressures of marriage today, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

He Cheated — Should You Leave Him?

affair

If your husband has had an affair, you’re hurt, you’re angry and you have some big decisions to make. Should you try to repair your marriage? Or should you end your relationship because of his infidelity?

There’s no decision that’s right for every person. Today I want to give you some questions to consider that will help you make the best choice for your marriage.

How Badly Did He Mess Up?

How long was he unfaithful? Has he had multiple affairs? Were his infidelity physical, emotional or both? How emotionally entangled is he with his affair partner? A one-time slip might feel less daunting to work through than an ongoing pattern of cheating.

How Much Do You Have Invested?

How long have you been married? Do you have children? Are you deeply involved in each other’s families? While infidelity is devastating in any relationship, you may feel more motivated to stay and work it out if you lives have been deeply interwoven for years and you still have kids at home.

How Is Your Marriage Otherwise?

What else isn’t working? What is working? Do the positives of your relationship give you a strong enough foundation to rebuild your marriage? For example, do you share values, parent well together and still have a friendship? Or have you been feeling disconnected from each other for years?

Are Other Issues Involved?

Is he experiencing addiction or mental illness? Is there a history of infidelity in his family? All of those factors can make repairing your relationship more difficult.

Did He Learn His Lesson?

Does he understand the pain he caused you? Has he apologized sincerely? Is he showing you with his actions that he’s willing to do the work needed to save your marriage and to be faithful going forward?

If You Decide to Stay

  • See a therapist. Healing after an affair is possible. But it isn’t easy. If at all possible, get counseling as a couple.
  • Set boundaries. If you tell people close to you about your husband’s infidelity, their first reaction might be to urge you to leave him. That’s understandable. They’re hurt and angry on your behalf. But they can also become a barrier to your reconciliation. Remember, it’s your decision whether or not to stay with your husband. And you’re under no obligation to reveal all the details about what’s happening in your marriage to anyone.
  • Realize that things are different now. Even if you stay together, the marriage that you had before is gone. Going forward, you’re building a new relationship. The good news is that, while neither of you will forget this painful chapter, you can create a healthier and more honest marriage than the one you had before. As you do, I invite you to use my book Strong Women, Strong Love as a resource.