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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
You’ve met some friends for a glass of wine. Or you’re grabbing a coffee with your best girlfriends at work. Or maybe you’re huddled with some other moms on the sidelines of your kids’ soccer game. And then it starts: gossip about your husbands.
Does This Sound Familiar?
He’s STILL so helpless around the house. It’s like having another kid!
I asked him to pick up
the gift for his mom, and he forgot — of course! He’s just useless.
He’s let himself go so
much. We’re way beyond “dad bod” here. It’s killing my sex drive!
amused and even titillated at this look into your friends’ marriages. And you
can definitely empathize with some of the things they’re going through. In
fact, you’ve got a couple of stories about things your husband has done lately.
You know they’ll understand where you’re coming from. What’s the harm in a
Actually, there can be a lot of harm in gossiping about your husband. Here a few things to consider the next time you feel like dishing with your friends.
Is This Really ‘Joking’?
Sometimes there’s a fine line between poking some gentle fun at your husband’s quirks and talking about him contemptuously. You’re probably not doing any harm by sharing a couple of anecdotes about how obsessed he gets with work. However, if you start saying things like “I swear, he knows more about what’s going on with his coworkers than his own kids,” that’s a sign of some serious bitterness behind your jokes.
Would He Be OK With
This? Would You?
would your husband feel if he knew what you were sharing with your friends?
Would he laugh at himself, or would he feel that you had betrayed his trust?
And here’s something else to think about: How would you feel if you knew he was gossiping with his friends over an embarrassing mistake you had made? Or if he was complaining to them about your low libido?
there’s even a small possibility that he would consider what you’re about to
say a betrayal, then just don’t say it.
Are You Avoiding Taking
Action About Something?
If you’re having a problem in your marriage, gossiping about your husband with friends probably makes you feel better in the moment. However, if your husband has no idea there is a problem, nothing can change. Does he have any idea how you’re feeling? If not, consider talking to him directly, rather than venting to others.
Is Your Listener
I do understand that there will be situations in your marriage when you can’t talk to your husband. For example, you may need to get your own thoughts sorted out first or want some advice about how to approach him. In those cases, make sure the person you are confiding in is someone you can trust completely.
Your marriage needs an environment of respect and emotional safety. What you say in one careless moment can instantly undermine that environment. That’s why I urge you to tread very carefully whenever a conversation turns to gossip about your husbands. Take a minute to think through the consequences of sharing information about him, always choosing to protect the trust you have built together over the years.
you been in this situation with your husband?
two of you are at home after work or on the weekend. You’re catching up on
household tasks or things you need to do for the kids. Or you may be trying to
rest, but your head is spinning with thoughts of all you should be doing.
While you’re stressed, he’s relaxing by the TV or happily scrolling through his phone. If it’s bedtime, he’s out like a light.
One of the most frustrating and fascinating things I see happening in relationships is that there’s still a big gulf between the way men feel at home and how women feel in the same space.
Despite all the changes in gender roles and expectations that have happened in the past half-century, I believe that most men continue to view home as a place to relax and as a refuge from the stress of the outside world.
Meanwhile, women see home as a place that has its own set of responsibilities and stresses. There’s a good reason for this. Wives still tend to do more housework than their husbands do. Primary responsibility for childcare also continues to fall mostly on women, as well as the emotional labor of the household.
And then there are the cultural norms that affect us all to one degree or another. Traditionally, we’ve seen the home as the woman’s domain. A lot of us know deep down that if, for example, the house is messy when someone drops by that we will be the ones who are judged for that, not our husbands.
Things More Fair at Home
But, just like your husband, you deserve to get some rest and relaxation at home. And your marriage will be better if you don’t have underlying resentment that you’re doing more around the house.
Change starts by talking openly about the unspoken expectations and assumptions both of you have. You might discover that the behaviors you were taking personally (“He’s lounging around and doesn’t care that I’m so stressed!”) are actually just habits he learned in his family of origin or stem from his lack of awareness of how much is on your plate.
After you’ve cleared the air, negotiate how the two of you can divide domestic responsibilities so that you both get some rest. For example, maybe you agree that each of you will take a set amount of time to decompress after work and then have certain tasks to complete. Or, perhaps, you’re responsible for the dishes and he does the laundry. The more specific you can be, the better.
This common conflict really drives home how social expectations can affect your marriage. Remember that you are both on the same team and can create a less stressful life if you work together to ease the burdens on each of you. For more ideas about decreasing the stress in your marriage, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.
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Marriage isn’t a breeze for anyone. We all face
challenges like balancing work and family and somehow finding time to nurture
our relationships amid our busy lives.
Couples parenting children with physical, emotional or mental disabilities, though, face an extra level of difficulty. And that can take its toll. For example, one study found that parents of children with autism have a 10 percent higher chance of getting divorced.
The relationship advice I would give to any couple takes on even more relevance for parents of children with disabilities: The most important thing you can do for your marriage is to pull together whatever resources you can to help manage stress.
Parents of children with disabilities can face extra stress on many different fronts:
Paying for treatments or therapies for the child can stretch the family’s finances. Of course taking the child to these therapies can disrupt daily life.
When a child has a more severe disability, one parent may actually need to leave the workforce and stay home with the child. Of course, this can create additional financial strain, as well as feelings of isolation for the parent who stays home.
Caring for a child with health issues can place demands on time, which may limit a family’s ability to engage in activities and friendships they once enjoyed. It’s also easy to neglect your relationship when time runs short.
The emotional part of caring for a child with a disability can be hard. Chronic worry about your child and their future can be draining. Feeling frustrated when demands are high is normal, but many parents also feel guilty for feeling this way.
Being spontaneous can be difficult when your child’s every day life requires extensive planning and preparation. The monotony of a rigid, demanding schedule can become exhausting.
Stress Makes It Hard to Relate
So much stress has a very real effect on your brain. Dr. Daniel Siegel says that under extreme stress, the primitive area of the brain geared toward survival hijacks the part of that brain that reasons, plans and makes good decisions. He calls this “flipping your lid.” When this happens, it’s almost impossible to be rational.
As you probably guessed, it’s a struggle to be a good partner when you’re in this mode. You have trouble processing information and hearing each other. That makes it hard to have empathy. You may also become defensive and have difficulty being open. Since you’re in self-protection mode, your capacity for being patient with each other may be compromised.
Give Your Marriage Care Too
No doubt, you and your husband are fully committed and resourceful when it comes to seeking help for your child. But it’s important to also apply some of that care and dedication to your marriage. When your partnership is strong, that’s better for everyone in your family.
One vital thing you can do for your marriage is getting practical help to deal with your challenges. That help could take different forms, from seeking respite care to asking friends and family if they can take on an occasional babysitting shift or errand run for you. Don’t hesitate to try marriage counseling if you need a constructive place to figure out how to protect your marriage while supporting your child’s needs.
You should also take a look at the expectations you’re placing on yourself. Being a devoted parent doesn’t mean never taking time to focus on your marriage. Remember, without daily maintenance, your marriage is at greater risk for deteriorating. Since you probably don’t get much alone time with your husband, learn to maximize the value of small moments when you can connect throughout the day, like when you both first come home after work.
The best way to manage stress is to practice self-care. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your own basic needs because you are always focused on the needs of your child. Remembering that you need rest, nutritious food and support will make you a better caregiver. It’s also helpful to talk about how you and your husband respond to stress and how to engage each other at challenging times.
The two of you can be each other’s greatest ally as you work together to do what’s best for your child. It’s entirely possible for a marriage to grow stronger in the face of adversity, as long as you manage the situation well. For more ideas on maintaining your bond, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.