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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
You’re the kind of person who avoids conflict. Your husband, on the other hand, seems to relish picking fights. It’s driving you crazy, but is it a serious problem in your marriage?
The answer is “it depends.” Let’s look at some reasons he may argue with you.
#1: He Just Likes to Debate
Some people just love to spar over politics, which “Avengers” movie was the best, where to order pizza … and on and on. For others, this is exhausting. That being said, very few people actually enjoy aggressively stirring up real arguments.
If he’s a debater and you’re not, the important thing is realizing that the two of you have different styles, and that you must learn to peacefully coexist.
“Respect” is really the key word here. If it suddenly feels like he’s talking about you, instead of, say, politics, pay attention. There’s a big difference between “I disagree with your candidate” and “You’ve got to be an idiot to vote for that guy.” And the latter statement is a sign of a deeper trouble in your marriage.
#2: He Wants to Talk EVERYTHING Out
You and your husband may be different in how much you feel a need to discuss things. Maybe you usually shrug off little annoyances, but he tends to make everything “a thing.”
You grit your teeth and put up with his family. He doesn’t hesitate to tell you how much your mom drives him nuts. You don’t say a word when he’s binge watching his favorite show. He lets you know he’s unhappy with the amount of time you spend on Instagram. Why can’t he chill out?
Maybe he came from a family where everyone expressed themselves openly, and your family was more reserved. Or, perhaps you were taught to let little things go, and he wasn’t.
Whatever the case, there isn’t necessarily a “right” approach. Some people with great marriages don’t express conflict openly. Others bicker all the time. The frequency of your arguments isn’t nearly as important as what’s going on in them. As long as you remain respectful, you’re on solid ground. (See “The Right Way to Fight With Your Husband.”)
Possibility #3: It’s Really About His Unmet Needs
Unmet needs can sometimes also be the source of intense conflict. The influential psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication, noted:
criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic
expression of an unmet need.
Could this be true of your husband? Is it possible his agitation is really about a need that’s not being met? Maybe he wants more time with you? More appreciation? Consider listening deeper for that unmet need rather than joining him in the fight. How would your response change?
Now this doesn’t mean that he has license to yell or throw tantrums and to expect you to read his mind. He has some responsibility to ask for what he needs. You have every right to ask that he be calm and constructive.
No matter which one of these scenarios applies to your marriage, please know that you and your husband can manage it together. Understanding the reason for the disagreement is important in helping you determine how to respond. Next time he picks a fight, I hope you’ll start by asking yourself, “Why is he arguing with me?”
You’re so controlling!
Can you just get off my back?
If your husband has ever hurled words like these at you during an argument, you no doubt remember their sting. But besides feeling hurt, you were probably also confused. Me? Controlling? Where’s he coming up with this?
conflict can cause real damage in your relationship if it continues unchecked.
Today, I want to help you get to the root of the issue and to suggest some
shifts that both you and your husband
can make to strengthen your marriage.
Are You Really Controlling?
If your husband has told you that you’re controlling, you’re far from alone. This is one of the most common points of tension in marriages. But I don’t believe that most wives are out there secretly scheming to find new ways to boss their husbands around.
What’s actually happening? As you know firsthand, we women have a lot on our plates. In addition to going to work, women still spend more time on household chores and childcare than men do. And then there’s the emotional labor that goes along with having a family, which also disproportionately falls on women.
so much going on, we have to be very good at getting things done. To keep all
the balls we’re juggling in the air, we’re relentlessly focused and efficient.
Why He Thinks You’re Too Controlling
where issues of control come in. When you’re driving so hard to check off all
the things on your list, sometimes it can feel like your husband is slowing you
down or getting in your way. So you end up doing things like this:
Telling him how to do a
Jumping in and taking
over if he’s doing it “wrong” or taking too long.
Constantly reminding him
about something you asked him to do because you’re worried he’ll forget.
You know that you’re just trying to get everything done because you care about your family. But he’s taking away a very different message from your behavior. If he complains that you are too controlling, he isn’t just saying that he feels micromanaged. The deeper meaning behind his words is that he doesn’t think you trust him or respect him which makes him feel demoralized and unmotivated.
I know these aren’t the messages you’re trying to communicate to him. But
they’re the ones he’s taking away.
Step Back So He Can Step
marriage doesn’t have to stay stuck in this destructive pattern, though. Here’s
how to change the dynamic between you and your husband.
As we’ve discussed, the
behaviors that he perceives as controlling are probably happening because you
have too much to do and you feel stressed and overwhelmed. That means it’s time
for an open and honest discussion about household responsibilities — chores,
childcare, emotional labor — and how the two of you can divide things more
Once you agree that a
task or responsibility is his to manage, back
off. Don’t jump in and sideline him, even when you know that you would do a
better job. Yes, taking over might be easier right now, but giving him some
space to grow is better for you both in the long run. He might make some
mistakes, but he’ll grow from them.
Remember “the friend test.” Our spouses are so close to us that sometimes we take them for granted and don’t show them the same respect and consideration we would show a friend. When you’re tempted to tell your husband how to do something, or to jump in and start doing it for him, ask yourself whether you would behave the same way with a dear friend.
Persist Through Discomfort
Shifts like these may feel uncomfortable at first because things will take longer to get done, and they might not be done according to your high standards. But I believe the closeness you’ll gain in your marriage more than makes up for any efficiency you lose. He’ll feel less controlled, you’ll feel less burdened, and you’ll both enjoy a more collaborative partnership that gives you more freedom and flexibility.
For more marriage tips like the ones in this article, pick up copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love. In it, you’ll find many more strategies for maintaining a strong relationship amid our busy, stressful lives.
Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new blog posts HERE and get a free report, “10 Easy Ways to Get Him to Listen.”
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.
We live in politically divisive times. And those
divisions even find their way into our marriages.
According to one study, 29 percent of Americans who were either married or in a relationship said today’s political climate causes tension with their partner.
If you and your husband disagree politically,
you might feel like you’re trapped in one of those cable news shows where
ideological rivals just keep shouting over each other. Or you might be
simmering silently, aghast and puzzled at his opinions.
Either way, your diverging beliefs may be creating distance between you. And that can lead to deeper problems if you don’t find a way to manage your differences.
You can still have a successful marriage if the two of you argue over politics sometimes. Political conflicts become a problem only if you handle them in ways that are detrimental to your marriage. It’s especially important to never show contempt for each other when you’re disagreeing over politics — or anything else, for that matter. Contempt is one of the biggest red flags that your relationship is in trouble.
Instead, handle political disagreements in your
marriage the same way you would other types of conflict: with respect and love.
Don’t bring up points of political disagreement when you are
tired, irritated or feel like you can’t control yourself — or when you can tell
that your husband is experiencing one of those states.
Pause, hold hands and make eye contact when you’re disagreeing.
When you are in touch with the humanity of your partner, you’ll be less likely
to say things you will regret later.
If things get too heated, take a timeout so you can both get to a
Conflict With Positivity
You can counteract some of the damage that political conflicts in your marriage cause by actively making an effort to remember all that is positive about your partner and your marriage. I’ve written before about how John Gottman discovered that spouses in successful marriages share more positive interactions than negative ones—a lot more. Happy, long-married couples have 20 positive interactions for every negative one. Even when they’re in conflict, their ratio is still five positives for every negative.
That’s something to keep in mind if politics are
a source of negativity in your marriage. When the two of you are regularly
kind, respectful and appreciative with each other, political conflicts will be
easier to navigate.
Reducing Your Overall Stress
If political differences with your husband are
pushing your buttons more than usual lately, remember that your marriage is
being affected by outside forces. In other words, your problems aren’t solely
caused by issues between the two of you.
First, it’s not your imagination that the overall political climate has grown more polarized and divisive. The society that we live in always has some influence on our relationships. And, in this case, that impact is turning up the heat around political differences we might have glossed over in the past.
Then there’s everyday stress. In a 2018 survey by the American Psychiatric Association, about 40 percent of Americans said they had grown more anxious in the past year. When we’re more stressed, we tend to magnify the negative traits we see in our partners. So, as an experiment, try focusing on reducing your stress and see if that affects how you feel about your political differences.
perfectly fine if the two of you just decide to agree to disagree about
politics and not discuss the issues that get you heated.
That’s what’s working for one of the couples in a New York Times article about partners with opposing political beliefs:
The next morning (after
the 2016 election), with tears in my eyes, I told Nisim we were going to have
to get divorced because I could not live with him for the next four years. He
said, “Honey, we’re not going to get divorced. We’re just not going to talk
about politics for the next four years.”
Get Curious and Listen
For other couples, though, it can be beneficial to try to better understand each other’s beliefs. We tend to assume an awful lot about other people, even our spouses, based on how they vote. But just because someone supports a political party or official on one stance, doesn’t mean that they wholeheartedly embrace everything in that party or official’s agenda. Having the courage to get curious and to listen deeply can help you get past any assumptions you are holding about each other’s political opinions. It can also help you decide whether your spouse’s beliefs are ones you simply dislike or whether they violate your deep values (in which case the issues with your marriage probably go beyond the scope of this article).
Remember That Facts
Don’t Change Minds
Right now, you might be thinking, “That’s
great and all. But it would be even greater if he could just change his mind
and agree with me politically!”
Varol writes that facts don’t sway our opinions
because “we tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and
overvalue evidence that confirms them. We filter out inconvenient truths and arguments
on the opposing side.”
The article also explores how no one likes to
admit they were wrong. And sometimes people just dig in harder when we try to
convince them of the error of their political ways.
It’s more effective, Varol says, to give the
other person an out that lets them save face.
Finally, I want to leave you with a quote from the minister Joseph Fort Newton: “People are lonely because they build walls, instead of bridges.” I hope this article inspires you to build a bridge over the political differences between you, rather than a wall, especially if other parts of your marriage are going well.