One of the key components of happiness and living a good life is having a good close relationship with someone else and for a lot of us, our closest relationship is with our spouse.
Shaun and Carrie are spouses.
Is this the key to our happiness? It’s a good question.
Eli Finkel, a professor of psychology of Northwestern University, wrote a book “The All-Or-Nothing Marriage” and he also wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times where he spoke about how much we expect of our spouses. Those expectations can make things better or um . . . worse.
“At the heart of the American ideal of marriage lurks a potential conflict. We expect our spouse to make us feel loved and valued, while also expecting him or her to help us discover and actualize our best self — to spur us to become, as Tom Cruise’s titular character in “Jerry Maguire” puts it, “the me I’d always wanted to be.”
“The problem is that what helps us achieve one of these goals is often incompatible with what helps us achieve the other. To make us feel loved and valued, our spouse must convey appreciation for the person we currently are. To help us grow, he or she must emphasize the discrepancy between that person and the person we can ideally become, typically by casting a sober, critical eye on our faults.”
This seems like a pretty good out in any argument. “It wasn’t that I was criticizing you for not installing the bidet I bought you for our anniversary for six months honey when I said you were a procrastinator, it was that I was trying to help you be the person you can ideally become.”
But relationships and marriages and happiness take effort.
ROBERT WALDINGER is a psychiatrist and scholar who has done a lot of research into happiness and marriage. In a HarvardX class, Arthur Brooks interviewed him, touching on this theory that closest relationships are vital to our happiness and that you have to take care of them and mix things up, and Robert said,
“First of all, do everything you can not to take the relationship for granted. Even good relationships become kind of ho hum. We go through the same routines with each other. And if we’re raising kids, if we’re holding down jobs, if we’re doing all the things we have to do in life, your partner becomes your tag teammate. And we can forget to pay attention to each other. And by livening up the relationship, by doing new stuff, going out on a date night, just taking a walk when you don’t usually take walks together, any of the things to loosen things up, loosen the routines up, liven them up, allow yourself to be curious and interested in your partner again can go a long way.”
So a good way to help your relationship survive is to mix things up a bit, right? And another thing that he said is something that makes me feel better about us because Shaun and I are really different, right? And we tend to argue a bit.
Cough. About bidets and other things. Cough.
“What we found was that arguments are inevitable. So conflict is going to happen in every relationship. And actually, that turns out not to be the predictor of which relationships are going to last. The predictor in our study seems to be whether there’s a bedrock of affection between two people, even if they argue. And that if there’s that bedrock of affection and respect, that that predicts stability in the relationship. So the advice I might give would be to pay attention to cultivating that affection and respect. And that may mean like reminding yourselves of what it was like when you two first got together, going through old photos, doing romantic things again, logging in those kind of good times and engineering those good times.
Because they’re not things that will happen all by themselves.
They do need to be engineered.”
Problems happen. You should expect them to happen. And part of a good marriage or a good friendship, Waldinger says is to be there for each other, to support each other in all kinds of ways—emotionally, materially, etc. And to not be fake, but be who you really are.
“As the psychologists Nickola Overall and James McNulty have shown, spouses who use oppositional, even aggressive methods to inspire each other’s pursuit of goals can increase their partners’ effort and success in the long run, but such methods cause distress in the short run.”
DOG TIP FOR LIFE
Take walks different ways. Turn right instead of left. Sniff a tree instead of a bush. And tell your owner you love them.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License.
Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.
We have a podcast, LOVING THE STRANGE, which we stream biweekly live on Carrie’s Facebook and Twitter and YouTube on Fridays. Her Facebook and Twitter handles are all carriejonesbooks or carriejonesbook. But she also has extra cool content focused on writing tips here.
Carrie is reading one of her raw poems every once in awhile on CARRIE DOES POEMS. And there you go! Whew! That’s a lot!