Illustration by Kat Chadwick
When I first fell for my husband, Michael, I thought it was exciting that he didn’t like to make plans, and I found it thrilling that our personalities were so different. Michael didn’t obsess over appearances, he was totally laid-back, spontaneous and hilarious—and he definitely marched to his own drummer.
Eleven years into our marriage, I have to remind Michael to respond to my constant calendar requests. (They even go to his email—how can he miss that?!) And I buy him too many grooming products—because I’ve always felt that two eyebrows are better than one.
The reality is that what attracts us to our partners may annoy us later. Love that your partner was chatty and outgoing? Now you may find yourself strongly encouraging him to ZIP IT at social functions. This isn’t surprising. When we’re first falling in love, our brains are actually wired to look for the good in our partners and relationships. Blame it on nature wanting us to procreate.
After the initial rush of romantic love—about 18 months to three years on average—the hormones fade. The key to reigniting a favorable flow of emotions is reminding ourselves of what we still appreciate about our partnerships. When we do, something amazing happens: We start to feel better about our marriages.
In fact, when we regularly take positive inventory of our relationships, our brains release more dopamine (the feel-good hormone linked to rewards), and the stress hormone, cortisol, decreases.
The reality is that in life and in love, we settle on a perspective, then collect evidence to support it. If you decide that your husband is lazy and immature, you’ll regularly find proof to confirm this POV. But if you switch your focus a little and notice the things he does to contribute and make your household run more smoothly, this perspective will also become true. See our five tips to improve your marriage below.
Boost the happy in your marriage with five easy tricks.
1. Take positive inventory.
Notice at least one great thing your partner did today to support you, your family or your household. Repeat this exercise every day for a month. Go deeper: Write this down and refer to it whenever you’re feeling frustrated with him.
2. Tell your partner what you appreciate about him.
This one is sometimes tough, especially when you’re not used to expressing it or wish you were on the receiving end of his positive feedback, but it’s an important part of getting your relationship to a better place. Bonus: His perspective will likely shift too as a result—he’ll be in a better mood and, therefore, so will you.
3. Visualize what a connected marriage looks like.
Write down adjectives that come to mind. This may include words like calm, open, intimate, loving, patient. Once we understand what we’re striving for, we’re more likely to embody it, or at least work toward it.
4. Touch more!
Touching releases oxytocin, which is often referred to as the “cuddle” hormone, and makes us feel more attached to our partners. One simple step is to greet each other with a hug at the end of a long day.
5. Get over the idea of “perfect.”
Realizing that your marriage doesn’t need to be flawless may help you better accept that which you cannot change. Just put in the effort to recall the positive feelings you once shared, and remind yourself why you fell for each other in the first place. Besides, perfect is boring and, as my aunt Dorothy once said, “If you start from perfect, you have nowhere to go or way to grow together!”
Photo by James Starkman