Last week I posted what I thought would be my last post in the “What I’ve Learned About Marriage From Buying a House” series. We’ve been in the house for about 4 weeks and I just figured that ship had sailed. But as we’ve settled in, there’s been one more lesson that continues to come up.
First, let me say I love this house. It has felt like home from day one. If ever there was a house that feels made for us, this is the house.
Still, as the new wears off and you start settling in, you start to notice little things you wish were different. Little imperfections you wish weren’t there. A paint job in a pantry that’s not quite right. A door that doesn’t latch as tightly as you would like. A wall you wish had a cable connection. They’re little things and they’re certainly not things that would cause you to move. But they’re aggravating, and the more you notice them the more aggravating they become.
Marriage is a lot like this. When you first get married, you’re “in love” and everything feels like home. You’re sure your spouse is the one for you and everything just feels right.
But as you settle into marriage, you start to notice things about your spouse you wish were different. Little idiosyncrasies and imperfections you don’t like. They’re small things. Certainly not things that would cause you to end a marriage. They’re just things you wish were different, and the more you notice them the more aggravating they become.
When this happens, you have a handful of options. You can…
- Try to ignore the irritations. This is the approach we typically take in the early stages of marriage. But ignoring the irritation is unrealistic. Eventually your aggravation accumulates until you can’t hold it in. Ignoring the irritation is also dishonest, leading your spouse to believe everything is ok…only to be blindsided when your frustration comes spilling out.
- Try to change your spouse. When ignoring doesn’t work, we try to change those things about our spouse we find aggravating. We try nicely at first, but when that doesn’t work we shift to cajoling. Then we try pressuring. And when nothing else seems to work, we fight. But all these things only communicate to our spouse that we are the standard of how things should be done and there’s somethings wrong with them if they’re not living up to our standard. In short, we’re telling them it’s not ok for them to be who they are, and they should be like us. Would you like that message?
- Leave the marriage. When people come to my office contemplating divorce, they give me a list of things they don’t like about their spouse and have not been able to get them to change. More often than not, the list contains minor irritants that have accumulated to the point that they feel major. Leaving a marriage won’t fix the problem. Every marriage and every spouse will have things you don’t like about them and can’t change. It’s unavoidable.
Which brings us to a final and more realistic option for dealing with marital irritants…learn to live with them.
I do not mean tolerating behavior that is emotionally or physically abusive. Nor do I mean surrendering in defeat and living a life of martyrdom before the irritating flaws of your spouse. Learning to live with your spouse’s flaws and foibles means…
- Focusing more on your spouse’s good traits than their irritating traits. If you’ve been married for any length of time, it’s probably because the things you love about your spouse outweigh the things you don’t. Focus more on that. Don’t major on finding fault. Major on finding good.
- Remembering there are things about you that irritate them. It’s so easy to focus on our aggravations with our spouse, but we forget that we’re just as aggravating to them. Remember, you’re not the only one in your marriage who get’s aggravated with your spouse. If we think that we’re ok and have no reason to change, why shouldn’t they?
- Being honest with your spouse about what irritates you, but not expecting them to change just because of your honesty. We need to be honest with our spouse, because we need to be honest with our spouse. The problem comes when we think our honesty should be reason enough for them to change what we want them to change. That’s not only arrogant, it’s controlling. If you’re not willing to change everything they find frustrating about you, don’t expect them to suddenly change things just because you want them to.
- Finding a way to work together, in spite of your frustration. If some irritation with your spouse keeps you from enjoying life with them, you’re not in control of your life and you need to learned to work together. If you’re a morning person and your spouse isn’t, then find ways to use the mornings to do the things that only you can do. If you’re spouse counts pennies and you don’t, then embrace the financial security that will bring and help them count some of those pennies towards some playful endeavors. Find a way for your differences to work together.
- Learning to laugh at your differences and not take them so seriously. We probably need this more than anything. We take things too personally and make life too serious. We view annoying habits as personal attacks. To quote an old Dave Mason song, “There are no good guys. There are no bad guys. There’s only you and me and we just disagree.” You’re just two quirky people trying to figure out how to combine your quirks into a life that’s better together than apart.
Just as we learn to live with and enjoy a house that’s not exactly what we want it to be, so we can learn to live with and enjoy a spouse that’s not exactly what we want them to be. This is the secret to making your marriage a home.
When it come to learning to live with your spouse, which of the above suggestions do you most need to work on? Try focusing on that for a while and see what happens.
Copyright © 2015 Bret Legg