Previously, we discussed how to build up friendship in your marriage. We called this your Love Bank and you can keep your account balance high by making specific types of deposits.
A healthy Love Bank has a good amount of friendship which you can use as “emotional currency” that you can spend during times of difficulty.
This time however, let’s focus on how certain behaviors can decrease the emotional capital of your marriage. As with any bank account in real life, couples can also unwittingly make “withdrawals” from their Love Bank. Here are the three biggest ones:
#1: Thinking That You’re Better Than Your Spouse
Many couples unconsciously develop the habit of zeroing in on each other’s mistakes and negative traits. However, these negative perceptions never sprout during the start of a relationship - it takes time to nurture them.
At some point, they'll start to take root in the mind and grow to maturity. Like a fruit-bearing plant, they'll eventually produce other negative thoughts (e.g. disrespect, condescension) towards their partner.
If you want to counteract this process, make a conscious effort to plant the seeds of appreciation instead.
Self-awareness is crucial; when you feel your mind getting caught up in criticism, stop yourself. Focus instead on the things you do like about your partner and the things they do for you.
Even a simple “thank you” and a peck on the cheek is already a step in the right direction. In time, you’ll get used to being more and more vocal of your partner’s admirable traits.
When you make a habit of this, you’ll promote a positive atmosphere of mutual appreciation. With such a system in place, it will prevent either of you from feeling superior to the other.
Having a generally good opinion of your spouse is crucial to keeping your marriage alive and well throughout the years. Without respect and admiration, any argument - no matter how small – will act as a fuse for the powder keg of negative emotions stored up in a relationship.
#2: Returning Fire
Your spouse just said something hurtful and you feel attacked. What do you do?
In a threatening situation, the natural response would be to fight back. That’s human instinct at work.
But in the context of marriage, obeying the urge to fire back can backfire.
Responding with equal hostility is not going to help the situation. You may think you’re helping your partner see things from your perspective, but it’s like pouring gasoline on an open flame.
In effect, your partner will be further entrenched in his or her position and put you both in a gridlock all the more.
Accountability is one of the key traits of an ideal marriage. As a couple, both of you need to be willing to own up to whatever mistakes you make along the way.
And that’s really the essence of a solid marriage: sharing EQUAL responsibility in all of your problems. In relationships plagued by defensiveness, there’s a strong tendency for a couple to blame each other for the problem.
So while firing back may help you defend your wounded pride, it only compounds the problem by encouraging a relay match of blame.
To avoid getting caught in this pattern, look at the situation from your partner’s perspective - even if you don’t agree with it 100%.
What factors led your spouse to feel that way? If you could do it again, what would you have done differently to prevent him or her from getting upset?
Going through this process can help you become open-minded enough to admit the mistakes you made on your side.
Couples who have been married for a long time are good at doing this. It’s one of the hardest things you need to do in your marriage, but remember that your relationship is much more than the sense of indignation or pride you may sometimes feel.
So taking the first step to acknowledge your spouse’s feelings is a good example and ultimately creates space for compromise.
It the end, you’ll be both on your way to accepting a part of the problem – as small as that part may be.
# 3: Being Heavy-handed With Criticism
If your partner’s actions rubbed you the wrong way, your approach to discussing the issue makes all the difference.
Sadly, it’s very common for a lot of people to tear into their spouses right from the get-go. And when you handle an emotionally-charged situation in such a rough manner, things will escalate pretty quickly.
This is why easing into the discussion is a key factor: it actually prevents a couple from triggering the first two problems previously mentioned (acting morally superior and firing back).
Make an effort to be more objective as you air out your side because it encourages the right mindset (i.e. not thinking you’re better than your spouse). Furthermore, you’ll also set the right tone for the discussion and not force your partner into retaliating.
Understandably however, this is a tall order when you’re upset. It’s hard for anyone to be constructive with their criticism when emotions are in the way. But if you take the “easy way” and give in to your anger, it will only make things worse.
So how do you get around this? First, keep in mind that it’s actually ok to express your frustration.
You just have to remember that your complaints need to be directed at the situation; don’t blame the whole issue on your partner. You won’t make any progress by implying that the problem is a result of a perceived character flaw on your partner’s side.
One trick to doing this is through statements beginning with “I feel”, “I think” or “I wish”. It keeps you from leveling accusations at your spouse and setting off a chain reaction of negative emotions.
In effect, your statements will become observations that encourage your spouse to step in and offer a solution.
Consider this example: a woman is frustrated about her husband’s lack of initiative when it comes to chores - which statement would make her husband more open to a compromise?
a) “You seem to really good with being out of sight when it’s time to take out the trash. I guess you don’t care that our kitchen smells like a dump in the morning.”
b) “Hey, I know you’re tired and all, but I’m also out of steam in the evening – and it just bugs me that our trash is just sitting there while I’m doing the dishes and folding the laundry. I’d really appreciate it if you took care of it.”
Both of these statements address the same problem, but the first one comes from a place of accusation, disapproval and worse, a desire to start a fight.
The second method of delivery brings up the topic in a more diplomatic tone. Better yet, an invitation to solve the problem is included in the “package”.
Remember: even if your point is valid, it can be hard for your spouse to process hurtful criticism. The objective is NOT to hurt, but to find a compromise.
If there’s anything you should learn today, it’s the importance of avoiding love-sapping habits in your relationship. As a couple, you need to make sure that the reserve of positive emotions in your Love Bank is high.
Remember: the love and adoration you’ve saved up over time will bail you out when things get tough. So be prudent and don’t make withdrawals when you don’t have to.