Andrew G. Marshall is a marital expert who knows a thing or two about making relationships work. Here he reveals the five secrets to a happy relationship and in his previous post dispels five parenting myths that could be ruining your happiness. Read on for your chance to win one of five copies of his brand new relationship manual I Love You But You Always Put Me Last.
1. Ask for what you want
Lots of us were brought up being told “I want doesn’t get” or not to be too pushy or to “think of others first”. So we expect our partner to be a mind-reader and know what we want or we drop hints (for example “it would be nice if…”) which can easily be misunderstood or not really heard in the hurly burly of bringing up children. Other people set themselves up rejection in the way, they ask (for example “I know you’re busy but…”) Don’t hand your partner a ready made reason to say NO. Avoid long pre-ambles as your partners will stop listening (for example “I don’t often ask for anything but I’ve got to take the dog to the vet and the washing machine repairman is coming….”). It also helps if you ask for something specific (like half an hour to have a quiet bath) rather than something general (like more support) which could mean anything to your partner.
2. Praise what you like rather than complain about what you don’t
If you tell your partner, “it really helped that you cooked tea” or “you changed that nappy really well”, he will be encouraged to do it more often. I call it Descriptive Praise and it works really well with toddlers because it shows the behaviour that you want. Anything that’s good enough for your children is good enough for your partner too. It certainly works better criticising – which doesn’t make him think “I’ll have to learn to do it better” but “why do I bother?”
3. Accept your feelings but challenge your thoughts
Your feelings are clues about how to react. So if you’re feeling angry, sad or taken for granted, pay attention and ask yourself why. However, double check your thoughts. They are normally driven by hours of over-thinking that take random events and put them together as an over-arching motive for your partner’s behaviour. For example “he doesn’t help because he wants to be single”. If you ask him, he’ll probably tell you he’s simply tired or stressed. This approach will lead to a rational discussion about how to solve the underlying problem. Whereas thinking he wants to be single leads to recriminations and angry outbursts.
4. Don’t just talk about your relationship when there’s a problem
When things are going well most couples breathe a sigh of relief and shut up. It means that they only ever say anything when they are at the end of their tether (and everything will come out as angry or critical) or after a row (when they’re trying to solve a particular dispute rather than the overall problem). In contrast, the good times set up a good mood and an open attitude. It works even better if you start with a compliment eg “you’ve really impressed me with your attitude to….”. Start with an open-ended and non-judgemental question, for example “What can we do to make mornings less stressful?”
5. Guard couple time
Remember you came together because you enjoyed doing things together – not to pay bills, do chores or raise kids. So don’t neglect the fun, the jokes and the quality time together. We think that because our partner loves us, he or she will understand if they come last. This is true but only up to a point. If you don’t feed your love, you will become work colleagues (in the job of bringing up children) or just ‘friends’ and you need to be so much more than that!
Ed: plan some proper down time with your partner. Invest in a travel cot and let granny or a friend have the kids for the night. Go on… enjoy! Hold hands! Life’s too short not to!