...goes together like a horse and carriage...
...and you can't have one without the other...
(music slowly fades)
This song came to my head as I was writing this post and I thought it would make for some nice intro music. I'm happy to see Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) making his comeback on Modern Family. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click here (click the link even if you do know what I'm talking about, it will bring back memories - especially the fountain).
Anyway, I can bet that you're reading this post for one of three reasons:
1. You don't get along with your spouse and hope to find something, anything that might help,
2. You get along well with your spouse and want to confirm your strategy with the ones in this article, or
3. You're currently in a serious relationship considering to take the next step, have heard or seen horror stories about how marriage kills relationships and you are trying to get as much evidence that taking the next step will be ok.
If you didn't come for any of these reasons, please leave a comment letting us know why you decided to read this article.
In the meantime, let's move on.
I don't like to get too personal but I have to admit - I'm one of those lucky guys who gets along with his spouse.
This doesn't mean we don't argue but in the times that we do, we don't get angry, scream or give each other the silent treatment. We openly say what's on our mind and then deal with the issue. Other times, we are just amazed at how long we've been together and have a good time enjoying each other's company. We've even set up our finances to prevent money from ruining our marriage (Click here to see what we do step-by-step).
I consider myself lucky because from my experience and observations, this is more the exception than the rule.
I know I know, you are rolling your eyes thinking "I get it. You have a happy and blissful relationship. That's nice but what about me? When are you going to give the guide that you promised?"
Good point. We're all busy people so let's get to it.
Here are the key components to help you better get along with your spouse immediately:
Make Getting Along Your Goal
One of the reasons couples fight is because they lose sight of what their goal should be. My goal is to have a happy and nurturing relationship. What's yours?
I've found couples who fight often have bad goals. Their goal is usually proving themselves right and not building a loving relationship. Always keep your goal in mind and make sure your actions are aligned with your goal - this may mean resisting the urge to point out how right you are no matter how much evidence you have.
Accept Your Spouse
Most couples don't get along because they are constantly wishing their spouse was someone else: a better listener, a thriftier spender, a sexier lover, etc. This type of wishful thinking is harmful to your relationship and will only lead to frustration because you can't change anyone who doesn't want to change.
So if you are trying to do just that, stop right now and save your energy for something more productive. Accept your spouse for who they are and change your reaction to their "bad" habits. Keep in mind that just because you can't change your spouse, it doesn't mean they can't change themselves. The important thing to remember is that it's their choice and right, not yours.
Give Him or Her the Benefit of the Doubt
Many disagreements between loving couples occur due to miscommunication. What's ironic is that two people miscommunicating don't know they are doing so or else they would stop. No matter how big the argument, keep in mind that you got married because you care for, trust and love each other. One of the best ways to handle miscommunication is to always give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and be curious why someone with good intentions would act the way they did.
So how do you become curious?
Ask - Don't Interpret
Most fights happen because we misinterpret our spouse's actions or expressions. Just because our spouse yawns while we talk, it doesn't mean what we are saying is boring. There is a good chance that it was a long and tiring day but then again maybe it was because we're boring. The only way to know for sure is to ask. Hopefully, by now, you've built up a trusting and accepting relationship where your spouse can tell you the truth without suffering any negative consequences.
Be specific when you ask your spouse questions and don't assume. Instead of "Why are you mad?", you can ask "I noticed that you are pursing your lips and furrowing your brow, what does that mean?"
That example may be a bit extreme but you get the point.
Before you assume you know what your spouse is feeling, ask them to clarify the specific actions (i.e. loud voice) they are exhibiting as opposed to reacting to your own interpretation of their action. You'll be surprised at how many fights end because of open communication. Listen not only to the words but also the underlying emotions.
Men and women communicate differently and unfortunately, they are really bad interpreters for each other. Let the other person translate for you because John Gray was right - Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.
Give Each Other Space
This may sound strange but one of the key reasons my wife and I get along is because we have our own lives outside of each other. That sounds bad but it actually works out really well.
We work in separate companies and have our own hobbies/interests. We have "common" friends whom we hang out with together and our "own" friends whom we hang out with apart. Striking a good balance between being together and being apart really helps to keep the relationship strong.
Would I hang out with my spouse 24/7? Yea I would be able to and I enjoy her company very much but for some reason having and pursuing our own interests just works.
I understand that this may still be a bit counter-intuitive for you but I encourage you to try it and then decide for yourself.
The only time where giving each other space would be bad is if the purpose (and you know your purpose) was to get away from each other because you can't stand each other. If that is why you're getting out of the house, you really want to explore what makes you feel that way towards your spouse and to openly communicate this issue as soon as possible.
Respect, Appreciate and Admire
I used to take people closest to me for granted. The closer they were, the more I took them for granted. I rarely said thank you and I didn't show them the appreciation they deserve.
Being aware of this, I strived to change my behavior and I can see a real difference in my relationship with those closest to me.
Here is the simple 3-step approach that I use with my spouse:
Step 1 - It really all starts with respecting the other person. There is no reason you shouldn't respect everyone that you meet. It should be enough that they are a fellow human being but what really makes it much easier for me is the belief that every person is better than me in some way and I can learn something from everyone.
Step 2 - Once you genuinely respect your spouse for being who they are, appreciate them for what they do. My wife does many things for me without my asking and I like to acknowledge and appreciate her for doing that. Being on the look out to appreciate allows me to be more aware of all the things she does and this encourages me to reciprocate by doing things for her which she, in turn, acknowledges and appreciates. This creates a wonderful upward spiral.
Step 3 - Taking respect and appreciation once step further leads to admiration. When you admire someone, it's really easy to get along with them. I admire my wife for the person that she is. It's not really about all the things she has accomplished and all the things she does for our family but who she is inside.
Even though this article was written in the context of a married couple, you can easily use these tips to help you get along with anyone that you encounter. The great thing about these strategies is that they begin to work almost immediately.
As a quick review, to get along with your spouse (or anyone):
- Make "getting along" your goal and make sure your actions are aligned with that goal.
- Accept your spouse for who they were, are and will be.
- Recognize your spouse has good intentions and give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Don't assume or interpret, ask your spouse how they are feeling.
- Give each other space.
- Respect, appreciate and admire your spouse.
For those of you interested in learning more, check out Aaron and April Jacob's excellent post on 6 Pillars to Nurturing Marriage.
If you found this article helpful, please share it with others who might benefit as well. Also, if you have any practical tips for getting along with your spouse, please add it to the comments section.
Photo by Angelo Gonzalez
Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. He specializes in working with high performers get to the next level. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.