If you were to complete the rest of the sentence, “My marriage would be good if…” what would you say? What sorts of things do you imagine would need to happen before your marriage could be better? It’s important to recognize that you may not need to experience any big changes. Instead, you may be able to make your marriage better today by using acceptance.
Change the Way You Think
Sometimes people think there needs to be a change before their marriage can be good. For example, a husband may think, “My marriage will be better once my wife starts working again.” Or a wife may think, “Our marriage would be good if my husband wasn’t such a slob.” Waiting for something to change often means you don’t put in any effort to make the marriage better in the meantime.
Waiting until things are better gives you an excuse not to make things better today. It can also take the pressure off you. It can allow you to blame your spouse for your marital problems by thinking something such as, “If he could just be more affectionate, we’d have a better relationship.” This leads to thinking “It isn’t my fault. It’s all his fault.”
It can be helpful to change the way you think. Instead of waiting for things to get better, acknowledge that you can still have a good relationship today. For example, instead of thinking, “We’d be happier if he didn’t work so much,” replace it with, “my husband works a lot and we have a good marriage.” Replace the “but” or “if” with an “and” and you’ll see that you can have a good marriage, even when it’s not perfect.
No marriage is ever going to be perfect. It’s completely possible however to have a good marriage, despite your faults, shortcomings, and problems. Try to think about how you can still be happy despite these things.
Change the Way You Behave
When people feel like something has to change before they can have a good marriage, one of two things often happens; they either sit back and wait or they try to change their spouse. Neither of these responses is helpful.
People tend to wait for their marriage to get better when they think a new stage of life will deliver a better marriage. For example, “Our marriage would be better if the kids were in school,” or “We’ll have a good marriage as soon as we retire and have more time together.” Think of all the time that is wasted just waiting!
Unfortunately may people are unhappily surprised to learn that it doesn’t work this way. When the kids go to school, retirement comes, or another event arrives, their marriage may not meet their expectations. Waiting does nothing to help the marriage. It is important to look at what you can do today to make your marriage better and not just expect that time will automatically improve it. Learning to be content with the stage you are in is important.
The other thing people do when they think something must change in order to be happy now, is they try to change their spouse. For example, Susan thinks, “If my husband did more around the house, we’d have a happier marriage.” So in an attempt to make him change, she nags, begs, gives him the silent treatment, and yells at him for not doing chores. She didn’t like the fact that she treated him this way but justified it by telling herself that he needed to change. As a result, their marriage was not as happy as it could be.
If Susan could accept that her husband does not care as much as she does about cleaning the house AND they could still have a happy marriage, she could change her behaviors. She could continue to treat her husband respectfully, share her concerns, and focus on making their marriage good today. Accepting that he is a bit of a slob doesn’t mean she has to become his maid. She can still hope that he may change in the future while accepting that as of today, he is just less concerned with cleaning the house than she is. She can also focus on what they can do to enjoy their marriage today.
It can be a delicate balance to arrive at a place where you can accept your spouse’s flaws, bad habits, and quirks and still be content with the marriage. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, often referred to as ACT, can help couples learn skills to enjoy their marriage today. A marriage counselor can help increase your marital satisfaction today.