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Author note: This is one of a series giving a sneak peek into what I discovered about what makes happy marriages so happy!  After years of nationally-representative research with more than 1,000 couples, I reveal the twelve most important little habits in The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big Difference.  

Secret #6:  Stop yourself from longing for something that is difficult or impossible for your mate to deliver, or assuming he or she knows what you need. Instead share what you want and appreciate what your mate can deliver!

One of the main reasons for unhappiness is having an expectation that is not met.  You thought you deserved and would get a raise after a year of 60-hour weeks, and you got a pat on the back since “the budget is tight.”  You assumed your friends would let you know when they were going to the movie; they assumed you would text them if you wanted to go.

Result: unhappiness.

It works that way in every area of life, but romantic relationships – especially marriage! –provide more landmine opportunities than any other!  There are two common disconnects: expecting the impossible, and not sharing what you want to begin with.

So be honest and ask yourself: do you have some unreasonable expectations of your spouse? Do you spend any time focusing on the things you wish your spouse would do?  Or do you consciously recognize and appreciate all the things he or she can (and does!) do for you?

The happiest spouses I surveyed recognized when their expectations were unrealistic and stopped themselves from thinking, If he really loved me, he would ….(fill in the blank). Instead, they chose to focus on their mate’s unique qualities and appreciated what their spouse could do for them.  For example, instead of “If he really loved me, he would give me a big hug when I am upset with him,” a wife might realize He is probably confused and upset himself, and needs to get away and process. He probably feels that trying to risk a hug would risk a black eye!  So she responds with grace and realizes that as much as she wants the hug, it may be something that is always hard for him to deliver.  She decides to not get hung up on that, and instead appreciates the way he always is willing to come back and talk about things. The next day.  After processing.

Another thing that moved many of these couples from “just holding on” to “happy” is that they woke up to the fact that their mate didn’t actually have psychic abilities!   Most of us have fallen into the trap of thinking the other person “should just know” what is important to us.  Maybe you hoped your husband would plan a weekend getaway to celebrate your anniversary. Instead, you got a musical card.  Seriously?  Well, instead of getting upset, borrow a trick from a happy couple and think: really, how could he have known? After all, the last few years have been tight financially and he knew you wanted to save money.  He thought he was signaling that he cared about your desire for thrift.  Spouses can’t read minds! If there’s something we want or need from our spouses, we have to say something.

Should we have high expectations of our spouses? Absolutely! But there’s a difference between expecting a loving partnership with someone who cares about us… and expecting that same person to do the impossible. To the degree that we celebrate what they can deliver – and let them know what we want in the first place – -we’ll be much happier.

From Chapter 7 of The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, by Shaunti Feldhahn.


Wish Shaunti could speak at an event in your area? You can help! Forward this piece or others to a leader at your organization or church, with a note of recommendation. They can reach Shaunti at NDuncan@shaunti.com.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage, and her newest book, Through A Man’s Eyes. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.

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