Step 1: Assume the best of your spouse’s intentions toward you
Straight up, assume that your spouse cares for you, and doesn’t mean to hurt you. In my research for The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, this one habit was clearly the most important for those who want a happy marriage.
When your spouse hurts your feelings (since we will all hurt each other’s feelings from time to time!) don’t assume “he doesn’t care” or “I’ll never be able to please her.” Instead, assume the best of your spouse’s intentions toward you: in other words, that your spouse really does love you, respect you, and wants the best for you. In my research, more than 99% of people cared about their mates — and the number was almost the same even among the most struggling couples! (97 percent.) In fact, out of the 1,261 people officially surveyed, only nine people said they no longer cared. Not 9 percent but nine people! Even the best among us can be a jerk sometimes, but it doesn’t mean we’ve stopped caring.
So, the next time your husband is late for a big dinner (when he knows how important it is) or your wife forgets to take her car in to the shop (when she knows that that means you’ll have to miss the football game to do it yourself), remember this step. It is fine to acknowledge being disappointed. But absolutely stop yourself from thinking “he/she doesn’t care about me.” Instead, remember that because they do care they are not intentionally trying to disappoint you or selfishly exploit you.
By choosing to respond as if the most generous explanation is the true one, you will find that it is suddenly easier to respond well. The choice to believe in your spouse’s goodwill may start out being difficult, but you’ll also find that it quickly becomes natural.