Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sweat Your Way to a Happy Marriage

This morning I posted about a blog called, "Little Things Matter." The alignment of the planets being what it is, I later I ran across this excellent article by Elizabeth Bernstein about how marriages are wrecked by small stuff. Link here. For my own reflections on why we should all sweat the small stuff, see here and here.

Since most people do not think about how the small stuff affects their marriage. They do not know what most experts know, namely that little things and small stuff can enhance or detract from their happiness, even to the point of being the difference between a happy marriage and divorce.

Most of us, if you asked, would say that the success or failure of a marriage depended largely on true love or soul-mating. And we all believe that marriages fail because of abuse or outright treachery.

After reading Bernstein's article one comes away with the impression that far too many marriages are crumbling under the weight of an accumulation of petty and minor grievances. Bad table manners, chewing with one's mouth open, refusal to talk over dinner... these small things are high on the list. Many couples are at daggers drawn over toilet paper and toilet seats, to say nothing of hair in the sink and toothpaste tubes.

The list goes on.

You want to know why?

I will venture a guess. The amount of effort it takes to put the toilet seat down or to squeeze the toothpaste from the end is so minimal, especially compared with the amount of irritation and annoyance caused by the failure to do same, that when a spouse forgets or refuses to do it, his or her gesture is immediately taken to be a true indication of his or her feelings.

If he doesn't care enough to do the minimum, that must mean that he doesn't care. If he is perfectly willing, through sheer laziness, to cause that much pain, then, however much he likes certain aspects of his marriage, he is really not committed to it in its entirety. In its entirety means having a harmonious life together and building a household together.

He is saying that he does not respect the good order and discipline of the household. He has chosen to make himself a disruptive force, someone who sows disharmony wherever he goes, who does not feel that he has any real investment in everyday life. He does not care that the disruptions he causes are very painful to his wife.

She will be thinking that if he really loved her, he would not be causing her so much suffering. He will be thinking that if she really loved him she would not be nagging him about how he butters his toast.

If he cannot be counted on, relied on, or trusted to make the least taxing gestures of respect, how can he be counted on, relied on, or trusted to make more important gestures. His small failures-- small when placed against his large contribution to the family coffers-- must mean that he considers her an expense, someone who can be bought, not a life partner.

When a man keeps forgetting to put his socks in the hamper, he will incite a degree of resentment that will feel disproportionate to the offense. And unjust considering what else he brings to the marriage. He will tell himself that she is not really fighting it out over a pair of dirty socks. She must be harboring a greater resentment, a larger grievance.

All thinks considered, you do not want your marriage to go there.

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