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3 Tools to Make Marriage and Relationships (More) Effortless

 

Earlier this week, we talked to Anna and Greg McKeown on The Essentialism Podcast. Greg is the author of one of our favorite books, Essentialism, and the newly released book Effortless.

We will let you know when the episode is released. But for now, we wanted to explore a question inspired by our conversation: how can marriage become more effortless?

This is one of the key moves in McKeown‘s new book, a tool that he calls “inversion." In his words, “Instead of asking, 'Why is this so hard?' invert the question by asking, 'What if this could be easy?'"

Applied to work at the office, daily household tasks, and other to-dos this tool is powerful. But what about when applied to marriage? 

On first glance, it seems almost crazy to say, "What if marriage could be easy?" especially when you consider the endless Instagram memes that paint marriage as "hard work" or something you must "fight for." There's also the sobering reality that marriage (at least for us) involves inevitable moments of struggle and challenge.

So maybe marriage can't be totally effortless. But it doesn't have to be hard all the time. Maybe we can extend and expand upon the moments of effortlessness that arise.

How can you do that? Here are three tools.

 

Tools

 

1. Appreciate each other.

The science on appreciation is clear: appreciation is one of the most powerful things you can do to create more ease in your relationship. One simple "thank you" can dissolve years of tension and resentment.

While spontaneous appreciation is fantastic, the key is to build this practice into a regular, automatic, habit. To do that, we've created an appreciation ritual around sleep. Each night, before we fall asleep, we appreciate each other. It's simple. It's fast and efficient. And yet it keep us connected and takes away the effort of feeling unseen and unappreciated.

Of course, there are all sorts of other habits that can create more ease in marriage. The 80/80 Marriage is full of these practices: doing one act of contribution each day, shifting your mindset from fairness to radical generosity, or creating space from digital distractions. Try them out and see which practices work best for you and your partner.

 

2. Just say no.

Marriage itself can be hard. But what makes it even harder is the chaotic context of modern life, where we're barraged with endless requests for our time and attention. Some of these demands come from the devices in our pocket: the incoming texts emails, notifications, and news alerts. Some come from the people in our lives: friends, extended family members, coworkers, or neighbors.

When we say "yes" to too many of these requests and calls for our attention, marriage becomes impossible. Our "yes" to our neighbor's crawfish fry or our co-worker's late night Zoom meeting, after all, often comes with an implicit "no" to our partner, which leads to all sorts of resentment and conflict.

What’s the antidote? Just say no. Say no to at least some of the random requests and obligations that create distance from your partner.

This isn't easy. It's hard to tell someone no, especially someone you care about. But setting these boundaries has the paradoxical effect of making marriage easier. These "no's" keep you connected and in sync with your partner. They bring you back into alignment with your highest priorities in life.

 

3. Talk about the hard stuff.

Here’s one more paradox of marriage. It's hard to talk about the difficult and taboo questions in marriage. When you feel frustrated with your partner, for instance, it’s hard to reveal your frustration, easier to get passive-aggressive with them. When something isn't working in your sex life, it's hard to talk about it with your partner, easier to just shut down the flow of sexual desire.

And yet, not talking about these things makes marriage so much more difficult over the long run. These unrevealed resentments and desires pile up overtime. Eventually, the weight of them becomes so great that the truly hard stuff in marriage shows up: constant conflict, separation, divorce, and affairs.

 

All this is to say that marriage may never be easy and completely effortless. It may always require some work and a willingness to move into discomfort. But using these three tools, you can create a system of habits and rituals designed to give you and your partner more moments of effortlessness. 

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