Over the last few years, we've immersed ourselves in the cultural conversation on marriage. What we've found is that just about everyone, from bloggers to therapists to celebrities, seems intent on promoting the same marital cliché: marriage is hard.
It's a platitude that is at least partially true. Early on in marriage, it's helpful to hear this.
For us, for example, we walked into marriage with all sorts of misguided ideas. We thought marriage would be more like an episode of Friends, less like the arduous journey to find connection that it turned out to be during those early years. So, from this perspective, it’s true. Marriage is hard, really hard.
And yet this common cliché misses something important: with good habits, marriage gets easier.
Take conflict. If your habit is to snap the moment your partner pisses you off, to launch into a verbal tirade with all the reasons that you're right and they're wrong, marriage is definitely hard. In fact, it may be so hard you question whether it’s worth continuing the struggle.
If, on the other hand, your habit is to listen carefully to your partner with an open mind and to reveal moments of hurt feelings and disappointment in a clean way, marriage might not be so hard. Moments of anger are quickly resolved.
The upshot is that good habits make marriage and life itself easier. That’s the nature of habits. They turn good behaviors into automatic routines that no longer require effort or conscious thought and attention.
And that's why the “marriage is hard" cliché might be worth questioning. So how can you make marriage easier by building new habits?
If you’ve read The 80/80 Marriage, you’ve likely heard us talk about the mindset shift from fairness to radical generosity. This is one of the most essential shifts in marriage. When we strive toward 50/50 fairness, when the goal is to make everything in marriage and life perfectly fair, the result is a constant battle over who’s doing more, who cares more, or who's trying harder.
We think radical generosity is a far better mindset in marriage. Instead of striving to do your 50 percent, radical generosity calls on you to shoot for something more like 80 percent, an outrageous goal that has the power to change the culture of marriage. And when radical generosity becomes a habit, everything changes.
Even if you achieve a Gandhi-like mastery of radical generosity, you'll still encounter moments of disappointment, hurt feelings, and resentment. When these moments arise, it’s essential to build a habit of quickly revealing your experience to your partner in a clean and loving way.
All you have to do is say something like, “When you never thanked me for the time I spent taking care of our son over the weekend, I felt upset."
And when your partner reveals something to you, the reciprocal habit of reflective listening kicks in. Instead of feeling like you did something wrong or getting defensive, your job as the listener is to make sure your partner feels heard.
Finally, if there’s one primary dysfunctional habit of marriage in the modern age, it's this: no space.
Many of us spend so much time and energy in a state of constant doing that the habit of simply being together falls away.
So see what happens when you build rituals of connection into each day and each week. This could be as simple as carving out 10 minutes at the end of the day to talk about what’s really going on with each of you. Or it could be scheduling regular date nights.
With all three of these tools, the goal isn't to do it every once in a while. The real goal is to change the culture of marriage by turning these simple practices into automatic habits.
That's how marriage gets easier.