If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my wife, it’s how to make your partner happy. We just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. We’ve faced our share of challenges, and we’ll no doubt face many more. No one says marriage is a walk in the park. But I’ve learned a lot from my wife in our few short years together. Here are five lessons I’ve learned from her, that may help you make your partner as happy as she’s made me.
You may think you can make your partner happy by doing what he wants. (I’ll alternate using “he” and “she” in this article, to keep things simple.) When something bothers you, you keep it inside: If you don’t stir the pot, you can’t ruin the broth.
Wrong. There are two major problems with this philosophy.
One, your partner will never respect you. People respect those who speak their minds. No, I don’t like being nagged by my wife. And no, I don’t want to watch New Jersey Housewives when I could watch the New York Jets. But if a relationship is going to work, if it’s going to be truly happy over the long haul, it has to work for both of you. And that’s never going to happen unless you speak your mind. That doesn’t mean you’ll always get your way. But it’s better if your partner at least knows what your way is. If he loves you, he’ll care.
Two, you’ll never respect yourself if you don’t speak up. It’s fine to let many things go. Your partner can watch Bravo this weekend even though you’d rather watch ESPN. You don’t have to fight her over everything. But if it bothers you deep down, if it happens every week and it’s getting under your skin, then you have to say something. It’s tempting to suck it up “for the good of the relationship,” or “for peace and quiet.” But if it upsets you enough, it’s going to come out in some form down the road. Maybe you get quiet. Maybe you feel resentful and start making petty comments. Maybe you take too strong a stand on an issue you really don’t care about, just to prove a point. These sorts of passive aggressive behaviors can damage a relationship in the long run. Talking things out can help it.
On the other hand, some people think they’ll be happy if they always get their way. (Picture Stu’s wife in The Hangover.) They tell their partners how to dress. Where they can—and can’t—go on the weekends. Whom they can see, what they can do. If your partner doesn’t have his own mind, his own time or his own friends, he can do no harm, right?
Wrong.Your partner needs to live his life, just as you do.
Obviously, if he’s a confirmed alcoholic, philanderer, abusive spouse, or parent, you need to take action, fast. But if he’s a normal person, and wants to do normal person things, let him do them. Don’t drive him to the same sorts of passive aggressive behaviors described the tip above. Your partner needs the same freedom you do.
Nobody’s perfect. When you rely on people for things, they’ll let you down sometimes. They won’t put in as much effort as you’d like. They won’t care as much as you do about keeping the apartment clean, saving money, dressing nicely, staying in shape, changing diapers, walking the dog. And sometimes, no matter how hard they try, they just can’t make something happen.
As stressed above, it’s important to let your partner know when something’s bothering you. But it’s just as important to let her know when she’s doing things right.
It’s easy to focus on the faucet that hasn’t been fixed, the meal that hasn’t been prepared, the laundry that’s been left on the floor.
But be sure to think-and talk-just as much (if not more) about what your partner’s doing right. She works hard to give your family a good life? Acknowledge it. (In fact, cheer her on.) She’s thoughtful of you on special occasions, and even when there’s no occasion? Recognize it. She surprised you with dinner, and included a side dish you can’t stand? Let her know, but be sure she knows how much you appreciate her making the effort.
She’ll love the recognition and be more likely to do it again (the thoughtful gesture, not the wrong side dish).
You love it when she tells you how great you’re doing. She will, too.
4. Give your partner a break.
It’s perfectly healthy to have bad days. You can complain, you can cry, you can worry out loud. And a partner who loves you will stay up all night listening and understanding. She’s there to pick you up. But remember that your partner’s a person too. It’s easy to fall into perpetual negativity, particularly when you have someone there to listen and sympathize. But all-negativity, all the time will wear on even Richard Simmons.
Give your partner a break. Trust me, she gets enough negativity all day long from work, from neighbors, from the kids, from the clerk at the deli. Don’t underestimate what a simple smile can do when she (or you) gets home.
5. Help your partner follow his dreams.
Studies suggest that happiness at the end of life is determined most powerfully by one thing: the extent to which someone followed his dreams. You need not achieve those dreams. But you need to have honestly pursued them. Why? I don’t know. There are a million other things you could think might be more important in life. But they aren’t.
This doesn’t mean you should encourage your partner to quit his day job and try out for the Yankees. It doesn’t mean you should crush your dreams so he can follow his. Your dreams count just as much as his do. But it definitely means you should know what your partner’s dreams are, and what they mean to him. And it also means you should take them into consideration in making decisions together. To the extent you partner’s happy, you’re likely to be a lot happier, too, as long as your partner pays equal attention to your dreams.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done. And none of these rules will solve all of your problems; most of them involve give-and-take, sacrifice, and some discomfort in the near-term, if not long-term.
But I can tell you from experience, your partner’s life will be much better if you follow these rules.
And so will yours.
Take it from my wife.