Is happiness in marriage something you find or create? We believe it’s both! A happy marriage is possible when both partners put in the effort to improve their relationship. It’s also possible when only one person is willing to change. We call this The Pebble Principle. If you’ve ever wondered how to be happy with your partner, keep reading. We’ll share five ideas for finding more happiness in marriage based on The Pebble Principle.
How to Find Happiness with The Pebble Principle
Have you ever tossed a rock into a lake? If so, you’ve probably noticed the ripples. On a calm day, these tiny swells travel all the way to shore. The idea behind The Pebble Principle is to be the pebble that sends ripples of positive change into your marriage. According to Family Systems Theory, families are units. When one person changes, it alters the ecosystem. Then, everyone must adjust. This means growing yourself will also change your spouse. Think of it as a gentle way of exerting influence. By focusing on your happiness, you place your energy and effort on the one person you directly control. You!
Of course, increasing marital happiness by focusing on yourself—instead of insisting, pleading, or demanding your partner change—is not a magic wand. But it may feel like magic. Because each time you change, the marriage changes. If you’re looking for happiness in marriage, we believe focusing on yourself is the best place to start.
Here are some tips to help you stay happy in your marriage.
How To Be Happy with Your Partner
1. Update your happiness expectations.
Start by making sure your happiness expectations are realistic. If you expect too much from your partner, you’re sure to end up disappointed. So what is reasonable to expect? We created a marital happiness scale to help.
The Marriage Happiness Scale
Zero represents a miserable ball and chain bond. Couples at this level are decidedly unhappy. They have little hope and feel trapped in their relationship. This is a good time to seek professional support. A five on the scale represents a mediocre marriage. This is a pancakes without syrup, bland, hospital-mush bond. Sure, the relationship is functional. But there is a severe lack of joy. Our take is, don’t settle for bland food or a “meh” marriage. If your relationship is stuck, it’s time to spice things up. A ten means you are honeymoon happy. The stress is low, and it’s hard to imagine things much better.
So, just how much happiness in marriage should you expect? Fairy tales suggest couples ride into the sunset and live happily ever after. This is a good example of the “honeymoon effect.” The honeymoon effect is a normal increase in happiness leading up to marriage and shortly after. Then comes a gradual waning. Research shows that marriage increases happiness overall. But expecting to be honeymoon happy all the time leads to disappointment. So enjoy the honeymoon effect while it lasts. Just don’t expect this to be the norm.
What is a realistic happy marriage goal?
We think aiming for a 6+ marriage is a worthy goal. If your bond is a little happier than de-energizing at the end of the week, you’re on the right track. This marital happiness goal keeps the big picture in mind. Sometimes life is hard. And having occasional 3 or 4 weeks is normal. Hopefully, you and your spouse also have some level 8, 9, and 10 happy marriage moments. But any couple that tries to convince you they are always honeymoon happy is either:
- Trying to sell you a martial happiness course.
- Has blinders on and is in denial.
- Is too ashamed to admit they have problems, just like everyone else.
Life can be hard. It’s also fun and funny too. This is why it’s important to have balanced expectations. Aim for a marriage that is a little happier than unhappy on its ordinary days. Realistic expectations will help you feel happier in marriage.
2. Learn how to communicate with your spouse.
According to Psychology Today, communication problems are the top reason couples seek therapy. Communicating better will also increase your marital happiness. There’s a corny joke about an older couple approaching their golden anniversary. The wife asks, “Honey, do you still love me.” The confused husband replies, “Of course. I told you I loved you 50 years ago. And if anything changes I’ll let you know.”
The moral of the story is don’t be that couple! Like that couple, many people think they communicate better than they do.
To communicate better in marriage, start with you. Slow the process down. Get curious. Ask good questions. And seek to understand your spouse’s point of view before problem-solving.
How to communicate better in marriage by connecting the dots.
A quick communication win is to find out what your spouse needs. Does he or she want feedback? Or is your spouse looking for you to listen? Finidng out is important because problem-solving without permission unintentionally communicates, “I don’t think you’re capable of solving your own challenges.”
I’ll always remember the day Jenny gently put her hand on my arm and said, “Honey, I want to tell you what happened today. And I just need you to listen.” Men tend to be fixers. We often don’t realize just listening is an option. When Jenny asked me to “just listen,” I thought, Sure. I can do that! Jen and I call the process of declaring what you want connecting the dots.
Connecting the dots is a simple way for couples to communicate better. Start the conversation by making it clear what you want. More than likely, your spouse doesn’t know. This won’t solve every communication problem. But this solid communication win will boost your happiness in marriage.
3. Be complete apart from your spouse.
When Jerry Mcguire announced, “You complete me,” it sure sounded romantic. But looking to your spouse for wholeness is awful marriage advice. Two incomplete people, each pleading, cajoling, and demanding the other make them whole, is a recipe for disaster. To increase happiness in marriage, focus on being complete. This way, when you and your loved one come together, you can build on your joy. Because you are already complete, there is no need insist your spouse meet your needs. Marriage is much more fun this way!
The renowned therapist, William Glasser, suggests most human misery comes from trying to control others. He describes attempts to control as external control psychology. The problem with this psychology is it always damages the relationship. Demands are a two-edged sword. Even if they lead to getting what we want, they almost always hurt the relationship. And this makes things worse in the long run. Glasser says, “To achieve and maintain the relationships we need, we must stop choosing to coerce, force, compel, punish, reward, manipulate, boss, motivate, criticize, blame, complain, nag, badger, rank, rate, and withdraw.”
Being complete means that you want your spouse but don’t need your spouse. Jerry would have been less romantic if he said, “Honey, I’m already complete. But life is so much better with you.” This also would have been better marriage advice. Being complete apart from your spouse will make you both happier in marriage.
4. Laugh Often and Do the Little Things.
In marriage, the little things are big things. And when the little things aren’t present, happiness declines. One mom states, “It’s just lots of little things. Like we don’t bother making each other tea or coffee in the morning. We don’t cuddle or say nice things to each other in passing. When I write a birthday or Christmas card, I can hardly think of anything special to write as the feelings just don’t seem to be there.”
When Jen and I asked couples how they know they are in love, we received over 150 replies. The two of us thought we might get a few stories of grandiose gestures of love. But we didn’t receive a single one. Instead, happy couples talked about the tiny moments. Happily married couples laugh often. They hold hands. They verbalize their love. And they share plenty of similar interests.
Our takeaway is that happily married couples spend ample time enjoying one another’s presence. For happy couples, having similar interests is less about the activity and more about having a reason to connect. One couple summed it up by saying the two of them were so connected it was almost as if they could read each other’s minds. For more happiness in marriage, pay attention to the little things.In marriage, the little things are big things! Click To Tweet
5. Focus on you.
In third grade, I distinctly remember my teacher saying, “When you point a finger at someone else, you also point three fingers back at yourself.” If you don’t understand this, point at someone and look at your hand. It’s true. This phrase was an ingenious way of getting us third-graders to reduce our tattling and focus on ourselves. Surprisingly, focusing on yourself is also excellent marriage advice.
There is only one person in the relationship you directly control. That’s you! So why not focus on yourself first?
We’ve already seen that trying to get your loved one to complete you is a recipe for misery. The more you try to change your spouse, the more miserable you’ll feel. But the opposite is also true. The more you take responsibility for your own happiness, the more happiness in marriage you’ll have.
To increase happiness in marriage, be the thermostat in your relationship.
When our family moved from sunny San Diego to snowy Minnesota, it was quite a temperature shock. On cold days, our outside thermometer drops drastically. However, our indoor thermostat keeps our house a toasty 72 degrees. To increase your happiness in marriage, be the thermostat in your relationship and not the thermometer. A thermometer rises and falls with its surroundings. A thermostat sets the emotional temperature of the home.
To be the thermostat, focus on you. Do what you love. Invite—but don’t demand—that your spouse join you. Read a book. Go for a run. Binge-watch a show. Or, sit by the bonfire and sip your coffee slowly. Take responsibility for your own happiness, and you’ll feel happier. Thanks to mirror neurons, happiness is contagious. Likely, your happiness will soon spread to your spouse too.
How Happy is Your Marriage?
Abraham Lincoln said, “We’re just about as happy as we make up our minds to be.” There is a lot of truth to his statement. We can’t completely control our level of happiness in marriage. But we sure can influence it. If you’re trying to figure out how to be happy with your partner, the best place to start is with you! And there is a lot YOU can do.
- You can be happier in your marriage by keeping realistic expectations.
- Communicating better also starts with you. While you can’t solve every communication problem, you can do something. And this will increase your joy.
- Next, choose to be happier in marriage by being complete apart from your spouse. Turn toward your loved one for added joy.
- Laugh often and focus on the little things. In marriage, the little things are the big things. Do small acts of love for your spouse often. It’s likely he or she will follow.
- Finally, choose to be happy by focusing on yourself. Keep doing what you love. Thanks to mirror neurons, when you feel happier, your spouse will too.
If you’ve ever wondered how to be happy with your partner, give the pebble principle a try.
Be the pebble that sends out ripples of positive change into your bond.
These five ideas are not magic. But they are a good place to start.
Your Happiness in Marriage Discussion Guide
Use the questions below for reflection, journaling, or as conversation starters with your spouse. When talking through these happiness questions, be sure to listen deeply. Ask good follow-up questions. And draw your loved one out. If the two of you move closer together, you’re doing things right.
Happy Marriage Talk
- How happy do you currently feel on the Marriage Happiness Scale?
- Why didn’t you rate your happiness one number lower? (For example, let’s say you rated your happiness a 6. Why didn’t you rate it a 5?)
- What would an increase in the Marriage Happiness Scale look like for you? Give as much detail as possible. (For example, if you rated your marital happiness a 6, what does a 7 look like?)
- What are a few things you can do today to increase your own happiness?
- List a few things you can do this month to feel happier in marriage.
- What will you do this year to increase your own happiness? (Having short, medium, and long-term happiness goals are helpful).
- What are some things you wish (but don’t demand) from your spouse? (Making your needs known is another good way to increase happiness in marriage. Sharing wishing is also something you directly control.)
- What did you do to be the thermostat? How did you raise the happiness temperature of your home this week?
- What does your spouse do to be the thermostat and increase the happiness in your home? (This question gives you an opportunity to reinforce what your spouse is doing right. Psychology says this is the best way to get more of what you want!)
- Pretend you can see into the future. Describe what a happy marriage looks like ten years from now. Be as specific as possible.
- Describe a happy moment with your spouse from before you were married. What made this time so meaningful to you?
- Talk about a happy marriage moment you hope to have with your spouse in the future. Where are you? What are you doing? What makes you excited about this moment?
Couples Communication Exercises
Looking for a printable copy of the Happy Marriage Talk questions? We’ve got you covered. Take this couples communication exercise with you by clicking on the link below. Then, work as a couple to increase your happiness in marriage!
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