I love my husband, but I don't like him." That's a comment I
hear quite often in my couples mediation practice. Over the years,
I discovered something: Many people are nicer to strangers than
they are to their spouses.
The "liking" feeling tends to disappear as everyday job stress,
parenting decisions, financial woes and child-induced sleep
deprivation start to bring out the worst in us.
When overwhelmed by life, small things may seem like "the last
straw," and you might even wonder if you are married to the right
People assume I must have a perfect marriage. The truth is, I
have a happy marriage and I love my husband, but still, we have
good and bad days that strain the liking feeling. Conflict is
normal, especially for parents, but how we choose to respond to it
either will strengthen or weaken the relationship.
One day, my husband told me he'd be home from work earlier than
I put his early arrival time into my afternoon schedule so my
then-2-year-old son and I would be home to greet him, and enjoy
some playful "Daddy time." When my husband's designated arrival
time passed, each additional minute pushed me into a worsening
mood. At 50 minutes past his planned arrival, I was furious. Why
wasn't he here? Why wasn't he answering his cell phone?
My husband showed up more than an hour after I expected him,
displaying a freshly trimmed head of hair, acting like nothing had
"So you got a haircut?" I asked.
"Yes, I had time today, so I figured, why not?"
That was it. I ripped into his thoughtless selfish behavior and
the fight began.
But minutes later, reality hit. In our pre-child days, I would
have been more understanding and explained how I felt about his
late arrival. Now, with my energy drained, I acted as if his
haircut was akin to finding out he cheated on me with his
We are our best selves early in our relationship. We show each
other empathy, respect and patience. As time passes, we come to
expect those things from our partner, but we tend to deliver them
less and less. Use of the words "thank you" and "please" become
sparse, replaced by comments like "You have to…" and "Why didn't
you…," which are set-up comments for a fight. So what can a person
say to prevent such unnecessary battles?
The answer is to stop and ask yourself one question when you
feel your blood beginning to boil: "What do I want my spouse to do
differently next time?" In my situation, I wanted him to call me in
advance to tell me that his plans had changed.
As soon as I realized my short-tempered mistake, I apologized
and asked for what I wanted. Interestingly, my husband was
flattered to learn that I was looking forward to his coming home
early and was disappointed by his lateness. Our five-minute talk
ended with the agreement that if his plans changed, he would call
immediately. So my advice for couples who want to love-and
like-their mate for a lifetime is: Don't focus on the problem. Do
focus on the solution. A little wisdom makes a big difference.
Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-trained lawyer, couples mediator,
relationship expert and bestselling author of Fight Less, Love
More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without
Blowing Up or Giving In. Find her online at fightlesslovemore.com.
This article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Chicago
Relationship advice from best-selling author Laurie Puhn
See more of Laurie's stories here.
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