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Habit for a Healthy Marriage

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Avoid Competing with Your Spouse for the Good Times

A common earmark of an unhealthy marriage relationship is a pattern of keeping track of and competing for, the “positive life experiences” that come to the other person. In an unhealthy relationship there is almost always jealousy, resentment, and the tendency to hold a grudge when good things happen to the other.

The common reaction of a jealous spouse who wonders when it will finally be their turn for a bit of fun, fame, or good fortune is often subtle and can even be imperceptible by others at first. Nonetheless, the one holding the grudge over the good time had by the other usually knows. And it is more often than not just a matter of time until others begin to notice the subtle signs of tension developing over keeping track of whose turn it is for a little fun, free time, or 15 minutes of fame.

On the other hand, we have all been the admiring observer of the genuine happiness and enthusiasm experienced by a spouse when good fortune has come their partner’s way. Rather than resenting the good time experienced by the other, there even seems to be a vicarious pleasure when the other is on the receiving end of something good.

Compare the following conversations:

1. “Well, it looks like YOU had a very carefree and relaxing day around here while I was out slaving to make a living.”

“I’m glad you were able to take a breather today. Don’t worry about what you didn’t get done. You deserve a relaxing, care free day.”

2. “Wait a minute. Do you mean to tell me that you’re taking another day trip with your girl friends? When’s it MY turn?”

“Yeah, I know you were gone not too long ago, but I’ll catch up with you one of these days. Go and have a great time.”

3. “I get a little tired of hearing from others what a nice guy you are. You know, you’re not exactly perfect, and they don’t have to live with you.”

“I am very proud of the fact that I’m married to a person who is liked by so many people. Yeah I know, you do have your faults, but I’m one of your fans too.”

4. “You seem to get so many comments about what a great mom you are. Don’t they know it takes two to parent?”

“I’m very proud and grateful that you are such a great mom, and that your efforts don’t go unnoticed by others. Our kids are lucky to have you for a mom.”

5. “Okay, so you got yet another achievement award at work this year. Don’t forget that I gave up a good career of my own to stay home with the kids.”

“Your company knows a great human asset when they see one! I’m proud and thankful that you provide so I can be a stay at home Mom to our kids.”

Certainly not an exhaustive list of the every day conversations that take place in our marriages today, but these examples do provide a glimpse into one of the key differences between healthy and unhealthy marriages when it comes to competing for the good times.

It is easy for the best of us to fall into the pattern of competing for positive life experiences and even resenting our spouse when they seem to be getting what we think is a little more than their fair share. But if it is our goal to have a healthy and more satisfying relationship, then it is important that we learn to experience a bit of vicarious pleasure when our spouse reaps some of the rewards and benefits of life.

Husbands and wives who are in healthy and vibrant marriages are intentional in their efforts to keep the machinery of laughter well oiled and often used. They may often have to overlook and peer beyond some of the natural heaviness that can happen as they age, (work, disappointments, failures, and of course, the national news), but they are usually quite successful at laughing out loud-and often-with each other.

Most of us are drawn to people who can laugh at themselves from time to time. Possibly an even more difficult challenge than finding life circumstances to laugh at and about together, is being able to actually laugh at ourselves when it is appropriate and called for. Not only do men and women who are a part of a healthy marriage laugh more in general, they also seem to be able to laugh at themselves, and to allow the other in on the “fun at their expense”, so to speak. Each is careful, though to distinguish between laughing at, and laughing with, the other person. Somehow they are able to detect with regular success when their laughing in response to the blunders, imperfections and glitches of the other is welcomed and when it is not.

It seems that emotionally healthy and well balanced children have learned the knack for doing just that at a very early age; they have somehow learned that it is ok and even appropriate to find a little humor in their own occasional slips and goof-ups. I doubt that for most of us human beings, laughing at ourselves comes naturally, but rather, it is learned at an early age and needs to be practiced as we grow older.

So not only is laughter good for the soul; it is very good for the health and well-being of our marriage as well.

This article originally appeared in ’20 Habits of a Healthy Marriage.’

[AUTHOR: Ed Wimberly]

January 23, 2015

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