14 January 2014

The Quest for Greater Happiness Continues: Marriage

I finished reading The Happiness Project yesterday during a bout of pregnancy-related insomnia.  It turns out when one has a pumpkin-sized stomach and sleeps with a little hotbox called Wesley curled up against one's back, it's not so easy to sleep...so I read.  I've read eight full books so far in 2014, some for work, some to improve my mind, and some just for fun.  The great thing about having a Kindle, aside from being able to download books as needed, is that it's self-lit, so I'm not disturbing anyone with a light, and also the highlight function means that when I'm reading something I want to remember, I don't have to get up and write it down: I can highlight it and come back to it later.

I wanted to pass on what I've been learning about another area of happiness improvement: Marriage.  This conveniently coincides with my 2014 "resolution" to Connect with my husband, and I definitely learned some great things.  Here's my big takeaway:

3 Ways to Increase Happiness in Marriage 
(Summarized, recapped and re-framed from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin)

1. Don't Expect Gold Stars
Rubin talks at length about her drive for recognition and admiration from her husband for the things she does to contribute to their family, and I completely relate.  It has been a significant lesson of the last almost-three years of marriage that I will not get pats on the head or gushing praise from my husband.  I have to say this was pretty disappointing to me initially, but in fairness, I don't appreciate all that he does for our family either.  In 1 Corinthians 13, the famous "Love" passage, it says "Love does not keep account of wrongs suffered."  That has been a resounding motto for "wife-hood" for me, as it is so tempting to keep a balance sheet of the debits I "suffer" (like not getting my gold stars), often without keeping track of the credit he deserves.  Rubin added that part of keeping this rule was to acknowledge that some things I say I'm doing for the family (updating photo albums, sewing baby clothes, making cookies) are really very satisfying for me, and reminding myself "I'm doing this for myself" reduces the desire for acknowledgement.

2. No Dumping.
"If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."  Household wisdom already tells us that how one family member is feeling has an effect on the other members of the family's moods as well, and this is particularly true of mothers.  Gretchen Rubin is a work-from-home mother, like me, and she said she found herself waiting for her husband to arrive home at the end of the day so that she could unload all her frustrations from the day.  Wow, I realized, I am so guilty of that as well.  I don't have much interaction with other adults during the course of my day, except for Adera, our house help, and our communication in Swahili is stumbling on my side and rapid-fire on hers.  Hardly an outlet for satisfying emotional release, so I found myself saving up small frustrations and news items from the day to dump (there's no better word) on Fred at the first opportunity.  On the rare occasions that I am full of good news and happy experiences, this is no problem, but when I have twelve hours of gripes and complaints...well, I can't imagine it's pleasant for Fred and it really isn't that relieving for me.  Apparently, research shows that expression of negative feelings doesn't actually help relieve those negative feelings, especially anger.  Acknowledging them, then moving on, seems to be the best way, so I'm trying to weed out the downer stuff on my own and give him only the fun stuff so that the emotional environment of our home is lighter and happier when he gets home from work.

3. Give Proofs of Love. Respond to Bids.
"There is no love; only proofs of love." --Pierre Reverdy
From time to time we hear people say things like "Oh, she knows I love her" as an excuse for harsh words, neglect, or other seemingly unfeeling behavior.  The truth is, as Reverdy says, the only way we can show each other that ethereal, indefinable thing called love is through proofs, through words and actions.  How sad it would be if all Fred had to rely on as a reminder of my love was the promise I made him on our wedding day.  Related to giving proofs of love is Respond to Bids, which basically means to be aware of my spouse asking for proofs of my love through attention and responding to those.  As Rubin says "The more readily you respond to a spouse's bids for attention, the stronger your marriage."  As I've been trying to be aware of Fred's bids, I realized that there is a big, fat detractor from my ability to do this, and that is technology.  Even though I know that I'm listening to Fred, I might also be playing Candy Crush or putting finishing touches on a blog post.  I need to set the tech aside and respond to his bid for attention wholeheartedly and (more importantly for me, the incorrigible multi-tasker) whole-mindedly.

The interesting thing about all three of these "rules" is that they require me to move out of myself, out of selfish motivations for appreciation, for expression, for inattention to others and to be more generous toward my husband.  Does a repression of selfishness make me happier?  Well, honestly, not always in the short-term, but surely an investment in my husband's happiness makes my life happier as well.  One of Rubin's "Secrets to Adulthood" is that "Happiness doesn't always make you feel happy."  Indeed, it might not make me feel happy in the moment to set aside my game or book in order to listen wholly to Fred when he wants to tell me something, but it is part of a larger lifestyle of happiness, not just for myself but also for my husband.

Speaking of Responding to Bids, my son is making a vociferous bid for attention right now, so I'll finish here.  Please comment if you're finding these posts interesting...we're at 199 comments in the lifetime of the blog, so major kudos to whoever brings number 200!


Ashleigh said...

Great wisdom, thanks for sharing Leisha!

DNkemontoh said...

I so appreciate your candidness in sharing from your own life. We are all imperfect and have much left to learn. There is no sense, IMHO, of pretending to be something we are not. I've ordered "The Happiness Project" and am eager to begin reading it.

Leisha said...

Thanks, Ashleigh and Denny. I've learned so much about myself from this book, and I'm glad that you're also getting something from my recaps!

rawster said...

Kevin and I were both reading this book. We didn't get the whole way through before we had to return it to the Library. I'm going to download it as soon as I finish the three other books I'm in the middle of reading (I tend to read way too many books at once).

I love your re-cap. I did read the chapter on marriage and found some useful tips also. I especially like her point (and your point) on giving our full attention to our husbands. I think as women we are natural multitaskers and can have full conversations with each other while we're doing dishes, cooking dinner and planning the next day in the background of our minds. However, Kevin has told me that he feels like I'm not listening and I always told him that I could listen and do other things at the same time, but I found that once I actually did stop what I was doing and stare him straight in the eyes, I interacted with him more, asked more questions and became a much better listener. Also, Kevin feels like I'm listening and he likes that.

I also wanted to say that I love how you don't fit into my "missionary in Africa" box. You are doing the same things the rest of us are doing (Candy Crush, making photo albums and wanting a pat on the head, etc.). I can relate to what you're going through. You're not alone and I'm not either and that's a good feeling.

Love you!