One of the biggest complaints couples express when they come to my office is that one or both partners feel they are doing more than their fair share of work. They say their spouse isn't helping out, simply expects things to get done, and often gives them orders about what to do. All of that ultimately leads to their feeling taken for granted, burdened, and resentful. Left unchecked, these negative undertones can take a huge toll on a relationship. So what is the antidote? How can you avoid falling into this common rut? If you follow these three super simple steps, you can keep your marriage humming along.
1. Remember to express your appreciation in the things you do.
Research has shown that one of the most important elements in a happy, successful marriage is feeling valued, basically the opposite of feeling taken for granted. With this in mind, always remember to express your appreciation on a regular basis. Your wife pays the monthly bills; tell her you're grateful that she takes the time to do it. Your husband walks the dog first thing every morning; let him know how much you appreciate that because it gives you a few extra minutes to sleep.
A lot of times people think there has to be a special occasion, something out of the ordinary, or a surprise to warrant acknowledgement. That is not the case. All the routine chores that you are each managing and assuming the other will do — picking up the dry cleaning, making sure there is always enough toilet paper, scooping the kitty litter, food shopping and cooking — deserve to be and should be mentioned. A simple "Hey, I really appreciate you keeping our lives running" can go a long way, and make you or your partner want to continue to do those tasks to keep each other happy.
2. Remember to say thank you.
Along the same lines, just like a picture is worth a thousand words, so is a simple "thank you." It is so easy, and yet often gets lost in the craziness of daily life. In the same way that you might think only something like a gift or a favor deserves official acknowledgment, you might think the fact that your spouse makes the coffee for the two of you every morning doesn't warrant a thank you because it is just a simple part of your routine, but it does.
Too often it goes unsaid because people expect their partner to do these things and figure why do I have to thank them for it? But you can never underestimate the power of those two words, which also go a long way in assuaging feeling burdened. They can be used like salt and pepper, sprinkled generously throughout your week for the helpful and thoughtful things your partner does. Typically people are quick to voice what they don't like, and point out what their partner did wrong or could have done better. Saying thank you is a way to let your partner know they pleased you and got something right.
3. Remember to always ask instead of tell your partner what you would like from them.
Many times people don't even realize that they tell their partner what to do instead of asking them to do something. In other words, they make a demand instead of a request, which leads further down that path of feeling controlled and resentful. Try to turn that around so your partner feels they have a choice in the matter. Instead of making them feel jumped on and barking, "Don't forget to do the dishes!" or "Close the windows!" rephrase it instead to, "Can you remember to do the dishes tonight?" or "Can you please shut those windows before the storm hits?" This allows you to express your needs in a way that will foster working as a team, and offers the opportunity to have a give and take about it. It also eliminates the possibility of putting one of you in the parental role of dictating a task, and gets you back into an equal partnership, which is where every healthy and happy relationship should be.
Dr. Jane Greer is a New York-based relationship expert, radio host, and the author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. Connect with Dr. Jane Greer on Facebook and follow @DrJaneGreer on Twitter for her latest insights on love, relationships, sex, and intimacy.