The Happiest Marriages Don't Keep Score

blog Jan 06, 2014

One of the best pieces of advice I received from my mentor Alan Weiss (married to his high school sweetheart for almost 50 years) was that happiest marriages don't keep score. They don't count the ups and downs, who did what, how many times, when,why, where etc etc. You know how this goes, right? If you are one of those people who does this with some or even rare consistency, you need to stop. But that's only if you want to know what makes a happy marriage.

I've been married 12 years to my sweetheart, Kash, and the past decade has come with it's share of growth. As a Danish friend of mine says, "you are either winning or learning". Let's just say that Kash and I have had our fair share of "learning" opportunities. But who's counting?

Here were some of the root causes of those "learning opportunities" and how we not only survived them, but are now thriving in our marriage: (FYI numbering below does not imply keeping score!!)


Problem #1:

Stress: Trying to be everything to everybody at all times is impossible. But put 2 pleasers and givers together and there's a recipe for disaster. Trying to please everyone was driving us crazy and we were both individually unhappy ourselves. We didn't know how to slow down and the stress was piling upon stress. Try making someone happy when you yourself are unhappy and let me know how that goes. As the song goes, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy". That applies to all the Papa's too, by the way. There's a reason even the airlines ask that you wear your own oxygen mask before trying to help anyone else.

Cure: Stress is a beast we have to tackle everyday. But we have to remember that not all stress is bad. There is "distress" and "eustress". The former debilitates you, causing sickness and disease over a prolonged period of time. The latter can actually be motivating and help drive you to meet your goals and be more energy efficient as a person. As a couple that strives to stay happily married, we closely monitor our stress levels by being perceptive of each other's mood, speech and activities of the day. That happens via inquiry with simple questions like, "How was your day?", "Can I get you anything?", "What happened at work today, is there anything you want to talk about?". And then shut up and listen. For the longest time because we both were under so much stress in our work lives individually we could not even "see" that the other person too had some level of their own stress. Slowing down and really getting present to each other has been very helpful in managing the stress, rather than letting the stress manage us. 

Problem #2:

Lack of life balance: All work and no play make both Jack and Jill ultra dull and super lousy at being a happy couple. Needless to say we were too. We are both extremely passionate and entrepreneurial. When we get into something we know how to roll at 200 mph. There was a time in our marriage when we were both building our businesses at the same time and we barely had time for each other. We took no vacations, engaged in no hobbies, together or apart, didn't know what music was current, had absolutely no time for anything recreational. What a drag.

Cure: We heard each other complain about the same stuff repeatedly. And as Einstein said, "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, is the definition of insanity". So just as we were ready to be almost certified as totally insane, we were able to pull back by identifying our own self-debilitationg patterns, scaling back on the work load and becoming more realistic with the expectations we had. Not even so much the expectations of each other as we did of ourselves. "I want it all. And I want it now." The song by Freddie Mercury comes to mind.

Problem #3:

Financial insecurity: We bought a home in Loudoun County at the height of the market. This placed a huge financial stress on us and we were getting deeper and deeper under debt. Even after getting through the worst of this phase, there was the aftermath of this strain and drain that resulted in a prolonged sense of financial insecurity. Our savings and retirement were drained in our last ditch effort to save the house which was beyond saving. This also placed a huge stress on our marriage as we both felt the urgency on recovering from the damage this had caused us and as a young family with 3 kids under the age of 5 we wanted nothing more than to be past it. 

Cure: We've downsized and held each other accountable ever since this episode and we hope to never encounter anything like it as long as we live. We are in a healthy financial position today and still together despite the incredibly stressful experience. Talking about the emotional and mental stress of this financial insecurity was important. Also, continually sharing the optimism, not entertaining guilt in the self or in the other, looking at it as the "best thing that could have happened" especially when we did everything we possibly could. Most of all never blaming each other for making a bad decision and being nurturing and supportive. We are in this together. 

Problem #4:

Taking the marriage for granted: I am no expert, but after the honeymoon phase, which I guess varies from couple to couple, our marriage began to get a bit lack lustre. We knew that there was love, that we were there for each other but there was a period when we took each other for granted. We both did. That did not fair well. No surprise.

Cure: "You are either growing closer or growing apart", I heard a friend of mine say once. I realized we were not growing closer, which made the latter unfortunately true. A hard stop and self-initiated intervention was required and after a few failed attempts at rekindling our lost connection we finally worked our way out of the quicksand of complacency. We hired help when needed to help create the much needed quality time, we did babysitting exchanges with friends and neighbors consciously creating time to go on regular "dates". Night and day.

Problem #5:

Poor Communication: I always say that you're not listening when you're waiting for your turn to speak. Unfortunately we  both did that. My modus operandi was to get absolutely silent, not talk at all, for hours, sometimes even a day or 2. My husband's was to get mad and want to get it all out immediately regardless of setting. We were both at the opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to communication styles and were unable to meet in the middle for a while, which felt like a very long while. Until we did.

Cure: Obviously being polar opposites in our communication styles, or lack thereof, wasn't helping or creating opportunities for any closeness. The actions we took to heal this really serious issue was to get honest and face our challenge head on. We both took courses in communication and personal development, individually and then together. This gave us a common language to discuss the challenges we were being faced with our communication so that when we were up against some tough blocks we could immediately call the other one out and not feel fearful or offended by it. 

The secret to a happy marriage is that there is no secret. It's being awakened, present and excited about your partner each and every day. No matter how well you know them, don't take them for granted. Treat each day as new. Assume all the goodness in them, don't assume the past negativity you have stored up in your memory, let that go, forgive. Once you've pulled the weeds that have grown over time, make sure you discard them completely and are not recycling them. That would result in bringing up the past over and over again and that's toxic to any relationship. Remember, the happiest marriages don't keep score but feel free to count your blessings. 

Chill out, be happy and have a great life!! xoxo

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