A study from Brigham Young University recently concluded that women were the least happy in their marriages around the 10-year mark. This is because we’re likely to have a tiny kid or two in tow and men still don’t do 50% of the housework and planning necessary to run a household.
At the end of May, Nathan and I happen to be celebrating our 10-year anniversary and the study resonates with me. I am tired and we’re not splitting the household work and organization duties down the middle. I can’t even get Nathan to talk about it sometimes without him rolling his eyes.
During my hour-long commute, I’m reading the latest Dan and Chip Heath book called Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work. I love their work (Switch and Made to Stick are both great books on how to make long-term, high-impact changes to your life). One of the chapters, called “Considering the Opposite”, talks about an intrinsic problem with human decision-making. Once we’ve formed an opinion, we subconsciously seek out evidence that upholds our opinion and conveniently ignore the counter-evidence (sound familiar, partisan US Congress?). So, when you’re frustrated with your spouse, you tend to see all of the bad things he or she does and ignore the good ones. An interesting way to turn that trend around is to keep a relationship journal.
Fix Your Perception of Reality
The premise is simple and takes two minutes a day. Every day, write down at least one good thing that your spouse did.
That’s it. I find this works really well with the kids too. When you first get started, it’s really hard to think of good things because your brain is trained to pay attention to the missteps, but soon the floodgates open and you actually start to pay attention to the good things as they happen.
I started mine on Monday and I’ve already noticed a big difference. My first entry was, “Nathan didn’t pick as many fights with my mom this weekend as usual.” (What I couldn’t quite get out of my head at the time was that he didn’t remember Mother’s Day, which made me sad.)
By the end of the week, I was already pre-programmed to find the good things like, “Nathan made a special trip to the store to get the exact kind of cake I like for my birthday.”
The effect is pretty radical. The person or situation that you’re journaling about hasn’t changed, only your perception changes. But your perception of the world is a big deal. I find myself much, much happier on a day-to-day basis, when I’m not dwelling on the things that are going wrong.
And here’s some more good news: The same study I referenced in the beginning about the perils of the 10-year relationship mark also noted that once you hit 35 years of marriage you go back to being as happy as you were when you first met. Perhaps if I keep journaling, we’ll make it that long.