It is so tempting to compare our relationship to the images and stories we see on Facebook or in the movies. The problem with this is most of what we see are just glimpses of happy moments without the whole picture. Yes, even that picture perfect couple whose every FB photos looks like honeymoon bliss argues about something.
All good marriages take commitment, hard work, and endurance to keep the flame alive. And, all marriages – even the most successful ones – have road bumps along the way.
But here’s what makes some couples different. Most of us naturally look towards our spouse as the source of our issues when our relationship is off kilter. We focus our attention on everything our partner is doing wrong, which leads only to more frustration for ourselves and for our spouses. It’s a lose-lose strategy.
The best couples look inward, at how they each are contributing to the problem. It’s an empowerment game changer!
My clients are amazed when they learn that they alone have the power to transform their relationship. I call this “raising your love bar.” It doesn’t mean you are raising your expectations in your relationship. It means that you are raising the expectations for your relationship, for your spouse, and, more importantly, for yourself.
Four Ways to Raise Your Love Bar
Couples often unknowingly self-sabotage their marriages by misunderstanding how real love works. Much of the work I do with couples is helping them to shift their perceptions of what a healthy relationship should look like. Here are four ways to shift your perspective and raise the love bar in your marriage.
1. Ditch Unrealistic Expectations
If you’re constantly comparing your marriage to others, you will never be satisfied. Ever. There will always be something that looks better at a distance, because we don’t see the flaws and imperfections in the same way we can see and feel our own. All relationships have rough patches because all of them are comprised of imperfect people. Don’t set your spouse up for failure by setting standards that are impossibly high to attain. For example, if you think that just because you don’t go weak in the knees every time they call you – like you did when you first met – that you don’t love them, think again. Feelings of being ‘in love’ have very little to do with actually sustaining a loving relationship.
2. Shift Your Focus From Gripes to Gratefulness
Rather than dwelling on everything your spouse does wrong, try to focus on what they do right. If you only focus on the negative, your perspective quickly becomes skewed and your marriage will be the casualty. If you find yourself locked in on your spouse’s shortcomings, I encourage you to make a list of things about your spouse that you appreciate. Commit to adding 1 or 2 items to the list daily. When your mind is drawn back to only those things your spouse does poorly, revisit your list and rebalance your expectations and your vantage point of your relationship. To make things even sweeter, strive to do more things your spouse would want to put on their own list about you! It may also help to foster gratitude to list things about yourself that make living with you difficult. Seeing my own flaws always gives me a boost of patience with my husband’s and gratitude that he still loves me.
3. Control Your Emotional Reactivity
It’s foolish to let raw emotion dominate how you act and react in your marriage. And yet many of us default to this without so much as a pause. While how you feel in any given moment is important to acknowledge, feelings are fleeting. It’s why you can be wrapped around the proverbial axel the night before, and your cooler head prevails the next morning after a good night’s sleep. It takes practice and discipline to build good habits, letting logic prevail and reducing your reactivity when your feelings get the best of you and you’re hurt, scared or upset with your spouse. If I could teach all couples one skill, this would be it! And it is a skill. We are emotionally reactive because our brains get hijacked and we say or do things we regret before we even realize we are in trouble. It happens at light speed but we can learn ways to get control and to make quick repair when we blow it.
4. Learn How to Set Limits Instead of Controlling Your Spouse
At the root of an attempt to control or manipulate, you’ll usually find it’s driven by anxiety and insecurity, justified by some higher purpose – correctness, safety, or security. Be honest with your intentions. Instead of trying to manipulate your spouse’s actions, convey to them what is important to you. Draw boundaries for behaviors you’re willing to accept and be clear about the ones you’re unwilling to compromise on. Then, step back. Your spouse will appreciate the freedom, while you can stop being a hall monitor.
Changing the way that you think about love and your marriage may not be easy, but with the help of The Marriage Place, it’s certainly possible. We are launching Marriage Savvy., our new membership site soon, which will provide you with plenty of tips and strategies to raise your love bar and create the satisfying marriage you’ve always wanted.