The Happiness Connection  

What doesn't kill you...

Do you ever look at your partner and wonder what planet he or she is from, because everything they do is foreign to you?

Perhaps they are incredibly messy and disorganized, while you like to keep your environment looking good, or they live on a precision timetable while you like to flow with the changing wind?

Isn’t it amazing how these differences seem charming while you are in the honeymoon phase, but transform into major annoyances as time goes by?

I loved how my husband was spontaneous until I discovered his total inability to knuckle down and follow my schedule. Being like me was the goal I set for him. Strangely, he refused to work toward it, preferring his own haphazard journey.

Unfortunately, I had not discovered the precept of everyone being on their own journey, at this point of my life. I believed we were on the same path and needed to do things the same way.

No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t convert him to my way of doing things. This was a bone of contention for me until one day, out of the blue, I had an a-ha moment.

When I was working as a Microsoft Office Software trainer, I decided to become certified as a Myers Briggs practitioner, so I could help the businesses I worked with improve their communication and teamwork skills.

What I didn’t expect was to learn skills that would help my husband and I communicate better and learn to work as a team.

If you aren’t familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI,) it is an assessment tool that gives people vocabulary and insight to help them understand themselves and others better.

I went to Vancouver for the four-day certification course. As I was listening to the instructor one afternoon, her words made my mouth gape open.

Did she know my husband? How could that be? She was describing him to a T.

My a-ha moment was realizing that my husband didn’t behave the way he did just to annoy me. He acted the way he did because he is not the same person as me.

If you want to be happy in your relationship, this is an extremely important concept to grasp. We are all on our own journeys, and we are all unique individuals.

My husband and I are very different types and as a result living together has been a challenge. I am organized and like to get my work done before I play. My husband is more haphazard and can play at any time. It doesn’t matter how much work he has waiting to be done.

I like to make decisions, so I can cross them off my list; he is happier to wait and consider every possible scenario.

I used to believe that I should have married someone who was more like me because life would have been so much easier.

It might have been easier, but not necessarily better.

By being such different personality types, we bring different strengths and weaknesses to our relationship. This makes us stronger. I have someone to slow me down when I want to rush into a decision just to cross it off my list. I enjoy more spontaneity and give my husband more structure.

Approaching life differently can be a challenge as long as you think your way is right and their way is wrong. Instead you need to embrace the fact that you are just different.

Rather than resenting the time you have to spend negotiating to find a middle ground, focus on the fact that the negotiation will make sure the best decisions are made. You will make up for each other’s weaknesses.

Whether you are with someone who is very different than you or someone who is similar, there are positives and negatives.

Life is more peaceful when you have similar personality types, but it doesn’t always push you to grow in all the uncomfortable ways that you don’t want to grow.

When you are with someone who is very different, life is likely to be more tumultuous, especially in the early days while you are adjusting to each other, but you will learn and grow in more ways than you ever thought possible.

It doesn’t matter which route you take, both can lead to a strong partnership. It isn’t so much who you marry, as the marriage you create with the person you choose.

Learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and uniqueness’s and remember, what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger.

Add spice to your marriage

“Feb.14 should be renamed Single Awareness Day.”

This is a statement I heard while listening to an interview on CBC radio this morning. It made me laugh, but it also made me think. Feb. 14 could just as aptly be named ‘Unhappily Married Awareness Day.’

I know there are cynics who say Valentine’s Day is just another opportunity for stores to make money, or that we should be showing our loved ones how much we care every day.

I agree with both these statements to some degree, but just because there is a commercial element to the occasion, or we should show our love daily, doesn’t mean Valentine’s Day has no value.

It is the perfect opportunity to remind your special person how much they mean to you. It doesn’t have to cost money, and you don’t have to stop showing them your love the rest of the year.

This is especially important for couples who have been together for a long time. It is easy to take each other for granted, or assume your spouse knows how important they are to you.

Use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to make sure they know how you feel.

Dinner and going to see a movie are both popular Valentine’s Day activities. If your relationship is healthy, both are great ways to celebrate, but if you are struggling, they aren’t necessarily going to give you the evening of your dreams.

I used to tell my husband that we had a problem marriage because all we ever talked about were problems. We had lost the ability to enjoy time together. I saw him as not caring about me or my life, and he saw me as someone who was always unhappy and frequently complaining.

If your relationship is a fragile place, enjoyable conversation over dinner doesn’t come easily, and sitting in a dark movie theatre is too distant.

My advice is to find an activity you can do together. If you find your lives becoming increasingly separate, choose something that you are both relatively inexperienced at, so you are on an even playing field.

One of my favourite activities is Pinot and Picasso. Like the name suggests, you sip wine, and paint, while receiving step-by-step guidance on how to create a masterpiece. This experience is designed for people who don’t consider themselves to be artists.

It is incredibly therapeutic and provides the perfect opportunity for some problem free bonding.

If painting doesn’t do it for you or your budget, try bowling, mini golf, hiking, a walk, board games, or dancing. If you don’t dance, try taking some lessons.

Look for something new.

I suggest doing something active and new because physical activity, stepping out of your comfort zone, and mastering a new skill, have all been scientifically proven to boost your level of happiness.

One study showed that after participating in just seven minutes of a novel and interesting task together, the quality of a couple’s relationship increased. (Aron et al, 2000) This boost doesn’t happen if the activity is perceived as mundane.

For anyone struggling to get their relationship back on track, find something new to do together. It is easy to forget why you were attracted to your partner, especially if everything you experience together is negative, or if you have grown apart.

For couples who are on solid ground, build opportunities to have new and exciting experiences together on a regular basis, especially if your circumstances are changing with new jobs, or the addition of children. It will help you maintain your bond.

Take turns choosing a new experience or create a list of activities. Set a goal to cross everything off your list by a specific deadline. Setting and working towards goals is another way to boost your happiness. You may be amazed at the difference it makes in your relationship.

If you have a partner who doesn’t seem to take any notice of your hints or suggestions about Valentine’s Day, stop being subtle. Spell out what you want to do. Choose something together, but let them know ‘nothing’ is not an option.

If they refuse to get involved, perhaps it is time to rethink your relationship.

My husband will often ask me if we are doing anything for our anniversary or Valentine's Day. That is OK. I am happy to give him guidance. He doesn’t always have to instigate the situation although that is nice too.

Work with the partner you have rather than the partner you wish you had. Some people just need guidance to get started.

Make sure to mark Valentine's Day in some way during February. It doesn’t have to happen on the 14th, and it doesn’t have to involve money, but make sure your partner knows just how special they are to you. 

Marriage's perpetual conflict

When two people come together as a couple, they are bound to have disagreements, especially when they blend all areas of their lives together by getting married.

The adventure starts with excitement, but as you exit the honeymoon phase, the little differences grow big enough to be annoying.

I frequently say that couples should buy a duplex for their home. Each can live on one side of the house. They can be together when they want, but also have their own space to clean, or not clean as they feel moved to.

Although this is a great solution in my opinion, I don’t think the trend is going to take off any time soon. Instead couples need to become more informed about dealing with individual differences.

It might surprise you, but according to John M. Gottman of the Love Lab research centre in Seattle, 69 per cent of all marital conflict will never be resolved.

Gottman calls these areas of conflict perpetual issues.

Perpetual conflict describes all the things you’ve been arguing about for years with little, or no resolution. They include topics such as money, domestic chores, and raising children.

I realize that my husband and I have spent hours, maybe days, weeks, or months of our 29-year marriage trying to persuade the other one that we are right, and they are wrong.

Despite getting nowhere, couples continue to fight over these matters. You do the same thing over and over in hopes of getting a different result and then feel disappointed because you don’t.

Perpetual conflict leads to feeling you’ve been caught in a loop. You may ask yourself, “How did we get here again?” It is your own personal version of the movie Ground Hog Day.

For many couples, you get so tired of the same argument that one, or both, of you begins to avoid talking about it. You know the issue is lurking beneath the surface, but if you don’t acknowledge it, maybe it will go away.

Avoiding conflict leads to anger. You will find more information about unresolved anger in my column from last week. Anger is natural, but it needs to be accepted and released, not buried.

Perpetual conflict is unlikely to ever be resolved, so if you continue to battle to get your partner to admit you are right and they are wrong, you are in for a life-time of misery.

Conflict rarely has a right and a wrong side, it has different sides. Because you like the freedom to live in the moment, it doesn’t mean the person who wants to plan every step is wrong.

Knowing that these issues will never be resolved is a freeing thought. It gives you permission to have long-term differences of opinion in your marriage. It releases you from believing that conflict needs to be resolved.

Try implementing these three strategies if you want to find peace in your perpetual conflict.

1. Stop trying to win and start accepting that you are both entitled to have your own beliefs and opinions

When you battle to win, or you choose the path of avoidance, you will feel you are caught in a never ending negative spiral.

When you accept that both positions have merit, but you need to find some middle ground that works for you both, you are working as a team that is trying to find a solution.

2. Step back from your position and view the situation with less emotional attachment

Pretend that the perpetual conflict is a soccer ball. Rather than battling against your partner to score, imagine that you are on the same team. It is only by working together than you will be successful.

By imagining the conflict as the ball, you can look at it as an entity of its own, rather than an extension of you. Taking the personal emotions out of the conflict makes it easier to detach from it and find some middle ground.

3. Look for humour in the conflict.

Seeing the funny side of any situation will help strengthen your relationship. When we laugh, our bodies release feel-good chemicals that make it easier for us to cope with stress and find hope. Laughing together creates a positive bond of intimacy and connection between you and your partner.

Stop trying to bring your partner to your side of a disagreement. It's OK to see the world differently. By accepting and being accepted, you may well discover a beautiful new level to your relationship. 


Anger can kill a marriage

When I sit down to write my weekly column, I often feel compelled to write about something that caught my attention during the week. It can be a very minor occurrence, or a few words that were uttered, but it starts me thinking.

This week, my attention was grabbed by a statement made during a podcast. It was almost a throw away comment.

“Why do I constantly feel irritated by my husband?”

Perhaps I heard the statement so clearly because I could relate to the frustration and pain she was feeling. I used to feel that way too.

It didn’t matter what my poor husband said or did, it irritated me. I’m not talking about occasional feelings of annoyance, I’m talking about constant ones. I assumed it was because he was doing irritating things, but now I know more, I understand that the irritation was mine to deal with not his.

Constantly being irritated by another person suggests you are sitting on a powder keg of anger.

Anger is a limit protecting emotion. It appears when someone threatens to invade your personal boundaries. If you don’t like the way you are being treated, you feel physically threatened, or you believe your values are being questioned, anger may well surface.

When it acts as a sentinel to safe guard your personal boundaries, it is a useful emotion, but problems arise if you don`t acknowledge its existence. Anger refuses to be ignored.

You may think the situation is too minor to warrant you attention, or hate conflict so much that you decide to let it go unnoticed, but unless you deal with it, feelings of anger will hang around, causing havoc in your life.

Anger that is left unresolved will seep into your world as irritation.

Although I was unaware of it lurking under the surface, I was angry at my husband for many, many years of our marriage. It wasn’t because my he was a nasty person; it was largely because I had unrealistic ideas of what marriage should be like.

I believed my husband should make me happy, when in truth, we are all responsible for our own happiness.

I focused on all the little things he did, or didn’t do that hurt me. I believed it was evidence that he didn`t care about me, or love me enough.

I got angry with him on a regular basis, but because my feelings were left largely unresolved, they didn`t go away. They lurked under the surface.

Anger refuses to lie quietly in the dark. It lets its presence be known, by seeping to the surface in the guise of irritation. If you aren’t consciously examining your relationship, you may be like me and not recognize how mad you are, but if you are regularly irritated by your partner, take a closer look.

For me, irritation seeped and festered until one day I couldn`t squeeze any more anger into the dark. I call it my last straw event. This time the anger demanded to be noticed and as it stared me in the face, I decided I had to do something to let it go.

I knew our marriage could not withstand how I was feeling.

I reached out to a friend who is a life coach. She walked me through an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) technique. I wasn`t sure it would work, but I was so desperate that I would have tried anything.

I immediately felt lighter, although I`d be lying if I said I stopped being angry right away. It took time. Remember, I wasn`t aware of all the anger I was feeling, just the fury that accompanied this one circumstance.

The unexpected outcome of consciously releasing the anger that was staring me in the face, was that all the unacknowledged anger disappeared as well. Let me say again, it wasn`t immediate, but it slowly receded until one day I realized it was gone.

I stopped feeling irritated. Even the snoring fails to annoy me. We were able to build a relationship that makes us both extremely happy.

If you are constantly feeling irritated by your partner, look at your life and see if anger is lurking beneath the surface. If you have difficulty finding any, seek out a professional to explore your situation. It may be buried so deeply that you aren`t sure where it is.

If you recognize you are mad, find a way to set those emotions free.

I am in a place where I can usually talk to my husband about difficulties as they arise. If this isn`t possible, I acknowledge my feelings by writing them down on paper, and then symbolically releasing them by burning or shredding the document.

Never be afraid to reach out to friends or professionals to help you find a way to release the feeling that are holding you back.

Letting go of anger is one of the kindest things you can ever do for yourself. 

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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