When our marriage is in a rut, we’re often blind to any part we may play in said rut. I propose dedicating one week to the task of making your spouse happy.
When I first started the blog, I thought, “Ok, I have two good pieces of marriage advice- that’s it . . . This could be a problem.”
The first was companionship inventory- or the weekly marriage check in, which became my first real post. And the second, something I call happy week, I haven’t even written about yet! Three years I’ve been sitting on this!
That ends today.
Buckle up my friends, you are about to hear my second best piece of marriage advice.
I’m breaking my silence today because it is service month and our love experiment for the month is to ask your spouse every week what you can do to serve them and then do every favor asked of you. The happy week has everything to do with service.
Here’s the story of how it came about:
Over 12 years ago now, I was a Mormon missionary. You know- always go by twos, wear tags, smile awkwardly at everyone they see? That was me.
Missionaries are each assigned a companion to be with 24/7. You live together, work together, and in fact must be always within sight or sound of each other. Since we didn’t get to choose these companions ourselves, some of these assignments turned out to be more trying than others.
I spent two and a half months being trained in the Missionary Training Center (where I learned to speak Slovene and learned the six lessons I would be teaching others about Mormonism), and one of my companions during this time was one of those . . .trying ones.
Now living in a state of annoyance all the time runs counteractive to the spirit of Christ-like service you are trying to hone as a missionary, so I was determined to make this work with this companion- to love her and stop being annoyed. I was constantly hatching up new plans of action- pray for her, repress and ignore all negative emotions toward her, etc. But nothing seemed to work. I was met with fresh annoyance everyday that I couldn’t seem to shake.
One day while I was in an interview with one of my teachers, he asked how things were going, and I told him honestly how stuck I felt in the situation with my companion.
He gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received.
He said, “Tell you what, at my other job, I have a co-worker who really gets under my skin too, why don’t we try an experiment together? Why don’t we, for one week, try every thing in our power to make that person HAPPY. Every interaction, every conversation every thought, every prayer- that is our one and only goal for the week- just make them happy. That’s it. If we’re not sure in an interaction what would make them happy, let’s pray to know and follow our conscience. Now if this is going to work, we’re going to have to be super-committed- can you do it?”
I was skeptical, but hopeful. I committed. For one week.
Honestly, it only took one day for me to start seeing DRASTIC results. I think that is because it forced me to face some of my negative mindsets head on. I saw for the first time my own hesitancy to make her happy, which I was COMPLETELY blind to before. I noticed that when she spoke I very rarely made eye contact with her. I noticed when she would tell a story, my gut reaction was to either not listen or change the subject.
Huh. And I thought all our relationship “issues” were caused by her. The process of changing my story from being the victim to taking responsibility was so eyeopening and so needed if our relationship was really going to improve. And it all started with being focused on the goal of making her happy.
So I started listening, I started being curious about her and what she had to say. I started asking her questions about herself I hadn’t thought to before. I started to look for favors to do for her and compliments to give her.
I honestly couldn’t believe the transformation- not just in our relationship, but in my own heart particularly. Instead of being annoyed by every little thing (which of course, I always thought was her fault), I actually, FINALLY felt love for her.
I won’t lie and say we became best friends for life after this week, BUT I will say my heart was changed and I was annoyed with her FAR less often. And we did become friends. We were finally able to work together well and we parted on great terms, which I saw as nothing short of a miracle.
At the end of the whole thing, I just knew this was a lesson I would carry with me my whole life.
And I have.
I experimented with the “happy week” with other companions on my mission. Always with amazing results.
And of course, in my marriage its become an invaluable resource.
I remember one time in particular about six years ago. We had a super hard week marriage-wise. I remember on a Friday night Rich had gone to bed early and I was sitting in the kitchen, crying, and I just felt so hopeless. I was focusing on some faults in my husband that I felt like would never go away and it all just felt so . . . heavy. I was throwing myself quite the pity party.
And I knew. I knew I needed to do a happy week. But boy, I didn’t feel like it. I resisted it for a while, but then I thought, you know, it’s just an experiment and I’m going to do it and see what happens.
And guys, it only took a morning- ONE MORNING for everything to turn around. I suddenly realized how long it had been since I asked myself the question, “What could I do to make Rich happy? To make his life easier?” I was more focused on all the things he was neglecting to do to make me happy.
So that Saturday morning, I got up with the kids and let him sleep in (without being bitter about it). Then I put a show on for the kids so I could wake Rich up in a real special way . . . wiinnnk. And by then, my heart had already made leaps and bounds from the bitter, hopeless state it was in the night before, and things did just keep getting better. I felt hope where I had felt hopeless.
So if you find yourself in a rut in your marriage, if you find yourself frequently bothered, I HIGHLY suggest experimenting with your own happy week. BUT just remember you get out of this experiment what you put into it- if you are SUPER committed and completely dedicate yourself to the task of making your spouse happy for one week- I promise you’ll see results. However, if you only half commit and quit when its hard, you won’t.
AND IT WILL BE HARD!
Often when I think I maybe should take on another happy week, I stop myself before I even start because I simply don’t want to. I don’t think Rich deserves it (ha- so telling of when I need to check myself) or I will think I need to “get my heart in the right place” first or I simply don’t feel I have the energy to do it right. Sometimes after I’ve started a happy week, I want to quit if I feel like my acts of service aren’t being adequately noticed or appreciated.
I think this experiment is so hard because it requires that we take ourselves to the very depths of humility for someone who is bothering us and that is darn difficult. It requires us to stop victimizing** ourselves and get to action. It requires unconditional love without any strings attached- without any thought of what they will do for us in return. It is simply selfless service.
Hard, but worth it. I feel like I’ve seen miracles each time I’ve truly dedicated myself to it. Its good for me, its good for Rich, it’s good for us.
I don’t want to make it sound like this experiment will solve all of your marriage problems nor do I want to make it seem as though all our marriage problems are squarely on our shoulders for the solving. I’m just saying that this can be a very valuable tool for getting our hearts in a better place, and the state of our hearts is a responsibility that lies on our shoulders.
If you want to take it on, here’s a breakdown of the steps you’ll need to take:
1. Realize your marriage is in a rut or that you are frequently bothered by your spouse.
2. Commit to wanting to change and to instigate your part in the change.
3. Commit to one week of doing all you can to make your spouse happy.
4. Brainstorm different ways to make that happen.
5. In every interaction and conversation strive to think of things to do and say to lift your spouse up.
6. Write down lessons learned along the way and at the end of the week.
Good luck lab mates! Let me know how it goes!
** If you are dealing with an abusive spouse, that is a different situation all together and I would highly recommend seeing a therapist.