Marriage is work. That may sound like bad news to some, but it’s
actually good news. It means that despite any large amounts
of arguing or marital tension you may feel, you aren’t helpless.
There are things you can do to drastically improve the quality of your marriage.
My mother once told me a story about a time long ago when was going
through a difficult time in her marriage. Things were so bad, that she
actually wanted to leave my father. She didn’t believe in divorce, but
didn’t know how to stay. So she went to see a counselor, hoping for an answer.
She thought if she gave her side of the story, that any right-
minded person would agree with her, feel sorry for her and tell her
how wonderful she was for putting up with such a shlub. But
when she came to see a counselor, things went a little differently
than she’d expected.
She sat down and waited for the counselor to begin.
“So why don’t you tell me a little bit more about what brings you
here today”, said the counselor.
“I’m having a marital crisis”, said my mom. “My husband is
clueless and he’s making our marriage miserable”.
“Really”, said the counselor, with a concerned but unbiased tone.
“Yes”, my mother continued.
“I don’t even know where to begin. He’s never on time. He
always forgets things. He doesn’t do what he says he’ll do and he
just doesn’t seem to care”.
“It does sound like a problem”, said the counselor.
“It is”, replied my mother. She ran on with another long string of
complaints. “He never listens when I’m talking. He always
leaves his coat on the couch and he never notices when I need
help. He always…”
But the counselor interrupted her. “Hold on”, she said. “Let’s slow
things down a little here. I want to hear more about your husband,
but let’s start a different way. Let’s begin by talking about his
good traits”. My mother seemed puzzled and surprised, as though
she’d just been asked to recite the Declaration of Independence.
“Yes. Good traits”, repeated the counselor.
“He has no good traits”, said my mother.
“None at all?”
“Well, maybe I can help you see some of his good traits”, said the
The counselor began to ask questions.
“Does he beat you?”
My mother seemed shocked by the question.
“Beat me? No, of course not! What kind of a person would do
“Many women walk through these doors who’ve been beaten by
their husbands. Many feel that they’ll never get over their
emotional and physical scars. And may I ask… does he provide
Again, my mother seemed thrown off.
“Of course he provides for me. Every husband does that. That’s
The counselor interjected; “I talk to many women as well whose
husbands either refuse to provide for them or they’re simply
unable to. Does he spend time with your kids?”
“Well… yes, but…”
“Does he have a job?
“Does he come home at night? Does he help out when he’s
home? Is he faithful to you?
“Yes. Yes. Yes, but these are all things that a person is
supposed to do…”
“Maybe”, replied the counselor, “but I hope you’re beginning to
see that not everybody does what they’re supposed to do”.
My mother fell quiet, wondering if she’d made the right decision to
come see a counselor.
“It sounds like you may in fact have a good husband. Flawed, but
good. While he may have a lot of areas to improve in, I think I
already see one area where you alone could improve and
drastically boost the quality of your marriage.
“Tell me. Please. I’m dying to know”, said my mother.
“Okay. You could learn to practice… appreciation”.
What my mother experienced was something that many of us
experience in our relationships. We stop seeing the good in each
other. And like her, we may need to be coached back to seeing
the good again.
In the bestselling book by Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends
and Influence People”, Carnegie talks about how people yearn for
appreciation, while so few actually feel like their contributions are
ever valued. They feel like they’re only noticed for their faults.
John Gottman, author of “The Relationship Cure”, talks about how
a healthy relationship requires five good interactions for every bad
one. To be healthy, the good in a relationship must steadily
outweigh the bad. So, maybe the problem isn't that we notice the
negative, but that we don’t balance it out by noticing enough of the
Many of us may feel that such a ratio is impossible to keep. There
simply doesn’t seem to be enough good things to point out. We
feel like we’re being fake if we give praises out of intention, as
though we’re only fabricating truths to be nice. But the truth is,
there’s often far more good to notice in a person than bad, so long
as we’re looking for it.
As my mom noticed, for every time she criticized my dad for
forgetting to take out the trash, there were ten times when he
remembered. For every one time he was late, there were ten
times he was on time. For every time he forgot to wash the dishes,
there were five times when he didn’t forget. By and large, she
noticed that her negative view of him was only partially true. And,
that the greatest portion of truth was positive…. all those good
qualities in him that she’d gotten so used to overlooking.
So often, this explains our negativity towards each other. It’s like
we’re mining for gold, but only keeping the dirt. Throwing the gold
back onto the ground. You won’t hear of too many miners who get rich
that way. Nor, too many spouses who are happy in their marriages.
It doesn’t take much to show appreciation. It’s something we
naturally do when our eyes are seeing the good. No one has to tell
you to say nice things about the Grand Canyon; you just naturally
praise it. Your praise reflects what you notice. So do your
If we notice more of the good, we’ll naturally be better at saying
“Hey, I appreciate you doing that”, or “your attention to the small
things shows that you care about the big things. Thank you”. This
isn’t fakeness. We aren’t simply fabricating truths to be nice.
We’re teaching ourselves to be balanced, because our negativity
And as we see with Gottman’s ratio, it takes a lot of positivity just
to make up for each instance of negativity. How have your last
few interactions with your spouse been? Critical? More negative
in their nature? If so, you have a lot of catching up to do.
MARRIAGE IS WORK. And, appreciation may seem like small work, but it
has HUGE effects. Since so many of us usually only
hear about our faults, our senses of worth and purpose have
begun to shrink. We begin to feel powerless to make positive
changes. But you can remind your spouse that she has that
power. Start letting her know today all that she’s doing right.
This lesson has been of utmost value for my parents. In fact,
theirs is something of a success story. They’ve been married for
forty plus years and can’t imagine life without each other. They
have the sweet type of love all newlyweds hope to someday have.
My mother told me about how much my father changed when she
started to appreciate him. He actually rose up to be a hero in her
But the question is this: Were the changes she saw real, or were
they only imagined? Did she start seeing the hero in him because
she chose to? Or, did he start being more heroic because her
positive affirmations brought it out? The answer: probably a little
bit of both.
Appreciation isn’t just for the receiver. It’s just as much for the
one who gives it. If you want to do something that will
undoubtedly bring positive changes to both you and your spouse, I
recommend giving your spouse that one thing that all human
beings yearn for: appreciation.
This story was an excerpt, taken from the book, MARRIAGE IS WORK.
If you are interested in MARRIAGE IS WORK, please click on this link,
MARRIAGE IS WORK, or on the image below.
MARRIAGE IS WORK