Okay, okay, I know the title sounds cliche, but I mean it.
Max and I just passed the two year anniversary of first speaking to each other on CatholicMatch, so the dynamics of marriage were on my mind.
One of the best pieces of relationship advice I’d heard was the above. I was already doing my best to follow just that, without realizing just how important it was, but the more I thought about it, I realized this really was a big deal.
(Also, all this advice applies to romantic relationships leading up to marriage as well, not just married couples)
The best way I know how to talk about it is to refer to sitcoms. As is often the case, you can usually look at the way people live their life in a sitcom and do the opposite, but even more so when it comes to relationships.
Oftentimes, when you see a sitcom centered around a family, the husband and wife often tear each other down. Sure, maybe they’re only jokes, but they’re always at the other’s expense and you seldom hear anything good from one about the other, unless it also involves a jab against them.
It is sometimes considered comical to do a lesser degree of this in real life too. I’ve some couples do it. Now, don’t get me wrong, a degree of being able to joke about each other can be healthy, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Even if some joking is harmless and even healthy, that simply isn’t always the case. Humor and people’s reactions to it are too diverse to get into, so all I can say is figure out what is best for your relationship. Regardless, if you make jokes like that, you also have to be able to build your partner up too, which is where the title comes in.
You really should be your spouse’s biggest fan. I also don’t mean that you should fake being so either. Genuinely do your best to be excited for them about their achievements or even just engage with the little things they’re interested in. This advice doesn’t just apply in public, but to your private life as well.
Let me give you an example.
Both my husband and I love history, but tend to have interests in some pretty different eras (though there is quite a lot of overlap). I don’t have a personal desire to research the Mongols for example, but my husband is absolutely fascinated by them, even writing his thesis on it. But any time he wants to tell me about the Mongols, I’m genuine interested in everything he has to say about them. My topics for such conversations tends to involve historical fictions, especially musicals, which he’s not terribly familiar with, but he’s more than willing to engage with me and listen to me rant about the complexities of them. Even though, I literally derailed our conversation the other day with a ten minute rant over casting in different adaptations of one of my favorite books.
I like to say I have two categories of interests now. The first being interests I’d research on my own and the second being anything Max ever wants to tell me. There’s a lot of topics I wouldn’t go looking to read about for myself, but I love to listen to my husband tell me about them. I’ve actually gained a lot of new interests because of the way my husband tells stories.
Now this is much more applicable to private life. But I did say that this applies to your public life too.
Whether or not you’re with your spouse, you can still be their biggest fan. Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where your peers are tearing down their partners; while it may be rarer in some circles, it is probably inevitable. Please don’t engage with this, even if your spouse isn’t there. There’s several reasons for this.
Firstly, it can cause scandal. Even if you think you’re joking, some people may not realize that and it may cause a rift in people’s opinion either or you or your spouse. Another problem is that such stories may get back to your spouse and they may be hurt by such a situation. Not to mention that this can be quite a bad example too. Also, allowing yourself to dwell excessively on negative things you perceive about your spouse is hardly healthy, especially if such things are trivial and you haven’t addressed them with your spouse.
To be honest, the best way to diffuse a situation like that is to compliment your spouse, rather than the reverse. It will generally turn the conversation quite dramatically away from such negativity. We all need a little less of that in our lives, don’t we?
I am rather effusive about my praise of Max in general, but that’s my personality. I can’t speak enough about how fervent his faith is and how intelligent he is, among the other comments I always want to heap on him, whether when simply speaking of him to others or complimenting Max himself. I’m sappy, okay?
I don’t mean that you have to become a cheerleader if that isn’t the way you show affection. What I exhort you to do here is simply do not engage with the rampant negativity that some people exhibit towards their spouses. Don’t fall into that trap.
There is one further situation under which encouragement of your spouse is vital. I hear a lot of people say that your spouse doesn’t deserve thanks for doing simple household chores that you are each expected to do. I don’t think this is the right attitude to have. Should your spouse expect to only do chores when you praise them for it? No. But should you ignore your spouses efforts simply because that’s what they “should do”? I think that’s wrong too.
Just because it’s your spouse’s turn to take out the trash or do the dishes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t thank them for doing it. Max and I have made a habit of doing so for each other. Few people genuine enjoy chores for their own sake, but by doing this, we’ve tried reframed household duties in our minds as a direct act of love for each other. And the appreciation of the other is a lovely reward for our efforts.
You chose your spouse because you love them, right? Just do your best to listen to them and support their interests and achievements, even if you don’t share them all. When people ask you about your spouse, say the positive. It really is nice to hear happiness in another’s voice when talking about the person they chose to spend their life with.
Besides, I find that speaking to others about the positive things about your spouse just makes you appreciate them even more. Also, believe me when I say how much your spouse will appreciate your willingness to engage with their interests. Not to mention – and you can take my word for this – I think you’ll have more fun than you think when you do this.
And I think praising your spouses efforts, whether in things required of them or otherwise, will strengthen your relationship as well and make you both happier. Again, I know every relationship is different, so degrees to which you do all this will differ, but you should find the groove that works for your relationship. Your marriage is something that needs to be nurtured and positive interactions and affirmation are just one way of doing this.
Love your spouse and care for your marriage. You chose a partner for life. Be sure to care for them as such. This is just one way to meet their needs and strengthen your marriage.