6. Put some limits on your listening. Listening is the ultimate spiritual act. It's the greatest gift that we can give our partner, and, as I've said, we all need to do more of it. But sometimes you have to put a limit on when. If your husband wants to talk about how much the two of you spent during the holidays right as you're making dinner, supervising the kids' homework and watching the news, you're not going to be able to focus, and you might even say, "I can't listen to this. I'm cooking!" That doesn't work. You need one more quick (calm) sentence in which you articulate that you will listen later, just not right now.
7. Love—and praise—specifically. It's not wrong to say, "You're the greatest, and I love you." It's just not sufficient. In the early days of your relationship, there were probably many, many wonderful qualities you noticed about your spouse: his dry humor or way of making guests feel welcome. The longer people are together, the less they mention these kinds of details. Think about how specific your criticisms are: "Why do you put so much water in the pasta pot?" or "Why have you come home with five bananas when I told you three are going to be rotten?" Be exactly that specific with your praise too.
8. Stop correcting your partner's unrelated factual errors. Whether there were 50 or 70 guests at the wedding has no bearing on whether you had way too much to drink at the reception.
9. Invent an imaginary British houseguest. All of us have much more control over our behavior than we like to think. For instance, if you had a very proper, prestigious British guest at your home, sleeping in the bedroom adjacent to yours, you'd act differently during arguments. You'd behave more kindly and politely to your spouse when, say, he sold your mother's hideous-but-beloved vase during a garage sale—if only because you didn't want to feel deeply ashamed. So the next time you consider screaming, imagine poor Rupert lying in the guest room, overhearing your every word.
10. Ignore the experts. It's so funny that people seek expert advice and pay a lot of money to come see me, for example, for marriage counseling. Each of us knows three things we can do to make our partner happier: clean the old fast food wrappers out of the car, seduce him before the kids wake up, and iron his T-shirts or whatever happens to easily and absolutely delight him. Name them—and do them, right now.
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