Years ago I read about a great way to figure out what your values really are. It’s to ask yourself: “What would I tell my kids?”
That’ll clear up any confusion you have about what you think really fast. It can also show how you may be falling short of your own standards.
Similarly, a good yardstick for how well you’re treating your spouse is to ask yourself: “Would I do that if we were dating?”
Sad, but true, our perspective on what is ‘normal’ behavior can change quite a bit after we say, “I do.”
Let’s start with the small stuff.
What do you do when you come home in the evening?
Do you put down your things, and then go find your husband wherever he is in the house, wrap your arms around him, look into his eyes, give him a kiss, and say “I love you”?
Or are you already “lol” as you read this?
“But I have groceries to put away, and the kids are already asking for things, and we have to get dinner going!”
Well, a loving greeting only takes one minute.
I think you found time for a one-minute hug when you were dating, however busy you were.
And then when you do sit down for dinner, or when it’s just the two of you on the couch after the kids are in bed, do you ask your wife how that tough meeting she had to lead that morning went, and then give her your full attention, and make her feel like her stories are the most interesting thing in the world to you?
Or do you say, verbally or otherwise, that you’re not interested in meetings, or marketing, or PEPs groups, or whatever it is your partner did that day?
Since I’m married to a programmer, I know that eyes-glazed-over feeling all too well. My husband’s descriptions of what he does can slide from the graspable to the impenetrable very quickly. He has on occasion accused me of writing my grocery list in my head while I listen to him. And I confess, there are times when I’ve given myself a free pass not to care about servers.
But let’s pick up the yardstick and time travel back to one of our early dates, say at Café Sabika on Capitol Hill. (Sadly long since closed.) Can I picture myself just tuning him out? Of course not. He would never have asked me out again.
The world is full of people who ignore you.
But someone who is genuinely fascinated by you, that’s the person you are drawn to, and want to stay with. If I want to be that person, I need to make a little effort to understand, and maybe to feel uncomfortable when I don’t understand.
Another good time to use the dating yardstick is if you get angry when your partner doesn’t want sex. Can you picture yourself on your third date, getting surly and growling, “What’s the matter with you? You never want sex!”
Of course not. You automatically knew that it was your responsibility to be be appealing. It was up to you to set the mood and awaken your partner’s interest.
You didn’t need to be told that treating sex as an entitlement is not very sexy!
So why do we act in ways that would have appalled our former courting selves?
After years of counseling couples, I think there are two main reasons. The first one is not anything deep or complicated: it’s plain old human laziness. There’s a natural drift toward taking each other for granted that all couples feel.
The second is built-up resentments. When resentments pile up, you can get into a “You first” mindset. “I’m way too depleted to give you anything. Give me what I want first, and then I’ll give something back.”
Both of these mindsets are sneaky. They creep up on you gradually over the years.
Without realizing it, you can transform into a very different partner from the one you used to be.
Not to mention the one you vowed to be.
We’re all experts at rationalizing our shortcomings, even to the point of not being able to see them anymore. That’s why I recommend putting on the pair of glasses you wore during your courtship period. It can give you a jolt of clarity that can wake up your marriage.
When you find yourself defending something you’re doing, either to your partner or yourself, try to hit “Pause” and ask yourself: Would I do this if we were dating? And maybe even more to the point: Would I want to date me now?
By Claire Hatch