Tag Archives: irritability

5 Mistakes I Continue To Make in My Marriage.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: 5 mistakes I continue to make in my marriage, and how I try to address them.

One of the main themes of my happiness project is marriage. For me, as with many people, my marriage is one of the most central elements in my life, my home, and my happiness.

When I started my happiness project, and I reflected about the changes I wanted to make, I realized I had five particular problem areas in my marriage. Here they are, along with the strategies I try to use to address them, though they remain challenging:

1. Demanding gold stars. Oh, how I crave appreciation and recognition! I always want that gold star stuck to my homework. But my husband just isn’t very good at handing out gold stars, and that makes me feel angry and unappreciated.

In response, I now think more about doing things for myself. I used to tell myself I was doing nice things for him – “He’ll be so happy to see that I put all the books away,” “He’ll be so pleased that I finally got the trunk packed for camp” etc. – then I’d be mad when he wasn’t appreciative. Now I tell myself that I’m doing these things because I want to do them. “Wow, the kitchen cabinets look great!” “I’m so organized to have bought all the supplies in advance!” Because I do things for myself, I don’t expect him to respond in any particular way.

2. Using a snappish tone. I have a very short fuse and become irritable extremely easily – but my husband really doesn’t like it when I snap at him (big surprise). I’ve done a lot to try to keep my temper in check. I don’t let myself get too hungry or too cold (I fall into these states very easily); I try to keep our apartment in reasonable order, because a mess makes me crabby; when he tries to make a joke out of my temper, I try to laugh along; I try to control my voice to keep it light and cheery instead of accusatory and impatient. Confession: I’ve worked on this issue relentlessly for years, and still have a really tough time with it. For instance, I spoke in a snappish tone just last night.

3. Not showing enough consideration. . Studies show that married people treat each other with less civility than they show to other people — and I do this with my husband, I know. I’m working hard on basic consideration, such as giving him warm greetings and farewells, not reading my emails while talking to him on the phone, etc. Very basic, I know.

4. Score-keeping. I’m a score-keeper, always calculating who has done what. “I cleaned up the kitchen, so you have to run to the store” — that sort of thing. I’ve found two ways to try to deal with this tendency.

First, I remind myself of the phenomenon of unconscious over-claiming; i.e., we unconsciously overestimate our contributions or skills relative to other people’s. This makes sense, because of course we’re far more aware of what we do than what other people do. According to Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis, “when husbands and wives estimate the percentage of housework each does, their estimates total more than 120 percent.” I complain about the time I spend paying bills, but I overlook the time my husband spends dealing with our our car. It’s easy to see that over-claiming leads to resentment and an inflated sense of entitlement. So now when I find myself thinking, “I’m the only one around here who bothers to…” or “Why do I always have to be the one who…?” I remind myself of all the tasks I don’t do.

Second, I remind myself of the words of my spiritual master, St. Therese of Lisieux: “When one loves, one does not calculate.” That precept is the basis for my 11th Personal Commandment: No calculation.

5. Taking my husband for granted. Just as I find it easily to overlook the chores done by my husband (see #4), it’s easy for me to forget to appreciate his many virtues and instead focus on his flaws. For example, although I find it hard to resist using an irritable tone, my husband almost never speaks harshly, and that’s really a wonderful trait. I’m trying to stay alert to all the things I love about him, and let go of my petty annoyances. This is easier said than done.

I’ve found that working to keep my resolution to Kiss more, hug more, touch more is an effective way to help me stay in loving, appreciative frame of mind, with my husband and my daughters, too. KMHMTM is one of my very favorite resolutions! It doesn’t take any extra time, energy, or money, and it makes a real difference in the atmosphere of my home.

What are some mistakes you make in your marriage or long-term relationship? Have you found any useful strategies for addressing them?

* I love the internet! For some reason, I was thinking about the fabulous opening scene from the first Austin Powers movie, and then I thought — I bet I can watch it on YouTube! And there it is. Silly, hilarious. If I had to pick a personal theme song, that music would definitely be a candidate.

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I Strive for Better Control of My Temper, or, The Link Between the Desire for Control and Anger.

One of my more disagreeable faults is my irritability. I lose my temper easily; I “speak in a mean voice” as my daughters describe it; I become impatient and act annoyed; I feel anxious about something, so I snap at my family; I feel criticized, so I lash out.

Dozens of my resolutions are aimed at helping me to be more calm, cheerful, and lighthearted – everything from Turn out the light to Make my bed to Quit nagging to Quit drinking (more or less).

One thing puzzles me. When I know I’m feeling crabby or anxious, I make a special attempt to stay calm, and I do a fair job of mastering myself. I’m not 100% successful, but I’m certainly better than I was before I started my happiness project.

But sometimes, I’ll be feeling normal enough, and some comment will come flying out of my mouth, with a harsh edge that surprises me as much as anyone. I don’t think I’m repressing huge amounts of rage, I think I’m just irritable. But where does that irritability come from?

In my case, I think that a potent source of anger is my desire for control, or perfectionism. I feel angry when people (like my husband and children) don’t do what I want them to do, when I want them to do it, how I want them to do it. And I feel angry when I don’t have control, or can’t do things perfectly, myself. Even with little things.

For example, my husband has an idiosyncrasy that, although relatively harmless, really challenges my patience: he doesn’t give information. If I ask, “What are you making for dinner?” “What time are we meeting your parents?” “Who was on the phone?” he just doesn’t answer these questions. Odd, right? He’s not hiding anything, he just doesn’t answer. In the past, this made me crazy, and now I’m trying my best to let it go – or even joke about it. Whether or not he should change, he’s not going to change, so I should just let it go. But it does push my need-for-control button.

Whatever the source of the irritation, this kind of harsh interaction is quite unpleasant, both for me and the people around me. It puts a pall over a perfectly pleasant moment.

I think I need to step up my mindfulness. Yipes, mindfulness! So important to happiness, so challenging to cultivate. (Take the quiz to find out how mindful you are. I’m not very.) When I recognize that I’m feeling edgy, I can make the effort to master myself.

* I was thrilled to hear about a Happiness Project Meetup group that started in Peabody, Massachusetts – inspired by The Happiness Project, its purpose is to “motivate each other, share idea, offer support, and meet like-minded people who are on their own quest for happiness.” One of my most effective happiness-project resolutions has proved to be Join or start a group, and Meetup is a fantastic tool to help you organize group activity.

* Speaking of happiness-project groups, if you’d like to launch a group for people doing happiness projects together, sign up for a starter-kit here. It will arrive in your in-box the next day. Several thousand people have requested the starter-kit already.