I read a blog post recently from a husband who brought his marriage back from the brink with this one simple, daily habit. Each morning he asked his wife: how can I make your day better?
The wife was suspicious at first and deliberately gave him tedious and demanding tasks, like cleaning out the garage, a task that took many hours to complete and which required him to cancel an engagement. After several weeks of faithfully responding to her requests (which often included tasks that she had usually done, like folding the laundry or cooking dinner), her resistance began to waver. She had been resolute in wanting to divorce as she believed him to be too selfish; now he was challenging her conclusions!
Eventually, she asked him why he was now being so nice. His answer was simple: because I love you. Tears and tender reconciliation eventually followed.
It might sound simple, but it’s not easy to do this. It requires not just the willingness to ask the question, but then to cheerfully comply without resentment or complaint. And to do this day after day without any guarantee that it will change the other’s perspective.
But isn’t this what real love is about: giving freely of ourselves to the other? Wasn’t this the essence of the vow we made on our wedding day?
This strategy worked for him because he did the internal work to manage his emotions of self-pity and entitlement. He checked his self-interest at the beginning of the day so that he could focus on his task of loving; or perhaps better said, he had a clarity of his real priority and then focused on that.
Of course, this isn’t just a strategy for marriages on the brink. It’s a wonderful strategy for every married couple. And so to my little experiment!
For the past week or so, I’ve asked Byron how I can make his day better. He often doesn’t give me a specific task to do, but instead talks about what he wants to accomplish. That’s enough for me, and I have done what I can to help him fulfil that hope each day. I think it’s helped to create a more tender atmosphere between us, but not because Byron is grateful to me or even aware that he is the subject of an experiment. It’s because this simple question helps me orientate my day around loving him, rather than organising it (and him!) around my agenda.
It’s a powerful and significant shift in mentality. It pulls me out of my tendency to be self-focussed and turns me outward, towards him. It fosters humility – a potent antidote in our entitlement culture which is constantly asserting that each person is deserving of special privilege and adulation.
The entitlement culture in which we live cannot make us happier! In fact it does the opposite: it creates unrealistic expectations about what we deserve and what is normal, which are destined to be unfulfilled. In contrast, the simple act of desiring to make the other’s day better slays the entitlement mentality and opens us up to for other-centred loving. A marriage built on both spouses doing this simultaneously can only be better for it.