Sometimes all it takes is a perspective shift.
One of the most detrimental habits you can have in a relationship is navel-gazing.
By that I mean that you become so preoccupied with your own frustrations and struggles and desires that you can’t think about anything or anyone else.
I’ve acquired this dangerous habit on and off throughout my marriage. It sneaks up on me slowly, and then suddenly all I can see is how hard I work for our family, and how unfairly balanced the workload is. I think of a thousand things that my husband should be doing to help out more. Or even if I acknowledge that he helps, I just focus on how he should be doing things my way (which, of course, is always the best way because, well, it’s my way).
Here’s a short mental exercise to help correct that incredibly damaging attitude.
Start by imagining a typical day in the life of your significant other.
Think about what motivates them in a 24-hour period. Picture what struggles they have, and what their stress levels are at different points in their routine. For me, the exercise might look something like the following:
Husband wakes up early, before everyone else. He uses this morning time to pray, make coffee, make bread or do the dishes, and get ready for his day. Then he’s off to work, which means spending most of the next eight to nine hours looking at a screen, and navigating all the frustrations and joys of being an employee and coworker in an office. I meet him for lunch most days, and then pick him up for the evening. At home, he eats with me and our kids almost immediately and then we try to spend the next hour before bedtime doing something as a family. Then there are a couple of hours of downtime before he goes to sleep, during which we usually try to do some chores while talking and getting caught up on the day (if neither of us has any other commitments).
Next, pinpoint all the good your significant other does in a day.
The first time I did this exercise I focused on how much time my husband has for himself in a day. And I discovered that almost all of his day is spent working or serving our family in some way. That first small realization was huge for me. It is hard to have ground to stand complaining on — about how hard your life is or how much you do for everyone around you — when you realize the person at your side is doing so much himself. Is your significant other doing all the things you think he should do the way you think he should do them? Probably not. But is he (or she) doing what he thinks is important for the well-being of you and himself? Most likely, yes. So use this exercise to help you realize what concrete ways he is taking care of both of you and your life.
Finally, think about the stresses and challenges your significant other faces each day.
Next, I focused on what causes my husband stress and what parts of his day might be more difficult than other parts. I realized that the transitions from home to work in the morning and work to home in the evening are where he has to make the most adjustments mentally. Since these are bad times for him, I could love him better by not introducing more stressors in those times. Where before I might have tried to use those times to bring up things on my mind, or not really noticed what was going on, now I can bring some awareness to those transitions to make them easier and smoother for him. That might mean choosing to not bring up my own stress at those times, or it could mean just making sure that I am calm myself to help foster a peaceful atmosphere as he moves from one environment of his day to another.
These exercises can help you step into your spouse’s shoes to understand him or her better. If you are honest and objective with this, and can leave your frustration at the door, it just may increase your understanding, empathy, and gratitude. And sometimes that little perspective shift is all it takes to refresh and reboot.