Reality Check: Building a Happier Marriage

Fundamental to choice theory is its emphasis on our basic human need for love and belonging. One way we attempt to satisfy that need is through marriage.

The idea of marriage is great. Two people publicly declare their love and state that they will stick together, no matter what. High hopes rule.

With that starting point, you’d think the world would be full of happy marriages. However, that’s not the case, but there is plenty of advice available: counselors, TV, and books.

One of those books is, “Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage” by Dr. Wm. Glasser and his wife, Carleen. The “lessons” are, of course, consistent with choice theory, specifically applied to marriage.

As in school, for a lesson to be effective, there are prerequisites. If you don’t want to stay married, then you may as well not pretend that there’s anything that you (or your partner) can do that will make a difference. So if you are clear on what you want, and if that’s not to be married, then you may as well save everyone misery and money and just get it handled.

However, that’s not the case for many with unsatisfying marriages. They may choose not to divorce for specific reasons—belief system, children, financial, whatever. They may believe they could reconnect with their spouse and have a good marriage, if only things were different. If that’s you, then Glasser’s lessons may be helpful.

The premise of the lessons is simple; it’s to help couples have happier marriages by teaching them how to treat each other better. Here are three beliefs that follow, “If you are having problems in your marriage, then…”

  1. You are unhappy. Big surprise! Where Glasser differs from many in the mental health industry is his conviction that unhappiness isn’t cured by drugs—neither prescription nor non-prescription. Unhappiness can, however, be changed with information. Couples can learn to be happier with each other.
  2. You are probably blaming your partner for your unhappiness. As I am slightly less than perfect, it’s possible your partner is, too. However, the conundrum is that assigning blame to your partner actually increases your own unhappiness! If you want to be happier, you may as well get over assigning blame.
  3. Both partners are using external control. The husband tries to control the wife, and/or the wife tries to control the husband. The attempts to control may be unsuccessful, but the impact of the attempts is real. External control can kill a marriage.

So, what can you do? You can’t make your partner choose to be happier with you, quit blaming you, or stop trying to control you.

One action you can take is to pick up “Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage” from your library and start reading. It will be even more effective if you read it with your spouse!

Another is to consider this question posed by the Glassers, “If your mate continually tries to control you, what could you do that would help your marriage?”

Even if you perceive that the external control in your relationship is all one-sided—directed at you—how would you answer?

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