Last Friday I had the tremendous privilege of meeting up with fellow marriage author Shaunti Feldhahn while she was speaking in Ottawa. Shaunti is part of my new Christian Marriage Authors Pinterest Board, and you have one more day to enter our contest to win a marriage library of 12 books!
I took her on a bit of a walk in downtown Ottawa, where we saw the Parliament buildings with the flag at half mast and the War Memorial with the flowers from the recent shooting, but then we went to her event at night where she was sharing about the Secrets of a Happy Marriage.
(Really Bad Selfie Alert: Never let two 40-something women take a selfie together. “How do you hold the phone? Where’s the button? Is this right?”)
I found her talk fascinating, and I’ll be sharing a bunch of her insights over the next few weeks. But I want to start with just one which I think is revolutionary.
Let me tell you the story the way Shaunti told it.
Shaunti is a born researcher. She doesn’t really write marriage advice books as much as she takes surveys, does interviews, looks at the current literature, and then detects trends. Much of her research is first-hand, meaning she conducts it and oversees it herself.
A few years ago she started a multi-year project trying to identify what it is that the happiest couples did that set them apart from other couples. So she took over 1000 couples and asked the couples, separately, to rate their marriage from 1-5, with 1 being absolutely amazing and 5 being absolutely lousy.
Then she took all the marriages where the couples BOTH rated it a 1, and looked at what stood out. Interestingly, there were many differences between them and even couples where one rated it a 1 and one rated it a 2. Those successful couples were very unique, and she published her findings in her amazing book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages.
What she found, though, was that it was not big things that made a successful marriage. Certainly there were some things that helped, like coming from an intact family yourself, but much of it was just the little things we do, day by day, without even noticing. Interestingly, when she asked these couples what it is that THEY thought made their marriages good, they were often wrong. They either couldn’t answer, or they said the advice you’re supposed to say (like we always communicate, or we never go to bed angry). But that wasn’t it.
It was often just little tiny things that turned a marriage around.
So let me tell you about one of those little tiny things today.
And to start, let me tell you another story.
Back many years ago when Shaunti was starting her research, she was trying to figure out what made men and women tick. After doing many surveys, she felt she was ready for some intense focus groups. So she had a group of teenage boys in a boardroom setting for a half a day–one of those rooms with a big board table in the middle and then two whiteboards on either side, with those doors that shut to cover the whiteboard. She spend half a day jotting down all the things these boys said about what their greatest need was. They brainstormed and talked and finally figured it out. Then she closed the doors on that whiteboard and brought the girls in.
She asked the girls, “Today we’re going to figure out what it is that girls really need.” One of the girls piped up and said, “I object to that language. We should be talking about what we as PEOPLE need.” Shaunti let that go and she took notes and brainstormed and wrote it all down on the whiteboard. Then she walked over to the other end of the room and opened the doors. Not one single word was the same on both boards. The girls were flabbergasted.
What a husband needs and what a wife needs are very different things.
Shaunti summed it up like this:
A man’s heart question is, “do you think what I do on the outside is good? Am I competent?” A woman’s heart question is, “Am I loveable? Is what I am on the inside attractive to you? Would you choose me again?” Very different.
Shaunti collected this research and published it, but she hit a bit of a wall. She knew her husband needed respect, but how exactly do you show that? You can’t go around all day saying, “Oh, honey, I respect you!” That doesn’t work. You can ask advice, and defer some of your decisions, but there must be something else, right?
And as she was doing this study of successful couples, they pinpointed what it was.
What wives needed was easy. The husbands who said “I love you” and who held hands while walking or touched her in public were answering the question, “would you choose me again” in the affirmative. You bet I would!
What a husband needs was surprising: The wives who said “thank you” communicated that “I think what you just did on the outside was great.”
That’s it. Just saying thank you.
That took me a long time to understand, and I still have to work on it. When I was first married, I used to say to Keith, “I love you so much honey!” I’d say it several times a day, “I love you!” “I love you!” “I love you!”
A few years in he got a little frustrated and said,
I know you love me, Sheila. But sometimes I’d just like to hear WHY you love me.
That threw me. What in the world did he mean? But I started to try to say that more. “You’re so smart!” “You handled that interaction so well!” “You make me feel so protected.”
And now I’ve added trying to thank him for the things that I see him do.
My friend Sharol calls this “catching him doing good”.
Deliberately look for things that he is doing that are praiseworthy–and then thank him, even if it’s a little thing. Just say thank you.
This seems so little, though. Does it really make that big a difference in marriage? According to Shaunti’s research, it does. But just imagine this: let’s say that there’s tension in the marriage because he’s working hard and he’s not home very much right now. And he’s worried that you’re upset at him, and he feels disconnected. Meanwhile you feel alone and frustrated and really tired. What normally happens? He comes home and you’re a little short with him. He gets defensive because he’s already feeling a little bit like a failure at home. And this is how bigger problems of isolation start.
But what would happen if he came home and you kissed him at the door and said, “thank you for how you provide for our family”? It’s like there was this balloon of tension between you and you just let out all the air. He relaxes. You relax because he’s relaxed. There’s less sniping. And now if you talk tonight there’s not this feeling like anyone’s a failure. You’re on the same team and you’re trying to tackle something together.
Feeling distant today? Just try saying thank you more often.
Whenever he does something that you appreciate, even if it’s something he should be doing anyway, like putting the dishes in the dishwasher, just say thank you. It changes the dynamic, and sometimes that’s all it takes to break through the walls so that you can start feeling close again.
Let me know: Has there ever been a seemingly small thing that has transformed your marriage? Tell me about it in the comments!
And don’t forget to enter our contest to win the marriage library for our new Christian Marriage Authors Pinterest Board! You could win Shaunti’s book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages!
P.S. I will be continuing my “Lies We Believe About Men” series, hopefully later this week. I really enjoyed the first two posts last week! I’m just a little disorganized right now since my final edits are due on my book on Thursday, and I have a million things going around in my head. But I will get to it, I promise!
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