The traffic was heavy as Brian and I headed to the recent back-to-school night at the high school. As we pulled into the parking lot, I suggested that we park across the street at the nearby church. It would have meant a further walk, but I had been stuck in that lot before after large events, so I knew we’d fare better if we parked elsewhere. He ignored me, and we pulled into a convenient spot near the front doors.
When the evening concluded, we returned to our car where we sat for quite some time before we were able to exit the school property. Exasperated, I commented, “Guess we should have parked at the church.” Brian responded with well-earned frustration, “Righteousness does NOT become you, Pam.”
Unfortunately, we were both correct.
As I silently stared out the car window, I recalled something I had recently read. Gretchen Rubin wrote on her blog about the best marital advice she had received. Her words really struck a chord with me at the time, and I had vowed to put them into practice.
When I got engaged, a friend passed along a piece of advice that she’d heard from her boss: “In a good marriage, both spouses leave three things unsaid each day.”
I was surprised. I thought her advice would be something like, “Remember to say ‘I love you,’” or “Be sure to say ‘Thanks.’” I couldn’t imagine why I would have to leave things unsaid.
Well, now I know. And I realize that this advice was tremendously useful.
I only manage to follow the advice part of the time, but just in the last few days, I’ve left unsaid the following statements:
- I’ve told you that three times already.
- You said you’d try to come, but are you really going to try?
- Can’t you do it this time?
- Don’t stay up late tonight and then, tomorrow afternoon, tell me that you need a nap.
- Can’t we talk about this now?
And these are just the statements I can think of off the top of my head.
Research backs up my friend’s advice to “leave things unsaid.” Studies show that one fact of human nature is that people have a “negativity bias”: we react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good.
For example, within a marriage, it takes at least five good acts to repair the damage of one critical or destructive act.
So, by refraining from making an obnoxious comment, I’m actually doing a lot more to preserve the happiness of my marriage than by making a nice comment. The negative drags us down farther than the positive lifts us up.
by Gretchen Rubin
As we turned onto Slaughter Lane and headed towards home, I regretted my “told you so” comment. I know this is one of my habits that is particularly unattractive and yet, I poison my conversations with these caustic remarks with disregard to their effects. What point had it served to highlight the obvious? What result did I achieve? The satisfaction of “winning” perhaps?
The quiet ride home proved that wasn’t the case.
* * * * *
The Happiness Project (link on my sidebar) is the work of writer Gretchen Rubin. Her popular site is an account of the year she spent test-driving “every conceivable principle about how to be happy, from Aristotle to Ben Franklin to Oprah to Martin Seligman.”
* * * * *
Interesting Question: What’s the best marriage advice you have ever received or would offer? Given my recent predilection, can you phrase it in only SIX WORDS?
- “Leave three things unsaid each day.”
- “Create a ‘Win-Win’ for both.”