Making Acts Of Service Count In Your Marriage

Kara and AdamA couple of months ago my husband and I had one of “those” nights with the baby. Cecilia, then 10 months old, was struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep. I was working extra hard not to have to wake up my husband, who not only had already been up with our two year old, but also had to be up at 6 a.m. the next day for a work function. So I bounced her, rocked her, nursed and nursed and nursed her, and finally in defeat, went to get Adam.

Much to my surprise I nearly ran into him in the darkened hallway. Adam was already on his way to relieve me.

“Can you please take her?” I asked. “I’m starting to go crazy.”

“Sure,” he lovingly responded as he took Cecilia from my arms and headed into the nursery.

Adam’s positive response put me at ease and convinced me of the sincerity of his sacrifice. In fact, it was more how Adam said it than what he said that left an impression on me. He could have still offered to care for our daughter, but done it begrudgingly, which would have left me with feelings of guilt and resentment.

I’ve come to realize that those “under the surface” attitudes can really uplift, but also undermine, our relationships. In fact, a recent study from Harvard found basically the same thing:

“Regarding sacrifices made in daily life, on days when people perceived their partner suppress their emotions when they made a sacrifice (more than they typically did across the 14-day study), they reported experiencing more negative emotions, less positive emotions, less satisfaction with life, lower relationship quality, more conflict, and lower perceived partner authenticity.”

But we all have moments of sourness, and it can be difficult to check our attitudes at the door when there are sacrifices we really loathe making. So what can we do to personally work on fine-tuning our own attitudes so that our relationships can thrive and grow?

Be honest, but loving. If there’s a sacrifice you really aren’t looking forward to, it’s okay to tell your partner in a loving way that you aren’t looking forward to it. But also telling your partner that you’re willing to still make the sacrifice because of your love for them will make a world of difference. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have grabbed a poopy-diapered child and headed toward the changing table saying, “This is for love of you.”

Don’t dwell. So you’ve told your partner (lovingly) that you don’t want to do something, but will because you love them. Leave it at that and move on. Try to be joyful as you make the sacrifice and don’t dwell on the negative aspects of it. If you keep bringing up the fact that you don’t want to do it, it will only make the other feel guilty and also make them doubt your sincerity.

Don’t be afraid to apologize and start over. Okay, so what if you’ve already messed up and responded to your significant other in a negative way? Apologize and try again! Many times I’ve had a snotty tone when responding to something Adam needs from me. As soon as I recognize it, I usually stop and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound snotty. Of course I can clean the spoiled food out of the fridge.” (My least favorite job ever!)

How about you? Do you notice the difference your attitude makes in your relationship? Is there anything you’ve learned to keep it in check?

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