Part II - Giving Pleasure
Last time, we talked about the five word formula to make your marriage work - don't cause pain, give pleasure - and we discussed how not to cause pain. Now we're going to talk about the positive side of the formula - giving your spouse pleasure.
I've heard people say that if they're not causing their spouse pain, that means that they must be giving them pleasure. But it doesn't work that way. Although not causing pain is definitely the first stage, there is a long way to go between not causing pain and actively giving pleasure. One is not an automatic result of the other.
So how can we give pleasure?
Actually, there are a number of different ways to give your spouse pleasure - and they're not expensive! Although each person has his/her individual preferences, here's a partial list to get you started:
1) Show your spouse that he/she is important to you. Everyone wants to feel important, that others recognize their worth. This has nothing to do with arrogance, by the way. Arrogance means wanting to feel or show that you're better than everyone else. A sense of self-importance - or self-worth - means a feeling that you are as worth it as everyone else. A child whose sense of self-worth is damaged will grow up to have a relationship with his/her parents that is at best strained and at worst dysfunctional. The same goes for marriage.
So how can you show your spouse how important they are to you? First of all, show that you value their feelings. When discussing issues, questions like "how do you feel about that?" or "this is my opinion, are you comfortable with it?" show that your spouse's feelings are precious to you. Not making unilateral decisions, but waiting until you can consult with your spouse, also shows that your spouse's thoughts and opinions are important to you. For example, your best buddy calls up and asks if your family can join his for brunch on Sunday. Even though you're excited about the idea, tell him something like, "I'd love to, Joe, but I have to check with Amy to see if there's anything else on the agenda." Then go home and say to your wife, "Amy, Joe called me at work today and invited us over for brunch this Sunday. What do you think?" Not only does this show her that you value her opinions, it demonstrates clearly that you are willing to forgo an event that you would like to attend if it doesn't appeal to her.
A note of caution: What should you NOT say in the above situation? Neither husband nor wife should answer "Joe" by saying, "I'd love to, but I have to see if it's okay with my husband/wife." That puts the spouse on the spot if they want to say no simply because they're not up to it. Answering that you need to double-check to make sure that there are no clashing plans gives your spouse an out to say "no" with dignity and no hard feelings.
Another way to show your spouse how much you value them is to listen when they talk. Now, I know that sounds kind of elementary. But the truth is that listening is an art. It's easy when you want to hear what your spouse has to say. But sometimes you don't. There are times that it's difficult to listen to him complain or criticize; sometimes it's tedious to listen to her tell you the minute details of the wedding she attended, or to be her sounding board when she's not in a good mood. That's when good listening is crucial. Listen attentively. Show by your comments or body language that you really hear what your spouse is saying, and react appropriately. If you're not sure of the response that your spouse is looking for, ask them. Sometimes a person talks just to get something off their chest; other times, they're looking for a solution. If you're not sure of your spouse's needs, say something like, "I hear what you're saying. You must have really felt _______ about what happened. Do you want me to keep listening, or are you looking for a solution to the problem?" This approach not only shows that you're listening, it shows that you care about your spouse's emotional needs. And there's no better feeling than that.
2) Smile. I once saw a poster that read, "A smile is an upside-down rainbow." Imagine that every time you walked into your house, a beautiful rainbow was waiting there for you. Wouldn't that feel great? Well, your spouse will feel just as great if every time they walk in the door, a beautiful smile is waiting for them. No matter how hard a day your husband had in the office, if you greet him with a radiant, genuine smile, it's almost guaranteed to melt all the tension away. And the same thing goes for the spouse entering the home, by the way. Husbands, if you come home after a long day's work and enter the house with a big smile on your face, then no matter how crazy the kids drove your wife in the afternoon, everything will suddenly be OK. That's how powerful a smile can be.
Some people tell me that smiling doesn't come naturally to them, and that no smile at all is better than a faked one. To this I reply that if they don't smile often, they should practice. In addition to making their spouse feel good, smiling has personal benefits, too; for example, it has been medically proven that smiling raises the level of hormones that trigger positive feelings. If you're afraid that your spouse will realize that your smiles are not (yet) 100% genuine, don't be afraid to say something like, "Honey, I want to work on smiling more. I know that it will enhance the atmosphere in our home. But since it doesn't yet come naturally to me, please be patient if my smiles don't seem to be totally genuine." And don't give up!!
3) Appreciation. Show your spouse that you appreciate all that they do. It's easy to fall into the rut of taking what the other does for granted. I once suggested this to a couple - he worked full time and she was a full-time mom - and the reaction went something like this: "What do you mean, express appreciation every time she washes the dishes? Isn't that what she's supposed to do?" "I should thank him for going to work? He should thank me for staying home all day with the kids so he can spend the day in the office!" I explained to them that this kind of attitude is going to get them nowhere. I turned to him and said, "When you have meetings, does your secretary bring you and your fellow businessmen coffee?"
"Do you say thank you?"
"Of course," he answered.
"Well, why do you say thank you? I mean, isn't it part of her job description? She gets paid for it. Why do you have to thank her?"
He opened his mouth to respond, then closed it. I turned to her.
"Do you ever take your kids to the supermarket?" I asked.
"Yes," she answered.
"Are there people there who perform services for you? You know, cut the watermelon, fillet and wrap the fish, pack the grocery bags? People like the checkout lady?"
"Of course there are."
"Do you say thank you to them?"
"Well, then, I'll ask you the same question. Why? They're not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. They're getting paid to wrap your fish and pack your bags. Why should you thank them?"
'Nuff said. They went home and greatly increased the quality of their marriage by taking note of and appreciating all the everyday things they do for each other. This is a major way to give your spouse unending pleasure.
4) The eternal question. When couples are first married, they spend a lot of time together. As time goes on, though, "life" sort of takes over. In order to avoid the pitfall of letting your relationship fall to the wayside, there is an eternal question you should ask yourself: "What can I do to deepen our relationship and keep it from getting stale?" Asking yourself this question will guarantee that you will constantly be on the lookout for things that will give your spouse pleasure. Maybe you'll walk into the bookstore and see something you know your husband will like, and you'll buy it "just because"; maybe you'll buy your wife a CD you know she'll enjoy, even though there's no occasion. You might try to think of positive activities you can do together. Whatever it is, as long as you focus on finding ways to give your spouse pleasure, your marriage will be on the up-and-up - and it'll never come down.
Reframing Your Marriage | The 5 Word Formula to Make Your Marriage Work - Part 2 | The 5 Word Formula to Make Your Marriage Work | The 3 Main Challenges to Marriage - Part III | The 3 Main Challenges in Marriage - Part II | The 3 Main Challenges to Marriage - Part I | See More »