That’s a cop-out. Trying to improve your spouse puts him or her on the defensive and casts you in a dreary role. The result? Nobody changes. Nobody takes responsibility. Everyone is unhappy. And making your spouse the bad guy means ignoring the 90 percent of him or her that’s good.
The true fix: Change yourself. When you address your own flaws and seek the best in your spouse, magic happens. Optimism increases. Your spouse feels better because he or she feels appreciated, not chastised. And you both feel motivated to change in ways that lead to even more joy.
One tip to help get you thinking this way: Adopt the Japanese philosophy of imperfection, wabi sabi (“wah-bee sah-bee”), which applies well to real-life love. Next time your guy or gal does something annoying, take a breath, mutter “wabi sabi” and remind yourself that his or her intentions are good, even if the execution isn’t. At the same time, don’t ignore what’s good in your spouse. Each day this month, pick something, big or small, that you like about him or her. Then name it. For example: “My wife is thoughtful” or “My husband makes me laugh.” Then think of a specific act that backs it up: “She brushed the snow off my windshield last week.” “If I’m feeling blue, he’ll joke me out of it.”
Finally, honor your own imperfections. Sometimes we blame ourselves for all that’s off kilter in our marriage. Too much guilt can paralyze. So, think of qualities you value, tell yourself you have them and think up real-world examples. “I am loving and kind—I gave my spouse the last cookie yesterday.” “I am honest—I tell her what I’m really thinking.”
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