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Newlywed Challenge: How to Choose Marital Happiness

Have you ever secretly wondered if you would have been happier being married to someone else? It is not uncommon, especially during the first year of marriage, to compare your spouse to someone else. You may contrast your spouse to a vision of who you thought you would marry. You may be frustrated when you see that other people’s spouses exhibit qualities you wished your partner would have. How can you deal with this disappointment and doubt? How can you achieve your goal of marital happiness?

How Adaptability Hurts Marital Happiness

The first step to overcoming your disillusionment about your marriage is to understand that it is normal to feel a dip in happiness after you get used to the initial excitement of getting married. When you were dating, you may have told yourself, “If only I was married, then I would be happier.” For a relatively fleeting time during engagement and the initial months of marriage, you may have been happy and content. Then, as you adjusted to your new life with your spouse, you may have started to struggle with maintaining this happiness.

Research on happiness calls this “hedonic adaptation.” This states that people who become happier after they attain something they wanted cannot sustain that increased level of happiness. Rather, they tend to adapt to their new circumstances and eventually return to approximately their former state of happiness. For example, it has been found that people who win the lottery do not become much happier than they were beforehand. In fact, they often become depressed. It is possible they despair when they realize that having all that money does not lead them to the happiness they crave.

So too, on the day of your wedding, you may feel as if you hit the jackpot or won the lottery. You feel the euphoria of getting married as you always dreamed. Yet, as you adjust to day-to-day life with your spouse, it can be challenging to maintain this level of happiness. Your new reality of married life may not live up to your expectations. Your happiness can dip and slip.

Marital Happiness is Not Guaranteed When You Marry the Right Person; You Need to Be the Right Person

You might be telling yourself, “If only I had married ____, I would be happier.” (You can fill in a specific person’s name, or a type of person.) It is unlikely that would have been true. Even if you had married a person who fit your vision perfectly, eventually you would have adapted to your new reality, and you would have fallen back to your former state of not-happy-enough. Marital happiness is not assured whether or not you marry who you think is the right person.

If you cannot achieve marital happiness by marrying the person that you want, then how can you be happier? There are specific practices that are found among happily married people. You can increase your marital happiness day by day by consciously incorporating those  strategies into your life.

Avoid the Emotional Quicksand of Social Comparison

Research shows that one of the ways  to increase happiness is by avoiding social comparison. There are two kinds of social comparison: upward and downward. When you compare your spouse to your fantasy spouse or to an actual person who has a quality you desire in your spouse, you make an upward social comparison. It is fairly understandable that this kind of social comparison can lead you to marital unhappiness.

You might guess that comparing your spouse to a person who is not as great as your spouse, a downward social comparison, would make you happier. However, in research conducted among college age students, the students who were regarded as the happiest people by their friends were asked if they tend to compare themselves to people who have more (upward social comparison) or to people who have less than they did (downward social comparison). Surprisingly, the happy students were amazed at the question. They responded that they did neither. Why would they bother comparing themselves to other people? The happiest people tended to not engage in any kind of social comparison (Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness, 2008.) They were not in the habit of comparing themselves to other people.

You can follow the path of happy people and increase your marital happiness by similarly avoiding social comparison. For example, motivate yourself to focus solely on your husband, as if he is the only man left on the planet. When your mind starts to critically compare him to your fantasy husband, or to other men you see or hear about, replace your critical thoughts about your husband. Focus on your husband’s positive qualities instead.

Appreciate and Compliment Your Spouse Regularly

You can build marital happiness by challenging yourself to identify a new specific positive character trait of your spouse every day. Find an example of how your husband demonstrated that trait. Then, compliment your husband for that quality. Express what you appreciate about him and tell him the specific example you noticed.

Appreciating your husband and complimenting him regularly will make you happier. It will also create a supportive environment that can motivate your husband to want to develop in ways that will make you even happier.

Your ability to avoid social comparison and appreciate your husband instead of constantly evaluating him will either make or break your marriage. I encourage you to regularly discover more of your husband’s positive qualities. In this way you can choose to be married happily ever after.