The #1 Secret To Saving A Troubled Relationship

02/14/2014 04:22 pm ET | Updated Feb 18, 2014
  • Sally Stich
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SPECIAL FROM Grandparents.com

Anyone who's been married a long time will tell you: If you want to keep the peace in your marriage, it’s better to be happy than right. In other words, keeping mum on the stuff that bugs you can go a long way with how well you and your spouse get along. However, researchers in New Zealand would beg to differ. In a recent, admittedly small-scale study (one couple), they asked a husband to agree with everything the wife said (without her knowing of this arrangement) and both had to score their daily quality of life on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest.

The experiment ended after just 12 days when the wife became increasingly hostile at her husband for everything he said or did, while the husband’s quality of life score dove from 7 to 3.

Conclusion: being happy and being agreeable don’t necessarily a good relationship make.

Therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, author of the book and web site Divorce Busting agrees, and with a much larger sample of couples. "I see couples teetering on the brink of divorce. The most common problem is that one learned long ago to stay quiet rather than disagree, allowing the other to become a bully or control freak. By the time they come to me, the quiet one has been simmering with resentment for years and finally blows up over something insignificant, blindsiding the other spouse. In the worst case scenario, the quiet one has found someone else and is ready to end the marriage." But, unless the spouse who is quiet sees the error in being constantly agreeable, the chances of falling back into the same pattern are high, adds Weiner-Davis.

What she says emphatically is that always agreeing with your spouse is not only bad for the relationship, but to each of you individually. How?

  1. For the person stuffing everything in, resentment, a feeling of inauthenticity, and anxiety become the norm. The quiet partner feels "less than", which can do a number on his or her self-confidence. This partner also feels that whatever needs to be said will be discarded out of hand, so learns to suffer silently.
  2. For the spouse who’s always right, bullying and hypercritical behavior become the norm. Given that much "power," this partner can become more aggressive.
  3. For both, intimacy, which is about being accepted for who you are, suffers. Genuine respect and care for the other is missing and will undoubtedly play itself out in other areas of the marriage—like in the bedroom.

"Everyone needs to feel heard—and that means being right at least some of the time. It’s how we’re validated on this earth. And feeling mutually heard is the glue that holds relationships together. Research shows that most couples will never agree on certain issues in their marriage," says Weiner-Davis. "But that doesn’t have to signal the death knell."

“Healthy relationships are a fine balancing act,“ she says. The goal is not to be right—though that does feel good-- but rather for both spouses to feel heard and respected. That’s the real key to happiness.”

So what can you do if you're the silent partner?

  1. Acknowledge to yourself that you contributed to this dynamic. There were other communication options and you chose tacit agreement.
  2. Next time you feel uncomfortable with something important, say calmly, "In the service of our marriage, I don’t agree, so may we agree to disagree?"
  3. Expect resistance. Remember, the one who’s gotten his/her way for years will feel threatened.
  4. If you hit the wall, repeat what you said calmly. Then let it drop. Your partner needs time to think about it. (Use that line again the next time something else comes up. Let it be your mantra till you start making progress.)
  5. Pick your battles wisely. Smart couples know when to say something and when to zip it. If something violates your core values or who you are, speak up. Otherwise, let it rest.

Earlier on HuffPost50:

Celebrity Marriages: 25+ Years Strong

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