The #1 Secret to Saving Your Relationship

People say that the secret to a happy marriage is letting go of what bugs you. But new research suggests the opposite is true.

By Sally Stich

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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 the 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.


What a stupid article. "agreeing with everything" isn't the opposite of "letting go"

ShadyGroveRetirementHome on 2014-03-13 11:21:49

Are you seriously basing an article on a study of ONE couple???

Squanky on 2014-02-08 16:14:37

This is exactly what happened in my marriage of 28 years....he found someone else who appreciated him.....As he said to me, "You made all the decisions"....and yes I did, because he let me....when I disagreed with something and let him know about it, he remained silent....Sometimes for days a disagreement wasn't resolved, until I finally gave in...with the argument to myself...he's a good man....a good provider....a good husband/father....what more could I want...let it go....Many times, I told him....if I don't know what your thinking, feeling, I will always be right....and it goes on and on....A family was affected by this please...ladies/men...if you are in this situation, get some sort of help before a great part of your life is gone. on 2014-02-06 15:52:45

I have been with my second husband 5 years now married 4. The first 2 years were wonderful, then after we bought our new home two years ago things really changed. I found out he has Aspergers and it has been very difficult coping with all that it entails. You maybe asking how did it take so long for me to figure it out? He is highly intel event and did a very good job of keeping things neatly wrapped up. As we reached more and more of our relationship milestones, marriage, home ownership, ect he started letting his true self out. We have been in marital therapy for almost a year. I can't really say that things are much better. He is very OCD, controlling, and with all of the Aspergers communication difficulties present, well we don't talk much. It just seems to be better that way, then nothing can be misunderstood. He has a lot of rules, routines and rituals. I am a free spirit, I don't planned anything we re total opposites . But the most difficult part forme is the fact that we have only been intimate once last year and maybe 3 times the year before. He has ED which he also hid from me. He lived on Viagra in the first few years we were together. Once we bought our new home it was as though he no longer felt he needed to keep me happy so he just stopped. He told our therapist he had no intention of taking Viagra again. I cannot express how devastating it is to know the man you love and desire wants nothing to do with you sexually. I don't know how to live in a marriage without any intimacy. In every other way he is very attentive and takes very good care of me, but it isn't right, it isn't normal, and it isn't enough. on 2014-02-06 11:31:13

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