On the third floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., one photograph in particular stands out amid…
During a long and happy marriage, your spouse will be a source of comfort, strength and joy.
They’ll also annoy the crap out of you.
So says longtime journalist Belinda Luscombe, who, after 28 years of wedded bliss, has become a firsthand expert on the subject. Her new book, “Marriage-ology: The Art and Science of Staying Together” (Spiegel & Grau), stands up for the tricky yet rewarding institution in the age of conscious uncoupling.
Luscombe believes one of the earliest signs of a failing partnership is easy to spot but difficult to avoid: contempt. And she says the reason it’s so hard to dodge is because it’s a natural byproduct of the day-in-and-day-out closeness that comes with marriage.
“You will be very familiar with this person, and you will begin to take them for granted,” Luscombe tells The Post. “And that can easily slip into some kind of scorn or resentment.”
So what are the signals that bitterness is creeping its way into your holy union? “If you find yourself denigrating [your partner] in public, that’s a big symptom,” says Luscombe. Other warnings include accusatory statements — “if you begin your sentences with ‘you always’ or ‘you never’ ” — eye-rolling and always looking at your phone when the other person starts talking.
Luckily, Luscombe says that contempt, while toxic to a partnership, doesn’t have to be fatal. A venomous spouse can start uncoiling by remembering that their loved one is probably doing their best.
“They have not set out to piss you off, it just happens,” she says. “If you have empathy for them, and gratitude that they’re willing to undertake this journey together, that’s probably a good hedge against contempt.”
Here, some tips and tricks for keeping yourself in check — before you wreck your marriage.
Don’t be an ingrate
It sounds simple, but studies show that consistently saying “thank you” to your spouse — even for something as a small as brewing a pot of coffee in the morning — can have a positive effect on marital happiness. And it’s helpful for both thank-er and thank-ee, says Luscombe: “It works because it makes you realize what [your partner] has done, and it also makes them feel like they’re not being taken for granted.”
Treat your marriage like a business
Thinking of your partnership as something bigger than the sum of its parts can be a useful way to reframe expectations. Whether the shared goal is raising kids, saving up for a new home or taking a dream vacation, Luscombe says that regarding your spouse as your co-CEO can get you through the tough days. “In many ways, marriage is like a business partnership,” she says. “And being on a team is actually kind of fun.”
Use a reverse-psychology trick
Counterintuitive as it sounds, asking for a favor can actually curry favor with your dearly beloved. “It’s called the Ben Franklin effect,” Luscombe says, based on a story of the Founding Father asking a political opponent to lend him a rare book, an act that ultimately brought them closer together. The ideal marital ask is one that acknowledges the other person’s strengths and shows that you value them, such as asking them to look over an e-mail or cook up one of their culinary specialties. “It has to be applied carefully and intelligently,” says Luscombe, who adds that requesting help finding the remote or with a household chore, probably isn’t going to cut it.
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