“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
My wife is my best friend, and we’ve always been close since the day we met. But most of the time, I feel like a lousy husband. I’ve been hard on myself about it, as I am with most things, for nearly our entire six years together. At least until recently.
After listening to The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal a few months ago, I learned an essential truth about willpower and how it relates to marriage. After some introspection, I’ve found this to be true and wildly helpful in my relationship with my spouse.
Willpower is like a muscle.
And just like a muscle, it can be depleted.
We use our reserves of willpower when we make any good decision — from getting up early to choosing the salad over a slice of pizza for lunch. The more right choices we make, the lower our willpower levels fall.
Willpower levels reduce throughout the day, just as your feet might get tired from walking around in a job where you have to stand all day. The good news is that your “willpower muscle,” as McGonigal refers to it, can be strengthened with work.
But here’s the tricky part when it comes to willpower as it relates to marriage.
When do you most often have time with your spouse or significant other?
The end of the day, which is also the end of your willpower.
That means on some days the only time you get with your spouse or significant other is when you are at the lowest levels of willpower.
Knowing this, it’s no wonder that marriage and relationships can be so hard. But it also gives hope.
Since learning about willpower depletion, I’ve been easier on myself, but also, and more importantly, easier on my wife. I recognize that when it’s the end of the day and we’ve just put the kids to bed that we’re both at the end of our willpower.
Her request that I do the dishes is more likely to result in me saying “no” not because I’m an awful husband, but because I’m out of willpower.
My request that we review our budgets is met with frustration because she’s out of willpower.
It’s not because we are lazy or incompatible or we dislike each other or that we’ve fallen out of love. We struggle because our willpower is nearly gone from trying to make the best choices throughout the entire day.
Most arguments happen because of a depletion of willpower and they continue to deplete willpower as they progress.
My wife and I have found that often, the best solution is just to go to bed angry and apologize in the morning when our willpower is back. But it’s not enough just to fight the harmful effects of willpower depletion. You can, and should be using this principle to your advantage.
If you want to strengthen your marriage, give your best time to your spouse. Spend some quality time together at the beginning of the day, when you are your best, and you’ll see your relationship and love flourish.
Isn’t it funny that the morning is also the best time to develop yourself for business success also? We hear of self-help gurus tauting their success came because of their ability to wake up early and get to work first thing every day.
What if the reason your marriage is suffering is because you’re not putting this, the most important part of your life, and the reason you have a job in the first place, above everything else?
If you want to improve your marriage in one day, wake up early together and spend time with each other when you’re at your best.
You might find a few things that you’ve not noticed about your spouse in a long time. And maybe you’ll remember all the reasons you fell in love in the first place.