Most of the time I feel like a really crummy husband. I don’t know how I ever deserve my beautiful wife.
I’ve been really hard on myself about it, as I am with most things, for nearly my entire marriage.
At least until recently.
Let’s try to look at this from the perspective of trying the best we can while being imperfect instead of making excuses for bad behavior.
That’s the hardest part sometimes. You want to be easier on yourself, learning to practice self-compassion, but you’re really afraid that you might just be too easy.
Who can blame you for having difficulty with this though, it’s not like there was a class on emotional intelligence in school!
Self-compassion is important and is another story for another day. What I learned about recently that has improved the way I see myself within my marriage is willpower. Specifically from listening to The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.
There are a lot of really powerful nuggets of truth in this book that are especially helpful to a perfectionist like me. Yet one principle has stuck with me more than the rest.
McGonigal explains that willpower is like a muscle, and just like a muscle, can be depleted.
We use our reserves of willpower when we make any good decision- from getting up early to choosing to have a salad rather than the pizza for lunch.
The more good choices we make, the more our willpower is depleted.
Willpower depletion happens throughout the course of the day just as your feet might get tired from walking around if you work in a job where you have to stand and walk around all day.
The “willpower muscle” as McGonigal refers to it, can be strengthened with effort.
So here’s the tricky part when it comes to willpower in marriage.
When do you most often have time with your spouse or significant other?
The end of the day.
The end of your willpower.
That means that some days (weekends excluded possibly, depending on work schedules) every minute with your spouse or significant other is when you are at the lowest levels of willpower.
No wonder marriage and relationships can be so hard.
Yet there is incredible power in knowing about this.
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. It’s because our willpower is gone, or nearly gone, from trying to make the right choice throughout the entire day.
Your marriage or relationship with your significant other might not be in as much trouble as you think. You might just be spending time together when you’re both at your worst.
The “puppy love” from when you were first dating was, in part, due to the fact that you were consistently giving the very best of your time to your significant other. The time when you weren’t depleted of willpower.
Most arguments happen because of a depletion of willpower. And arguments continue to deplete willpower as they progress. Sometimes the best solution is just to go to bed angry (yes, I do believe this is a really good idea, sometimes) and apologize in the morning when your willpower is refueled.
So the next time you want to lash out at your spouse or significant other, or even if you actually do, recognize that it may not be that you are so bad after all.
Your willpower tank might just be on empty.
If you’re really having a hard time together it may be time to re-arrange your schedules so that you can spend more time with each other when you have the greatest reserves of willpower.
It just might save your relationship.