Goodbye Grumblings

Find the good

How to change patterns in a marriage

Start small.

Seven months ago, I made a couple of small changes to my daily habits: I stopped using my snooze button and I started writing almost every day. When I think about those changes, though they may seem inconsequential, I feel a pleasant glow of pride and happiness. I also feel optimistic about making other changes — after all, I’ve proven to myself that I can indeed change.

In spite of the title of this post, which implies that there’s something wrong, I consider this to be about a few good things: important conversations, the ability to change and sunsets.

Last week, Husband and I went for a picnic supper and a long-overdue discussion about the state of our union. We ate by the rapids at Hog’s Back Falls and then walked along a trail, turned up a path and found a low stone wall and benches, the perfect place to sit and talk side-by-side.

The trigger for the discussion and the details are private, but I can sum it all up by saying that over the years we’ve picked up some bad habits.

  • Not showing or expressing our love. (Here I’m talking about the love we need to continue nourishing, not effortless romantic love. We’ve been married 22 years, after all!)
  • Being impatient with each other and making assumptions (not assuming positive intent).
  • Taking for granted the things we do for each other.
  • Using tone to convey unhappiness or anger rather than expressing feelings openly.

Someone looking at us might not even notice any of the above. There’s no drama, no yelling, no abuse. Just little bad habits chipping away at our enjoyment of each other, at our relationship. A few months ago, I heard an interview with a long-married couple who said the key to their relationship was expressing their love every day, and I felt sad because it didn’t seem like we were doing that.

Maybe it was because we were sitting side-by-side on that bench surrounded by nature, or maybe we both realized the importance of the subject—whatever the reason, it felt to me like one of the most honest and open conversations we’ve ever had. There was no defensiveness, and we took turns sharing our feelings, listening, asking for clarification, and exploring ways to improve our relationship.

The discussion wound down, and we started to feel chilled. We stood up stiffly and turned around to see a gorgeous sunset. This gift of beauty was just the thing to bring us up from the serious talk and focus our attention elsewhere so we could let the words percolate and settle.

Sunset from Hog's Back Falls

Sunset from Hog’s Back Falls

We came away from the conversation with a fairly simple plan: we’ve agreed to be kinder and more loving to one another every day. I like this goal, but it doesn’t feel specific enough. I need something concrete to work with. What does being kinder and more loving look like to me?

Simply put, it looks like action, like doing at least one kind and loving thing for Husband every day.

Grand gestures and weekends away are excellent ways to inject some energy into our relationship. But for now we need the slow and steady of the tortoise, not the flash and exhilaration of the hare. We need to find ways to nourish the marriage every day. The daily grind can wear down a relationship — but small kindnesses and bright spots can help build it up.

Here’s my quick list of things to choose from on any given day, in case I’m lacking inspiration.

  • Offer a surprise back or foot rub.
  • Practise active listening instead of auto-listening. (Stop wondering when it will be my turn to talk and just trust that it will come.)
  • Smile at him just because he’s there. (I may have to be careful not to scare him with this one!)
  • Clean his sunglasses.
  • Offer some “free” (i.e., unconditional, no strings attached) help with a chore. Don’t talk about it, don’t expect anything back. Just start doing it.
  • Slip a love note into his sweater pocket, lunch bag or wallet.
  • Bring him a cup of tea.

Time for me to tap into that optimism and add another habit. The great thing about this is that I’m not alone here. We both agreed to this plan. That means that we can both safely assume that we’ll see more kindness from each other. I have a hunch that this may be a really good cycle to jump on. After all, if I’m expecting kind and loving behaviour, it’s surely going to be easier to act that way myself.

Any suggestions I can add to my list? Comment on the post or send me an email, at susan at



About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

14 Replies

  1. Love this!!
    I totally empathize with your sadness, when you realized you probably weren’t expressing love everyday – and with the thought that random smiling might scare the Husband!!
    (I can see a t-shirt with a warning sign on it to that effect.)

    But most of all I am so very impressed with your hard work to keep things going, and going better, with a little more time taken to be kind. So great that it has paid off already in good feelings.

    I like your ideas. For me, surprising him by getting a chore done that he thought he still had to do is about the only tool on the list that my beloved husband appreciates. But I’ll be on the lookout for more!

    For anyone out there looking for kindnesses to do for a parent of small kids (who may be your spouse, or not), try:
    – Taking the kids someplace fun – or just different. Your work, maybe, a duck pond, the airport, or a playground. Time alone is often too rare when the kids are small. Take the parent(s), too, if needs be, but do as much of the planning and packing and heavy lifting as possible. Even if you (only!) take one kid to do something, so the parent(s) can concentrate on the other(s), you are lightening the load! If you can’t take them anywhere, teach them something: Macramé? Crochet? Building a birdhouse? How to whistle with a piece of grass? Do cats’ cradles with string? You don’t need to know how to do it already, there are books.

    Certain friends (** ahem** like Susan and her family ** ahem**) have done this when my kids were little. Bless their buttons!

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thanks for the kind words and the ideas. What a great reminder to widen my view and remember that these little kindnesses are appreciated by friends and other family members too! The great thing is that doing something kind makes people feel good, so there’s a double benefit. 🙂

  2. I shared this on my business page. Great examples of practical stuff that just happens ìn a marriage! Thank you for keeping it real and sharing.

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thank you! I poked around your site. Really enjoyed the story about your drive home to find deputies waiting.

  3. Lovely piece – we have the further dynamic of my mum living with us – and currently all in a mobile home while house gets major surgery – mine field to negotiate and I think it is as much a daily Work In Progress as the house and my writing are! 🙂 Husband was also at home for 94 days ( yep I counted) the longest we have ever been together in an almost 30 year marriage – I think it gave us all food for thought and not all of it was easily digested 🙂 – I am loathe to over plan our marriage and he is loathe to talk about it – but I agree with all your points and ideas – and I am sure he would too even if he is often better at me than the ‘doing something nice bit’ rather than the talking about it – the pretty tiles I wanted arrived and put up etc. Best Wishes Marie-Claire

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thank you for commenting. I like the idea of food for thought that wasn’t easy to digest! Your story reminds me of our reno time, when Mom-in-Law shared a room with Thing Two, and we all shared a living/dining room with stuff stacked around the perimeter for eating (at boxes cause there was no room for the table), reading, doing homework, etc. It was a time of delicate footwork for sure, and the stress of renos just made it all that much, um, spicier! I wish you smooth and faster-than-expected completion of your renos!

  4. Lorie

    Great piece, Susan!

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thanks Lorie.

  5. Kathey

    I love this article. And you are right – it’s the little things that make a difference. One little thing that I really love is when I find a cute picture taped to my mirror or on my computer, timed to make me laugh.

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thanks. (-: I like that idea. I might borrow it!

  6. Excellent article, Susan. Your action points are a great start for showing love and appreciation. My husband and I do this, but recently, on Mother’s Day in fact, we had a big scare that reminded me just how much I love him and need him. He has gotten extra hugs and affirmation during the last few days.
    I love your resolve to kick grumbling to the curb. At our house, we believe positive words and attitudes lead to happy lives. Thanks for your wisdom.

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thank you for your kind words, Anna. We had a scare about a decade ago, and the same thing happened for us — our appreciation of each other went way up.

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thanks. 🙂

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