6 tiny things that kill happiness in marriages

As a psychologist, I’ve come to understand that often, achieving pleasure requires less, not more.

It involves identifying the causes of your misery and making every effort to get rid of them.

Moreover, a lot of the things that bring us misery are actually habits: weak but persistent routines that we may have developed as children that erode our happiness on a daily, monthly, and annual basis.

These six little things are what destroy happiness:

Here are six tiny things that kill happiness:

1. Worrying about the future

Worry is the mental habit of trying to solve a problem that either can’t be solved or isn’t a problem.

It’s easy to fall into because it feels productive like we’re at least doing something. It staves off the feeling we hate most of all: helplessness. In other words, worry leads to the illusion of control.

But here’s the thing: sometimes we are helpless.

Sometimes things are bad, painful, or terrifying and there’s nothing we can do about it.

  • Yes, something terrible could happen to you or people you care about in the future.
  • Yes, some people, truly, deep down don’t like you very much.

Worrying about it is a denial of reality. It’s a demand that everything be the way you want it. It’s an attempt to control what is fundamentally outside your control. It’s expectations gone wild.

Bad things happen. People are jerks. And worrying about it won’t change things. But it will lead to a lot of anxiety.

Work to become more aware of your habit of worry, then question it:

  • Am I productively solving a genuine problem, or doing mental hand-wringing?
  • What function does my worry serve?
  • What benefit does it have?

Learn to accept the discomfort of what is or what might be and let go of your habit of worry and all the anxiety it brings.

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6 tiny things that kill happiness in marriages

2. Going with the flow

Most people dislike conflict. But that’s just because most people don’t realize that there’s a good way to do conflict.

Most of us hesitate to push back and stand up for ourselves because we’re afraid of being perceived as aggressive, pushy, conniving, or rude. And so we default to being passive, accepting, quiet, and generally just “going with the flow” — which is usually just a euphemism for being a doormat.

But there’s a middle road between being a passive doormat and an aggressive bully: You can be assertive.

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Assertiveness means standing up for your own wa needs, and values. It means asking for what you want and saying no to what you don’t want in a way that’s clear, respectful, and honest. Assertiveness is a skill anyone can learn.

The road to self-esteem, confidence, and self-respect is assertiveness — the willingness to align your actions with your values no matter the circumstance.

3. Isolating when you’re feeling down

I always think it’s strange that my therapy clients say “sorry” after they tear up or cry during therapy sessions.

Why would you apologize for feeling and expressing sadness?

As a therapist, my clients’ tears are helpful to me. They’re a sign that something we’re talking about is important and valuable. That helps me do my job better because I understand the person across from me a little better. But that’s not just true in the therapy office. It’s true for all of us.

Visibly painful emotions like sadness, fear, and frustration help signal to people around us that we’re struggling and could use some help or support. You don’t need coping strategies when you’re sad. You need people.

You need support. You need someone to hug you, listen carefully to your story, and share a pint of Haagen Dazs with you. When you hide your pain and isolate yourself, you throw away the most powerful antidepressant known to man — loving support from people who care.

So, while it’s natural to hide yourself away and isolate when you’re in pain or suffering, do the opposite. Reach out. Ask for support. Connect.

4. Managing your stress

The biggest lie we’ve all been told about chronic stress is that you need to get better at managing it. Why is this a lie?

Stress management is a pretty terrible solution to the problem of chronic stress because — to point out what should be obvious — you’re already stressed! Stress management is a Band-Aid.

It’s treating the symptoms. Which is fine as a last resort. But it’s a terrible overall strategy because it distracts you from thinking carefully about the true causes of your stress — your stressors.

The stressor is the thing that causes a stress response. If you’re constantly stressed, the long-term solution is to fix the original cause of the stress (the stressor) not the feeling (the stress response).

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For example:

If you’re constantly stressed at work, you could try and do more deep breathing exercises or spend more time journaling about the things you’re grateful for. And sure, maybe your stress level will decrease a little for a time.

But that’s not going to change the fact that you’re still terrible at saying “no” and that you take on way more projects than you can reasonably handle.

In other words, feeling stressed at work is the messenger trying to tell you that something about how you work is deeply wrong. Stress management techniques like deep breathing exercises are effectively shooting the messenger.

Stress isn’t the problem. It’s the constant flood of stressors in your life that’s making you miserable.

The way we think about chronic stress is like an emergency room where the only treatment option is Tylenol:

  • Gunshot? Here’s a Tylenol.
  • Fractured arm? Here’s a Tylenol.
  • Heart attack? Here’s a Tylenol.

Sure, a Tylenol might make you feel a little better at the moment. But it doesn’t address the cause of the pain.

There’s nothing objectively wrong with traditional stress management techniques like deep breathing or mindfulness. The problem is the habit of thinking about chronic stress only in terms of how we feel — our stress response. In reality, the far more important part of the equation is the stressors that are causing the stress in the first place.

Stop trying to manage your stress and start managing your stressors.

5. Judgmental self-talk

Everybody has self-talk — that running commentary in your head about everything from what shoes to wear and why to what your boss’ secretary thinks about your new haircut. It’s our inner narrator who constantly describes the story of our life as it unfolds.

Unfortunately, many of us A) are not very aware of our self-talk, and B) have a brutally negative, judgmental style of self-talk.

Think about it:

If you talked to other people the way you talked to yourself, you’d probably have zero friends, no job, and multiple warrants out for your arrest.

The reason we all have such harsh, negative self-talk is because we were taught as children that being “tough” on yourself was motivating and the best way to force yourself to be disciplined and get stuff done.

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But the truth is, that drill sergeant John Wayne’s pull yourself up by your bootstraps self-talk narrator guy is not a very good source of genuine motivation.

Even if you are the kind of person who’s been reasonably disciplined and successful in your pursuits, it’s probably despite your negative self-talk, not because of it.

So if negative self-talk isn’t motivating, what function does it serve? Nothing good. But it will function to make you depressed, anxious, chronically guilty, and eventually hopeless.

You’ve had the same self-talk program running in the background of your operating system making you unhappy since since you were 5 years old.

“He who would be useful, strong, and happy must cease to be a passive receptacle for the negative, beggarly, and impure streams of thought.”

— James Allen

6. Believing your thoughts unconditionally

What’s so special about your thoughts?

Seriously, why do you give so much respect, authority, and meaning to everything that pops into your mind?

The idea jumped into your head that your co-worker thinks you’re lazy… So what? Does that mean anything?

  • Is the fact that you had a thought about that idea genuine evidence that it’s true?
  • Does it mean you have social anxiety?
  • Is it just another sign that you have low self-esteem and need to get in to see a shrink immediately?


Maybe they do think you’re lazy. But the fact that you had thought about it doesn’t make it any more or less likely.

But guess what? If every time thoughts like that pop into your mind you give them tons of attention, exert lots of mental energy over them, and read into them all sorts of deep, weighty meanings, you’re teaching your mind to throw more of those thoughts at you.

Cue the vicious cycle of chronic intrusive thoughts and all the anxiety and distress that goes along with them. Your thoughts aren’t special. And a lot of them are actively detrimental if you maintain a habit of always giving them tons of respect and attention.

Cultivate a healthy skepticism of your thoughts. Learn to let them be. You’ll be happier for it.

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking.”

― Eckhart Tolle


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