Do you ever think to yourself “I should always be attracted to my husband,” “I should be happy in my marriage all the time,” “I should want to spend every moment with my spouse,” “I should want to have sex with my husband more often?”
These questions are completely normal, but can also make your marriage more difficult and unhappy. When you are engaging in this thought process, you’re pretty much shoulding yourself.
Shoulding yourself refers to the act of telling yourself what you should do as opposed to what you want to do. In relationships, people are really good at using this technique when things get challenging or conflict is high because these events trigger deeper emotions in us. People tend to avoid exploring those deep feelings in most settings, and what comes to the surface is often blame (when we point at other people) or internalizing (when we point at ourselves).
When really hard stuff is going on or you are fighting with your partner, fears get activated. But those fears typically stay under the surface because those emotions are overwhelming and basically too much to handle, so they are expressed in other ways. When you notice that you’re shoulding yourself, it’s time to look at what that means because it’s never what it seems.
Why Is Shoulding Not Helpful in Your Marriage?
Many people use this strategy because they believe if they can change something about themselves, then the other person will be happy and conflict will stop. Actually, what happens is you feel torn between what you want to do and what you think you should do (which can be based on unrealistic expectations, demands from others, or societal rules), resulting in anxiety, more fear, hopelessness, and many times resentment against your spouse. Resentments are poison in relationships.
Shoulding Is Actually Unhelpful for a Few Reasons:
1. You’re setting yourself up for failure because there are many opinions and opposing viewpoints as to what it means to be a good spouse and partner, so who the heck knows anyone should do anyway?
2. Anxiety skyrockets because we are essentially telling ourselves what we want isn’t good enough or the right thing.
3. It’s flat out ineffective– when people are told they should do something, they tend to do the opposite.
4. You can’t be present and engaged in your marriage or great moments when you’re stuck in your mind.
How Can You Stop Shoulding Yourself and Have a Happier Marriage?
First, you can take note of how often you’re actually doing this. Notice how frequently this thought pattern is taking over and ask yourself, “Is this helpful?”
Next, start changing your vocabulary and use words like “I want,” “I’m feeling,” “I might like to,” because these words are empowering and reduce anxiety.
You can also start exploring where these shoulds are coming from and the underlying thought process behind it.
And finally, TALK TO YOUR PARTNER about what’s going on and where you are coming from instead of shoulding all over yourself.
So many times during fights, we are in our own heads and not listening to the other person. That also means the other person probably isn’t listening to you, and even more likely that they don’t understand you. At a minimum, sit down (not during an argument but at a separate quiet time) and tell your partner all of your shoulds. This opens the doors to having a meaningful conversation because your spouse will probably relieve some of the pressure and support you.
Gaining control over your thought process, connecting with your partner in a significant way, letting them in to know the real you, opening up to learning about their viewpoints, and providing mutual support are the best ways to have a happy marriage.