Our sages tell us that a person's face is considered "a public place": others see us and are affected by what we show them. The Talmud (Baba Batra 9) explains that smiling at someone is an even higher form of charity than giving him money, because the smile will enhance the recipient's well-being on every level of body and soul.

These principles hold true whether we are out on the street affecting strangers, or whether we're in the privacy of our homes affecting our spouse and kids. Whoever looks at us and sees our mood will be affected by it, for better or worse. We can "make" or "break" their day.

Tools for Change

We can use our knowledge of facial expression to impact our marriages. To begin with, we always want to take the position that the well-being of the marriage is something that we have some control over. If we take the opposite position – that we are victims to our spouses – then we are helpless and there is nothing we can do to effect a positive change in the relationship. On the other hand, a decent working position is to accept that there is always something we can do, but the results may be limited by the behavior of our spouses. So let's assume you believe that there is something you can do to positively change your marriage when it's at a low.

A second principle is that it is okay to always be the one to initiate a change in the cycle. That is to say, when you and your spouse are down in the dumps, it is fine if you are the one to hold a lantern toward the light, again and again. While it is lovely if husband and wife can each take turns doing this job, a marriage can be perfectly healthy even if it is always just one of the partners doing it. Surely the other partner has some other merits even if he or she is not good at initiating positive change. So let's assume that you don't mind being the one who is going to change the current marital mood.

A final principle is that "fake it till you make it" strategies can and should be used in marriage when they lead to positive outcomes. Some people feel that authenticity is a primary value that overrides all other considerations. These folk would not want to "pretend" things were okay when they clearly were not, because that would be breaking the authenticity principle. On the other hand, those who are willing to "fake it till they make it" are result-oriented, and are therefore willing to set aside the authenticity principal on occasions when peace takes precedence. By the way, the Torah considers shalom – peace between people – to be of such priority that it overrides the authenticity principle when it will help to perpetuate peace. This shows us how valuable human harmony is from the Jewish point of view.

Using the Tools

In summation, here's how you can use the principles above to change the marital mood from sour to sweet:

  • Be willing to be the one to change the mood even if you're always the one in this role.
  • Be willing to "fake it till you make it" by altering your countenance accordingly; put on a happy, cheery face even if you don't feel happy when your partner is in the room with you. Enhance the look with happy vocalizations such as humming a little tune, making positive comments on the weather or other neutral topics, or even directing compliments toward your spouse. Act as if you are in a delightful mood whether you are or aren't.

Keep this up as long as necessary – until your spouse "catches" your happy mood and starts to reflect it back to you. Whether it takes hours or days or weeks or months, don't give up. Eventually you will see the results you are looking for.

Address the Issues

Now that you guys are back in sync, you can actually address the issues that triggered a bad cycle. Some people are afraid that things will get unpleasant again, so, once they've lifted the bad mood, they don't want to talk about what went wrong and how to prevent it. This is a major mistake. Couples who make up and don't review what triggered the issue build up marital baggage that can seriously weigh down the marriage over time. Hard as it might be, invite your spouse to sit down with you (preferably over coffee and crumpets) to retrace your steps. If this is impossible, then at least explain the difficulty to your partner and try to arrange some brief marriage counseling. The counselor can help the two of you acquire "safe communication skills" – ways of talking that will be productive and painless.