Tag Archives: Compromise

How to Shelf the Selfishness in Your Marriage

Everyone is selfish when they get married. In the beginning, it’s all about “I’m in love,” “I’m getting married,” “Something wonderful is happening to me,” and “I love the way this person makes me feel.”  And although this me-centered narcissism is normal, if you fail to transition out of it, your marriage is sure to fail within three to seven years, especially if you have kids.

I can’t tell you how many callers I get on my program wanting to know, “How can I make my spouse ______?” The blank could be “do chores the way I want,” “spend less money,” or “change their attitude.”  However, the bottom line is you can’t make anyone do anything. That’s why I say to choose wisely before you get married in the first place.  If you’re the only one in the relationship ever being selfless, you’ve made a mistake.

Marriage is about giving more than you have to, not constantly wanting more.  Your spouse is not your slave or fairy godmother.  It’s not always about your needs, your hurts, your feelings, your time, and your schedule.  Marriage takes compromise and a willingness to lose fights and arguments. It’s the acts of sacrifice sprinkled throughout a marriage that make love deep.

The best time to put yourself out for your spouse is when he or she is not at their best.  Have you ever been in a pissy mood and someone acted sweetly? I bet you snapped out of it almost instantly.  Listen to your spouse, hug them, give them a back rub or a gift, or plop them in the tub with you. Do whatever it takes despite how you feel.  Selflessness costs you something, but it protects the relationship.

Your job when you get married is not to sit there with a scorecard of all the things you’re getting.  It’s to throw away all scorecards and figure out each day how you can make your spouse feel happy that they’re alive and married to you.

For further discussion of this topic, read my book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage.

How to Not Lose a Friend

Friends are really important.  They make you feel anchored to the world, and without them, you feel lonely, isolated, and depressed.  They care about you and do things with you.  You can talk to different friends about different things – you can blow off steam, you can get feedback, or you might receive a badly needed dose of comeuppance and become a better person.  But most importantly, it feels good knowing it matters to other people that you exist.    

But even when people have great friends, they somehow still manage to screw it all up.  Here are some steps you can take to prevent losing a friend:

The best way to ruin a wonderful friendship is to make negative assumptions.  If a friend doesn’t call you for four days, you assume they don’t like you, they forgot you, or they are being rude and insensitive.  You lament that they should know you are going through stuff.  However, instead of making negative assumptions, you could just pick up the phone and say, “Hey, are you OK?  I haven’t heard from you, so I was concerned about you.” 

That’s a friend – the other is a parasite. 

Gossiping and betraying someone’s trust is another way to ruin a friendship.  Talking to anyone about your friend’s personal issues, feelings, and thoughts is a huge betrayal.

Failing to reciprocate.  One of my main definitions of a friendship is that it’s reciprocal.  Now, that doesn’t mean you have to do the same things back and forth, that’s sort of silly (i.e. you got me a piece of bread, so I need to get you one).  Reciprocating means making an effort to do something benevolent for the other person (e.g. getting your friend bread if they’re hungry, or helping them untangle their hair if their hair is tangled). 

Talking and not listening.  Somebody ruined a friendship with me by not listening and only talking.  She didn’t even listen when I tried to talk to her about not listening.  I took her hands in mine, sat really close to her so that we were almost nose to nose, and told her that I loved her and enjoyed doing things with her, but there was an issue.  I told her that I couldn’t talk to her about anything without her stopping me and talking about herself.  I talked about how it always got either intrusive or competitive (i.e. I couldn’t talk to her about a toe without her stopping me to tell me that she had 20 toes).  She said she was sorry and that things would change, but they never did.  So we took a break.  The break has lasted two years, and it has been good.  It’s not that she is a bad person, she’s just not a good friend.

You need to have an attitude in life that your problems are not more important than anyone else’s.  There are a lot of people who have a problem hither and thither, and they are just horrible to everybody.  We all are a little grumpier or more reserved when we are stressed out, but when that happens, just hold up a Post-it note that reads, “I’m stressed out beyond comprehension, don’t take anything I say seriously.”  Just communicate it any way you can, and make it fun.

Another way to ruin a friendship is failing to stay in touch.  With technology these days, there is almost no excuse for not staying in contact.  You can send a text or an email if you don’t want to lick a stamp, or you can video chat.

You also lose friends by only making use of them when you need them.  When you don’t need them, they get dismissed.  You have to do things to nurture the friendship.  Think of cute things to say to them and do with them.  Ask them how they are doing.  If they have a lot on their plate, tell them that you’re worried and ask if there is anything you can do to lighten the load.  Even if they say no, talking to you may be just what they needed. 

If you know your friend is having an exhausting time with a new baby or some other crisis, come over one night with a fully prepared dinner in Tupperware, hand it to them, and then turn around and leave.  Little things like that show you are thinking of him or her.  Don’t be stingy.  Give more than you get.

Don’t sneak around with your friend’s spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many people say that their husband or wife left them for their best friend.  Excuse me?  “Best friends” don’t become intimate with each other’s boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, or wives.  You just don’t do that.

Another tip: learn to compromise and don’t be competitive with their other friends and family.  Just because they don’t do A, B and C with you, appreciate that they do L, G and H with you.  Don’t make them feel stressed out to the point where they feel like they have to choose between you and the rest of the universe.  And if your friend wants to try something new, don’t say no.   People get a little compulsive about their comfort zones.  Both you and your friend should stretch out and try new things. 
 
Don’t make fun of their errors all the time.  I have a friend named Sam who I play tennis with.  One day he was eating dinner at our house after a game, and we started making jokes.  Because he had missed a shot, he sighed and said, “Does that mean I can’t have salad?”  It has become a running joke between the two of us.  Whenever we miss shots we should have made, we keep going back and forth with which parts of dinner we should and shouldn’t get.  You can have a good time poking fun, but don’t belittle each other.

Lastly, act like a friend, not a parent.  You can’t control how other people behave.  If you see your friend being self-destructive in any way, tell them, “It just kills me to see you hurting yourself like this because this is in your control.  It doesn’t feel like it, but it is.”  That’s not being a parent, that’s being a friend.  If their self-destructive behavior becomes more typical, then you have to draw a line.  You’re not telling them how to act – you’re telling them what your expectation of a friend is.  If they don’t fall into that category, then they’re not a friend and they’re not somebody you should put effort into. 

Let’s say, for example, that you have a friend who is married with little kids and is flagrantly having an affair.  I would discuss it with them several times, talk about the impact on the kids, their marriage, etc.  If that doesn’t work, I would ultimately say, “I don’t have friends who betray the people who love them and are willing to have fun at the expense of their kids’ well-being.  I am not interested in putting effort into somebody like that as a friend.”   If they respond by saying, “Oh, well you’re just being judgmental,” you just say back, “Damned straight I am, except I’m judging you as ‘friend’ material.  Whether you’re ‘mother’ or ‘wife’ material is certainly not in my venue.  All I’m judging is whether or not I want to call somebody who is doing this my friend.” 

That’s the kind of discussion you should be having and feel no guilt about.

Improve Your Relationship – Argue!

Did you know that arguing can actually help your relationship?

The best way to elucidate this point is to talk about an argument I had with a friend of mine.  While we were having dinner one night, the conversation shifted to the topic of art.  My friend started telling me a story about a South African artist who had gotten a huge ball of plasticine (a type of plastic material) and rolled it through the streets of a number of poverty-ridden cities in South Africa to make a statement about violence and poverty.  The ball was then displayed in a museum for people to come and say “ooo” and “aww.”  Well I just thought this was too funny and laughed. 

However, he didn’t intend for his story to be funny.  

My friend, who I have known for five or six years and who has always been the most mellow human being on the face of the Earth, got pretty passionate (what I didn’t know at the time was when he was younger, he worked in that museum and it was his responsibility to dust off the ball each night).  And this only made me laugh harder.  I mean he was exhibiting such intense emotional reverence for a big plastic ball that picked up trash!

But then I saw he wasn’t just being passionate.  He was clearly upset.  I just looked at him and said, “OK, let me understand this.  The guy took a huge ball of goopy plastic, rolled it through streets to pick up garbage, and it ended up in a museum?!”  This just seemed like the plot of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to me.  There was nothing he planned, this was not creative, and whatever got stuck stayed.  How the hell could anybody call that art? 

Well he did, and the situation didn’t get any better.  He then mentioned another very famous German artist who just painted a canvas black, but it was considered a great piece because of the way the brushstrokes reflected light.  At this point, I lost it all together.  I was the laughing version of inconsolable.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  I have to tell you, if it looks like I can do it, it’s not art (I don’t think Pollock throwing paint on a canvas is art either).  For me, an entity is attractive or it’s not.  I don’t care who made it, what their political history was, if they were rich or poor, or if they had emotional, mental, or physical problems.  My friend, on the other hand, thinks a piece of art has no intrinsic value unto itself.  For him, art is tied to history, biography, era, and circumstance – something has artistic value because of the surrounding context.   I could not agree less.  I don’t think that’s art, I think that’s a personal statement.  I think art is supposed to be attractive, passionate, and powerful without all that surrounding stuff.  For example, as I pointed out to my friend, if you suddenly found out that the big plastic ball of garbage was created by Donald Trump, it would no longer be meaningful.

However, through this argument, we came to a deeper understanding about each other.  I called him up the next day, apologized, and told him I now had a better understanding and appreciation about something that was so emotionally personal to him.  I just said we probably wouldn’t go art shopping together, and we shared a good laugh.

Arguments, especially between you and someone you care about, should be constructive and bring about a deeper understanding.  Here are a few general tips for arguing in your marriage:

Only argue about one thing at a time.  Don’t start bringing up history or other subjects, and don’t wait until you have a long list of disappointments to airTalk about things as they happen and you’ll avoid feeling ferocious from holding in your frustration.

Argue very gently.  Don’t criticize, name-call, or blame.  Arguing is not about abuse – it’s about stating your needs clearly and respectfully.  Try as hard as you can to figure out what the other person is talking about and what they want without being defensive.  If you’re getting defensive, just tell them you’re getting a little hot under the collar and to give you 30 minutes to go for walk, take a shower, or make a cup of tea.  Say you’ll finish the discussion later.  And during the break, don’t rehearse what you’re going to argue about.  Just calm yourself down. 
 
Listen to each other.  People have different personalities, tastes, histories (family, emotional, and psychological), needs, goals, and dreams.  There’s only one reason couples grow apart: they haven’t reached out to each other, expressed what’s on their minds, or taken what the other person has expressed and done anything constructive with it.  People do not naturally grow apart – it’s totally voluntary.  If you’re having a discrepancy with your husband or wife about decorating your house, for example, you need to communicate.  Ask each other what makes you feel comfortable in a home.  Not all the rooms have to be the same style.  Compromising and giving the other person something they dream about is all part of love.  In my house, if one of us says we really don’t like something, it doesn’t come into the house.  We just keep looking until we can find something we both like.  (Now, fortunately we have relatively similar tastes, such as not wanting a lot of beads hanging from anything).

Stay focused on the solution to the problem.  I once read a story about the CEO of a cancer research company who actually encouraged arguing because as opposed to getting input from a bunch of “yes” men and women, the arguments would foster new ideas.  And when the arguments got heated or off track, he would just say, “Hey, let’s remember why we’re here – to cure cancer.  Keeping focused on the mutual goal is very important.  For example, the next time you and your spouse are trying to go out to the movies and there are dishes to put away, don’t stand there fighting about who did the dishes the last time.  Just keep focused and say, “We have to get this crap out of the way so we can go to the movies.”  Get it done without the ego of who did what.  The point is to find a solution.  

The real purpose of arguing is to come to some kind of agreement or compromise.  The main point of arguing is not to win (you could even put that on little three-by-five cards around the house).  Having a useful argument means you’ve learned something about yourself and about your partner.  Always remember you love each other.  

As many of you know, I take pool lessons.  The hardest thing for me to learn was that dropping the ball in the pocket is not the goal.  Instead, you’re supposed to play for that incredible feeling of when you make the perfect stroke exactly in sync.  The point is the feeling, not winning a particular point.

So, the next time you’re arguing with someone you love, remember the point is not to win the point – it’s to experience the feeling of being in sync.