Let's review the steps you've taken so far. You've learned about realistic expectations for marriage. You've determined exactly what you want to change about your marriage. You've asked your partner for what you want. Now, you'll learn new techniques for changing the nature of your relationship. These strategies will help you get your spouse's attention quickly and lay the groundwork for more positive interactions. As you've learned so far, every marriage has its share of arguments and issues. But the key to this step is learning new ways to get through these difficult times. Chances are, the methods that you've been using so far are either ineffective or could at least use some fine-tuning. If you want to learn new ways to resolve disputes within your marriage, it's time to get strategic. Rather than guessing about what works best
The first step in this process is creating a Solution Journal. For this exercise, you can use the free online [journal tool] here, or simply use a regular journal, such as a notebook or diary. Its purpose, of course, is to keep track of what you do that works. You can do this in the freestyle version of your choice, or you can follow the guidelines below. Either way, you should pay close attention to what you do that prompts even a small positive response in your spouse. Here are some things that you might want to include:
Describe the challenging situation
Consider a recent problem that you and your spouse had and describe the situation here.
Describe in action-oriented terms how you handled the situation
Write down your solution-oriented approach.
Describe your partner's immediate reaction
What did he say or do? In what ways was his response different or more positive than usual?
Describe your partner's reaction several days following the situation
Sometimes change takes time. Note positive changes over the next few days.
Although I recommend that you do keep a Solution Journal, I know that some people are not note takers or writers. If you are averse to writing things down, I strongly suggest you keep detailed mental notes about the things you do that seem effective.
Now, on to strategies that work >>
Strategy 1: Act as if
Problems often arise in relationships because people think they can predict the future: "I just know how my wife will respond when I tell her I'm going out" or "Steve will undoubtedly fly off the handle when my parents come for dinner." The problem with predicting dire outcomes in the future is that, whether we know it or not, we begin acting in certain ways that broadcast our expectations to our partners, and these subtle signals often bring about the very results we fear.
When you expect failure and feel defeated before you approach a challenging situation, it's helpful to ask yourself how you would handle the situation differently if you were expecting a positive outcome. How might your approach to your partner differ if you thought he would respond lovingly or positively? Once you identify how your actions would differ under those circumstances, "act is if"; pretend you are expecting good things and watch what happens.
Strategy 2: Do something different
If you've been talking a lot about your feelings lately, stop talking about them completely. If you've been holding things in, let your feelings be known. If you've been apologetic and soft-spoken, take a strong stand. If you've been fiery, start being patient. If you've been clingy, start being independent. If you've been ultra-independent, start showing your spouse you need him. In order to make your spouse react differently, you have to do something completely out of the ordinary.
More strategies that work >>
On a piece of paper, list each of your biggest problem patterns. Write down the instances where you find yourself reacting to a recurring problem in the same old way
- Don't be home when your spouse returns.
- Don't ask any question about his whereabouts.
- Instead of being angry, act pleased to see your spouse.
- Make your spouse wonder about you. Be less accessible and predictable.
- Instead of grilling your spouse, seduce him upon arrival.
Now it's your turn. Take out your journal and write down the following sentence, followed by your own ideas.
Here are some things I could do that would really surprise my spouse:
Strategy 3: Easier done than said
In this technique, you'll stop using words to get your message across. No talking on the phone, no emails, no letter writing, you just take action! Women really benefit from using this technique because we know that men are less verbally oriented and more action oriented than women. Men sometimes get overloaded with words and stop listening. When that happens, it doesn't matter how their wives say things, because they're not going to be able to get through to their husbands with words. It's in one ear and out the other.
For example, one woman who I worked with spent years nagging her husband to fix the steps leading to their back porch. One day, she finally decided to take matters into her own hands, gathered up her husband's tools and went out to fix the porch. And just as she suspected he would, her husband came over immediately. Worried that she would "do it wrong," he took the hammer out of her hand and finally fixed the steps right then and there.
Then there is Sharon, who got tired of begging her husband to go out on weekends with her and finally just started making plans with her girlfriends. After three weeks of watching her become so independent (and having so much fun), his curiosity finally got the best of him. He asked her if he could join in her next trip to an art museum. She nearly fell out of her chair, but was very happy to have him join. They had a great time together and her husband even suggested that they go out to dinner on the way home. In the weeks that followed, Sharon continued to make her own plans, but at least half the time, her husband asked if he could join.
If words have failed to produce positive results in your marriage, if you've said to yourself, "I talk until I'm blue in the face," then stop talking and start doing. It's easier done than said.
Now that you have a few ideas of techniques that you can use to spark a change in your marriage, you need to learn how to figure out whether or not what you are doing is working. The most important thing to remember is that you have to keep your eyes open. You have to commit to doing something different and watching your spouse very carefully to see how well your new approach works.
On to Step 5: Take stock