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A Secret to a Wonderful Marriage

May 8, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Instead of complaining about what's wrong, ask for what you need.

The public has an insatiable appetite for two types of books: cookbooks and advice on relationships (I suppose you could include diet books and romance novels on that list as well!). We so badly want our relationships to work and struggle so much with them that we are willing to grasp at the latest advice.

Obviously not all books say something helpful or are actually written by people with successful relationship experiences! So I was intrigued by a short excerpt I read from a new book entitled Wonderful Marriage by Lilo and Gerry Leeds. I don't know anything about their credentials except the most important one of all -- they have been married over 56 years. After 56 years, I figured they must have learned something.

Marriages are made through small practical steps repeated day in and day out under even the most trying of circumstances.

And indeed they have. What the Leeds surely know is that marriages aren't made through lofty insights and deep revelations. Marriages are made through small practical steps repeated day in and day out under even the most trying of circumstances.

Everyone wants exciting advice, uplifting ideas. That's not what works. Here's one suggestion from the Leeds that does. They recommend that individuals should ask for what they need instead of complaining about what is wrong. Sit with that for a moment. It's a simple yet profoundly important idea. And it's not just marriage advice. It's a whole philosophy of living.

Complaining is clearly a negative posture. An expression of a desire or a wish is a positive one. This affects how we see the world, how we experience our time, how others view us and what kind of impact we have on those whose lives we touch.

No boss wants a complainer as an employee. They're not great as co-workers either. They're lousy as parents, a challenge as children, frustrating as friends and a real drag as spouses.

The Leeds offer this wise reframe. Instead of the all too familiar kvetching, we need to speak up for our hopes -- in a cheery and good-natured fashion. It's a little more work, it requires a little more thought -- and it's a lot more productive.

It gets much better results -- not just because we actually get our needs met but also because we become more pleasant people in the process, which of course improves our marriages, our friendships, and our work relationships…

What would this novel way of communication look like? It's so simple yet for many of us it's a revolutionary new way of being. Instead of saying "We never go out anymore" we could try "I'd really enjoy it if we went bowling this evening." Instead of whining that "I'm sick of cooking," we could try "It would really be a treat to go out to dinner tonight." And instead of screaming "I'm not your maid!" it might be more pleasant not to mention effective to say, "I'm really feeling overwhelmed; would it be possible in budget in some cleaning help?"

This strategy can be applied to almost any situation. "It would mean a lot to me if we went on time to my sister's party" probably works better than "You always hold us up; we're never on time." "It's so much easier for me if you put your clothes in the hamper" likely keeps the house cleaner than a shriller reminder. And "I really enjoy spending quiet time with you" likely ensures more private 'couple' time than fussing about how your husband likes his job/computer/car better than you…

This technique is also preferable to the other common strategy of not saying anything at all while letting the resentment fester and the frustration build. Until a really big fight ensues. This has been an ineffective female [and male!] tactic since time immemorial. But we've continued to employ it for lack of a better alternative. Now we have one.

The Leeds have opened our eyes to other possibilities – small changes that can literally be life changing.

And hopefully if we express our needs in this positive mode instead of complaining, those around us will learn from our example. Our employers, our colleagues, our children and our husbands will also reframe their "kvetch" into a positive statement.

It's not easy to have a happy marriage. 56 years takes some doing. And some mazal. And some prayer. And some willingness to not only think outside the box but to act on it as well.

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