Make Love Not War (And Four Other Tips for a Fabulous Relationship)

by Stacey on June 14, 2010

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be kind?

In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott talks about an argument she had with her then teenaged son. His behavior infuriated her and she wanted to punish him. She managed to take a few deep breaths and then shared the above thought and it has helped me so much in my marriage.

I always feel like I’m right in an argument. Always. (Um, who doesn’t?) If I share my woes with my friends and other family members, they always agree with me too. But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because I don’t live with them. I live with my husband and I’ve learned that I’d rather be kind than right. It just feels better.

Again, it always takes me implementing my #1 ground rule in an argument (leave it) before I can access any kindness, but I have so much practice at it now that it’s gotten a lot easier to do (not easy, mind you, but easier).


Ask “What Can I Do to Help?”

I give good advice. People even pay me to give it to them! But you know who doesn’t think I give good advice? My husband. He hates it. He also doesn’t like when I “share a story of what I did in a similar situation that worked for me.”

Of course, I’ve never met anyone who likes receiving unsolicited advice. Solicited advice is different, of course. But my husband never solicits it. You know what my husband does like? If he is having a hard time, all I have to do is ask, “What can I do to help?” in a thoughtful, nonjudgmental way, and he acts like I’m the most wonderful, helpful person on the planet.


Make a positive request.

I know this is a shocker, but complaining, whining, making threats and demands doesn’t go over very well with my husband. I used to say things like, “You never…and I always…and just this once would you…just do it!” with shocking regularity.

The threats and demands may have gotten him to do the thing I wanted him to do, but not once did it feel good. I’ve learned to ask, “Would you be willing to…?” and I believe that simple question has magical powers.

There is a caveat: You ask the question with a positive tone, like “Hey, I got two tickets to the ball game, would you be willing to go?” If I ask with even a hint of a stern or complaining tone, my husband gives me a look that means that I might as well have just made a threat or a demand.

Of course, it’s taken me a lot practice to get to a place where I can achieve the tone and mean it. I still even make threats and demands. This is an area where I will always be making progress and never reach perfection. But I’m glad that I found something that works and allows us both to feel good, and that’s enough for me to keep trying.


Whatever you think is being withheld…give that thing.

Another guideline that I feel is indispensible in any relationship, I learned from one of my favorite authors, Eckhart Tolle. In his fabulous and (for me) life-changing book, A New Earth, he writes, “Whatever you think people are withholding from you – praise, appreciation, assistance, loving care, and so on – give it to them.”

This guideline really goes for everything with everyone at every time. It’s also one that requires a lot of practice on my part to achieve anything approximating proficiency.

Conflict with my husband often revolves around the feeling that we don’t appreciate each other enough. As parents of a young, highly spirited child, it usually takes the form of arguing for more “me” time because “if you appreciated my contribution, you’d understand my need for more time alone and find a way to meet it.”

I argued for it because I cared for needy patients all day. He argued for it because he cared for a needy toddler all day. We used to act resentful of the time the other got “off.”

Finally we stopped looking at what was being “withheld” and simply focused on finding creative solutions to “give that thing” that would meet our needs – first, appreciation for the valuable contribution each of us was making, and second, for time alone.

Finding creative solutions to meet everyone’s needs is one of the most powerful tools you can bring to any relationship, and it’s really is an essay unto itself (and Ruthie wrote about it here).


Make time for sex.

Don’t stop reading if you’re not having sex: in my opinion (note: this isn’t my husband’s opinion), one of the greatest benefits from sex comes from the release of oxytocin.

And as I mentioned in a former article, oxytocin is a wonder drug available to everybody. It’s a chemical dispensed from your own brain when you do stuff that involves caring touch – like holding hands, getting a massage, or petting an animal.

It’s called the bonding hormone because it increases our feelings of happy connection with others. So it doesn’t just make us feel good (which my husband thinks is the greatest benefit), it truly makes us better in a relationship.

As a woman who has a very full life with a very full to-do list every day, I know I wouldn’t have sex if I didn’t schedule it. The days of making love all night are o-v-e-r. My son is a night owl and it’s rare that I have enough energy after he goes to sleep to get it on spontaneously. But I believe in the many benefits of sex and I commit to it just like anything else that’s important to me, like eating well and getting cardio.

You know what? I just realized that all of these guidelines could be distilled into one sentence that not only works well for all relationships, but in all of life too: Have fun, be kind and just be light about all of it!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

AnkitaNo Gravatar June 14, 2010 at 9:43 am

hii
i am so impressed from you blog
it’s amazing
plzz share with us more as much u can.

n ya
http://www.ankitasiddharthamishra.blogspot.com dis is the link of my blog
am a beginner plzz go through it n gv me advices of blog writing.

keep rocking frnd
all da best

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StaceyNo Gravatar June 14, 2010 at 10:22 am

Hi Ankita,

Thanks so much for your kind comments! I also feel like somewhat of a beginner – this blog is only 6 months old! I will happily check out your blog! And I think copyblogger.com has great suggestions for writing great blogs. Check it out and let me know what you think! Much love, s

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Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A LightworkerNo Gravatar June 14, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Something that took me a long time to learn is that sometimes my husband and I are just not going to agree no matter how long we argue about something. Having my opinion heard is very important to me because I was never listened to or allowed to speak about what I was feeling as a child. Let me have my say and I will shut up and even be willing to compromise. I really am okay with the results even if they are different than what I wanted as long as I am listened to. My husband and I sometimes have to agree to disagree. He is a Leo and I am a Saggitarian which means we are both very strong-willed and sometimes just down-right stubborn.

You are very wise for your years. I was still very much into acting out my incest issues at your age. Thanks for sharing that wisdom.

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StaceyNo Gravatar June 14, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Hi Patricia!

Thank you so much for your kind note! It was also a long, hard journey for me to come to the place where I no longer need people to agree with me, but, like you, it is very important to be heard.

I think that is what everyone really wants – to feel heard and valued for who you really are.

I also wrote about a conflict that didn’t lead to agreement, but did lead to mutual understanding. You can read it here:

http://www.staceycurnow.com/blog/2009/12/finding-peace/

Thanks again, Patricia, for your kind note and for sharing your experience. Much love! s

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LaurenNo Gravatar June 14, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Dear Stacey,

What excellent relationship advice. I especially like Eckhart Tolle’s statement to give the thing that you feel is being withheld. It’s amazing how that turns things around.

Also, having to be right can really damage a relationship. And, another “hit”, sex in a relationship is so important. It’s one of the things that makes our romantic relationships unique. We get to have sex!

Thanks for a great post!
Lauren

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StaceyNo Gravatar June 14, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Hi Lauren!

Thanks so much for your kind note! I’m so glad so many of the tips resonated with you! And your statement about sex is so true – I know that I can often take it for granted and your insight reminds me of how lucky I am to have it! Thanks, again, for your thoughtful and insightful comment! Much love, s

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Sandra HendricksNo Gravatar June 14, 2010 at 6:11 pm

I agree with you entirely that people balk at unwanted guidance. Even if someone complains and is in confusion or heartache, sometimes they just desire to be heard. Letting go of the need to help others overcome the problems they complain about has been a huge accomplishment in my life. I wait until I am asked to help now and my relationships are much improved.

Great blog post Stacey, I am looking forward to more.

Regards,
Sandra

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StaceyNo Gravatar June 14, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Hi Sandra!

Thanks so much for your kind comment! I love that you acknowledge what a huge accomplishment it is *not* to offer unsolicited advice even when you know someone is struggling – it really *is* a huge accomplishment!

And I love that you found that doing it has even led to better relationships! I know that I still stumble on this point, and having your story is a great affirmation for me!

Thanks again for your kind comment and sharing your experience! I hope to “see” you here more! Much love, s

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Chania GirlNo Gravatar June 15, 2010 at 1:28 pm

I loved this post, Stacey, especially for the honesty it contained. So many articles nowadays provide relationship advice yet leave one feeling like they’ve got it all figured out but you.

I love that you shared your own trials and pitfalls, what works and what doesn’t.

G and I are a new couple: we’ve only been living together for three years, only married for less than one. And we’re still figuring a lot of this out. Over time I am learning that balance is sometimes just knowing when to pick your battles. Sometimes it’s knowing when to just be kind. It’s only recently I’ve begun learning Eckhart Tolle’s stance: Give what you feel is being withheld. All a learning process.

Thank you for sharing this today.

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StaceyNo Gravatar June 15, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Hi Carla!

Thank you so much for your kind note!

It was such a relief when I realized – many, many years into my marriage! – that I didn’t need to fear conflict with my husband and now I can even appreciate that there will *never* be a time when we *don’t* have a conflict.

I now understand that the conflicts help me learn and grow and become a better person, and that’s what I hoped to share in the guidelines I posted above. Thank you, so much, for letting me know that you appreciated them! Much love, s

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GraceNo Gravatar June 19, 2010 at 5:05 pm

I just found your beautiful blog, and your writing is really making me think – thank you!

It took me years to realize that even a positive attitude didn’t help in a dialogue with my husband unless I put specific action items in the form of a request. I had become used to working with my child who responded best to “you need to” statements, and was wrapped up in being The Mom. I had to chip that away to talk to my husband as his partner. I also had to understand and accept that my husband would never react with the same level of urgency as me.

And you know what? It all is still hard work for me. Sigh.

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StaceyNo Gravatar June 19, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Hi Grace!

Thank you so much for your kind comment! I appreciate SO much that you shared that it’s still hard work for you to be in relationship with your husband.

I try to be really candid about the fact that it’s not easy for me either, so it’s always reassuring to me when others chime in about the effort it takes them. Yes, it takes an enormous amount of energy to have a fabulous relationship. But I found that we’re going to expend the energy anyway – so I might as well exert it in the direction of these guidelines.

Thanks so much for letting me know they have given you something to think about! I hope you will check back in and let us know how you are doing! Take wonderful care, s

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