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4 steps to marital bliss

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Here are Jo and Mo in a relationship. Like most people in a relationship, they get frustrated with one another. Jo falls asleep on the couch. Mo doesn’t always tell Jo things in a timely way. Jo drones on and on about boring topics. Mo is too often late. And so it goes.

Now as you know, when you get frustrated, you get stressed. Then you get mad. Then you shit in the pool, and your relationship goes to hell.

It’s the shitting in the pool I want to talk about today.

Shitting in the pool is when we do things to destroy our own environment. It’s always—by definition!—a stupid thing to do, and yet we do it all the time.

Here’s how we do it in our relationships.

Jo is frustrated with Mo. They argue a bit and finally Jo snaps. “You’re almost completely useless. I don’t know why I stay with you!”

Or whatever. Jo says something that’s hurtful, poisonous, and totally not constructive. Out of frustration, of course, but still... Jo shits in the pool. From this it takes Jo and Mo days—weeks maybe—to get back to the point where they can talk about the problem they were talking about originally. But now there’s less trust and goodwill.

That’s the cost of shitting in the pool.

Now you could say it’s the cost of frustration. Well, yeah. But in fact it’s the cost of our not knowing how to deal with our frustration.

How, then, DO we deal with it?

There you are, frustrated. You want to say, “You fucking loser!” You know: to get the other person’s attention, wake them up, make them see how frustrated you are. But instead it just hurts them. And you’ve just hurt your own cause.

What you should do is this:

  1. Ask yourself how you feel. Before you pop off to your partner, identify to yourself what your feeling is. Don’t flap your gums until you know what’s going on inside you. This could take a couple of seconds or—maybe—a few days.

  2. Ask yourself what you need. Okay, these are your feelings. Now, given those feelings, what do you need? We do this all the time. We have certain feelings that make us realize we need to eat, to poop, to go to sleep, to go for a walk. Feelings are just that: the signal of a need. Babies are stuck with feelings they can’t convert into an articulated need. So they cry. But we’re not babies. And it’s these unprocessed feelings that lead us to shit in our pool.

  3. Covert your need into a something you can ask for. Okay, you’re sick and tired of your partner falling asleep and snoring on the couch every night. Your need is for that to not be the case. Fine. But what’s your ask? That they go to bed early, that is, sleep in bed, not on the couch? Or that they get more energy—somehow—so they can be company for you in the evening? What do you want that you think you might have a chance of getting and that might also satisfy you?

  4. Figure out how to ask for it to maximize your chance of getting it. For most people, there’s a magic key that unlocks their willingness to grant our wishes. With my husband, he does not like hearing about my rationales for wanting what I want, why what I want is such a good idea. What does make him eager to say yes is if I simply say, “It would make me really happy if you would...,” and then I ask for something very specific. And guess what? If you don’t know what is the magic key to your partner’s saying yes, ask them! “If I want you to do something for me, how should I ask so it’s most likely you’ll say yes?” It can be as simple as that.

So there you have it. Four simple steps for ending frustration without anyone shitting in the pool. It’s what some would call marital bliss.


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