Recently we came across a blog on the Huffington Post by Carly Cylinder titled “Four Words to Predict your Marriage.” She works in the wedding planning business. While she has a degree in psychology she admits that she is not an expert but that she observes couples as they order flowers for their wedding. In her mind she makes a prediction on whether she thinks the marriage will last. She concedes that the wedding is likely all about the bride and is excited when a groom is into the planning. She predicts that the marriage will last when she hears the bride say: “What do you think?”
As we read this, we thought about how we have learned to use this phrase and the affect it has had on our marriage. As we were discussing this Bob added that Ms Cylinder didn’t explicitly say that when you ask the question you have to listen and hear what the other is saying. It takes the focus off of self and requires us to give the other the respect and thought s/he deserves. It creates a natural pause and an opening for the other to express their opinion. This is the direct opposite of what we often hear on TV and from friends and neighbors who use the phrases “Whatever she would like” or “If mamma’s happy everyone is happy.”
We have found in many ways it is quite simple to do this whether it is: “What would you like for dinner?” or “What restaurant would you like to go to?” It works especially well when we are on vacation and Bob seems to have some mysterious way of determining where he would like to eat that I can’t always figure out at first glance. We have gotten into the habit of using something our youngest son taught us to do on weekends, a specific day, or on vacation days. One year, on spring break, he began to say: “What is the POA, the plan of action?” It made all of us listen to each other and share thoughts and desires for what to do that day. When we came home he began to ask it of us on Saturday mornings. We usually had chores that each of us did and he wanted to know what we expected of him. It also allowed him to tell us what he wanted to do that day. It worked well and we began to use it with each other as well. When we were both working we would ask this of the other on Saturday morning. We could then plan individual and couple activities and not be upset with the other because of unsaid expectations. We didn’t have to wait to make our plans while we waited to see what the other wanted to do. It was our way of saying “what do you think?”
It has also become part of what we do when we are planning a decorating or redecorating project inside and outside our house. It is never what one of us wants but what we can work on together. In the end we are happiest when both of us are happy. This has also worked well when we are expressing our sexual needs and desires. It takes away from disappointments and adds to the joy. We are currently planning a vacation trip and while we each work at reading and planning the days, we come together frequently and each explain what we have come up with and then ask, “What do you think?” It has created peacefulness in our relationship and perhaps has significantly added to the success of our marriage. I wish I could remember what we said to each other as we ordered our flowers for our marriage. I know we did it together and I know Bob was involved, especially in the choosing of my bouquet. Maybe we have just been lucky to have done this all along.
In the early years of our marriage, when there was a decision to be made, I often researched and thought about an issue before we had any discussion. When the discussion started, I usually already knew what I wanted to do and didn’t give Rita a chance to express her thoughts on the subject. Her impression was that she didn’t get much to say in what we would do – I already had it figured out. That was partially true, but often I did want her input and was disappointed when she wouldn’t express an opinion. With time and some discussions about how we make decisions, I began to understand her point of view and realized that I needed to give her more opportunity for input. I learned to ask Rita, “What do you think?” before expressing my own ideas. It gave her a chance to have some real input. I also learned to introduce my ideas as possibilities, rather than as a conclusion already reached. I often say, “Have you considered this?” or “What if we would do it this way?” This invites her input, which is very helpful, and our discussions usually end in a way that allows both of us to experience hearing the other and being heard by the other. At the moment we are trying to decide what we want to do in updating our bathroom and can’t seem to come to a decision. It would be easier if we had unlimited funds. How to get it down to our budget has been elusive, but this process has kept us talking about it rather than fighting about it. Overall, it greatly reduces the tension in our discussions and increases our satisfaction with the final decisions. This process has become second nature to us and contributes to a sense of peace and calm in our relationship.
Do you have a decision-making process that works well for you? How is it like and/or different from ours? When do you use the question, “What do you think?” Please leave a comment.
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime, is available on Amazon.com. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Check out our Marriage Enrichment Programs at readabookpress.com.
Retirement can be a time of stress for marriages. Has your parish or group considered an enrichment program for seniors? We recommend lunch and a presentation. Check out our program: Aging Joyfully Together. It helps couples to set the stage for a long and happy retirement.