Relationship Hacks

20th April 2010

I love this Ask MetaFilter thread on relationship hacks (via Not Martha). I recommend reading through the whole thing, but these are the points I’ve used to good effect. If you have any good advice, let me know.

-“Have a set ‘date night’ every week and don’t deviate from it unless you HAVE to. This is especially important if you have roommates or children.” –Unicorn on the Cob

-“Never yell. Heck, never even raise your voice.” –teg4rvn

-“…People often start negotiating from what they think they can get, not what they really want–so even if the other person says yes, they are still disappointed. …People should start by being honest about 100% of what they want. My partner and I use this all the time, for things big and small. ‘My 100% would be having dinner before we see the movie.’ ‘My 100% would be to move to a bigger house in two years.’
…One thing that is surprising is how often you can have your 100%–and then you feel really lucky and happy and loved. And you also have the satisfaction of knowing that you gave your partner what they _really_ wanted. On the other hand, if the 100% isn’t possible and you have to negotiate down from there you at least know that what you wanted was heard.” –Not that Girl

-“Don’t tell people they’re wrong about trivial things. Inevitably someone will insist something silly, like that Kevin Costner starred in The Fifth Element or whatnot. You’ll know they’re wrong, but saying so is just going to be taken as adversarial and lead to ill feelings that turn into fights… It’s not worth upsetting each other over something so unimportant.” –Pufferish

– “If you have friends of the indecisive sort, learn how to play 5-3-1. It’s a trick to settle the ‘where do you want to eat?’ ‘I don’t care, where do you want to eat?’ game. One partner names 5 places, the other eliminates two of those choices, and the first one eliminates the remaining two. It’s decision making in turns, and it works just as well as anything else.” –Alice Ayres

That last one has saved me hours just in the last week. Apparently I am the indecisive friend. How about you? Tell your secrets.

39 thoughts on “Relationship Hacks

  1. Sonia

    Yeah, pick your battles. I admit to correcting my husband if he’s wrong about something and always regret it. But the goody-good in me won’t let up. Good thing we always have date nights to reconcile. : }

  2. Lindsay

    Fff. Kevin Costner in The Fifth Element. That’s the kind of statement that would get you crucified in my family (and I’m not just talking about my relationship with my husband).

  3. Maggeh Post author

    Joanne, a Ford ad on my site? Is it expanding in an irritating way or something? Please me know so I can call the ad folks. Thanks.

  4. Megan

    Not Martha or someone posted a link to this a while ago, and I’m surprised at how much some of the tips stuck with me. I frequently use 5-3-1 for dinner and am learning to give myself a moment’s pause before correcting my partner on something trivial. That one’s tough – I know I’m right! – but it’s so easy to see how the forced reticence pays off.

  5. Nothing But Bonfires

    All fantastic advice, especially the 100% thing. And the 5-3-1 is going to change my life, I can feel it: I’m the indecisive friend in EVERY scenario. Best thing I ever heard was — and something I try to keep in mind pretty much every day — was this: ask yourself “Does this thing need to be said? Does this thing need to be said now? Does this thing need to be said now by me?” It has saved my bacon many a time.

  6. maureen

    We manage to stay respectful even when we are arguing, ie no sarcasm or putdowns. We use the same language norms when we are angry as we use when we are not.

  7. Sarah

    Don’t exaggerate, especially during a heated discussion.
    Also, I think of this quote often and it makes me love my husband even more, especially when we are facing tough decisions:
    Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

  8. Christina

    this little hack i learned in a “what to expect postpartum” class when i was pregnant.

    it’s about SEX. dirty, dirty SEX.

    say you want some. you turn to your partner and tell him or her where you are on the hornometer from a scale of 1 – 10. then your partner tells you where he or she is on the same scale. then you can negotiate actions that would get you to matching numbers or to some kind of hot consensus. it’s like this:
    “dude, i’m totally a 9 for you right now!”

    “well, i’m about a 3, but with a little [fill in the blank] i could easily find myself at an 8 and get it on.”

    “woooooooooooooord up!”

    it helps avoid the awkward ambiguity of mismatching numbers and any embarrassment and fear of rejection should your numbers mismatch without you having the language to talk about it.

  9. Sromeo

    You know when someone says something and you’ve never thought about it before, but you hear it and you’re like, yeah, I feel that way now? Pufferfish, I feel that way now.

    I’ve had inexplicable tension with several people in my life recently, and I realize it’s because they love picking fights about trivial things. I believe some of it comes with being a month away from graduating college; everyone needs to prove they know something better than everything else. But I just don’t fare well with that kind of fighting.

    I’m going to slip that new philosophy into a conversation soon and see if people react in a pleasurable way.

  10. Katelar

    We say “thank you” a LOT at my house. Even for things which one might not assume require thanks. Like picking up socks from the floor, and sex.

    Also, I think you should never enter an argument or uncomfortable conversation thinking you WON’T learn something. If you think that your way is the only way, you might not come to understand how your partner/friend/family member believes something else to be true.

  11. Sheri Bheri

    I have two and they’re from a stupid internet meme, so I can’t even take credit, except in application.

    You know that one, the one about “what men wish women knew”, well there are 2 points:

    *I can’t read your mind.* It’s ridiculous in it’s simplicity. My husband and I have acknowledged, explicitly, that we can’t read each other’s mind. So if I’m fuming because he’s not helping me do dishes, I ask him to help me do the dishes. And you know what? He usually just helps me do the dishes – he just didn’t realize I wanted help.

    “If I say something to you, and it can be taken two ways, and one of those ways makes you cry, I meant the OTHER way.” This one says that our basic assumption is that the other person doesn’t WANT to be mean or hurtful.

    That one works for everything. Instead of getting pissed at someone who cut me off in traffic, I assume they’re in a rush to go to the hospital to see their baby being born. In the end, it doesn’t make a difference WHAT that person was actually doing, because if I assume the “good” one, then I’m in a good mood instead of a bad mood.

    I love the 5-3-1 rule!

  12. Lauren

    My husband and I had to figure out how to argue. I was from a family of passive-aggressive types and he was from a family that yelled a few choice words and then it was over. (I would spend days being Quiet At Him and he had no idea what was wrong. Now I know I have to tell him when something is bothering me.

    Institue ‘Do Overs’. When a situation is bad, we ask if we can just start over. It’s a good habit.

    My final suggestion comes from, where he and his wife have a tradition for making a big deal when the other comes home. It’s hearwarming:

  13. Stephanie

    Well, isn’t this the most perfect bits of advice. Thanks for sharing (and my loved ones thank you, too)!

  14. Katie

    Yes to the “making a deal when your partner gets home.” For my husband and I, this just means that whoever gets home first makes a point of stopping what they are doing for a minute and getting a kiss when the other arrives. Bonus if you come to the door and say “you MADE IT!” Silly, but I agree is it a nice way to start the evening!

  15. erika

    Giving my people the benefit of the doubt is something I have to work on daily.

    My guy found and carried around 4 litters of ginger ale (incase I got altitude/motion sickness) in his back pack for a month while we hiked around South America.

    I have to remember that someone nice enough to do that is probably doing things with good intentions, even if they don’t work out that way.

  16. Miss B

    Love the 5-3-1 advice; I too am the indecisive friend, and I seem to only be friends with other indecisive sorts.

    Totally disagree with the not telling people when they’re wrong about trivial things, though. I mean, obviously, don’t do it in a mean or jerk-y way — but I would certainly want to be informed if I was spending time talking about something that was completely incorrect, even if it was a dumb little thing. Better to have one person correct you in a gentle, kind way than to have everyone you encounter with your little piece of cocktail party conversational information thinking you’re a total moron.

  17. Sarah

    Before I say something to my husband or friends, I try to stop and think, if someone else said this to them, would I want to kick some ass? If so, I better keep my mouth shut. You can’t take back hurtful things, even if you apologize for them, and I know I will regret it eventually, so I try not to say them even when the moment feels right.

  18. dregina

    My husband and I have a song called “The You Were Right Song” that we can use after a fight. The person who was wrong sings the song, and then the person who was right can then never bring the matter up in a grudging way again. The song goes:
    You were right and I was wrong
    I am weak and you are strong
    I just suck and you’re the boooooomb
    You were right and I was wrong.

    7 years and going strong.

  19. Meg

    Ohhhhh…. I love the 100% thing, very Mondo Beyondo, no?

    That said, we’re big on yelling. We have sort of monthly fights about nothing that releases tension and then we go on with things. Not sure how we’ll do that with kids, but still. Yelling is not always bad.

    And thank you. we’re big on thank yous and I appreciate XXX that you did…. all the time, everyday. Because people can’t read your mind, and they do need to know you appreciat the dinner they cooked or the bills they paid or whatever.

  20. Amy

    When my husband and I are having one of those tense days where no one can seem to do anything right, we institute a “no sentences that start with ‘you'” rule. That way, when someone is about to say “you didn’t _____” or “but you said ____” they realize as it’s coming out how that statement isn’t helping anyone. Then we start to feel pretty ridiculous about whatever we were stressed about in the first place.

  21. Sarah

    Oh my good gosh – pufferish. I’m afraid I’m often the exact opposite of this piece of advice. What a great way to articulate it, though. I’m officially going to put effort into doing this. Like, NOW.

  22. Maureen

    Lauren, my 9 year old and I do that “do over” thing. Say if we get off to a bad start when I pick him up from daycare because he forgot his jacket school or whatever, one of us will finally just say “Can we sart over?” Because who wants to start thir evening like that?

  23. e

    I have to agree with Miss B. I have a truly pathological fear of being wrong. It leads to me generally keeping my mouth SHUT unless I am dead certain I know what I’m talking about, but we are all human, and sometimes I AM wrong.

    The person I love, and who loves me, has GOT to know me well enough to be able to correct me (gently) when I get some trivial detail wrong, because it CAN and WILL throw me into an anxiety tailspin that can last for days. Tears, nervous vomiting, the works. It’s utterly ridiculous, but years of therapy and various meds haven’t made a dent in it. (If I wanted to waste your time, I could tell you about something that happened in 1987 which, for a normal person, would have vanished from their memory within ten minutes, but it STILL makes me flush, feel sick, cold sweats, shake, everything, when I think of it today.)

    Not to completely discount the advice – it IS, in general and for most people, very good advice. But I think that, as with all such tidbits, there is no “this will always work” – you need to know your partner well enough to know what will work best. If I am close enough to someone that they understand and accept my anxiety about being wrong, then it is a matter of trust on my part that they WILL correct me, discreetly and with kindness, when I make an error, and save me from the mortification of making it in front of others.

    And so on that note, my own contribution: Read all the helpful hints and tips and secret techniques, but be sure you tailor them to your own individual self and partner. (For instance, the famous “Never go to bed angry.” That doesn’t work for a lot of people, including me. The tireder I get, the more emotional I get, the more extreme everything seems, the more drama ensues. Saying, “I’m angry and hurt, but I need to sleep. I’d like to talk about this tomorrow at lunchtime,” gives me enough time to calm down, get my emotions under control, and think through my feelings and the reasons behind them. I need time to process, so then I can have a calm, reasoned, less-emotional discussion with a better understanding of the real issues, without being accused of “dwelling on it” or “dragging it back up” for trying to discuss it the next day.

    In short: Read all the advice, but keep in mind that nothing works for everyone; be sure you do what works for YOU and for YOUR partner. This goes for ANY advice, anywhere – dieting, budgeting, redecorating, raising kids – good advice is all over, but if it’s not good for YOU, it’s bad advice.

  24. Kat C

    Two things: Always assume the best in people, like Sheri Bheri said. Stemming from that, if someone is mean to you, never assume that it has to do with you. This helped me deal with so many mean people when I was working a cash register in retail.

    Second thing: if you are having a disagreement, stick to that one thing you were disagreeing about in the first place. Don’t bring in other stuff, like “Yeah? Well I hate it when you do ” It gets exponentially more difficult to resolve things when you’re pulling every weakness and issue out at once and tying them into a big ball of blame.

  25. die Frau

    Wow, and it’s my anniversary today, too. Thanks! Perhaps I was meant to come here….

    I LOVE the 100%, the 5-3-1, and Nothing But Bonfires’ advice about opening and shutting one’s mouth.

    We really try to talk about what angers us BEFORE letting it seethe and fester inside us, even if it’s something stupid. So much of what my husband and I argue about ends up being misunderstandings because one of us didn’t speak up.

    I also take to this advice for all arguments: Do not use the words “always” or “never”, as in “I always have to do the dishes!” or “You never listen!”. Disagreeing can clear the air but not when it’s punctuated with exaggeration.

  26. amanda

    I have been using the 100% advice in all sorts of contexts and it’s very clarifying. A few new-business partnerships have been popping up as possibilities and I have explained the 100% rule. I want to know what the partner’s 100% is in order to make this happen. Now, we may only get 90 or 80 or less but at least we know where the top is — that’s the goal.

    (Oh, and Erika’s comment made me sniffle — what a great guy!)

  27. Elsa

    When I first read the 5-3-1 tip, my mouth dropped open in awe at its simplicity, and we used it that very day. Instead of dithering over possibilities until I was in a red haze of suppressed murderous low-blood-sugar rage, we suddenly had A) a plan; B) food!

    My own little relationship smoothers are pretty simple:

    – remember you’re on the same team, even when you’re fighting. Fighting isn’t about winning; it’s about finding a solution for the team.

    – the first one home should make a big deal over the second one. Stop what you’re doing, greet them, make a bit of a fuss. (I learned this one from Steve.)

    – Say “please” and “thank you” and “I love you.” Avoid “never” and “always.”

    And I use the same assessment as Sarah above: “if someone else said this to them, would I want to kick some ass?”

  28. dgm

    Our household uses the same three, Elsa, and I think it fosters a dynamic of trust and respect. I will add an important one that works in so many different types of relationships: we call it “Ignoring Powers Activated!” for those times when it is sooooooo tempting to let someone bait you into drama or into behaving less civilly than you would otherwise wish to.

    Additionally, this one from that guy who did the “5 Love Languages” book: know your own love language (i.e., the type of expression by another that fills your love tank–is it physical affection? gifts? acts of service? quality time? words of affirmation?) and know the language of those you love so that you can show them you love them in a way they understand. For example, my son is very, very physically affectionate and giving him a hug “fills him up.” My daughter loves to give her friends little gifts (nothing expensive–sometimes it’s just a picture she has drawn). It makes her soooooo happy if I come home with a little trinket or poem or something tangible that shows I’ve been thinking of her.

  29. tüp bebek

    – remember you’re on the same team, even when you’re fighting. Fighting isn’t about winning; it’s about finding a solution for the team.

  30. Sarah

    This is all fantastic advice. As for 5-3-1, I’ve been 3-2-1-ing it since high school, and it’s the best way to make any sort of dinner/bar decision.

    I like Holly’s advice about knowing when to keep your mouth shut. That’s one I try to remember but never remember enough.

    In my own romantic relationship, we always try to fight from a place of kindness. It’s fine to argue, or even get really angry, just so long as you never let it get nasty.

  31. Pamela

    It’s no secret, but one of the best things you can do for your relationship is to learn how to make a sincere apology. Hint: “I’m sure IF…” is not a sincere apology. It looks a little something like this: “I’m sorry”. Then the offended person prattles on and you say, “I’m sorry”. I don’t know if you watched the Real Housewives of OC where Lynn’s husband Frank lied to her about their financial situation, but I was seriously cheering because that man – whether or not you liked what he did – KNOWS how to make a sincere, heartfelt apology.
    And omg, I’m quoting reality television.

  32. ArgentAzure

    When we have to have extremely uncomfortable conversations, like a fight or an argument or stating a desire that we think the other person will hate us for, my significant other and I make it into a story in the third person. “There’s this girl, and she really likes this other girl, and the first girl feels [blah] about [blah], but is afraid to tell her girlfriend.”

    It’s always easier to solve other people’s problems than to solve your own, and pretending it IS someone else’s problem actually works pretty well. (I should point out in all fairness that we’re both fiction writers.) In addition, saying something in third person is a signal between us that a) whatever we’re discussing is something that might be emotionally fraught and that the conversation starter doesn’t want to hurt the conversation joiner, and b) that the person bringing it up wants the person responding to take extra care with her, the bringer-up’s, feelings because the topic is uncomfortable. It’s worked every time.

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