Here are 4 great questions that when used well solve EVERY marriage or relationship issue.
1. Who is the one with the problem?
2. Do you love me?
3. Are you an adult?
4. Are you treating me like the prize?
Here is how this works.
Question 1. Who has the problem?
Say a husband has had a number of affairs and his wife hates it but keeps taking him back. Who has the problem? I’ll give you a clue…its not the husband.
What about a husband that wants his wife to initiate sex more and despite his requests, his wife has not changed her behaviour? Who is the one with the problem?
In the first instance, the wife is the one with the problem. She is the one who is suffering and being treated poorly. The husband keeps doing what he is doing and his life keeps working out just fine.
In the second situation, the wife thinks their sex life is just fine. She is not after more sex at all. It is the husband who feels rejected and dissatisfied.
For most people, the only way to deal with these issues is to complain, feel like nothing is ever going to change and that you must make the best of the painful situation and console yourself with pity and the moral high ground. The results is a rapid disintegration of the relationship. The real issues go unresolved and pain is suppressed till the point you can’t even look at each other any more.
No one goes into marriage looking for this to happen, but so often relationships descend into some kind of an arrangement.
It is actually a very rare thing for a couple to work out how to keep it fresh and real and avoid this happening.
In my book "Elegantly simple solutions to complex people problems" I talk more about the real reason people find themselves in these situations and then I explain the framework for getting out of them. Here is the simple summary of the clear way forward.
Rather than trying to fix your partner. Start with yourself.
A. Embrace 100% choice. I am exactly where I have chosen to be, and It has been working for me on lots of levels otherwise I would have already changed it. While this is confronting and offensive, it is also empowering because it means I have more choices and then more after those. In fact every moment is a new chance for more choices. I am here because I have chosen to be.
I love to ask couples preparing for marriage if divorce is an option. 9 times out of 10, they give me a strange look and tell me that of course it is not. They are not deciding to get married only for it to end in divorce. The only problem with that level of thinking is that if you can no longer choose to say no to someone, then you also lose the ability to say yes to them. Marriage is not based on an historical decision to say yes to someone, but on a daily decision. Divorce must be an option. If you can’t say no to someone, then you are choosing to put up with whatever behaviour they dish up for the rest of your life. You have to be OK with it. Ultimately you are telling them that there will be no consequences for treating you poorly. They can do whatever they like to you and it will all be OK. That is not marriage.
Relationships works when you embrace choice. I am here because I have chosen to be here and I want to be here and love you. I don’t have to be here and I can choose not to be here.
B. Embrace 100% responsibility. I have trained my partner how to treat me. I am responsible for the results my marriage is experiencing. Blame and excuse is far easier, but it doesn’t change anything and it is not close to being true or useful. This means I can change the results I am getting and I can change how I train others how to treat me.
C. Embrace 100% ownership of your own value and worth. I am valuable and worthwhile whether or not you like me, agree with me or think I am doing the right thing. When I no longer need validation, approval or acceptance from those in my world to tell me I am a worth while person deserving of love, I am free to operate without neediness and to live as the prize. I am not being selfish, arrogant or deliberately difficult, but it is not OK to treat me poorly.
Here's an example of applying question 1.
My wife confronted me recently about the fact that I NEVER do the vacuuming. To be honest, I hadn’t really noticed, but she probably had a point. She was quite upset about it and really felt that I should do something about it.
I told her that I’m not the one with the problem, and that in reality nothing would change until it became my problem, or more specifically she made it my problem.
This may sound offensive, but it was actually a high level, loving conversation. I was inviting my wife to make my life harder and if this was an important issue for her to use some leverage to demand that I find time to become friends with the Dyson.
The thing is, I feel like I do a good job with the housework and that I more than pull my weight with domestic duties. I like my lifestyle and I feel that the division of labour is working really well…So I have zero motivation to change. I am not the one with the problem. My wife feels that she shouldn’t have to nag me to change, that I should just want to make her happy and intuitively know when the vacuuming needs to be done and to what standard. She feels that to make me do it would be manipulative and evil.
This concept really came to a head for us however when I was the one with the problem about another issue entirely. I’ve never been a fan of my wife’s conflict techniques and feel that she is really ordinary at apologizing when she is wrong or had hurt me. It has always been an issue for me, and often it seems we end up fighting about how we are fighting rather than the issue that started the disagreement in the first place. Now she just thinks I’m being picky, and that I have a very specific formula in mind about what exact words I need to hear from her before I’ll accept her apology.
It was a classic example of this very concept and why people only change stuff when it becomes their problem.
See my wife wants me to just do the vacuuming and I just want her to argue with more skill and clarity. Yet nothing has changed in 15 years of marriage in either of these issues, not because we are trying to be difficult or deliberately hurt the one we love, it is because we are not the one with the problem. I think I do enough housework and my wife thinks she argues just fine.
Things change when we make it the other person’s problem. If one of us was to say – It is not OK for this to continue like this, and hold our ground by enforcing a clear consequence then it becomes the other persons problem and they have to find a new way to behave.
You only need to use leverage where there is resistance to change, otherwise clear consequences and the power of negotiation work just fine if both parties agree on a fair exchange. I’ll do more vacuuming because I know it is important to you as long as you approach our conflict the way I would like you to. If one of us complains, that it is unfair, i.e well I don’t want to do more vacuuming… or why should I have to do conflict the way you like, then the other person can call their end of the deal off too. It has to be fair. Both people are the prize
Question 2. Do you love me?
Obviously conflict happens because two people want different things. Often these differences seem irreconcilable because they are simple that – different. When conflict happens, it appears that you are on the opposite team and must either defeat them or be defeated. It’s a time of war. Yet war never solves conflict, it just suppresses it for a season. War is incapable of producing peace. Even if you win this time, now you have to defend your territory so that you are not defeated in the future. Peace comes through understanding and discovering commonality.
Take the Palisitine - Israeli conflict. Both sides are trying to win through agreession and defiance. "We will never be defeated. We will never forget what you have done to us and our forefathers..." Yet the war never goes away. One side gets the upper hand for a season and then the other side retaliates.
Imagine if instead of operating on the lowest level of disagreement, they related to each other on the highest level of agreement.
Both sides are made up of ordinary people trying to live a happy life and raise their kids in a safe environment. Both sides are good people trying to make life work for them and their family. Both sides want exactly the same thing.
Back to spouses at war. The conflict is due to the fact that they are relating to each other on the level of their difference from each other. What if they were to discover the why behind the what and realise that they both want the same thing. They both love each other and want to make the other person happy while being happy themselves.
It turns out they are on the same team and they want exactly the same thing. Imagine that!
When the 'Do you love me?' question is answered honestly and the answer is no, that is still very useful in solving relationship problems. - Then what are we still doing together?
Question 3. Are you an adult?
Now that we have discovered commonality. We are the same and we want the same, we can treat each other like equals and negotiate.
Now children don’t have the emotional intelligence or maturity to negotiate. If they don’t get their way, they have no capacity for plan B. Yet as a fully functioning adult of at least low to normal intelligence, you have the capacity to understand, listen, grow, change, take responsibility, create, collaborate and most importantly you can negotiate. You can find a way for both people to get what they want.
Check your motives, hold the line, use your available leverage, and then you are able to negotiate
Question 4. Are you treating me like the prize?
Would this behaviour have been OK before we were married when you treated me like the greatest treasure on earth? Would I have decided to spend the rest of my life with you? If it wouldn’t have worked then, why in the world would that behavior be OK now?
If I am the prize, then I deserve to be treated beautifully. It is NEVER ok not to treat me well.
And, as the prize, if you don't want to love me and treat me well - there are loads of other people who would be all too keen to take your place should it become vacant.
This completely rules out negotiating from a place of neediness and desperation. Which, by the way, are two of the most unattractive traits in the entire universe.
I understand that this framework is not easy, or common, but it is also not complicated. You can have incredible relationships it if you want to.