Book Review: Getting To Yes

Book Review: Getting To Yes

Boy has it been way too long since I’ve done one of these. Sorry about that! For whatever reason, over the last couple of months I’ve found it hard to read at all, much less get through material as certainly dry as self-help genre stuff. On that note Getting To Yes isn’t generally found in the self-help section, but rather the business section. If I could make a simple and critical point however, many things in our lives are negotiations and especially our relationships and even more especially when they go south. So I’m not just going to review this book, I’m going to give you some advice on how to use it. The latter half of that sentence may have tipped you off, this is going to be a positive recommendation.

“Facts, even if established, may do nothing to solve the problem”

If I could describe Getting To Yes in a nutshell it would be to compare it to a book I’ve reviewed previously, What Makes Love Last, by John Gottman. Basically, the material in Getting To Yes is called principled negotiation, and it’s the basis for the negotiation techniques Gottman encourages you to employ to repair and retain trust, Getting To Yes is however more comprehensive. To put it another way, What Makes Love Last could be considered the application of Getting To Yes as strictly applied to romantic relationships.

I’m being a little simplistic in that statement, which isn’t entirely fair to either book, but that’s a quick and comprehensive tl;dr for Getting To Yes. On that note, Getting To Yes is a far more comprehensive explanation of principled negotiation while managing to come in a smaller, more condensed and quicker to read package. Throughout this review, I have peppered memorable quotes from Getting To Yes that I thought would have been helpful to include in What Makes Love Last.

“Give them a stake in the outcome by making sure they participate in the process”

Now for the cover critique, or should I say cover appreciation. Since Getting To Yes isn’t strictly a self-help section book it mercifully comes with a cover that can actually be read in public without drawing attention to yourself. Bye bye lipstick red covers, suggestive fruit, and vulva purses. You could actually be forgiven for casually reading this in a coffee shop, or on a lunch break at work, physically, sans the protection of an e-reader and its coverless covertness. What a breath of fresh air that is.

“…some people begin by announcing that their position is an issue of principle and refuse even to consider the other side’s case. ‘It’s a matter of principle’ becomes a battle cry in a holy ware over ideology.”

The prose is deadpan, dry, but well written. It’s what you’d expect from a book focused on business deals and other similar negotiations but at the very least it’s not laborious to get through or especially hard to read. The book is small in physical dimension, and while 200 pages is already fast to get through, the fact that the pages are also small and the font is still large enough to comfortably read, and adding in some white space for the generously peppered formatting, reading Getting To Yes can be done in an afternoon easily. One of my metrics for scoring any self-help book is how quickly the contents can be digested and put to use, and Getting To Yes scores very high here.

Cost is another serious metric to consider. If a certain book is 40 bucks but there are two other books for fifteen each that cover the topic more helpfully and more completely I’ll generally give the nod to the two. It’s an opportunity cost to read a book, and combined with the length and difficulty of the read it can make one book not worth reading over two or even three others. Getting To Yes knocks this one out of the park as well, usually under 20 bucks, but at the time of writing, UNDER EIGHT on Amazon for the paperback.

“If you want the other side to accept a disagreeable conclusion, it is crucial that you involve them in the process of reaching that conclusion”

So that’s the short of it, and that’s why Getting To Yes comes with a quick and strong recommendation. There’s something else I’d like to talk about though, that really makes this book very useful for me, and highlighted by a recent catastrophic failure to use the techniques therein—though I am unsure if that would have effected the outcome of said event.

Here’s the thing. You don’t need advanced negotiating techniques about unimportant things. You don’t necessarily need to know the difference between positional and principled negotiation to win the battle of the pizza toppings. You may win more battles of pizza toppings with such techniques, but losing the pizza topping battle isn’t a hill many of us are willing to die on in the first place and I hope something many of us wouldn’t even consider ‘losing’.

When an argument gets serious, consequential, and important however it also tends to be emotionally charged, and like many of you, that emotional charge on its own may rid me of the use of my toolbox of knowledge. Stress physiologically takes us out of our executive function and puts us into more primitive modes of thinking. I’m the good guy, you’re the enemy, at least, that’s what the stress is making me think. If you’re the source of my stress you’re dealing with the same part of my brain that teaches me how to deal with a hungry lion. People vary in this response, some freeze, some flee, some fight. I fight. This gets us into a bit of a circular conundrum. If the best time to use this knowledge is the time I’m least able to access the areas of my brain that contain it, how is it useful?

I don’t have a specific answer for that, but I know that for someone as prone to emotional flooding as I am, I’m going to need some sort of technique, some trick, some device, that backs me out of flooding the moment I hit it, because anything less is too late. The other participant in the conversation willing, I can postpone or even stop needless suffering while I recompose and remember all this training I’ve put myself through. I don’t have that technique yet, and I’m going to have to practice it once I come up with one. My major point here is that simply knowing this stuff may not be sufficient for you to start employing it. I flood very quickly relatively to my circumstances. General levels of pre-exisitng stress will effect how quickly each of us emotionally floods compared to our normal rate. But if your rate is generally high like mine, neither What Makes Love Last or Getting To Yes is going to help you when you need it the most. Practice detecting flooding in yourself, and in others, and have others, and particularly those that care about you the most, practice detecting flooding in you. Build a safety net, and use it, and then by all means, leverage what you learn in Getting To Yes.

How We Met

How We Met

picture by: Ali Yahya

So a reader asked me a question the other day that sorta floored me. I could have sworn I had told the story of how I met Emily already, but I so haven’t. That’s something that needs fixin’.

I had just been evicted. I had been out of my parents house for about four years and hit a pretty bad snag, and was headed back. I had no job, no income at all, I was already living paycheck to paycheck prior to losing my job and even then just barely. I also had a reputation among friends and family of being the reliable one. I wasn’t feeling very reliable now. My brother had invited me to a night out to just chill somewhere. That was something I rarely got to do anymore, he’d offered to foot the bill. I would have normally said no, gotta keep that life going, gotta take care of the things I’m responsible for. A part of me felt like I should only be focusing on getting back on my feet, but I was feeling so low I didn’t even want to live up to my own expectations, so I said yes.

My entire value system was up for grabs at this point, all of me was on shaky ground. I took my beat up old truck, and what little gas I had left, and set out to just waste some time with my brother and his pals. I was thinking a few things, like that I’d never amount to anything or escape this place, but I tried to put those thoughts aside and have a good time. Things started getting weird pretty quick. See my brother and I have this dynamic, we just get silly with each other, and we were both pretty low on sugar and were acting pretty punchy as a result. Somehow we ended up in my brother’s friend’s recently rented out space he’d be using for a second hand book store. I was working again, as a volunteer, a jobless volunteer. Well, I guess that’s how you get known for being reliable. Anyway, as I was saying, my brother and I were being pretty silly. There were ancient computer parts, even by those standards, sitting in several boxes in this space and they had to be disposed of. We went through them one by one to make sure we weren’t tossing anything useful. My brother and I came across some old processors and stuck them in our foreheads until they stuck, and pretty soon we were throwing the expansion cards like ninja stars into the corrugated box, trying to get those to bury themselves in it. We’d shout “NINJA STAR!” as we did so.

As these stories often go, my brother’s friend had a girlfriend, and she’d always been a miserable person around us. See, our friend wasn’t that good at communication and would often schedule his dates on D&D night, and we ended up having to put up with an understandably pouty and bitchy person almost every session for a few weeks at this point. We did not like her, she did not like us, and she was coming over with her sister to introduce her to some guy. Good, I thought, she’ll be busy and out of our hair. The girlfriend really wasn’t my type and I really didn’t wanna deal with two of them. So as I was winding up another add-in board to toss into the now shredded cardboard box, the girlfriend walks in with sister in tow, and I stop dead in my tracks. How in the fuck were these two related?! She was petite, she was cute, and despite her very hot-topic get up I could tell she was gorgeous, and she was smiling at me. I had been straight up caught and I knew it, I could feel the obviousness in my expression and my arm was frozen mid-throw anyway, I did about the only thing I could think of and resumed the throw, “Ninja Star!”. Emily giggled. She fucking giggled. I hadn’t totally torpedoed myself! I recalled that she was here to meet someone, and I decided I was going to take their place. That was another one of my values up for grabs tonight. I was out looking for a one night stand for the first time in my life.

As luck would have it, Emily and her sister seemed more interested in helping with the bookstore than meeting that other dude. I caught his name in conversation, small town, I knew him, and he was a loser. Now I’m pulling double duty, I’ve gotta get in to this girl’s pants and at the very least I’ve gotta keep her away from that creep show. We’re trading glances regularly at this point and finding excuses to talk to each other. Now we were painting the walls. I gave zero fucks about all the unpaid work I was doing, it was more time to spend with Emily. Turns out her 18th birthday is in 2 days. Sweet, add cradle robbing to the night’s goals. I didn’t think the sister would be much of an obstacle, after all she was prepared to put her on a date with that guy, couldn’t be too concerned about me, but she stayed attached to her sister at the hip, obviously irritated that we were hitting it off.

We took a break from working to grab some food. We ended up going to this cheap local pizza buffet. My brother said he would cover me, but he wasn’t exactly made out of cash, so this seemed efficient. Emily complained about the quality of the pizza, so I directed her to the desert pizza bar, which was actually pretty damn good. I walked up there with her, told her what my favorites were, and she dutifully piled everything I was pointing out into her plate. Old episodes of Pokemon were on the televisions, the place was primarily targeted to parents after all, and Emily obviously enjoyed it. We talked about it together, I got super nerdy about it—shocker I know—and started talking about all the math involved in the game if you actually wanted to tell the difference between good and bad Pokemon. She actually enjoyed that conversation, this deal just kept getting sweeter all the time, but I knew I wasn’t going to get a chance with her alone tonight, not at the rate things were going.

Painting resumed and we kept making conversation, she mentioned a very bad experience with D&D at her high-school with boys who seemed primarily in sexualizing her, actually attacking her in the game if she had a problem with their gross behavior. She was craving coffee but was a messy painter and would have to do significant washing to get her own, so I offered to get her coffee. This used bookstore was kinda nestled in a hippy commune, there was some damn good coffee that was just free to take, piping hot. The guy that ran the cafe just liked it that way. I got her coffee black, having neglected to ask her how she took it. I figured that if she took it black and I put cream in it I couldn’t undo that, but that if she wanted those things, I could always go back and add them. Sure enough, she didn’t take her coffee black.

“Well why don’t you come with me, since you’re so messy and tell me how to do it, I can’t recall everything that’s available over there.”

So she followed me back to the coffee nook and showed me how to make her coffee the way she liked it. I wondered aloud why she tolerated that behavior she talked about earlier, neither of us really remember the answer aside from the fact that she lamented not having the books again because she’d like to use the inspiration in her own art work. She really fancied the artwork in those books. Of all the nights not to have those in tow. So I just straight up offered to go get them from the house, a good 25 minute drive one-way, and she accepted. I thought that was perfect, at the very least if she’s a decent person and plans on returning this property that guarantees a second encounter, worth the gas in my estimation. Off I went.

On the way back I sorta wondered about the possibility that her sister took the opportunity to scram and take Emily with her; I was kinda kicking myself for not getting her number or discussing that possibility. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find her still painting, though they were packing it in for the night. I showed her the book and she squealed with delight and we just wouldn’t shut up about it. She mentioned that she’d be back at this place in 2 days, it’s where they were celebrating her birthday. No need to ask for a number now, I thought. I’ll see Emily in 2 days, that’s when I’m going to make my move, they’ll be staying the night.

I attempted to say goodbye, but Emily walked me back to my truck and I had zero problems with that. Just before I asked her myself, her sister, hanging back a good 20 feet blurted out, “Hey Emily, you going home with him tonight?!” in a mocking tone. Emily was clearly and visibly embarassed, and stammering. I just smiled at her. She shuffled sheepishly back towards her sister and we said our goodbyes.


I was nervous on Saturday. I had no idea what kind of party this would be or how it would go. There sure were a lot of guys here, guys I knew, these were my friends. Huh. I hadn’t thought about it prior, but Emily was celebrating her birthday with just her sister and her sister’s social circle. None of Emily’s friends were to be found tonight, and honestly, sitting here typing this, I’m only beginning to realize how odd that sounds. My brother was here too, for his friends sake, because Emily’s sister would be there with her boyfriend.

A television was set up and there was a giant half-circle of couch around it. I parked my butt next to her butt and she didn’t seem to mind. We smiled at each other. It seemed the night was already going well. We watched some anime and some Invader Zim, and we cuddled. As luck would have it, I actually did enjoy those things, and we were able to keep ourselves entertained while the rest of the “guests” got bored. Eventually her sister stood up and reminded her of the next activity on the docket, which was cake. I thought that was harmless and I really wanted to wish her a happy birthday too. Apparently this was timed at her actual birth hour. I wasn’t prepared for after-cake though, neither was Emily.

Her sister reminded her of something else she’d agreed to do. See, before she had really thought about me being there, or before she knew I was a thing, Emily had told her sister she wanted to see what was inside of a sex shop. I went white on the inside, and did my best not to show it. Emily definitely went visibly pale. Well this was going to be awkward, but it wouldn’t be my first time in a place like that, maybe I could actually make this more comfortable for her than the first time I set foot in one of those places. Clearly though, she was now nervous about her own idea.

When we arrived we were sorta doing everything as one large group. The store clerk seemed somewhat annoyed at us, already knowing why we were there. I suppose they saw the birthday groups a lot, they never buy anything. I sure as hell wasn’t going to buy anything. Emily knew I was single and I was not about to put my intentions on the table in such an obvious and crude fashion, she seemed damned innocent. Emily seemed into me enough as it was so adding unnecessary risk with a move like that felt dumb. Her sister was going out of her way to embarrass her in the store. We got to the novelty section with the life sized forearm and fist. I actually had to avoid eye contact because I didn’t want to show I was into that sort of thing. We had been dodging each others eyes the whole time in there, and it was obvious because of how much they were meeting prior. I decided to break from the group and just stare into the wall of porn with a hundred yard gaze. Somehow, Emily managed to duck out of the group in a few minutes and joined me. She of course, asked what I was looking at. At this point, I’d like to thank my grandfather for teaching me how to heckle newscasters, because those skills were just about to come in handy. I looked over the porn wall, “oh, I’m just looking at all these ridiculous names, here, take a look at…”. I forget the punchlines, so did she, but I started relentlessly making fun of all of the titles of the porn on the wall, and the tension eased. I even think I recall us making it to the leggings/skimpy outfit section—Amazon didn’t exist for that yet—and she told me how much she liked the idea of a corset. Even then Emily knew how to get to me, just this time I’m pretty sure it was unintentional. At some point, that wrapped up, the details of this memory get fuzzy in places, but I know we left the store both thanking our lucky stars that we hadn’t managed to scare the other off.

I got Emily more coffee from the cafe, and we settled in for some more Zim marathon. No one could say shit, birthday girl’s party. Almost everyone else had fallen asleep, it was just us, and her sister. We were staring into each others eyes something heavy, and after a few minutes her sister had to get Emily’s sleeping place ready. They hadn’t had the good sense to do that prior. I asked for a kiss while we were briefly alone and she shrank back and squeaked out a yes. There was so much I wanted to do with, and to Emily but she clearly wasn’t ready. I think that’s when I set aside my expectations for sex. I would later learn that there was also a lot she wanted to do to me but was too chicken. 8 years later I would learn that I hadn’t been concealing that boner as well as I thought. But man, that was a great kiss. Soft, slow, romantic. We were well finished by the time her sister returned, but seeing her sister return put a Cheshire grin on Emily’s face. I think she thought she got away with murder.

That was a restless night for me. Just prior to Emily being escorted to her makeshift bed her sister gave me all but a speech on how closely that room would be watched and how locked it was. Please, that’s an interior door and there’s no way I couldn’t get past it, and I wanted to say that so bad. I spent until 3am trying to figure out if I was going to get past it. At one point, I even walked up with the thought to knock. It was 0130 and I stopped for a few reasons. It was late and I didn’t want to annoy her—though it turns out she was awake—and I also didn’t want to risk waking her sister. I could definitely get past that rudimentary lock, but that seemed kinda….very aggressive, but knowing I could presented a temptation. Years later, Emily would remark it was a good thing I hadn’t, because I probably would have gotten exactly what I wanted if I had.

Despite not getting to sleep until 3, I was the first one awake that morning. Shortly afterwards Emily was out and about. It was roughly 6:30 in the morning. Naturally, I got us both coffee. I found the computer the cafe owner had briefly played music from the night before, pulled up YouTube and found Desperado. I sang it to her. She had no idea how much that song applied to me in that moment, but she loved that I was singing it to her. A bit after that, everyone else started waking up. I hadn’t gotten my second kiss yet, she was too embarrassed that someone might find out the extent that she’d already fallen. She was the only one in the dark though, and that became a meme later. I still tease her about how long it took her to figure out that we were dating.

Everyone had breakfast, and Emily’s sister reminded her it was time to go. Her parents were expecting her back soon and they were reluctant (rightly so it turns out!) to have her spend her birthday that way in the first place. We were in the middle of another conversation about nothing as we headed out of the complex, she basically demanded a hug goodbye, where she promptly decided to take a deep sniff of my hair. I think she thought she was being sneaky, but I wasn’t going to say anything, I was content to let her think she wasn’t noticed. Her sister however, guffawed, “Oh Emily did you just smell his hair!?”.

Emily turned red. I just smiled and said my goodbyes. 13 years later, it’s been a hell of a one night stand.

The Fantasy List

The Fantasy List

Communicating about sex isn’t always easy. Emily and I come from different backgrounds, had different levels of sexual experience when we met, and we have vastly different communication skills and styles. Given how unique individual lives are, I imagine there are more couples like us than not. Then you have the mind-reader syndrome, where couples that have been together a while start assuming their minds are being read.

“We’ve been together X years you should know this about me by now!”, a common refrain.

Sure, there were things Emily and I learned about each other through osmosis. You are going to learn things about your spouse simply by being with them, but as I like to remind Emily, there was a time before I met her and before she met me. That little fact seems so easy to forget after the years pile on. Not only do you become unable to imagine a future without them, you become unable to imagine anything without them, including your past, and you can forget that there was a life before your spouse.

So at 8 years into the marriage, having known each other for 11, we decided to get down and seriously talk about sex. I was starting to feel a bit caged, not for a lack of some other fancy woman that I imagined existed somewhere but because I didn’t feel free to express all of my sexual desires within’ the marriage. Emily isn’t the greatest at opening up, and I was her first and remain her only sexual partner. She had no prior experience to compare ‘us’ to so everything seemed normal, it was all she had. Not to put all the blame on her, I avoided communicating certain things because I had tastes outside of what I thought she’d consider acceptable. Guilty as charged in the sandbagging department.

I suggested an exercise, where we write down all of our sexual fantasies and preferences (at a 10,000 foot level) where we couldn’t observe each other and then swap sheets at the same time. We were to mark off the ones the relationship was fulfilling, and also mark any we felt were fantasy only as they’d wreck the marriage. My list had 28 items, hers had 8. A few things about this stuck out to me. One, I had suspected that she lacked the sexual vocabulary and experience to really consider her own wants. Due to me being her one and only, everything we did was so normal it escaped her notice. Two, she was absolutely flabbergasted at the number of things I had on my list, and more still at how few of them had check marks.

I remarked to her as I read her sheet. “I thought you were also into….” and she’d respond “That felt so normal I didn’t consider that a preference”. We eventually got her list up to 13 and finally it seemed to describe her, and all of her boxes had check marks. More than half of mine did not. Emily actually shed a tear or two, I encouraged her not to, to no avail. I actually wasn’t all that upset about the check mark count, I had realized long before the exercise that It was my job to communicate these things and I hadn’t done so. Emily however, had misplaced feelings of dereliction of duty, especially in light of the fact that a lot of those empty check boxes struck her as a lot of fun. We went over the list, willing to try, not willing to try, marking them as we went, and much to my astonishment, most of them she was willing to try, even the ones regarding exhibitionism (I thought there was no way in hell).

And the rest was history, so they say. I regret waiting until so far into ours to figure out how to get all my sexual skeletons into the open and out of the closet, even in my own marriage. I’m not advocating a specific method, the one we used is very us, but if it sounds like it would work for you by all means crib it, but I wanted to remind you all today that sexuality is something you need to figure out how to talk about and discuss openly, even if you need a few mental tricks to get you there. How scary is a ‘no’ to something you’re already not doing anyway?

Until next time.

Featured Photo by Jay on Unsplash

She Needs to Feel Sexy

I used a word as strong as need intentionally. We’ll get to that in a second.

So I was reading through some posts on Ashley Danielle’s page and she had something up about picking a sexy dress out for Vegas. As she was communicating her desire to feel sexy—which in itself is the emotion of feeling sexually desirable—I recalled moments when my wife expressed the same thing.

The thing I remembered in particular was when Emily was having body image issues after our third child. Yes, some things happened to her body that she felt were less attractive, but she was focusing on those to the point she couldn’t see the beautiful woman that she still is. My attempts to convince her otherwise weren’t working. In our case we did something a bit drastic, risky, but something I was real confident about. Emily is a stunning woman, pregnancy battle scars included, and she was not only succumbing to a negative internal image but her photoshop detector wasn’t working properly either. She couldn’t really perceive the laughably harsh soft filtering on pictures of models and insta. I just happened to be learning photoshop at the time.

So I did two things. One, and this is admittedly extreme, I got her to throw her image out to the harsh judgement of the internet, something I assured her would be positive despite its reputation, and I was right. The next thing I did was take a picture of her, and photoshopped it until it looked like what I was seeing through my husband goggles. For some reason, that maneuver really punched through, though the first thing also did its job very well. Emily started to feel confident and sexy again.

I think that’s an emotional need that often isn’t treated as seriously as say, the need to be loved. There’s a little insecurity in accepting praise at face value from your spouse. How can your wife be assured that you aren’t just trying to avoid the couch after all? By seeking the honest validation of strangers she can be assured that your praise is not a white lie. A little black dress is more than an outfit, it’s a reminder with each noticed sideways glance that your desire for her may be based on something more tangible than just aiming to please, it will let her accept the idea that you actually desire her, the way a stranger might. I guarantee you, that will make her feel better about her body, and it will turn her on. She needs to feel sexy because she wants to know you want her. Deny yourself the benefits at your own peril.

That Time My Brother Hated My Wife

So this is a thing I don’t often speak of, but it’s pretty darn relevant to this blog. What do you do when a family member dislikes your spouse? Depends on what kind of family you have, ultimately. I consider what happened between my brother and I to be about as good as that could have gone. I don’t think there’s a method or trick or rule that’s going to solve this problem for everyone that experiences it so I’m just going to share the story as is and my feelings about it and let you make up your own mind from there.

James and I always had a very different experience with women as we grew up. I’m not sure if it’s because of luck or because he’s more attractive or because we were aiming different. Perhaps I was more naive. I was under the strong belief that it wasn’t worth wasting my time on temporary pair bonds. I was in it to get married and have children from the word go. There were girls I found highly attractive in middle school, but I didn’t want to be with them, there’s no way that was going to last. I kept that opinion until my Jr. year or so of high school. I started looking for mates, not girlfriends. Turns out that was a little early to get started too, at least with that stated goal. Looking back that seems obvious to me. James on the other hand was quite successful with the temporary pair bonding and didn’t seem to want for a longer term arrangement and especially not children.

James rarely approved of my girlfriends. The first was a strict, “you can do better” and he was right. In fact, those words ended that relationship. Actually at this point I feel I should point out that I’m not just the older of the two of us, I’m the eldest sibling. My brother’s opinions carry lots of weight, always have. Emily got a much better approval rating, which is to say that James didn’t voice disapproval until after the marriage. Here’s where things get interesting, and perhaps instructive. This story could end up being more useful to the people doing the disliking than the recipients.

The timelines on this are really fuzzy, so I’m going to try and just stick to the narrative order of events here. For instance, I can no longer remember if James first voiced his opinions before or after his nephew was born (One of the reasons for starting this blog was to get those things out before they were completely forgotten). I do however remember being physically in his presence when he broached the subject. He had lived out of town for a while at this point and was visiting for some reason. He waited until he was with me physically and we were alone to break it to me. That wasn’t too difficult, one of our favorite past times is taking long lonely walks together.

James told me that he was sure Emily was a good wife and didn’t mean to disparage our relationship—waiting until after the marriage was pretty good evidence of that I thought—but that he just couldn’t stand being around her and that he hated her. Hate has been a diluted word for some time and I knew at the time and from his tone of voice that what he really meant was strong dislike. He couldn’t stand her attitude and being around her was an exercise in restraint, which he demonstrated admirably.

I kinda felt sorry for James, not quite pity but sorry for him. I wasn’t angry, but I wanted him to like my wife. Who doesn’t want their brother to like their wife? Heck, who doesn’t want their friends to like their wife? I knew however, that the way he was telling me and the timing with which he broke it to me indicated that there wasn’t any use in trying to change his mind. Both of us obviously thought it was in everyone’s best interest not to relay that opinion to my wife, but that I should be mindful of it when arranging get-togethers and that sort of thing. For his part, James didn’t seem angry or resentful either, just solemn, almost like relaying a sad story from a newspaper. I’m not sure he knew what to do with those feelings. I was just going to give it time. I assured him sincerely that it wouldn’t affect our relationship.

That’s the thing about being brothers, we’re stuck with each other for a while. At least, we are in my family. Who else is going to keep you honest? Family has to be able to tell you things you don’t want to hear, it’s the test on whether you really care about someone. If you can’t disapprove of really bad decisions when it really matters, the way James did with my first shot at a relationship, when can you disapprove of them? Is your capacity to care about someone limited to brow beating them about how many calories are in that snickers bar or other social niceties? Well then you probably aren’t really looking out for them as well as you should, at least that’s how I view it. Actually yeah, a side bar on our particular family dynamic may be instructive here.

I’m well aware that not all families work that way, and I’ve noticed that the more broken a family is the more the individual members tend to subscribe to the idea that friends can be family. Stable and strong families like mine tend to subscribe to the blood is thicker than water mantra. I can’t say I’ve done any sort of study on that or anything, that’s just been my life experience. We do however have research on how real mom can make stepmom’s life hell just by existing. Worth thinking about. Seems a pretty obvious explanation to me really, absent a genuine family bond there’s no reason to value that relationship over a good friendship. I can guarantee you though, that families that get it right are experiencing a more powerful and more useful bond than any friendship could. I have plenty of both. Perhaps your family isn’t so close, you can break that cycle. Emily’s family has some problems, they backbite, have petty squabbles over inheritance, some even steal from the elders outright—I mean actual petit theft. These things are unheard of on my side. I told Emily that her family’s behavior ends with our home and our generation; she likes that idea.

My family is the only group of people I can count on to always have my best interests at heart whether they are praising me or knocking me down a few pegs because we’re stuck with each other until we die. That attitude tends to keep needless fights at bay and motives on the right course. They’re not going to spite me out of jealousy, but they can also be counted on not to be sycophants. There sure were fights though, not to get too deep into that but don’t think I’m trying to paint some idealistic picture of a family here. I’m just commenting on the nature of the bond itself. We have fights, and when we do it’s intense and bitter and feelings are really hurt. Those fights tend not to be needless and those criticisms almost always have truth buried in them, perhaps that makes them hurt more. The strength of those bonds let James and I keep our cool.

James didn’t disapprove of my relationship with Emily, he just couldn’t like her, but he could have disapproved, and I would have listened. That doesn’t mean I’d have left her, I didn’t drop my first girlfriend just like that, I gave that plenty of thought, but I’d question the motives of any non-family member for telling me such things out of the gate. I can count on my family to come from a position of looking out for me as their sincere motive. That means my spouse can be a source of disagreement between my brother and I without turning into a source of conflict. That’s why adding Emily to my family came with a ceremony and vows. Words of adoration and good sentiment aren’t good enough.

Patience ended up winning out and eventually James came to like Emily without any persuasion or brow beating from me. Time and exposure. He came to like certain qualities about her. Indeed, when James switched gears and started dating with marriage in mind he suddenly noticed qualities about Emily that lent themselves to such a relationship and was suddenly very appreciative of them. James simply couldn’t see them before because his goals were different. Ultimately, family thing aside, that’s why I was able to take his initial criticisms of Emily in stride. His outlook on relationships and their purpose was obviously different, and that was okay. He also didn’t turn his personal feelings in a mission to change me or Emily. He said his piece and left it alone.

Disagreements like this don’t always go so smoothly, but they can. Hope that’s helpful, or that you enjoyed the read at the very least.

Rule 4 and Social Media

Rule 4 and Social Media

I recently finished 12 Rules For Life – An Antidote to Chaos and reviewed it. Typical of all of my other book reviews, I don’t judge the content so much inside of the review of the book. I might as well be telling you how to think. My main concerns in book reviews are to determine whether or not the book is digestible and useful especially in the context of self-help. When I want to take some of the content and talk about it, i’ll branch that off into another blog, and that’s what we’re doing today.

When I first read rule 4 , which is…

“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, do not compare yourself to who someone else is today.”

My first thought when I read that was about social media, which not only tricks people into breaking the rule but adds special little nasty tricks of its own. Our phones and other devices absorb us into a kabuki version of reality, where you only see the bright white mask that others want you to see. Everything else is blacked out and can’t be seen in the dim lighting of the theater. People chase likes, re-blogs, up-votes; our most popular social platforms are engineered to get the participants to seek validation from others.

Now I’m not saying these can’t be useful metrics for content creators. Sure, I take a look at where my likes and my follows sit, but I follow rule 4, I only compare those numbers to where they were when the blog started, or where they were a month ago. That was actually a foundational principle of managing this blog. I wouldn’t compare myself to people that already had 40,000 followers, I was concerned about just getting to 5. You’re not going to do yourself any services comparing yourself to pewdiepie the day your YouTube channel starts, but for many of us the comparisons run deeper and more insidious than just numbers of likes, follows, and shares. You compare your real life to the carefully curated profiles of family and friends or even strangers on social media. This is the real life only you know about, not just the darker moments but the darker thoughts. You’re not just violating rule four, you’re comparing yourself against people that don’t actually exist.

Social media profiles are the photoshopped versions of someones life—many times literally. Many highlight only the good and hide the bad. The ones that include the bad nevertheless hide the shameful. There’s a difference between announcing a breakup and announcing that it was your fault too. Generally, when people share bad moments on social media it’s for the same reason they share the good, for affirmation, and it comes with the same filters. Comparing yourself to these people, even people you trust, is like comparing yourself physically to some photoshopped super model on the cover of Sports Illustrated or Vogue or, well, pick your poison.

I can hear some of you now, “but people do compare themselves to supermodels”, I know, that’s the point, it’s ridiculous. If you need to work on your thighs work on your thighs but don’t do it to look like the digitally altered version of someone else. Do it because you want better thighs. That goes for non-physical qualities too. These people don’t have the same life you have. You know what’s important to you, to uniquely you, don’t suppress those priorities to be more like someone else, you’ll just end up not accomplishing the things that are important to you. That doesn’t mean you don’t stop improving, that doesn’t mean you don’t aim high, it means that you should be aiming at your own targets, and not someone else’s.

Maybe you decided not to go to college because starting a family was just that important to you. Maybe you have several wonderful children as a result, and maybe you’re a little jealous of that graduation cap toss picture your friend just posted. Maybe you aren’t seeing the pile of student loan debt behind that cap, maybe you aren’t seeing the adderall abuse that led there that has to be dealt with, maybe they’re absolutely fine and successful cleanly and didn’t fall into those traps, but they may just be looking at your children when they’re 35 and involved in their career and asking themselves where the time went and wondering why they don’t have theirs yet. Maybe they don’t want a family at all. Would that be the life you try to emulate after deciding you wanted several children? Maybe you come to feel sorry for them that they don’t even want a family, maybe that’s pitiable to you. Life is a series of choices. Make sure your choices reflect your goals, make sure the improvements you make to your life are about getting you to where you want to go.

You have things to work on. We all have things to work on. I could exercise more, but I’m better than I was yesterday. I’m 60 pounds better than I was many yesterdays ago, and I did that by comparing myself to what my scale said yesterday and not to someone else’s scale. I did that by ignoring my Fitbit’s explicit pleas to let it compare me to other people—Talk about kneecapping the usefulness of your own product. I celebrate the fact that i’m 60 pounds better off than I used to be, I still look forward to further improvements to my weight, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I can look back and go, yeah, I’m on the way there. I’m not looking at Lou Ferrigno pictures and going, why bother I’ll never be that guy. Well I really will never be that guy, and there are parts of Lou’s life that weren’t so great. I can be happy knowing that my life is getting better on my own terms, I can be happy that Emily finds me more physically desirable than she used to and that it’s the result of my work. Who doesn’t want to be more physically attractive to their spouse? Mission fucking accomplished man, and I get to make it even better in the future? Awesome.

That’s another reason for the rule. You will never exhaust all the avenues available to you to improve. You’re going to have to cherry pick, eventually you’re going to run out of time, everyone does. You can’t be everything to everyone, you can’t even be everything to yourself. Social media can tempt us with the idea that it’s possible. We have this flood of information about all the wonderful things other people are doing. Are you amalgamating all those things into an unreasonable ideal? Pick the things that matter in your life and orient your life and behavior around those, because you don’t get the option of everything, and if you see someone that looks like they’ve got everything I can guarantee you’re looking at a facade. You’re looking at their kabuki representation to the world. Rule 4 will help you stave off the resentment and jealousy that can trap you in the way that you currently are. You can use those emotions to freeze your life, sit still, and then blame others for the lack of improvement. No one is immune to that, I left Facebook entirely for that reason. My only twitter account is the one I use to promote this blog, I don’t use Insta, I don’t keep up with the Kardashians, and I don’t know anything about bad Tinder experiences. I also don’t seem to have problems with unstable relationships or keeping friends around for the long term. Are those related? Heck if I know but I certainly think they are.

Now, I think social media definitely makes these issues more prominent in our lives but this is by no means a new problem. The comic strip “Keeping up with the Joneses” debuted in 1913, over a century ago. The grass was greener on the other side of the fence long before we could use Google Earth to look at thousands of fences. Women were comparing themselves to cover girls since magazine covers were a thing. It’s a really old trap, maybe as old as humanity itself, maybe as old as lobsters, who knows. The Bible is thousands of years old and warns us not to covet all manners of things, especially other people’s wives. That has everything to do with wanting what others have, or at least fooling ourselves into thinking that we do. Problem is we have easy access to pictures of other people’s wives, we have easy access to depictions of all the greatest parts of other people’s lives, it’s everywhere, and they have complete control over whether or not we see the other side of that, and the vast majority of us chose not to. Don’t think of someone’s social media life as anything other than a fiction, a photoshop filter at best. Remember rule 4.

When Facts Don’t Matter – How Trust Shapes Reality

When Facts Don’t Matter – How Trust Shapes Reality

One of the pleasures of reading John Gottman’s book What Makes Love Last was how it gave articulation and voice to an idea I had been holding onto for a while about trust, and that idea was when it comes to getting into an argument with your significant other or really anyone else is that the amount that the facts of the situation matter is entirely dependent on how much trust there is between the two of you and the severity of the situation.

Of course this idea has functional limits. If your wife walks in on you ankle deep in another woman all the trust in the world isn’t going to undo the facts of what she saw. But trust has a lot to do with other less extreme situations, like not being where you said you were going to be. However, I find that the extreme situations are where it’s easiest to illustrate this whole trust as reality idea. Suppose you’re just sitting there minding your own business in your bedroom with your spouse. Some wrong number text comes your way telling you what an awesome time someone had sleeping with you last night. Now suppose your wife was quick enough to read the push notification. Has your behavior with other women in the past been virtuous enough that she’ll believe it was a wrong number? And further more has she had enough trust in you to begin with to establish that pattern of behavior?

That last idea is kind of critical and I want to expand on that one a bit more because part of the exercise of being in a relationship is that you have to trust the other person in it enough that they’re in a position to hurt you and let them prove themselves or fail you, either way. Let’s say your wife in the example above never even lets you be around other women as a rule. Well how in that situation are you even supposed to build the trust in the first place that you can use it to soothe her into the reality that it really was a wrong number? Well you can’t because she hasn’t let you, and so in this example the reality doesn’t even matter. Low trust begets low trust because it turns innocent pieces of reality into guilty verdicts. It’s a negative spiral that you can subject yourself to accidentally by allowing your low initial trust to prevent the behaviors that are necessary to build it up in the first place.

The digital era can really highlight this phenomenon in some really nasty ways that I think a lot of us have experienced. If you’ve ever had someone take something in your text history out of context to beat you over the head with it in a way that makes no sense you’ve been there. If you’ve tried to prove your innocence with exculpatory evidence from the same and have found it lacking the efficacy it ought to have had you’ve experienced this too. You may have even done this to someone in the past and not realized what you had done until it was too late.

I can’t really tell you how to avoid having this done to you by someone else, you can’t control other people so much. The only thing I can really tell you about what to do with other people is to exhibit behavior that builds trust and to demand the freedom required to establish those behaviors. When it comes to doing this to other people though I think I have a little bit more useful advice. Don’t get attached to what you think the facts are when you feel you’re owed an apology or recompense. Fundamentally it’s not the facts you are interested in anyway, it’s the recompense, you’re just using what you believe are the facts to extract that because you think the situation is a bit more rational than it actually is. The problem is when you tie these two things together and someone gives you evidence that you’ve been mistaken then you would also have to admit that you aren’t owed the apology, but you feel that you are! So what you’ll do is perform these fantastic denials of reality and really distrustful and manipulative things to maintain this narrative in order to get this apology or change in behavior you want. You’ll move goal posts and gish gallop and all sorts of abusive behaviors to keep this false narrative going because you’ve linked it so tightly with your need for your feelings to be acknowledged.

Now I’m not talking about ignoring things like I talked about in the beginning. Don’t allow someone balls deep in another woman to gaslight their way out of it, that’s dumb. But for other things what you should do is ask yourself if you trust this person, and if you think they care about you, and if that answer is yes all you have to do is let them explain their actions and deal with the reality of them, and it’s okay to still want an apology even if they’ve done something reasonable. Sometimes reasonable things hurt, like when people put their own well being before yours. Don’t get it all mixed up in some accusatory fantasy you created to extract a guilty plea. No one has to be guilty of a moral wrong to hurt your feelings. Furthermore making someone apologize for something they didn’t feel they did is abusive and if they’re willing to be insincere because of your badgering you’ve damaged the relationship to begin with. On the other side of that coin if you really care for somebody and their feelings were hurt by a reasonable thing you did acknowledge their feelings and you’ll find you can both move on a lot more quickly. Don’t let someone extract an apology out of you for something you didn’t do either, for the reasons mentioned above, that’s abuse, and if you find that you’ve done that to someone and you care about them you’ve got a lot of repair work to do.

Anyway, I hope that’s given you some insight in why you shouldn’t get too caught up in the ‘truth’ of a situation when dealing with it in an argument, whether your the accuser or the accused.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.

Book Review – Marriage, a History

Book Review – Marriage, a History

Here at After The Yes we like to focus on things that can help you prepare for and enjoy marriage—particularly so-called traditional marriage arrangements. Today we’re going to deviate from that content, but only slightly. Meet the book that gave me agonizing thoughts about using the word traditional in this blog. For the sake of my audience I stuck with the word traditional, it’s still an easy way to convey the image of a 1950s style marriage, which is essentially where mainstream marriages have their roots. Good communication means using the right words to communicate the desired meaning, and that includes words that are technically wrong. Fact is, a 1950s style marriage is one of the quickest blips in the history of marriage customs.

Marriage, a History is one of the most fascinating books I’ve read. It captured my attention from cover to cover, and I’m still going through all the sources in the appendix. It’s well written, easy to read, and while it’s a bit long it uses all of that length in a way that nearly feels abridged. So with all that said you may be thinking that this will be an easy and solid recommend right? Well no, solid yes, easy no. Whether or not I recommend you read this book comes with a heavy dose of caveats and asterisks.

Unlike the books we’ve reviewed so far at After The Yes, Marriage, a History isn’t written to immediately address some psychological, relationship, or sexual problem. This is a book of academic interest first and foremost. I do think this book offers a way to improve your marriage in unexpected ways though. By going through the history of marriage and seeing where certain traditions began, and why they were adopted or dropped, we can build a road map of a traditional marriage that makes sense in the present day and that will make sense down the road. This is especially useful for those of you who just agreed to get married but aren’t entirely sure what that life looks like for you.

Marriage, a History clocks in at 315 pages of main content, and that normally would be a days read for me. But the effective length of the book is enlarged by how densely packed the information on each page is, and the nearly 100 pages of citations that follow the main content. This brings us to the big recommendation caveat. If your time is limited, or you have more pressing issues to get through, this book is firmly in the project category—something you casually read over months rather than finish with gusto in days. The information in this book wouldn’t be immediately useful to relationships in trouble. It’s also not going to do anything about that sex life you’ve been wanting to improve or help you get a better job. There’s a lot of ways to improve as a person and to make your marriage better and this book isn’t meant to do those things.

What it can do is help you make your marriage yours, consider the traditions you’d like to incorporate from the ground up and build a system of shared work that gives you an edge in the modern economy while preserving your other desires of married life—like children and companionship. Like I said, especially useful for those of us starting anew or starting over. Yeah, that’s actually, that’s the biggest and firmest circumstance for recommending this book. If you are starting fresh, or starting again, get this book and get it now. Read it cover to cover, have your partner read it cover to cover. Take notes, challenge assertions, look up citations.

Marriage, a History can also help solve one of the biggest issues I see with new couples looking to get together forever, they have no clue what they want their marriage to look like in 15, 10, or even 5 years. They treat it as if they were just being extended roommates, and I largely blame that on our lack of relationship education—we actually used to teach this in public schools and we desperately need it as a society.

It’s also an easy recommendation for anyone who thinks factoids like: separate bedrooms in households didn’t arrive until the mid 20th century, there are cultures that consider sharing a meal tantamount to sexual intercourse, or progressive eugenicists of the early 20th century laying the groundwork for sex ed, are academically interesting enough to read about.

That’s really all there is to this review, if you’re settled enough to be curious by all means buy Marriage, a History today.

I am not a paid reviewer. My content comes from me and I was not solicited in any manner for this review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.

How to Stop Bad Arguments Before They Start

You’re engaged, or married, or getting there, and you’re madly in love with each other; there’s only one problem, you’re fighting a lot. Rows are a part of every relationship. Living together with any other human being is bound to create some tension eventually. For some of us that’s a little more frequent than we’d like, and I think we’d all like to have less of them even if they are rare. Fortunately, there are concrete things you can do to change things for the better. For maximum effect, you and your partner need to both commit to less fighting, but there are things you can do unilaterally that should lower the amount of bad arguments you have.

Dispel The Housework Myth

Housework can be an insidious source of stress. While for most people these are small annoyances in isolation, undone housework has a habit of reminding you that it’s not done until it’s taken care of. You see the annoyance all the time and anything annoying becomes infuriating with enough time. As such, the division of housework can end up being one of the bigger flash points in a relationship. There are several dynamics at work that can make resolving the problem of housework troublesome.

The largest hurdle I keep encountering with early couples and even some old ones is the expectation that their spouse won’t be like their old room mates when it comes to cleaning up and helping out. You may have the idea that finally you have someone to share these chores with, that you won’t be the only one in the house that cares about how the house looks. Perhaps the script is flipped, perhaps you were the one that never cared about cleanliness and you’re looking forward to not being pestered about it. This is a dangerous fight causing myth. I have some shocking news for you, take out the relationship and guess what, you’re just room mates. Being in love with each other doesn’t fundamentally change the logistics of keeping a home. If you are the clean one, the one that always cared more than everyone else about the state of the living space, you will more than likely be that person inside your relationship, putting more value in the state of your home than your spouse. If you are the messy one, tired of being pestered about things that don’t matter to you, you usually won’t find that escape inside a relationship.

I find dispensing with this expectation alone can take a lot of stress off your mind. Expecting something out of your relationship that isn’t coming is a sure road to explosive arguing. Your spouse can likely improve in cleaning up after themselves, or maybe it’s you that needs to improve. Conversely, you may need to be the one to learn to let go a little or your spouse might be. Fundamentally neither of you are going to change here, don’t expect your significant other to fundamentally change either. Clean people tend to stay that way, and messy people also tend to stay their way. I’m not saying give up on a clean house, but you may have to dispense with the idea of equitable division of house labor. Ask for something in return for this however, this should be a negotiation. There are things other than housework that can help take the load off, bargain for those. You’re probably tired of hearing this, like a played out meme, but communication is key. Communicate that the state of the house upsets you, or that the pestering upsets you, and go from there and do it before it boils over.

When it comes to housework there’s another myth I keep running across that also seems to disappoint people and turn housework into a point of friction. There’s often an expectation, an anticipated joy, that there will be less housework to do if there’s someone to share it with. If you think about this critically for even a moment you can see the problem with this selfish equation. Yes, there is another person in the house to help keep things tidy. There’s also another person in the house, they come with their own messes. You’ll be doing well if the amount of things that need doing stays static per capita. Often this expectation also accompanies moving from rental to home living. Few people accurately correctly account for the sheer increase in things to do once they’re responsible for cleaning their own roof and mowing their own lawn and making other home repairs and improvements. Even if this burden is handled largely financially—you pay people to do it—it’s still more on the pile. Dispel this myth as well, the housework load isn’t going down with another person in your life.

Re-draw Your Defensive Perimeter

This one is tricky, but potentially the most rewarding. When we get angry we tend to lash out. For many, and especially new couples, our partner is located in the ‘outward’ area. In other words, they are in the area we deem to be outside ourselves and are available for attack and blame. You can stop a lot of arguments by taking your partner out of this area. Putting someone, anyone, inside your ‘in’ area can be difficult and requires a tremendous amount of built up trust.

I like to imagine trust as the income of a relationship. As you build trust, save it, invest it, and help it grow, you stop living from paycheck-to-paycheck in your relationship. If you outspend your trust income for long enough you end up homeless. So how do you build trust and what does it mean to spend it? I’ll use Emily as an example.

Emily is a homemaker, she takes care of our three children and keeps up the house while I tackle the easier task of making some money(That could be and probably will be its own post). Emily frequently arranges her day so that she finishes her errands and arrives home just as I get home from work. There’s a couple ways to interpret this behavior depending on your level of trust.

  • Emily wants to make sure she doesn’t miss her limited time with me and has a hard cutoff time on her errands, which would otherwise run into the evening, to do so.
  • Emily wants to make sure her car is in the driveway when I get home so it looks like she’s been home working all day.
  • Emily is trying to hide how much time she spends away from the home because she’s doing something she’s not supposed to.
  • Emily is poorly hiding an affair.

Believe it or not, Emily is spending a tiny amount of the trust bank every time I notice this behavior, usually when I get home a little early from work and she’s not there. It’s not being spent because I distrust her, it’s being spent because a positive reaction depends on how much trust exists. It should be noted that the truth of the situation doesn’t matter. The amount of trust I have in Emily determines whether or not I believe her answer in the first place. In other words, if Emily and I maintained a negative balance in the trust account our relationship could suffer over an innocent pattern of behavior. The converse is also true, a high trust nest egg could aid her in hiding a tryst. The former is why it is so rationally difficult to build trust in a person. Trust changes the truth and that can leave us vulnerable to manipulation and other terrible things. You can overcome this obstacle by considering the decisions you’ve already made—this is your life partner. You are already vulnerable to your partner financially and emotionally. Your partner will be helping you raise your children and form their ideas about you. Your partner will or does have demands about your living conditions; how the house is constructed, diet, and so on. You’ve already agreed to spend your lives with each other despite whatever quirks or requirements these areas have attached to them. If there is anyone in the world where having low trust is going to do more harm than good, it’s your partner.

So how do we build trust and fill that piggy bank? Well there’s some good news here, especially for the busy types. I find it’s the little behaviors that help the most in keeping the trust account topped off. Buy her chocolate for no reason, tell him you appreciate his contributions to the home, kiss, engage in playful touch, practice speaking the compliments that you think, and when you eventually do get in an argument…

Target the problem instead of the person!

Practice this. Fundamentally what you want to achieve here is diminishing the importance of assigning blame. When an argument comes up, remember that no amount of yelling is going to get the kitchen floor cleaner or put the toilet seat down. When you’re partner is packing their bags and walking out the door are you going to be saying to yourself, “at least I know it wasn’t my hair clogging the drain!”? Once you get to the point that you are focusing on the problem see if the ‘problem’ suddenly sounds silly. There might be something else making you angry and making you notice small things more—bringing work stress home is a frequent cause. Let your partner know if you ever realize this, let them know that you’re stressed and noticing small irritants more. Ironically, I find that a lot of these arguments start up over small things as an excuse to get the attention the angry partner feels they’re entitled to and not getting. Try to figure out if there’s something you can do, together, to get you in a better mood. If there’s a real problem, address it. Your partner is going to be more useful in helping you solve the problem than as a dejected emotional antagonist of your own making.

Over time, these behaviors will take your partner from someone outside of your defenses—a valid target—to someone helping you shoot from the walls. The frequency and intensity of your arguments will drop, and you’ll both be happier. The high trust environment you start creating will reinforce itself too. Taking the pressure off of your partner just a little will give them the emotional space to start reciprocating these changes, and they often will do so without prompting. You got together because you enjoyed each others company remember? Frequent arguments are often a cycle that appears later on, and cycles have this funny little property of being breakable by one participant.

Share A Calendar

This is another one of those communication things. I find it annoying how much the word communication is thrown around as if it were it’s own self-contained set of actions and recommendations. So here’s something specific that goes under that heading. Double booking days off is immensely irritating. A fight often ensues over which double booked event is more important, or which was made the longest ago, or who forgot what, or who only mentioned it while you were busy and distracted, and so on.

Do something with that smart device of yours other than being your bosses annoying leash to you. Create a calendar for the family. Check it before you commit to doing anything. Like all new habits you’re going to stumble on this one a few times before you get into the groove of using it, but commit to not double booking your free time today. Will you be watching the super bowl? Put it on the calendar, let your spouse know it’s on the calendar, and you’re not entertaining the in-laws unless they show up with foam fingers, appetizers, and a party mentality. On that note, if your guy is a football guy, don’t do something as seemingly passive aggressive as scheduling a visit from your parents during the super bowl, yeeesh. If you find you’re often oblivious to those things the calendar will help. If you aren’t doing this already please start today, just trust me on this.

Make Time For Dates

I find that making time for dates most frequently vanishes after having children and I’ll be writing this section from that point of view, but some couples struggle with this shortly after moving in together. In either case, do not sacrifice all of your alone time with your partner. In an earlier piece I mentioned building a circle of friends you could rely on to take on temporary burdens. Rely on your support networks to handle the excuse you’re always throwing out, you know the one, “I’d take you out if only I didn’t have responsibility X”. By the way, that’s just an excuse. I don’t know what hurdle you think is blocking off your time for entire months—once a month dates is what I’d shoot for at minimum—but it’s likely not actually consuming every single day for an entire month. Don’t write angry letters if you’re one of the few that are busy for entire months, I get it—working on an oil rig for instance—but those gigs generally also come with a week or more of downtime, make room for your partner.

For those of you who haven’t been on a date in a while, try to keep it simple. Emily and I struggled with this for a while after our second child and on our first date out in months we’d realized we’d forgotten what it even felt like. Something as simple as sitting down together at a chain restaurant can feel surreal in those circumstances so don’t clutter up or needlessly complicate the itinerary. Take a hike—literally—or one of my favorites, only plan the amount of time you will be gone and drive around town stopping literally anywhere that catches your fancy. Practice being free. Go to that knick-knack shop you used to love but just drive by now, revisit that old make-out spot, dive into that dive you’ve been meaning to try.

Catching a movie needs its own little section. I typically don’t recommend this if you’re only getting about a date a month and can’t get about 5 or more hours on your free-time clock. Counting logistics this is usually a 2.5 hour gamble you’re committing to. If you are going to go to a movie be clear about the circumstances under which you’ll walk out and practice that option with prejudice. Have a back-up plan. Emily and I will go mall crawling in the event of a disappointing film. Having a back-up plan pits the movie against alternatives and helps you recognize when it’s failing to be entertaining enough. Forget walking out on only the ‘bad’ movies, I walk out on the ones that aren’t strictly good or better. Those are precious hours! You may like movies a lot more than I do—that’s very likely actually—but most films these days, well…I get more enjoyment out of treating Emily to a Cinnabon in the mall food court.

So what’s any of this have to do with arguments? I’d say if you’re asking that question you’re definitely missing out on too many date nights, schedule more. A good night out can raise your mood above the petty squabbling threshold for days or even weeks. It’s a good time to connect and remind yourselves that you’re a couple and that you’re in this thing together in a context that’s positive, as opposed to the we’re-in-this-together that comes with dealing with a sick infant.

There are more ways to prevent bad arguments for sure, but I find these general behaviors to be the most generally applicable to the other couples I talk to. There’s a lot of devil in the details of other relationships, and some experiences are more universal. So whether you’re the one having argument problems, or you’re a couple that’s just afraid of ending up that way, or you know a couple that could use some help, I hope you’ve found this post useful. Remember as always, there’s a time for self help and a time for professional advice. Don’t use my blog as a substitute when professional help is called for.

Have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you’d like discussed? Let me know through my contact page.

Book Review – Mating In Captivity

I don’t know why I struggled figuring out which book on the pile of relationship help books was going to be next while Mating In Captivity was on my nightstand, staring me in the face. It would be a disservice not to talk about Esther Perel’s work after having just reviewed Gottman. Perel and Gottman are in a bit of a discourse at the moment you see. Other books I’ve read on this subject reference their disagreement and Gottman mentions it outright in the book I reviewed earlier this month. So I think it only fair to review Perel next. Full disclosure, I find Gottman’s arguments more convincing. You may not! When I cover these books I don’t spend a whole lot of time on the philosophy and whether I agree with it or not for just that reason. One approach might work for you, the other may not. Remember that these are self help books and you should be finding the right fit for you, anything beyond that is professional time. With those caveats and yah-buts out of the way let’s get to it.

First thing I want to mention out of the gate naturally follows my preface to this review. If you’re going to read either Perel or Gottman, read the other too, even if just once. Mating In Captivity has a bit of a narrower focus than How to Make Love Last. The former focuses on reigniting desire—Perel’s use of the word may be easier to explain as erotic passion—in a relationship and the latter covers the broader subject of saving the relationship itself. Perel’s book is geared towards people who feel the fire has gone out and can’t find a breadcrumb as to why. I was amused in the first few pages where Perel let me know the book wasn’t about me.

“For the lucky few, this is barely a challenge. These couples can easily integrate cleaning the garage with rubbing each other’s back. For them, there is no dissonance between commitment and excitement, responsibility and playfulness. They can buy a home and be naughty in it, too. They can be parents and still be lovers. In short, they’re able to seamlessly meld the ordinary and the uncanny. But for the rest of us, seeking excitement in the same relationship in which we establish permanence is a tall order. Unfortunately, too many love stories develop in such a way that we sacrifice passion so as to achieve stability.”

Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity

I usually don’t quote an entire paragraph but this serves a few essential functions in the review. You get a taste of Perel’s prose and get to make a decision on whether you can read 220 short pages of that—for the record I quite enjoyed it. Additionally you can more appreciate the biases of the reviewer. In this paragraph Esther tells me this book isn’t for me, or at least, it isn’t about me—I did enjoy the content regardless. One of the most important features of a self-help book is that you feel it applies to you. This book is to help the people she’s talking about towards the end of the paragraph. In fact, this notion was quite alien to me. Losing eroticism because you bought a house? The opposite happened to us! So I kept reading, to gain knowledge about an alien world that considers my relationship special. Hell, a good portion of this blog will be about how my wife and I accomplish this.

I will say that from my reading of Mating In Captivity it appears the most applicable to people who spent a significant amount of time in a profoundly sex negative environment. (This space is very sex positive if you haven’t figured that out yet) I realize that could be quite a few of you. If you think that a loss of eroticism in marriage is just a natural phase of it—thoughts such as “of course your sex life goes down the tubes after children” for instance—then you may have grown up in that kind of environment without realizing it. I know many Christian families have been bamboozled into thinking the 1950s marriage is God’s marriage, or even the church’s and have let that inform their sex lives. Mating In Captivity would be a good read for you as well, though there’s a companion book, if that’s you, called Marriage, A History. I’ll be reviewing that later. Point is, I have a hard time relating to the couples described in this book and that makes it difficult to recommend outside of a few obvious cases. The central axiom remains, if you think a diminishing love life is a natural part of a marriage, this book may be for you. I mentioned earlier that I found Gottman’s arguments more convincing, but I’d be remiss not to reinforce now that I don’t think a lot of their ideas are in conflict or their outlooks entirely mutually exclusive. Disagreements however, grab headlines.

So will this book help you? Well that entirely depends on your problem. If you think bedroom woes are effecting your entire relationship, and you also can’t understand why there are issues in the bedroom to begin with then absolutely give this book a chance, at that stage it can’t hurt. I think if your relationship started as a passionate love affair and that structure has gone cold this may also be the book for you. If it feels like your entire relationship is suffering from something a little more pervasive read Gottman first. I say first because as I said in the preface, if you read one read the other, a recommendation for either is a recommendation for both, at least as it relates to these two titles.

To sum up; I found the prose engaging, I found the content credible and useful, I found the length excellent for busy lifestyles and the subject is clearly focused. Mating In Captivity comes with a solid recommendation.