Saturday, March 03, 2007

Marriage Guidance

I met a new business contact in a restaurant a few weeks back. Arkady was a smoothly handsome forty-something business development consultant - who has just got married. I asked him how it was going, and his response surprised me: he seemed frustrated.

“You know, I thought when you got married, it was supposed to be perfect, but it’s not like that. I reckon about 70% of the time we’re fine, but the remaining 30% we’re arguing all the time.”

I wanted to know more about his wife.

“Tanya is mid-thirties, a lawyer. As a single woman she’s been used to going out with her girlfriends, spending plenty of money - you know, drinks, clothes. How does it work when you’re married and your wife wants to go out with her friends three times during the week and then again at week-ends? When I discuss this with her, she goes into lawyer mode and forensically skewers me.”

I was beginning to get a Myers-Briggs handle on these two. Arkady seemed a smart, warm, organised person to me with a strong sense of values, but rather reserved. That would make him INFJ. Tanya, by contrast seemed to be an extraverted intellectual, although not too organised - ENTP.

When these two types of people rub against each together, the intellectual is stubborn, cold and analytic while the feeling person obstinately defends violated values and responds emotionally. Issue resolution, to put it mildly, is difficult.

Next morning, I was still thinking about Arkady’s problem. I wrote down five ‘conflict resolution’ tips on the hotel notepaper based on 28 years of marriage experience where I’m a similar type to Arkady’s wife Tanya, and Clare is similar to Arkady himself.

Five Conflict Resolution tips

1. Treat your wife like a client.

In consultancy, clients are never wrong and you never argue with them. You have a developmental task to take them where they need to go, and you do that by setting them problems to solve, not by arguing against them. This is oversimplified of course, but it defines a non-confrontational approach.

2. Judo not Karate.

Karate is a hard martial art. You oppose power with superior skill and power. Judo is a soft martial art, you redirect your opponent’s force and intention in a subtle way so that they end up defeating themselves. Actually T’ai Chi would be the best example, since Judo mixes elements of hard and soft, but most people don’t know about T’ai Chi as a martial art.

3. Reward good behaviour, ignore bad.

This comes from the experience of animal training. All reactions, even negative ones, tend to reinforce behaviours. The secret is to react minimally to bad behaviour, but to enthusiastically reward good behaviour. The latter then tends to become the norm.

4. Budget the luxuries first.

Always have something to look forwards to - a mini-break, a holiday, some little project which you can do together.

5. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

When two people get married, they have to re-engineer all the things they used to do by themselves into things they now do as a couple. That’s a huge unlearning/relearning experience with no user manual. Inevitably one side gets it wrong and irritates the other. It take 2-3 years to get the ‘married mode’ to work properly and years afterwards to begin to exploit it. Don’t expect quick results and consider it a lifetime project.

Arkady seemed rather embarrassed to get my list, but I told him that in twenty years time he’d find it in some old file and marvel at how good the advice was!