…None of which come from love experts. Instead, we scoured the best in psychology and get-it-done business titles to find strategies that create more trusting, fun conflict-free intimacies.
By Leigh Newman
1. Don't look at it from his side.
Trying to see a situation from your spouse's perspective is supposed to be a good thing, right? You get a snapshot of his or her feelings and thus can be more understanding and empathetic. Not so, says University of Chicago Booth School of Business professor Nicholas Epley. In his study of 104 couples, he asked one partner to predict how the other would respond to questions on everything from the use of cash to biggest life regret. Some of the spouses simply guessed (e.g.,"Ernie would never use a credit card!"). Others had to write about a typical day in their partner's life, and then "put themselves in his or her shoes" before predicting (e.g., "Ernie works so hard all day at the bank, and he resents even paying five dollars for lunch; he would never use a credit card.") The result: Those who tried to imagine the other's perspective were less accurate than those who winged it -- confirming Epley's real-life experience of giving his dolphin-loving wife a day of caring for the animals at the aquarium, not realizing that, since she'd just had a baby, she would not enjoy the binding, full-body wetsuit. While understanding that your partner may have a different take than you is helpful, he writes in Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want, you don't always imagine your partner's actual "different take." The best way to get your partner's point of view, he says, is to simply -- oh yes, you saw this coming -- ask for it.
2. Walk away when you catch him red-handed.
…For five minutes. Because sure, you want to pounce on him when you catch him in a jerky act -- smoking a cigarette out the window? taking a catnap while your toddler plays video games on his cell phone? -- but hold off. And not just to calm yourself down, either, though that's a helpful side effect. Experiments by Harvard researchers, writes Epley, demonstrated that when questioned immediately post-bust, people tended to lie due to their dread of punishment. A short break seems to alleviate that fear enough that they go ahead and admit the ugly truth. Which, as we know from our own slipups, is the first step to apologizing -- and figuring out how to avoid the inadvisable act next time.
3. Act like a professional at kitchen-table meetings.
You two need to decide on something big together: Should you buy that house? Should he quit his job? Should you go back to school? Both of you could sit there expressing opinions all night. Or you could borrow a technique suggested by Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon, who consult with corporations on how to plan strategic meetings. "One powerful way to establish context," write the two in Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change, "is to create a large visual timeline." A company, for example, might plot key investments over the previous decade. You and your spouse can plot the same things, revealing where you earn or spend your money (versus: how you think you earn or spend it). Other ideas might be to sketch your geographic moves over time or your most important life choices or anything that's relevant to the current discussion. The idea being to create a (literal) picture of the past that illustrates what to do -- or not to do -- in your future.
4. Send a snippet.
Admit it: You're sick of hearing about date nights all together, including but not limited to: the importance of, the rules for, blah, blah, blah. This doesn't mean you don't think interesting things or long to share them with your spouse. The next time you stumble on, say, how to make a penny ball that repels slugs, make sure you share it with your husband, the gardener, by using a technique reported on by Adam Bryant in Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation. Each week, as Bryant describes, the CEO of the social-networking site Foursquare, Dennis Crowley, sends an email to his whole company. The email has three parts "Things I'm Psyched About," "Things I'm Not Pysched About" and "Things I'm Working On,"as well as a list of links to random things he finds interesting. The emails give people a bird's-eye view of Crowley's thoughts and plans, writes Bryant. And, best of all, are "a good way to start a conversation" that doesn't involve the cost of a babysitter or who forgot to make the reservation (again).
5. Do the 4-step high five.
The next time he gets a promotion, invents a new marinade for the grill or wins first prize at the adults-only spelling bee, do more than say, "Hooray, Honey!" As this handy graphic from the self-improvement website Happify.com explains, couples who celebrated each other's successes in four steps -- showing enthusiasm ("A spelling bee! Honey, that's so cool!"); asking questions ("So, 'babushka' counted even though it's Russian?"); expressing congratulations ("!!!"); and, reliving the moment with them ("So, what exactly went through your mind when you heard psychoneuroendocrinological?") -- strengthened their relationship. Further research proved that "people who did this three times a day for one week improved their happiness." And happiness, as we know -- scientific studies or not -- usually leads to a lot of more happily ever afters.
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