Could there be one common goal that most married couples long for? A form of connection hardly ever discussed but that almost all of us crave? “
No one gets married planning on divorcing one day. Yet the statistics show that around 1/3 of couples end up legally calling it quits. Just as many—who stay together for whatever reason—live unhappily ever after. An often—hard to diagnose—deep and persistent unhappiness.
All of us are different, with a great variety of needs and expectations. Amongst these differences could there be one common goal that most married couples long for? A form of connection hardly ever discussed but that almost all of us crave?
I will name that connection today and ways it can be achieved.
More important than romance, sex and sharing common interests, is finding a way to work together towards goals, beyond what each person could accomplish independently.
Most everyone loves a story where people band together and accomplish something that would have been impossible as individuals. It is the makings of an exhilarating game of sport. Many uplifting movies are, likewise, based on this plot-line.
But what about everyday life?
Only yesterday Steve and I brought our heads together while working on the gardens in the houses we manage. Four houses with big gardens and lawns front and back. It has been an extremely wet summer with rain almost every day, so all had become overgrown. After a half-day of intense mowing, edging and weeding, Steve’s focus turned to the need to get rid of the green waste. My motivation was different, wanting to get the fronts of all the houses done in time for new tenants arriving to start their university year.
We had never had to think about dealing with green waste on this level before and so the time came that we needed to stop and discuss the rest of the days work.
All of our available council green waste bins were full. So I asked Steve, “What did you do with the green waste when you were working as a landscaper?”
He said, “We paid to take it to the dump.”
This answer wasn’t really to my liking; my motivation was to keep working, not organise a trailer to drive a considerable distance and then have to pay to get rid of weeds and grass clippings.
So I made the suggestion, “Could we start a green waste compost in that big hole where the last tenants dug out soil for the raised beds at the top of our backyard?”
Steve thought about it and said, “Yes, that would be good.” Later he came back and said, “I have found a place out the back of one of the other houses for a second green waste compost.”
I said, “We don’t want Buffalo Grass taking root up there.”
Steve said, “It doesn’t get enough sun in that spot for Buffalo Grass to grow.”
So I said, “Great that will save you carrying the stuff from those houses all the way up the hill out the back of our place.”
End of this simple story was that both of us came together and found a better solution than each of us would have thought of on our own. It saved time for me to continue with what was motivating me and saved Steve time, effort and money with what was concerning him.
Rather than costing us money, the green waste compost will eventually be an asset for our gardens. Steve has already expanded on this solution to include a worm-farm.
Many looking to build a strong and stable family, long for this simple kind of teamwork.
Basic day to day cooperation, wherefrom small beginnings big things grow.
We are building a kitchen garden (and a small plant nursery) that will feed many people in the future. Hence figuring out our facility layout and workflow in the gardens is working towards a long-term mutual goal. One we have shared from the time we first met.
This kind of teamwork, unfortunately, didn’t come naturally. In truth, many families struggle these days to achieve even minor cooperation. One person makes a bid to work together on something, only to be brushed off, ignored or even met with aggression or passive aggression.
After awhile no one has the courage to try making bids and many families end up living together like strangers.
What can we do to help solve this?
Most of the marriage advice I have read over the years doesn’t mention the connection of two minds coming together creatively to accomplish something positive for everyone.
Before we look at a few easy solutions; lets first delve just a little into why teamwork in families has become more difficult.
1. Men and women have been raised with different mindsets.
Broad names for these mindsets are narcissism and codependency. As our website’s theme revolves around this point, I will not elaborate on narcissism and codependency in this article. If you are unaware of these conditioned ways of thinking, please find our home page and explore.
In brief, many men have come to feel that working together with their wives on a project is somehow beneath their status. To many men, a wife has become someone to hold a ‘non-productive home fort’ together, with her wages even contributing more to that household than his. Home is a place to rest and relax, and wives helpers who should always defer their husbands’ higher wisdom. A wife’s job, for many women, has become being the person responsible for providing a protective, clean and relaxing home. Sharing the role of breadwinner for many couples has not translated into sharing household duties and living expenses.
Despite what you feel about equality and traditional marriage values, this can create a big problem for men that I will discuss in point 2.
On the other hand, many women believe that marriage should be more about emotional security than it is about goals. Rather than challenging their partners with interesting and beneficial projects their family could work on together, many look for love to heal an emotional void they feel deep inside.
This is the stereotyped version of Narcissism and Codependency, which in reality are both stereotypes. Women can be narcissistic and men codependent. My goal here isn’t to diagnose but to find common ground.
I would suggest that no matter who takes care of the house; a family that doesn’t share inspiring mutual goals is a recipe for heartache and disappointment. Working together successfully is a great way to build status and fill one’s emotional void.
2. Effective teamwork requires us to engage in argument.
Arguments in marriage are seen to be a bad thing. Hence, most of us are conditioned to work against the very thing that would bring us together and heal our wounds.
The truth is that effective teamwork cannot occur without space and time for creative argument. Two heads are most definitely better than one.
A creative argument occurs when people have a different idea about the goal and how best it should be achieved.
For a creative argument to be productive, all participants must put their egos aside and stay focused on the solution or goal.
If men have grown up believing that wives should always defer to their judgement, they may feel angry or defensive when their wives ask simple questions or have a different opinion—the example with Steve and I above went smoothly, but that was not always the case in our family.
Men being held up as the traditional head of the family is often touted as the best way for families to avoid arguments. But the truth is creative arguments are necessary.
Anyone who expects that their way forward should always be deferred to will damage their family in many ways. This damage will occur first on the level of trust and respect. Damage is also likely to occur on other more practical levels. Time and money will be wasted, and outcomes occur that do not achieve the desired goals.
- Dad plans a holiday without consulting the family, only to discover that tickets need to be rebooked as some family members have work or school commitments that conflict with his plans.
- Mother plans a family dinner hoping to bring everyone together, but the family is distracted and uncooperative because their schedule and interests have not been considered in her plan.
Instead of raising status or emotional fulfilment, these situations breed disappointment, loss of confidence and resentment.
The only way this can be avoided is to allow space and time for creative argument.
I wonder if you have ever heard this before? That argument is the actual source of true connection in a marriage?
Improve Your Confidence and Stability
Beyond connection, creative argument is one of the few things that will quickly improve your confidence and stability. Let’s demonstrate how this plays out…
- The more time you invest in making a decision—including the time to consult and collaborate with other people—the more invested you will be in that decision.
Say one couple spends 5 minutes talking with each other about a plan to improve their diet. Compare this with a couple who spend 8 hours doing research, consulting each other’s goals and preferences and considering the logistics of shopping, cooking and dealing with waste.
Which couple is more likely to feel confident and achieve a stable shopping, cooking and cleaning routine that achieves the desired results?
Which couple will be more likely to stick with the plan?
Rather than insisting there is no time for joint planning, the time investment itself is essential if you want to create confidence and stability in any plan.
You often only learn what is right by first learning (or considering) what is wrong
All family members have different needs and information that must be considered carefully for the best plan of action to come out of the mix. Creative argument is not about the virtue of each person’s ideas.
Bad ideas being voiced and thrown around often help on the path to coming up with better ones. Why is it a bad idea? Assessing this will help you arrive at the criteria for what is required.
Any ideas should be welcomed, and everyone ready to have the potential outcomes of their ideas explored. Again, bad ideas are often the necessary path to better ideas.
Most importantly, the outcome of creative argument should never be to create a winner and a loser. A better way forward—than each party would have come up with on their own—should always be the focus. The more everyone is invested in developing the plan, the more likely everyone will stick to it… more on this in a moment.
Support the Leader
The appropriate time and place are essential here. Creative argument works best in preplanning and times of agreed cooperation.
Say your wife is in the middle of cooking something she has planned with other family members around. This is not a good time to start an argument by saying you have a better idea.
Or your husband has just got the kids together for a game of catch. He needs support in modelling cooperation and not have you stand judging the merit of his commands.
These are good times to support the leader—which in truth is cooperation in action.
However, these events can probably be improved with time in advance given for creative argument, including scheduling and even roles being decided upon well before the event.
When Creative Argument Goes Wrong
Here are some problems which arise—and can be avoided—using our new creative argument checklist for members.
- One participant is inflexible about how and when something should be done.
This often comes from a feeling that discussion may involve this person losing something important to them—they feel they need urgently—if they take time to listen to the other person’s needs and ideas. This may be that they fear losing status by letting other people question them and share their ideas.
Building trust can be tough, but a good first place to start is reassuring all participants that you remember and care about their needs and that a decision will not be made until everyone is 100% onboard. Historical examples of when your family has planned something successful together can also help. You might even have photos and positive memories of teamwork ready to share.
This participant may need to be shown examples of how high-status leaders just about always, at some point, consult with their team.
The internet is great for finding inspiring movies about collaboration made by successful leaders. Challenge your partner to invest time in finding examples of collaborative leadership before your planning meeting.
In action, this solution might sound something like this:
“I would like us to discuss our plans for ——— tomorrow evening. I hope that we can do better than we have in the past. Towards our success, I will have my ideas well thought through and ready. Maybe you can find some motivational leadership movies on Youtube to watch before we get together and try planning as a team? I will support you if you are ready to work with me.”
Accept and acknowledge this is a new skill you are both learning and that you won’t get it perfect right away.
- One participant says they agree but has little invested in the plan.
This can be extremely frustrating. You care about planning something enough to risk bringing it up – only to have your partner say, “Yeah sure, whatever you like,” without really paying attention. Later, when the time comes to put your plan into action, ‘whatever you like’, becomes an on the ground non-creative argument where you are forced to make difficult decisions ‘on the fly.’
Accept that a decision has not been made unless everyone has a large enough investment in the plan.
In the discussion, this solution sounds something like this:
“I need a bigger investment from you in this. I won’t really feel like we have made a solid decision together until I have heard more of your ideas. I want us both to feel really confident and stable in this plan.”
- One participant becomes angry about the idea of having to share their planning with anyone. They believe they know what they are doing and don’t welcome anyone else’s ideas.
With most of us time-poor these days, it is often hard to justify spending time together brainstorming the best way forward. We all have at least five pressing tasks on our plate, and each can only be given so much attention.
Someone asking questions about tasks that we take responsibility for can be frustrating and even feel demeaning.
However, the person doing the job at present has the most experience, so their answers are important. Becoming defensive will only mess up valuable data that needs to be considered when making a new plan.
Think first about what tasks are taking up most of this person’s time? Something they don’t enjoy, and that might be dragging them down.
Make your first attempt at creative argument a brainstorming session on how their workload can be better handled, with the sole aim of taking stress off of them.
This task may be something you know nothing about, so make sure your questions do not sound like criticism and show genuine interest and respect.
‘How’, ‘when’ and ‘where’, usually work much better than asking ‘why’.
‘Why’, however, is important. It involves the person’s reasoning behind the task, which is a big investment token. You might avoid coming across as judgemental by expressing, ‘why’ as, “What is your thinking in doing it that way?”
Really tease out the conversation while getting a clear idea of where they are currently at with the task.
For instance; Steve and I working together better in the garden started with me helping Steve streamline paying our accounts. That was a task that took him a lot of time and caused considerable stress, so he welcomed that discussion.
After allowing myself to be a sounding board for his frustration in the details, the only viable solution we came up with was to spend 5 minutes together every morning deciding what is most urgent to pay and then sending this information to a part-time assistant to help pay the bills.
Just addressing the problem and showing that I understood this task was a burden for Steve, helped him feel more at ease talking about our debts and bills. Overall, his stress levels have improved without us having employed anyone yet.
This creative argument had nothing to do with the garden but everything to do with building trust that I respect Steve’s workload and time.
Before starting, we had a further long talk—a week or so later—about where all lawn and gardening equipment should be stored and came up with a good solution. In our strip of four, the end houses have a space to store the lawnmower and larger gardening equipment. That way we can start at whichever end the gear is stored and leave it close to where we finish.
We also decided where the indoor cleaning equipment and chemicals should be stored: in a dedicated cleaning garage closer to the middle of the row of houses.
Having discussed all of this before we started working together made us feel a lot more confident about the job.
Our roles were also discussed and even what we should wear. Steve has a lot more experience at landscaping than I do and so he is the natural foreman. However, I do put a lot more time into planning and design than Steve does and was not happy to come on board as his labourer.
This was the role I first fell into in our earlier efforts at working together on the grounds, one which didn’t give me adequate status in front of our lodgers, all of whom need to respect me as having more authority in our community.
‘Architect’ was the role decided upon for me. Steve has worked with many architects over the years and knows that their input needs a high level of respect.
After all of this planning, it still took a few shaky starts…
Steve has a way of acting very stern and serious about things that could go wrong when first starting a job. It is an approach to work that often rubs me the wrong way. I prefer to tackle things in a more cheerful and gung ho manner. I want to face the task realistically, but I don’t work well when motivated by fear. I am more of an artist and feel motivated by how much better things will look when we are finished. I am also more of a perfectionist and sometimes get sidetracked fixing problems I find along the way that are not strictly related to the general outlined task. We start mowing lawns, and I see that a fence is coming down and want to fix it, or that junk has accumulated in an area that would look much better if it was cleared.
I made it clear that if Steve wanted to remain stern and negative, I would not feel motivated to help. I reminded him of the big tasks I have spearheaded in the past.
I said, more than once, “Can we do this together as friends?”
I also demonstrated the benefits of my help by getting the first small area we cleaned up together looking especially top-notch.
When he used his stern and serious approach, I tried to be light and tease him playfully just a little. Asking in a light and friendly tone of voice, if he talked to the other blokes he works with like this?
Steve’s answer was funny. He said, “No, stern and serious is usually how they talk to me! I listen but then try and get in and get the job done.”
I said, “Well, we are both smart, hard workers, so maybe no one needs to be ‘that serious and stern guy’ here?”
After a few wins, including the huge dopamine lift anyone gets from seeing a perfectly mowed and manicured yard you have done together, his approach to our work together slowly changed.
He managed this work mostly by himself before I started helping regularly, and so us working together really has made life easier for him and lifted our game.
I have also scaled down my sometimes annoying tendency to take on too much—and slow the overall work schedule down. Instead, I have focused my perfectionist drive in more limited ways. Jobs like cleaning and organising the cleaning storage area before we even start, clearing away woodpiles and pulling large areas of weeds out by the roots (great exercise). Limited but focused attention to high standards of work that make a big visual and practical impact fast.
After seeing the results of where I chose to put my energy, Steve no longer bothers telling me what he thinks I should be doing next. I think he enjoys waiting for the surprise!
The bigger and harder jobs don’t appear so daunting now that we are enjoying seeing what each other achieve in only a few hours work together each morning that weather permits. With the same goals and a little creative argument now and then, neither of us find the need to tell each other what to do very often. Instead, we ask each other to help when we need it and get a lot of things done.
A Word of Warning
Do you have arguments about money that never go anywhere positive? You should be aware of the danger here. These fights may not be resolved so easily. Often a partner will use arguments as a smokescreen to cover the fact they have hidden debts that need paying. I would say that hidden credit cards are responsible for more than half of the divorce cases that I have seen.
If you have hidden debts from your partner, the only real solution is to ‘rip the band-aid off’ and come clean. Once the truth is on the table, you can hopefully begin working together to solve your money problems.
Will your partner be angry if you disclose hidden debts? Sure they will. Especially when they find out what that money has been spent on. But hey that anger is understandable. Admit you are embarrassed and let them talk through how what you have done makes them feel. The relief you will feel at not having to find invisible money to pay off your debts will most likely outweigh their grief which you will do best to empathise with.
Or is it you who fears talking about money at any basic level with your partner because no matter how carefully you approach the subject, it always creates a fight?
Perhaps it’s time to find your way out the dark and uncover the reality of your financial position. Being emotional about money doesn’t change the balance sheet. Financial responsibility is a skill and virtue that most people will come to appreciate in you.
If this second situation describes you as the one in the dark— start by reading Back From the Looking Glass. All the steps you need to deal with this are there. You will need to find the courage. We can help with that in our member’s area.
Once the money is dealt with fairly and responsibly in your family, the rest will be easier to tackle. We have a new creative argument checklist for couples to use together to make sure they stay on track.
The checklist will be posted in our member’s area in the next few days. If you are interested in improving your family life, come and find us there!