We’ve covered many different approaches to doing something different when confronted with challenges in your marriage. You’ve learned how to act as if, you’ve learned that it’s easier done than said, that the medium is in the message, and you’ve learned that sometimes that the most effective strategy is to just do nothing. Well today I want to introduce you to a new strategy which takes the above approaches to next level: Do a 180.
Just as its name implied, if what you’re doing doesn’t work, do the exact opposite. As counter-intuitive as this might be, it often works.
Janice was a woman who liked peace in her house and would get upset each time her husband got angry. Unfortunately, her husband, Cameron had a low tolerance for frustration and would anger easily. Every time he started to grumble, she would try to pacify him. The more she tried to calm him down, the angrier he would become.
One day, Cameron was working in their family room and started to complain loudly about having to complete a computer task for which he had received no training. Instead of reassuring him, Janice stormed into the family room, banged her fist on the table, and shouted, “What was your boss thinking? You weren’t at the training. How in the world are you supposed to know what to do? Now you’re going to get angry and our evening will be ruined. Your boss is really something!
There was a dead silence. Shortly thereafter, her husband composed himself and said, “Will you settle down, please? I know I can figure this stuff out if you just give me a little more time. Relax.” I’m not certain who was more surprised by this interaction!
From Doormat to Demanding
Brett wanted his marriage to work more than anything in the world. However, Stella, his wife, was fairly certain she wanted out. Brett was heartbroken. In an effort to get Stella to change her mind, Brett did everything he could to please her. He did all the housework, the lion’s share of taking care of their children, encouraged her to go out with her friends, and do other enjoyable activities without him or their family. When they were home together, he was extremely cautious about how he acted and what he said for fear that he might make her angry. His lifelong friends were telling him that he’d turned into doormat. Although he understood what they were saying and why they were saying it, he felt he had to keep a low profile or Stella would just take off. Although he didn’t like the man he had become, he felt parlayed by fear. Stella simply went about her business without paying a whole lot of attention to Brett. He hoped that if he could be careful about his actions long enough, Stella might appreciate the changes in him. So far, it hadn’t been working. The nicer he was, the crueler she seemed to be to him.
One evening Stella told Brett that she was going to work out and that she would be home around 9:30 P.M. He said, “Fine, see you then.” Although he would have preferred that she spend the evening with their family, he was trying to be supportive. Nine-thirty came rolling around and no Stella. Brett assumed she was running a little late from aerobics class. But when the clock struck 11P.M ., he found himself growing incredibly angry. By midnight, he was furious with her. Stella finally walked through the door at 12:30A.M., at which time, Brett’s emotions got the better of him.
In a loud voice, he insisted that she sit down because they needed to talk. At first, she resisted, but Brett would not accept “no” for an answer. He called her on her irresponsible behavior and let her know, in no uncertain terms, that he was tired of being the nice guy and that he couldn’t believe how incredibly inconsiderate she had been for months. Brett told her that he was through with her shenanigans and that as far as he was concerned, if she wanted out, she should leave.
Stella was stunned by Brett’s reaction. Instead of getting furious and threatening to leave, as Brett had anticipated, Stella sat quietly and listened to everything Brett had to say. In fact, she asked him if they could talk about this whole thing more calmly. She apologized for staying out late and said that she should have called him to let him know about her plans. Brett was so wrapped up in getting things off his chest that he almost didn’t hear the apology. It was the first time in six months that Stella said anything kind to him. Instead of being “Mr. Nice Guy” and letting her off the hook, Brett agreed with her saying, “That’s exactly right. You should have called,” and promptly went to bed.
In the days that followed, Brett realized that over the course of their marriage, Stella had often told him that what she loved about him was his strength, his manliness, and his ability to be decisive. Brett realized that their crisis had turned him into a different person. Many of the qualities Stella loved about him were gone. Although their argument that night was not going to win them the couple of the year award, it sure made an impression in Stella’s mind. The old Brett was back. Brett decided that from now on, he had to be himself, regardless of what happened with their marriage. Luckily for him, the real Brett- the less caution, more spontaneous, somewhat fiery and opinionated guy – was much more appealing to Stella than the timid, lonely man who made himself invisible for fear he would alienate the person he loved most. Although Brett’s 180 was spontaneous rather than planned, the lesson he learned from switching gears had a profound impact on the choices he made about his life from that day forward.
One important reminder here that bears repeating: when you do a 180, it’s scary. It feels unnatural. It flies in the face of what’s logical. If I had suggested to Brett that he take a strong stand and let Stella know exactly what he was willing to put up with and what he was not, Brett would have told me to go fly a kite. My suggestions would have sounded downright ludicrous or even dangerous. But almost all 180s felt that way.
So if you are considering doing a 180, don’t let your fear that it will backfire stop you. You can always retrace your steps. The important thing to remember is that the worst thing you can do is to keep doing what hasn’t been working. And, if you’re considering this technique, I’d venture a guess that your problem-solving strategies thus far haven’t been anything to write home about. Go slowly, but try doing a 180 and watch what happens.
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