Do Nothing: A Novel Approach to Solving Marriage Problems

do nothing: a novel approach to marriage problems

Some people are fix-it addicts.  Fixing their marriages becomes the main focus of their lives.  The problem with this is that relationships are like see-saws: the more one person does of something, the less the other one will do.  If one person takes out the garbage all the time, the other partner won’t even think about garbage day.  If one person remembers family members’ birthdays all the time, the other partner doesn’t have to think about birthdays.  If one partner is the marriage handyman or woman, the other partner can put the marriage on the back burner.

Sometimes the very best thing a fix-it addict can do is to use an alternative to the do something different approach and do nothing, because by doing so, it gives their partner the opportunity to step in and rise to the problem-solving occasion.  Being a fix-it addict myself, I know about the importance of backing off firsthand.

My most deeply entrenched more of the same behavior had to do with raising of our daughter, Danielle.  I felt Jim was too harsh with her and too rule-bound.  I felt that kids need a lot more TLC.  He, on the other hand, felt that I was a pushover and that I wasn’t doing Danielle any favors by not having clear expectations of her in every aspect of her life.  Because of these basic differences in perspective, we argued a great deal, especially when Danielle was a pre-teenager.

The typical pattern was this: Danielle would do something, I would correct her mildly, and Jim would come down on her harder.  In order to soften the blow, I would step in and reassure her in some way.  This would infuriate Jim and he would lash out verbally at me and then at Danielle as well.  When I asked myself what my goal was, it was twofold: one, to help Danielle feel good about herself and two, for Jim and Danielle to have a more loving relationship.  Although I knew that my actions were bringing about the exact opposite of what I was hoping for, I continued to do more of the same for years.  I had become a fix-it addict.

Then one day I decided to practice what I preach.  I was out of town doing a seminar and I received an SOS call from Danielle.  She said, “Mom, Dad is being mean.  He’s yelling and saying mean things.”  Well, that’s all I really needed to hear.  I told her to go and get her dad because I wanted to talk with him.  In the minute or so that it took for Jim to get on the phone, I realized that if I lectured him about his actions as I had done a thousand times before, he’d get mad at me and even madder at Danielle.  So in an instant, I decided to reverse a marriage-long habit.  I decided to say nothing.  Jim got on the phone expecting a lecture and instead, I told him that I just wanted to say good night to him.  “Good night.,” he told me, and then hung up.

The next day at the airport, on my way home, I called in the late afternoon to see how Danielle was doing.  Surprisingly, Jim answered the phone.  I said, “Jim, it’s only three-thirty in the afternoon, what are you doing home?”  He replied, I felt really bad about what happened between Danielle and me last night so I decided to leave work early, buy a dozen roses [she loves flowers], pick her up at school, and take her out to dinner.”  We were both silent for a moment.  Then he said, “Do you feel better?” to which I replied, “Yes, definitely.  Do you?”  “Yeah, much better,” he said.

Less is More

You see, this whole wonderful thing never would have happened if I hadn’t butted out.  If I complained, Jim would have gotten mad at me instead of himself.  Without me pointing fingers, he only had himself to look at in the mirror that night.  And what he saw, he didn’t like a whole lot.  So, he fixed it.  And he did a damn good job, if I do say so myself.

I learned a lot that day.  I realized that by doing nothing, I had really done something, probably the most important something I had ever done in the history of our parenting together.  Call me a slow learner, but I caught on, and rarely intervened again.  Their relationship is so incredibly close now that I wonder why it took me so long to do nothing.

If you’re someone who is always assuming responsibility for making things better in your marriage, it may be time for you to take a sabbatical.  Relax.  Give your spouse the opportunity to notice you’re not fixing things anymore.  Like me, you may be surprised with the way in which your spouse will step up to the plate.

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About mwd27

Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW is an internationally renowned relationship expert, best-selling author, marriage therapist, and professional speaker who specializes in helping people change their lives and improve important relationships. Among the first in her field to courageously speak out about the pitfalls of unnecessary divorce, Michele has been active in spearheading the now popular movement urging couples to make their marriages work and keep their families together. She is the author of seven books including her best-selling books, DIVORCE BUSTING: A Step-by-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again, and THE SEX-STARVED MARRIAGE: A Couple's Guide to Boosting Their Marriage Libido. Michele's work has been featured in major newspapers such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and magazines such as Time, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, Essence, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Woman's Day, Men's Health, New Woman, and McCall's. Michele is a marriage expert on Redbook's advisory board, and She has made countless media appearances on shows such as Oprah, 48 Hours, 20/20, The Today Show, CBS This Morning, CBS Evening News, CNN, and Bill O'Reilly. Michele's Keeping Love Alive program aired on PBS stations nationwide. She recently completed a reality based show for the BBC about helping couples save their marriages. Michele maintains that her true expertise in helping couples have great relationships is derived from first-hand experience. She and her husband have been married for more than thirty years.
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  • Anonymous

    Michele,nI learned many years ago that “Less is More” but I keep forgetting. Thanks for the reminder. It applies in all aspects of life, not just in relationships.nErica

  • Anonymous

    I have learned to be quiet and allow things to play themselves out. And I can say in most cases it gets resolved without me saying anything. Also by being selective about how I respond seems to add significance to the times when i do feel it necessary to “do something”

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