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.
Join the Divorce Busting Newsletter group to be included on the latest marriage saving articles, exclusive offers, and updates on Michele’s latest speaking engagements.