We hear a lot about how men are supposed to “Yes, Dear” their way to a happy marriage. But women are not expected to do the same.
Which is unfortunate, since one of the most proactive measures I’ve taken to bring about a more peaceful marriage is my willingness to agree with my husband, as opposed to fighting with him and saying no all the time.
I cannot tell you how many times my husband has asked me over the years, begged me really, to just say “okay.”
My natural tendency is to either say no, or to offer an alternative, or to give my opinion, or to simply share what I think. I am 100 percent honest and 100 percent outspoken, which is both a blessing and a curse.
In my professional life, telling the no-holds-barred truth is my brand. It’s what I do. But I’ve learned that people only want honesty to a certain extent. Most of the time, when people seek advice, or when they say they want advice, that isn’t true. Most of the time they just want the other person to agree with them.
This is especially true with husbands.
Now ideally, I’d like to think I can be my natural self at all times and my husband won’t mind. In fact, I used to insist upon it. But there’s something husbands crave more than truth: acceptance. Your husband wants you to accept his ideas almost as much as he wants to see you happy. And he doesn’t want your opinion nearly as much as he wants your sympathy.
“Three-fourths of the people you ever meet are hungry and thirsty for sympathy. Give it to them, and they will love you,” writes Dale Carnegie in "How to Win Friends and Influence People."
If this is true, and I believe it is, I’m convinced I’m part of the 25 percent that doesn’t look for sympathy from people. When I seek advice, or when I want to know what someone thinks, or when I make a statement about what I think, I genuinely want to know what the other person thinks. It doesn’t matter to me whether it matches what I think, and I don’t mind having my ideas challenged.
This works well for me as a writer since my work is controversial, and being challenged is par for the course. If sympathy was my goal, I’ve chosen the wrong profession.
What I’ve learned the hard way is that Carnegie is right: most people don’t operate the way I do (which is why most people don’t do what I do!) And it is definitely not the way most husbands operate.
When your husband comes to you with a problem, he wants you to listen to him, not to play devil’s advocate. Telling your husband you don’t agree with him is effectively telling him that his judgment is poor, and his reaction will be to retaliate.
I never thought of it this way because, to me, debate comes naturally.
So does compartmentalization: I can separate the personal from the political very well. I can ‘duke it out,’ so to speak, with just about anyone—and then hug the person when it’s over. No hard feelings. But most people do not enjoy doing battle, particularly with the people they love. So on the home front, I had no choice but to shift gears.
I had to stop making every exchange with my husband into a battle.
So today, I acquiesce. I say “okay” or “that’s fine” or “I agree” or some other version of yes. My goal is to say yes as often as I can when communicating with my husband, and the result is amazing. There’s quiet where there used to be noise. There’s peace where there used to be war.
Go ahead, give it a try. If I can do it, anyone can.
Suzanne Venker is the author of five books on marriage, feminism and gender politics. Her latest book is "The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage: HOW LOVE WORKS." Find her on Twitter@SuzanneVenker.