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Getting What You Want in Your Marriage Part 2: Starting an Upward Spiral

In a recent post, Getting What You Want in Your Marriage: Breaking the Downward Spiral, I talked about how important it is to ask your spouse for what you want as opposed to dropping hints or worse, just hoping, that he or she will intuit what you want.

This is pretty basic, but I am convinced that only a very small portion of people actually do this.

There are two keys to getting what you want. The first is the asking. Obviously, that step is important. But the second step is critical as well if you want to go on getting what you want.

So, you asked your spouse to do something for you and he or she did. Now what? You need to do something back to show them how much you appreciate them.

Expressing appreciation in a tangible and serious way is really important to helping your spouse know what makes you happy. If you are fortunate enough for him (or her) to do something that really make you happy, you need to make a huge fuss about it so they will know what they did was successful. In fact, I am convinced that the act of appreciation can create a chain reaction, an upward spiral of real happiness in a marriage.

I long ago came to see men and women as speaking different languages and trading with different forms of currency. The trick to a happy marriage is learning to translate your spouses language--and help him or her translate yours. That requires you to speak very clearly and openly--being direct with what you want. Once you have done that, though you have to learn what the exchange rates are.

Men need to understand something here. Chances are, the things there wives want or not really things. They might be, but a lot of women I know would prefer a variety of actions as opposed to things (helping with the kids, giving her a night out, etc.), although this is not to say giving an item will never be the right thing.

Women also need to understand something. Most men sincerely want to make their wives happy. However, they live in a culture where men are portrayed frequently as being too stupid or insensitive to get their wives good gifts or do things to make them happy. If you don't believe me, look around at some TV shows and movie. How are the men portrayed when it comes to their ability to be thoughtful and considerate? I really believe that a lot of men have absorbed these messages, probably unconsciously.

Here is a simple idea that can help couples start an upward spiral of love, affection, appreciation and fun.

You each sit down for five or ten minutes with a piece of paper (you might want to do different colors, one for him and one for her). On the paper, you write anything and everything you can think of that you would like--surprises or actions that would make you happy. You have to be totally honest about this or it doesn't work.

Warning: this might make you feel vulnerable because you are really opening yourself up. But do it anyway. Both spouses write down anything and everything your spouse could do that would make you happy: clean the kitchen, go out for dinner, going for a romantic get-away, mowing the lawn, getting the oil changed in the car, new lingerie, watching the kids for an evening, more frequent intimacy, buying a new book or dvd--whatever is important to you needs to go on the list. BE HONEST!

Once the ideas are written, then you slice them up and put them in two separate jars or envelopes. He get's the list she makes and she gets the list he made.

If you want to get really elaborate, you can even weight or rank each item on a scale of amazingness from 1-10, but this is unnecessary.

Here's the beauty of the jars. Let's say a husband does something nice that a wife has been wanting for years. In order to reinforce that, the wife really needs to do something for him of equal value. She goes to the jar and fishes around and finds something he'd like. She does it. And he does the same thing.

The beauty of this jar basically helps you establish the rate of exchange--it helps you understand each other's currencies and allows you to use the currencies of your native land to do nice things for each other.

Once this gets started, it helps you and your spouse learn what you like and value and--this may eventually lead to him or her doing nice things without even being asked or prompted! The jars provide a structure for doing what you want to do deep down--love and cherish and take care of each other.

In just a short time, it's possible to have a real upward spiral going of thoughtful, meaningful actions for each other.


Braden Bell has been married for eighteen years. He and his wife have five children and live outside of Nashville, TN. Braden is the author of The Road Show and blogs at

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