What clever relationship "hacks" have you come up with?
November 3, 2009 10:48 AM   Subscribe

What clever relationship "hacks" have you come up with? I'm looking to build up my mental catalogue of examples of non-obvious solutions to relationship difficulties. Help me think out of the box better in the future!

A few times over the years, I've solved a relationship problem in a way that I was really proud of, because the solution met everybody's needs when it looked like such a solution didn't exist. I still turn back to these examples when I'm faced with a new difficulty, because I may be able to model a new solution out of the old ones.

An example of what I'm talking about: a roommate declared one day that he was no longer willing to share dishes with me: I didn't wash them well enough for his liking, even after repeated reminders. Well, that sucked -- it would be extra time, expense, and bother. But, we were able to talk about it calmly, and we worked out that really it was only the glasses that I drank milk out of which weren't getting cleaned well. So I suggested that I get a set of milk-drinking-glasses, just for me, and that we continue to share the rest of the dishes. And it worked! We never fought about dishes again. The lesson I learned from that: try to whittle a problem down to its smallest core, and solve that.

It's just a silly example -- drinking glasses! -- but I've remembered this incident for years, and modified the solution in various other issues of household maintenance. I'd love to have other examples to draw upon going forward. So, MeFites, when did you come up with a relationship solution that you were particularly proud of, and what lessons did you draw from it?
posted by wyzewoman to Human Relations (58 answers total) 1214 users marked this as a favorite
Try to make it a personal policy to prove yourself WRONG on occasion. And get excited about it. Realizing you've been wrong about something is a sure sign of growth, and growth is exciting.
posted by philip-random at 10:56 AM on November 3, 2009 [51 favorites]

Here's one that my significant other and I use that never fails to weird people out. After living together for nearly a decade, not only do we keep our finances completely separate, but we keep the weeks' "entertainment" spending completely separate. This weekend was "my" weekend, so everything we did, I paid for. Next week is her weekend, so everything we do, she'll pay for. Sometimes other expenses happen, but we don't switch up the weeks; we'll just say something like, "This is going to be a cheap weekend because I just had to pay for all those car repairs," and then we'll just do less expensive stuff. 10 years and we still haven't had a fight about money.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:57 AM on November 3, 2009 [50 favorites]

I don't know if this is "non-obvious", but I have a gift drawer. If I see something that really suits a family member or friend then I buy it and put it in the gift drawer. This saves me trying to find something in the week before their birthday or xmas.

I do the same thing for birthday cards. It's tough to find cards I like, especially on short notice, so I'll browse for one now and again for the drawer.
posted by ODiV at 11:07 AM on November 3, 2009 [43 favorites]

It isn't fair to either you or those you're dealing with to expect them to react to something as you would and then resent them for failing to do so. That's a lesson I've come to fairly recently, and it's helped me to keep situations from escalating.
posted by shallowcenter at 11:08 AM on November 3, 2009 [47 favorites]

Here's one that my significant other and I use that never fails to weird people out. After living together for nearly a decade, not only do we keep our finances completely separate, but we keep the weeks' "entertainment" spending completely separate. This weekend was "my" weekend, so everything we did, I paid for. Next week is her weekend, so everything we do, she'll pay for. Sometimes other expenses happen, but we don't switch up the weeks; we'll just say something like, "This is going to be a cheap weekend because I just had to pay for all those car repairs," and then we'll just do less expensive stuff. 10 years and we still haven't had a fight about money.

I find the opposite works for us. We have separate bank accounts, but we make decisions about what we can afford together. It's part of being in a relationship.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:11 AM on November 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

I find that communicating in writing often helps to resolve thorny issues. You get a chance to say whatever you want without interruption, and you can reflect over it before delivery. The other person gets a chance to hear your thoughts all at once and reflect before responding.
posted by tamaraster at 11:11 AM on November 3, 2009 [17 favorites]

It's part of being in a relationship.

It's part of being in your relationship. Horses for courses, whatever works for the relationship in question. An appropriate reminder for a question asking for tips to take into their own relationship.
posted by biffa at 11:15 AM on November 3, 2009 [27 favorites]

We made a deal that any time someone had to say something he/she was worried about saying, he/she'd get a smooch for it. So admitting fears about life in general or the relationship specifically always gets rewarded. And a good conversation ensues.
posted by lauranesson at 11:21 AM on November 3, 2009 [182 favorites]

What clever relationship "hacks" have you come up with? I'm looking to build up my mental catalogue of examples of non-obvious solutions to relationship difficulties. Help me think out of the box better in the future!

I'd say its important not to have a tool box. Pay attention to the situation both in your head and what is going on right in front of you.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:24 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I find the opposite works for us. We have separate bank accounts, but we make decisions about what we can afford together.

We do this for big expenditures, too, and for vacations; the alternating weekend system is more for day-to-day stuff, and a "cheap weekend" activity might be hiking and a picnic or take-out and a video rather than fancy dinner plus a concert or whatever. It's not like one weekend we're drinking champagne and eating caviar and the next one we're dumpster-diving outside the Taco Bell.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:27 AM on November 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

Whenever my husband and I have a fight, I just moon him and he starts giggling and then the fight is over. I don't know if this would work for every couple, though.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:30 AM on November 3, 2009 [67 favorites]

Swallow your pride. Then digest it, pass it, flush it, and be done with it forever. It's only exacerbating the argument.

I am sorry for the poo metaphor.
posted by Lieber Frau at 11:31 AM on November 3, 2009 [10 favorites]

At last it is time to reveal to an unwitting world the great game of Moral High Ground. Moral High Ground is a long-playing game for two players. The following original rules are for one M and one F, but feel free to modify them to suit your player setup:

1. The object of Moral High Ground is to win.

2. Players proceed towards victory by scoring MHGPs (Moral High Ground Points). MHGPs are scored by taking the conspicuously and/or passive-aggressively virtuous course of action in any situation where culpability is in dispute.

(For example, if player M arrives late for a date with player F and player F sweetly accepts player M's apology and says no more about it, player F receives the MHGPs. If player F gets angry and player M bears it humbly, player M receives the MHGPs.)

3. Point values are not fixed, vary from situation to situation and are usually set by the person claiming them. So, in the above example, forgiving player F might collect +20 MHGPs, whereas penitent player M might collect only +10.

4. Men's MHG scores reset every night at midnight; women's roll over every day for all time. Therefore, it is statistically highly improbable that a man can ever beat a woman at MHG, as the game ends only when the relationship does.

5. Having a baby gives a woman +10,000 MHG points over the man involved and both parents +5,000 MHG points over anyone without children.

My ex-bf and I developed Moral High Ground during our relationship, and it has given us years of hilarity. Straight coupledom involves so much petty point-scoring anyway that we both found we were already experts.

By making a private joke out of incredibly destructive gender programming, MHG releases a great deal of relationship stress and encourages good behavior in otherwise trying situations, as when he once cycled all the way home and back to retrieve some forgotten concert tickets "because I couldn't let you have the Moral High Ground points". We are still the best of friends.

Play and enjoy!
posted by stuck on an island at 11:36 AM on November 3, 2009 [297 favorites]

Response by poster: Aha, stuck on an island, I thought you were all bitter until I got to the end of your comment! Very nice. But your hack does remind me of another that I use now in my current relationship: make the dispute into a private joke. Every time the dispute comes up, the joke reminds the two of you that you love each other and that your relationship matters more than the argument. My husband is great at this one.
posted by wyzewoman at 11:43 AM on November 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

A couple I know periodically makes a point of deliberately sleeping in separate rooms every now and again so that they appreciate their time more when they are together. My wife and I thought that was a good idea but we've never managed to make a serious attempt of it. However, even our failure at following through feels somehow rewarding. It's as if to say, 'well, maybe that works but I value my time with her too much to do it.' Bad logic perhaps but it feels win-win.
posted by esome at 11:44 AM on November 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

In our relationship, if things are not fine, you are not allowed to respond that you are "fine." The required response is "I am angry/upset because of X." X can be serious, petty, annoying, whatever, but we can deal with X. We can't deal with "fine."

Also, co-op video games.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:53 AM on November 3, 2009 [65 favorites]

Response by poster: More generally: thanks, guys! These are exactly what I'm looking for. I'm especially struck by the suggestions for ritual behavior to do during uncomfortable moments: the smooches or the mooning or the point system. It seems like these rituals break tension and remind both parties about the fact that they are, together, in a relationship. I'll have to see which rituals I can (organically!) incorporate into my own relationship -- I think my husband would be decidedly amused if I just started mooning him out of the blue!

We've also got some suggestions for how to keep conflicts from repeatedly arising by using a rule to reduce the numbers of decisions that have to be made on-the-spot -- e.g. infinitywaltz's alternating who pays. It's a good principle, and one I'll keep in mind if I see flashpoints coming up when we'll be making decisions.

Lastly, there are a lot of "be a good person" type responses. These are probably the truest of the bunch! :-)

Keep 'em coming!
posted by wyzewoman at 11:54 AM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here's a list of things that have been especially useful for me in my relationship with my boyfriend. I've also found that the first two are handy rules of thumb in general when dealing with any relationship (friends, colleagues, etc.), not just with a romantic partner.

1. Avoid the word "but" as much as possible during conflicts. "But" tends to negate or belittle anything that comes before it even (or especially) when the information is intended to be positive. Instead, break ideas up into separate sentences, or join them by using the word "and" instead. This allows information, needs, feelings, etc. to coexist, rather than to cancel each other out.

It may not come across when you read it here, but in practice there is a subtle but powerful difference between these two statements: "I love you, but I need you to do the dishes more often." vs. "I love you. I need you to do the dishes more often." The first one is implicitly fighty. The second one is not.

2. Similarly, avoid "should" as much as possible, too -- "you should do the dishes" is different from "it's your turn to do the dishes." The first implies obligation (and a failure to live up to it), which may trigger an immediate sense of defensiveness, while the other is more of a statement of fact, and may be less likely to prompt a negative response.

3. Come up with with a verbal "get out of jail free" statement between the two of you that you can deploy when conversation becomes too heated and you need a break -- essentially a code for "I love you. Let's drop this." (It helps if this statement or phrase is inherently goofy, affectionate, and/or predicated on an inside joke.) It's useful for putting a stop to those crazy, stupid, silly fights that really aren't about anything at all -- you know, the ones where you're just cranky or tired, and no one REALLY cares about how the napkins are folded, and you suddenly realize that it's stupid to be digging in your heels about it, but you don't know how to make the conversation stop? Well, this is how to do it.

It's also useful for taking a timeout in more serious conversations/conflicts that are important but are perhaps not presently productive -- it allows you to table the discussion for the time being, go to neutral corners, and come back later to resume the conversation after you've both had a chance to cool down a bit and reflect on what the other one is trying to say.

4. This one is a specific solution that my boyfriend and I came up with a couple of weeks ago. He's the type of guy who, when a minor irritant happens, will yell loudly (not at me or anyone else; I mean that he'll stub his toe and yell FUCK!!!!!!!! at the top of his lungs while I'm in the other room). This freaks me out (in an instant, Pavlovian way that I have tried but failed to control) because, to me, yelling FUCK!!!!! loudly at the top of your lungs means a bookcase just fell on you during an earthquake, or you just found out that a loved one has been taken hostage or something equally disastrous. So then I run into the room, breathlessly screaming "OH MY GOD, WHAT'S WRONG?!?!?!", which makes him mad because -- to him -- I'm overreacting. But then I find out that all he did was stub his toe, which makes me mad, because -- to me -- it was his overreaction that started the whole thing. PLUS, there's the fact that a handful of times, him yelling FUCK!!!!!!! from the other room really has signified something serious.

So the other night, while getting all twisted up in trying to explain to each other our family back stories, and why yelling inconsequentially was a common feature in his family but not in mine, and how that has affected the types of anxieties we've developed over the years, etc. etc. (*yawn*) etc., he suddenly said: "What about this: when I yell 'FUCK!!!!!' from the other room, what if I immediately follow it by yelling to you 'IT'S OK!' That way, you know that you don't have to freak out, it's just me being me. If I need you to come running, I'll say so. Does that work?" And it was just sort of a light-bulb moment for both of us: we don't actually have to rewire ourselves after all? Oh. Awesome.
posted by scody at 11:58 AM on November 3, 2009 [250 favorites]

My hack is letting my partner go first. I just learned to do this within the last few months (yay therapy!) and I really think we fight way, way, way, way less.

When tensions are rising, I start by asking my partner how he is feeling rather than charging in talking about my feelings first. And then I really listen to what he says, in an engaged way. Somehow, starting off by listening to him always seems to get MY problems fixed, and leave me feeling a sense of mutual love rather than potentially hostile negotiations.

I thought this approach would feel too submissive (for lack of a better word) for me to use effectively, that I would feel my problems and my feelings were not being heard. But the opposite has been true, and I feel that issues are addressed much more constructively, and hostility is neutralized.
posted by bunnycup at 12:00 PM on November 3, 2009 [26 favorites]

Ogden Nash wrote this about marriage, but really it applies to any relationship:

To keep your marriage brimming,
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you're wrong, admit it;
Whenever you're right, shut up.

On a totally different note, I once had a roommate who was a real clutter-phobe. Even things that to me were not clutter were clutter to her, and she would "tidy" up my stuff and then I couldn't find things. After being stuck inside the apartment for four hours because she had moved my keys and I couldn't find them (the little built-in alcove right next to the front door was apparently not an appropriate place to put one's keys when coming in the door) I got a box and put it at the foot of my bed. I told her that whenever she encountered something of mine that seemed out of place to her, and she wanted to move it, she should always put it in the box. That way, if something of mine was not where I had left it, I would immediately know where to find it.
posted by ambrosia at 12:03 PM on November 3, 2009 [57 favorites]

Every couple living together needs a separate room with a door that shuts, possibly locks.

This room is where you will work late, have private phone conversations, read, listen to music, write, work on art, make music, wrap presents, brainstorm, and sulk.

You NEED to have a separate space besides your living area and your bedroom to do things in private. You also need to plan a night at least once a month where you do things separately, with just friends, or go out of town without the other.

Having these apart times gives you something to talk about later, and allows you to explore the interests and hobbies the other person may not care about as much.

Doing everything together, all the time, leads to stagnation. Also, just because you want to do project X, Y or Z doesn't mean your partner must do it or be forced to observe it. Having time apart keeps the relationship fresh, and having a place to go when one of you is angry is equally important (if it's feasible and you can afford to do so).

If you cannot have a separate space within your living quarters, you need access to a place where you can go (friend's house, library, office space, recording studio, etc.) where you can.

Not having a place to go that's neutral after an argument allows both of you to seethe. Taking time apart helps you heal and re-center.

Another suggestion: have a set "date night" every week and don't deviate from it unless you HAVE to. This is especially important if you have roommates or children.

Final suggestion: the one who cooks doesn't do dishes. Small kindnesses like this make each other feel equally appreciated.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:12 PM on November 3, 2009 [92 favorites]

My wife and I learned a while back that if we're both in bad moods (aka grumpy) at the same time, we will inevitably end up fighting. So we made a rule that we can't both be grumpy at the same time. How this works is we'll be grumpy at whatever and start feeling the tension and then one of us will say "we're both grumpy and we can't both be grumpy" so one of us stops. I have no idea why this works, it just does.

I love the 5-3-1 rule now and I am going to propose that next time we're looking for a place to eat! Thanks!
posted by bDiddy at 12:25 PM on November 3, 2009 [22 favorites]

For me, and for my sweetie, being tired and/or hungry will lead to complaining and arguing about non-issues. Lots of frustration, for no real reason. This almost falls into the category of "ritual behavior during uncomfortable moments": respond to a minor tantrum with "when did you last eat?" or respond to an irritating question with "let's talk about this after a sandwich".
posted by aimedwander at 12:30 PM on November 3, 2009 [14 favorites]

1. My husband and I once had a very light, casual conversation in the car on our way to dinner, about the various things we each do that, unbeknownst to us, bug the crap out of the other person. This was unusual in that both of us are very much in favor of letting the little irritants slide, but we were both in good moods, feeling kinda punchy and jovial, and it ended up being an incredibly productive discussion.

"I hate it when I'm taking a nap and my cell phone rings and you answer it and then wake me up to take the call." [furious mock head-banging on the dashboard]
"Really? Oh, shit. I was only doing that because you mentioned awhile back that you wanted to be better about actually answering your phone when you get a call. Shit. Sorry. I thought I was being helpful."

"Hey, your phone rang while you were sleeping; I think it was Katie."
"Oh, thanks." [goes to check voicemail and return call, which I would completely forget to do otherwise, so I do appreciate the notice]

We now have these talks about twice a year, only when we're already in good moods, and it's eliminated a lot of small but frustrating miscommunications.

2. We thank each other for damn near everything. He has his chores and household obligations, I have mine, that's a given and nobody deserves a medal or a monument for taking out the trash, yet we still thank each other every single day. Not effusively or anything, just a quick "thanks for doing X, sweetie, I really appreciate it." It's really nice.

3. The stuff we will never, ever resolve has, by now, become something of running jokes. For example, he sleeps like a chicken roasting on a spit and consequently our bedding is always a total mess—sheets untucked and sticking out every which way, blankets dumped on top of me in his sleep when he gets hot, and so on. I can't sleep a wink in a bed like that—something about tangled sheets = a tangled mind for me, so we have to completely remake the bed every damn night before we can get in. And we always have the same teasing conversation while we do it, about how I'm sick of taking sheet from him and he can take his sheet and shove it, blah blah. Only funny to us, and probably not actually funny at all, but you know, it's a ritual now.
posted by anderjen at 12:46 PM on November 3, 2009 [45 favorites]

1. I had a friend share with me a long-running argument between himself and his honey: he needed coffee the instant he woke up. She couldn't stand it if it wasn't fresh. So he brewed a pot of coffee at night, stuck it in the fridge, and got up and microwaved a cup in the morning. Unless she'd gotten to it first, in which case she dumped out the cold coffee and started a new pot brewing, which apparently took forever and made him grumpy. They'd been going like this for a couple of years, with daily coffee battles.

I suggested buying a second carafe for the coffeemaker, and they both got what they wanted. The problem wasn't that they wanted different, incompatible things, it was that they were invested in being right and in imposing their way on their partner. Don't be so invested in your position that it's more important than your relationship, unless it really is.

2. Have code phrases for messages like "I'm ready to leave this party" or "Please rescue me from this boor." Teamwork FTW!

3. Find out what little things you can do to bring your partner a moment's joy, and do them. Your partner hates ironing? Loves muffins? Can't remember to get an oil change? Is achy after being on his feet all day and could use a foot bath/massage? Gets frustrated trying to update the ipod? Feels loved when she finds a note in her bag/book/calendar? Do it. Not everything, not everyday, not instead of doing for yourself, but just for the simple joy of making your partner smile.

4. Don't assume. Don't withhold. These are passive-aggressive behaviors and they virtually never help anybody. Don't assume you know anything unless you really do, even if the evidence is compelling. Don't withhold affection or information or use either of those for bartering. If you want someone to know how you feel, you should tell them and not expect them to be psychic.

5. Reward behaviors you like, just like with a child or pet. So you're not the most enthusiastic gift recipient ever. Fine, but let them know their thought and effort are appreciated. Partner picked up his socks or did the dishes without reminding or did a favor? Say thanks, with a kiss and a smile.
posted by notashroom at 12:51 PM on November 3, 2009 [44 favorites]

Seconding the 5-3-1 game, which has saved my girlfriend and I from starving to death on more than one occasion. We modify the game so that instead of the first person selecting five options, they choose between takeout/delivery and eating at a restaurant. That allows the "3" person to choose three appropriate choices. We also use rock-paper-scissors if we simply cannot choose between two options, we randomly assign one choice to either of us, and let the rocks fall where they may (firmly on top of scissors, of course).

I'm also all for having some kind of goofy codeword type way of indicating tension or whatever, but that inherently makes you smile or laugh a bit. My girlfriend and I will often use our best Marge Simpson impression from the episode where Homer gets superfat. Trust me, saying "Homerrrr... Hommmmerrrr..." while trying to find the "least nagging tone" as Marge does, will always make you laugh. But this type of thing only works if both parties are able to not get overly hotheaded in the middle of an argument, which may or may not apply to you and your partner.

I would also advise trying to consciously use personal verbs. "I feel....", or "I think..." as opposed to making definitive statements which often put people on the defensive.
posted by dnesan at 12:58 PM on November 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

This may fall into the obvious category, but I have to share when I'm irritated about something. Even if I don't think it is reasonable, or don't want my partner to do anything different. If I don't, it makes me unhappy and I take it out on the people around me. If I'm lucky, maybe we can find something to improve the situation that I hadn't thought of. I AM lucky because my partner is always understanding when I have to complain about something I admit is "silly."
posted by Gor-ella at 1:30 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's another hack involving glasses:

Take off glasses that view the world through yourgender.
posted by teg4rvn at 1:36 PM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

This is a hack I've adapted from my mom, who used it in raising me and my (intensely competitive) sister. If there is something to be shared, one cuts and the other chooses. This makes both people stakeholders in the sharing, and eliminates a lot of fussing.
posted by workerant at 1:41 PM on November 3, 2009 [20 favorites]

Some things I do:

- Develop private in-jokes. Something that has meaning only to you two. It can be as simple as a some quote out of context from a movie you saw together. Having things you can just say "randomly" that make you both laugh while everyone else thinks you're nuts is a great way to defuse tension and remind each other of the unique things you've shared.

- I do a variation of what ODiV does: the bin of plausible gifts. Every time I see something that would make a good gift, I grab it. It might be for a certain person, or it might not be, but it's always useful to have it around for holidays... or for one of "those" days where someone you care about is in a bad place and "needs" a little pick me up.

- Don't tell people they're wrong about trivial things. Inevitably someone will insist something silly, like that Kevin Costner starred in The Fifth Element or whatnot. You'll know they're wrong, but saying so is just going to be taken as adversarial and lead to ill feelings that turn into fights (especially if you're one of those "always right" types). It's not worth upsetting each other over something so unimportant. If you must, just invent an excuse to let "someone else" correct them -- i.e., look the movie up on IMDB and let it deliver the bad news ("I remember that movie... I loved that "Aziz, light!" guy, did he ever play in anything else? I'll look it up...").

- Trust people with things nobody else knows. I try to make sure everyone in my life knows one or two harmless-but-interesting things about me (private opinions, etc.) that nobody else does. It makes them feel trusted, and as a handy side-effect often reveals who can't keep things to themselves.

- Invent simple things for others to "help" you with. Helping each other is among the strongest bond-building activities, just look at how close people who support each other through major events get for proof -- you can encourage the same kind of bond-building by "creating" simple things that those important to you can do. They get to feel important in your life because you came to them specifically if they choose to act on them, and if they choose not to it's not like you've caused yourself any trouble since it was so minor. This is also handy for knowing whom you can count on when you actually DO need someone later on.
posted by Pufferish at 2:02 PM on November 3, 2009 [23 favorites]

Here's a general hack for all relationship issues:

Say to yourself, "It's not about me. What is it about?" If you can answer that question, things usually get better. You can go into problem-solving mode rather than wounded-ego mode.

For instance, you're starving and your spouse is holding up your plans to go out to dinner by having a long phone conversation. Take a deep breath and say, "It's not about me. What is it about?" It's about finding a way to meet both your needs. You need to eat; your spouse needs to talk.

You're a teacher and a student has just called you an asshole. Say to yourself, "It's not about me. What is it about?" It's about helping the student learn. What response will best do that?

Combine this with a solo version of Moral High Ground (above). You get points if you make it not about you.


Learn how to play the "He's Not An Asshole" game. The rules are this: when someone pisses you off, you are not allowed to think of him as an asshole. Instead, imagine you're a novelist (or TV writer, playwright, etc.) and you've been ordered to write a story in which the "asshole" is the main character -- and you HAVE to make him sympathetic to the audience or you lose your job.

Yes, he's doing something bad, but what in his past might explain why he is acting this way and cause your audience to feel for him. You don't need to excuse his bad actions. You just need to root them in sympathetic causes.


You are never allowed to say, "You misunderstood me," "You didn't read what I wrote carefully," "You're willfully misunderstanding me," etc. (Someone says one of these things in most contentious MeFi threads). If there's a misunderstanding in a conversation, it could be either (or both) of the people's faults. No matter how sure you are that you were clear, don't assume it was the other guy's fault. Most people are sure they are clear all the time, yet confusions happen.

You get 10 MHG points if you say, "We're having a misunderstanding. Let me be clear." You get 100 if you say, "I was probably unclear. Let me try to explain myself better." You get 1000 MHG points if you reach a state where you're humble enough to really BELIEVE that any misunderstanding might be your fault.

This same hack applies to situations where you and someone else have differing memories of an event. Big MHG points if, no matter how sure you are of your memory, you accept the fact that you might be wrong.

Here are a couple that I use with difficult clients:

- Recognize that clients want to collaborate with you. If you let them do this any way they want, they will screw up your hard work. So always create a few versions of the project -- or part of it. Maye sure you like all the versions and don't care which one the client picks. Then go to the client and say, "Hey, I could use your help. I'm almost done with the project, but I can't decide which X is best: the red one, the green one, or the blue one."

The client will give it some thought and say, "I think the blue one is best. Go with that." Thank him profusely, use the blue one, and deliver the project. The client will be happy, because he got to contribute. You will be happy, because the client didn't fuck anything up.

When I don't do this, it seems like the client picks something at random to change. And inevitably, that change is really hard to make and ruins the project. Almost always, if I use my technique, the client is happy.

- Agree with all of the client's frustrations, even if you secretly disagree. If you are a chef, and the client say, "I hope you don't use olives in your dishes. Olives are disgusting!", say, "You're right. They're horrible. I don't know why people cook with them."

If you're in IT and the client says, "I hate computers! They just make life harder," say, "You know, I think you're right. It sucks that we have to use them. Well, since we do..."

If a client is frustrated and you are an expert in what he is angry at, he'll try to use you as a proxy for the subject. Don't let him. Diffuse his anger by agreeing with him and letting him know you're on his side -- not on the side of the subject. You're there to help him cope with the "terrible, scary" subject. It's the two of you against the subject, and you have the best weapons.
posted by grumblebee at 2:11 PM on November 3, 2009 [157 favorites]

I reckon one really effective relationship "hack" is just to properly document all those little bits of information you need for the daily admin of a relationship and running a household, and then share them between you using whatever technology you find most efficient.

By which I mean, why not use a shared Google calendar to track your day-to-day schedule, and set up shared to-do lists via something like Ta-da Lists? In other words, document these things in a single, easily accessible and easily updateable place.

The benefit here is that you eliminate all the "You said blah!" "No I didn't!" or "Weren't you listening when I said blah?" arguments. Basically, there's no ambiguity with this - if an event is in the calendar then you should know about it, if it isn't then your partner shouldn't be annoyed if you weren't aware of it. And the same for things that need to get done.
posted by iivix at 2:19 PM on November 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

My girlfriend and I like to bookend big or potentially difficult conversations with "I love you."

It puts things in perspective.
posted by asuprenant at 2:36 PM on November 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

Almost 20 years ago, my then-partner and I read a little pamphlet about relationships. I don't remember its name or who wrote it. But it said that people often start negotiating from what they think they can get, not what they really want--so even if the other person says yes, they are still disappointed. It said that people should start by being honest about 100% of what they want.

My partner and I use this all the time, for things big and small. "My 100% would be for today to include a couple of hours to myself." "My 100% would be having dinner before we see the movie." "My 100% would be to move to a bigger house in two years."

It's great because one thing that is surprising is how often you can have your 100%--and then you feel really lucky and happy and loved. And you also have the satisfaction of knowing that you gave your partner what they _really_ wanted. On the other hand, if the 100% isn't possible and you have to negotiate down from there ("I have a lot of chores to do so I don't think I could leave the house for two hours...but what if I take the kids with me to Home Depot to get the stuff we need to fix the door? Then you'd have about an hour to yourself.") you at least know that what you wanted was heard.

Everyone we've told this to begins using it and then raves about how great it is. Now we use it all the time with friends as well as with each other.
posted by not that girl at 2:51 PM on November 3, 2009 [549 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, this is all really incredible... thanks everybody!!! I'm not marking "best answers" because they're all so good...
posted by wyzewoman at 3:13 PM on November 3, 2009

My life-hack is to maintain a zero-tolerance policy for unacceptable behavior.

This includes family. In business, I may deal with you, but I never take your word for truth once the line has been crossed. Yell, scream, lie? I'm sorry - do I know you? Surely not!

In the beginning of implementation, financial and emotional relations may be sparse. But slowly, and then full-blown, you'll thank yourself for clearing the field for the manifestation of the types of superior interactions that cause fewer conflicts or doubts.

posted by jbenben at 3:27 PM on November 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Do not do what jbenben suggests unless you believe you are John Galt.
posted by lalochezia at 4:27 PM on November 3, 2009 [64 favorites]

If you're having a difficult conversation and you're having trouble phrasing your thoughts, say "I'm having trouble thinking of how to put it, give me a moment" and then stop talking. Really think about the weight of your words and have a complete sentence formed by the time you start talking again. Sometimes, especially in moments when we're uncomfortable, we want to rush to fill the silence because we want to be heard and say what we have to say, but saying the wrong thing is so much worse than a few moments of silence on the phone line / in the conversation / whatever.
posted by Phire at 6:03 PM on November 3, 2009 [22 favorites]

The following little saying applied to day-to-day living has saved my sanity a thousand times over:

"It's better to be happy than right."

If you need two blankets on the bed, buy two blankets. If you need pink towels because your partner keeps using all available towels and you MUST KNOW which towel is going to be dry when you take a shower, buy pink towels. Don't scrimp on household "extras" which will make you happier.

Spend time together even if you're not "together." My partner loves watching SciFi (or "SyFy") shows, which I'm ok with, but they're not my bag. I sit on the couch and play Civ on my laptop - he watches his show. It's not quality time by any means - and we get that elsewhere - but even the small shared experiences help build over time to provide a larger sense of togetherness. This is especially helpful when you're both incredibly busy and only in the same room for an hour a day. Don't feel like you have to be doing something TOGETHER to spend time with each other.

Never call something that's important to you "stupid" if you want your partner to understand that it's important to you. If "that stupid game" is actually making you upset, it's not stupid. My partner used to do this ALL THE TIME and we had our first really big fight over an instance of this, where I didn't take something seriously that was important to him because I didn't realize it was important to him. He had no idea that this was the net effect of him jokingly saying "oh that stupid thing." Treat what's important to you with respect, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

Go to bed angry. Fighting with no sleep isn't going to help anybody. Take a look at the problem with fresh eyes in the morning.

Recognize that not every problem can be solved right away. Sometimes, for the really big stuff, you really do have to wait it out.

If you agree to drop it - DROP IT. If you will never speak of it again - NEVER SPEAK OF IT AGAIN. Something horrifically embarrassing happened in the first month or so of my relationship with my current partner. I was totally, totally mortified. He came to me when I was crying in shame and said "It's over and we'll never speak of this again." Two years later, he never, ever has and I'm eternally grateful.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:31 PM on November 3, 2009 [47 favorites]

I'm with jbenben. Unaccaptable behavior is in the eye of the beholder, and the callout doesn't have to be "don't ever fucking do that again!"

Everyone has a list of things that are unacceptable- the quicker we let each other know what those things are, the better our relationships will be. (And, if our list is unreasonable, we will quickly learn to change our list.)

The alternative is putting up with it, and I don't think anyone wants to be in a relationship where the other person tolerates you...
posted by gjc at 6:33 PM on November 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

There have been some wonderful, thought-provoking responses here - many I'll use myself - and I'm definitely favoriting this. I don't have much to add, but here's something I've taken to heart from one of my favorite plays, Harvey:

"In this world, Elwood, you must be oh-so-smart or oh-so-pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant."
posted by pecanpies at 7:26 PM on November 3, 2009 [34 favorites]

Remember that every relationship is both a choice and a series of choices throughout its existence. Keeping that in mind helps me not take my partner for granted, reminds me to invest time and energy into all my relationships, and helps me keep perspective--if someone's stressing me out too often or too consistently, I can take a step back and evaluate whether this is a relationship I feel like I need in my life.

Specifically with my partner, I've noticed that, as others say above, simply being honest about what we really want has been very difficult for me in past relationships. Making a point to be honest with him has resulted in less drama, more fun, and me getting exactly what I want far more frequently than I would have expected.

Also, he cooks and I clean. Almost exclusively.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:52 PM on November 3, 2009 [13 favorites]

One of the things I've found to generally apply in any relationship of long standing (familial or friendly or romantic) is that if you are arguing/fighting about small or otherwise silly things is that there is definitely something bigger that is the "cause" of the fight, but not the immediate reason for it. If you can figure out the cause, you are much more likely to be able to nip the small/silly fights in the bud. It is usually impossible to contemplate clearly a(the) likely cause in the midst of the argument, though.
posted by birdsquared at 8:03 PM on November 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

My girlfriend and I are both people-pleasers, and that often makes us hesitant to be upfront with each other about what we want if we think it might cause disappointment or conflict. Which then results in this whole game where we're constantly trying to suss out what the other one really wants, and at worst it devolves into a passive-aggressive, resentful mess, like so:

"That's fine." (sigh)
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, yeah." (sigh)
"Are you sure?"
"Well, it's just that [blah] but really, it's fine. It's fine."
"No, if it's not fine, just say so."
"I don't know. It's just that [blah]. No, it's fine. Okay?"
"Uh, okay..."
(both feel awkward and shitty)

Thus, our hack: we are not allowed to ask each other, "Are you sure?" We take each other at our word. It forces us to say what we mean and mean what we say, instead of expecting the other one to guess the truth. If we're not upfront, we're stuck with the consequences. It's also more respectful - we're demonstrating that we trust each other, instead of assuming the presence of dishonesty and manipulation.

It's very helpful.
posted by granted at 2:33 AM on November 4, 2009 [72 favorites]

Question your assumptions. Particularly assumptions about what little phrases mean.
  • In my family, if I tell my sister something I think she doesn't know and she starts saying, "Mmhm, mmhm" in the middle of it, it's a signal that I've already told her this and I should skip to the new new part. Lately I realised that when I was telling my partner things I knew I hadn't told him yet and he was saying "Mmhm, mmhm" in the middle of it. I kept interrupting myself and saying, "But I haven't told you this yet!" and he would say, "No, you haven't." and I would be quite confused. So eventually I told him what "Mmhm, mmhm" means to me and asked him what it means to him. To me it means "I already know that, skip ahead" and to him it means "Yep, I'm following you so far".
  • Another similar example: When I'm making a point that's key to an argument and someone says "Yeah, yeah" I take that as dismissal. My partner takes it as agreement. Clarifying this has explained a lot of ruffled feathers and apparent contradictions over the years!
I have also found the Myers Briggs Type Indicator useful for this. I'm a planner, my partner is not. We've found the descriptions of judging vs. perceiving really useful when discussing how to plan our vacations better so we find them relaxing.
posted by sadmadglad at 5:41 AM on November 4, 2009 [6 favorites]

Thus, our hack: we are not allowed to ask each other, "Are you sure?" We take each other at our word.

Ah, I like this rule and I guess we have something similar although we've augmented it with the FailDancetm. You dance it whenever you are wrong about something. The The FailDancetm takes the frustration, resentment and "I told you so" out of the argument and instead replaces it with the joy of watching or performing the The FailDancetm. I usually include a simple song with the dance for extra awesomeness.
posted by uandt at 6:03 AM on November 4, 2009 [76 favorites]

Never yell. Heck, never even raise your voice.

If you think then way to get your point across is to raise the volume of what you're saying, you're wrong. It's as obnoxious as the person who speaks louder and slower in their own language to a person who doesn't speak their language...thinking somehow that will make the other party bilingual.
posted by teg4rvn at 7:26 AM on November 4, 2009 [13 favorites]

The number one fight (basically the only recurring fight) my fiance and I have is over cleaning. He doesn't seem to notice when the place disintegrates into a disaster area... and I do. So whenever we can remember to do it, we have "15 minutes' cleaning." Every night after dinner, we each clean for 15 minutes, tackling whatever job we want.

The person that cooked gets to clean up the kitchen because we instituted a policy of you cook - you clean because I am in the habit of cleaning as I cook and he is not. At the end of meals he cooks, the kitchen is a huge, disgusting mess. When I cook, normally I put the dinner plates in the dishwasher and turn it on.

"15 minutes' cleaning" is a totally doable burst of clean that doesn't disrupt our nightly activities and doesn't make either of us feel like we're "doing everything."

And this isn't a hack but I'll share it anyway. G and I are both very opinionated, stubborn people. The only way we have to settle major disagreements is to rationally discuss all relevant arguments from either side. If you don't have a rational argument to produce, you lose. Getting everything on the table, so to speak, usually elicits very quickly the "best" choice.

Oh, and we never have a problem with not caring where to eat. We take turns deciding (and paying, not that it will matter soon).

Good luck!
posted by AquaAmber at 1:35 PM on November 4, 2009 [9 favorites]

I always say thank you and explain what im thankful for, to him. I guess this strengthens the bond and experiences you share. eg. Last night we returned from my Birthday trip to New York, as we got into bed and we were talking about what happened, I just thanked him for coming with me. We paid equally for the trip but us being together was the important part. Of course thats obvious but saying it is special.

Another thing we do is realise where our personal strengths lay and utilise them for each other. My bf is a bit forgetful and bad at organising, but he wishes he was well organised (like me) as he hates to be stressed (forgetting appointments, missing deadlines) so now we have a big dry wipe marker board thing and I make sure to keep it up to date for him and our peace of mind. To me it always feels like nagging but he loves it and really finds it helpful.
posted by Neonshock at 2:24 AM on November 5, 2009 [6 favorites]

For working with colleagues:

- When disagreeing, find at least something you agree with and acknowledge that first.
- When you do A, it makes me feel Y, because it leads to X. Useful for any confrontation.
posted by xammerboy at 8:04 AM on November 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

Like infinitywaltz, we still keep our finances separate after a decade of marriage. During the times when only one of us was earning (or one of us was earning significantly more than the other) we used to split the household expenses in direct proportion to income.

It's not much of a hack, but it did save any resentment over who paid for what.
posted by pharm at 2:01 AM on November 6, 2009

One hack I learned from my parents: Whoever files for divorce has to take custody of all the children. I have 6 siblings; YMMV with this rule.

The other I invented with my children. If you get all riled up with anger and crying, someone always tells you to calm down and "take a deep breath" - I did that with my daughters, then advised them to stick out their tongue while blowing out all that air. Bronx cheer helps break the tension and get everyone laughing.
posted by CathyG at 9:58 PM on November 6, 2009 [7 favorites]

A long time ago I read a article about a couple who were married for 75 years. When asked about his best tip for a happy marriage he said something along the lines of, "Don't bother trying to find your one true love, simply be the person you want to fall in love with and they'll find you."
posted by JimmyJames at 11:37 AM on November 10, 2009 [41 favorites]

Assume that you will be giving 60% and your partner 40%.

They will make the same assumption.

You both will often feel like you are the one pulling more weight, but that's OK, because you both think so.

It's only the EXPECTATION that you have to feel like things are equally shared that creates misery.
posted by zachawry at 5:53 PM on December 9, 2009 [10 favorites]

"I'd rather be with her than without her" tends to put everything else in perspective for me.
posted by MesoFilter at 12:03 PM on March 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

I love this thread so much I created an account to post in it!

My partners and I have one relationship rule: Don't hurt the relationship or anyone in it. This covers everything from doing one's share of the housework to not committing suicide and has proven amazingly durable and useful.

Kindness is the most important thing in the world. Being kind takes very little effort and it feels really good. There is pretty much no cost to kindness. It's awesome. Whenever I do something kind for someone else, I take a moment to bask in the glow of what a great person I am; this encourages me to be even more kind in the future. Asking for what you really want is being kind to yourself, and is therefore also the most important thing in the world. Be your own best friend and advocate.

We say "thank you" more often than any other phrase except maybe "I love you".

On dirty-job-but-someone's-gotta-do-it occasions, it's always better to volunteer as soon as you notice the problem than to foist it off on someone else. So if the cat pukes just as I'm about to go to bed, I take a minute to clean it up rather than leaving it for my husband to find in the morning; and if he's getting a glass of water and realizes the trash is getting ripe, he takes it out to the garbage chute rather than waiting until I catch a whiff of it and haul it out myself. The effort expended is the same, but if the first person who catches the issue volunteers to fix it, then we both get the bonus warmfuzzies of one of us being kind and generous to the other, whereas if we bicker or bargain or evade, then whoever's stuck doing it feels grumpy and the other person feels guilty. Since the grossness has to be dealt with one way or another, you might as well do it the way that's fastest and leaves everyone happy.

We put a lot of effort into recognizing our strengths and weaknesses, and distributing tasks according to who will have the most fun doing something (or hate it the least). We avoid concepts like "fair" because they only ever seem to cause angst. It's not about what's "fair" but about getting everything done that needs to get done, as efficiently and happily as possible.

Practicality and personal preferences always outrank popular notions of what one "should" do. My husband has chronic insomnia and I'm a night owl, so we have separate bedrooms; this baffles other people, but it's the best way to make sure we both get the rest (and privacy and time alone) that we need. We routinely ignore Valentine's Day and our anniversary, because trying to make ourselves care about Special Days and observe them in culturally mandated ways would cause more stress than happiness. We both have girlfriends because neither of us is interested in monogamy. I remind him about things he forgets and he thanks me for it, even though from the outside it probably looks like relentless nagging. My girlfriend and I live 3000 miles apart, but we rarely arrange visits because we've found we're genuinely happier interacting over the phone and the internet than in person. If you hit a wall of SHOULD or SHOULDN'T, step back from it and ask what really suits you, not someone else's notion of who you're supposed to be.

My husband and I have a running joke of saying "You Were Right, Dear"--exaggerated capital letters and all--whenever one of us is right and the other was wrong about even the tiniest thing. The humor softens the ego blow a lot and defuses resentment, and the honest acknowledgment lets the person who was wrong at least feel good about managing to be gracious, while encouraging the person who was right to be more humble than smug.

A couple of people have mentioned the fake "I'm fine" or "it's fine" thing. I've learned that when my girlfriend says "I'm fine" but is clearly not fine, what she means is "I'm still thinking about it and not ready to talk about it yet" or "I don't feel safe/comfortable admitting that I'm hurting/upset/sad". So I say "Okay, let me know if you want to talk about it at some point" and then I change the subject and do not bring the other thing up again no matter how much I want to discuss it. It used to take weeks for her to come back to it and admit that it wasn't fine so we could talk about it; now it takes maybe ten or fifteen minutes. I think "I'm fine" almost always comes from someone feeling pressured or defensive, and the best way to help with that is to back way off and let them come to you in their own time once they feel it's safe.
posted by rosefox at 1:56 PM on March 3, 2010 [31 favorites]

If you use the words "I choose" it makes it almost impossible to blame. Take responsibility, don't b-lame.
posted by TheOceanRefusesNoRiver at 9:58 PM on September 25, 2010 [7 favorites]

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