Secret to a happy marriage: 'Yes, dear'

Our humorist explains why active listening is overrated.
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Lithographic print by Charles Motte, after A. Maurin, c. 1815. (National Library of Medicine)

Our humorist explains why active listening is overrated.

The secret of a happy marriage is a husband who says "Yes, dear." So reports John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington. Gottman and his colleagues followed 130 newlywed couples for six years to discern the causes of marital success and failure. For years, the psychological community believed successful marriages sprang from "active listening" — hearing the real meaning behind what a spouse says. The Gottman study found that active listeners had no greater success than couples that slammed doors. I was reassured, since I do not practice active listening. I do not practice passive listening. I seldom listen at all. My experience is that any type of listening only encourages 'em. Gottman determined that the marriages that worked had one thing in common, a husband who is considerate, caring, and responsive to his wife's wishes. Gottman's study appeared in The Journal of Marriage and the Family, a publication my wife usually ignores. Surprisingly, she devoured this article and advocated basing our relationship on this compelling scientific evidence. I was willing to try this. I approach marital relationships with flexibility. For example, I once offered that in return for allowing me to play around and cavort with young interns, I would assist her in obtaining the Democratic presidential nomination. Displaying the sensitivity and understanding for which I am justly celebrated, I agreed to give "Yes, dear" a try. For three weeks I said "Yes, dear" to all my wife's requests. She still was unhappy: Judith: I thought you were going to rewire the bathroom. Steve: Yes, dear. J: You also agreed to trim the hedge. S: Yes, dear. J: But you haven't done these! S: Yes, dear. J: Don't "Yes, dear" me. Why haven't you followed through on your promises? S: I agreed to answer "Yes, dear." However, I never agreed to follow through on my commitments. J: What? S: I don't recall the Gottman study addressing follow-through. Further research is needed before one jumps to hasty conclusions about following through. J: That's absurd. S: Not at all. My plan was to implement Gottman's findings in stages. Stage one was "Yes, dear." If this worked, I would move to stage two, following through on commitments. Our current dispute demonstrates that stage one still needs work. The conversation proceeded to reveal my wife's unfortunate tendency to respond emotionally when faced with irrefutable logic. Based upon my experience with "Yes, dear," my unprincipled twin brother, Clip Clifford, launched ClipMartialCouseling, Inc. (Web site: Unlike other marriage counselors who try to mediate and find a workable compromise, ClipMartialCouseling simply sides with whoever is paying the bill.


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