Saying “Yes” All The Time: The Key to a Happy Marriage?

Dylan, a computer programmer from Sacramento, once asked me, “Is saying yes all the time the best way to a peaceful marriage?”

He came to me some time ago because of the problems that have been brewing in his relationship. During one of our meetings, Dylan described in detail the kinds of arguments he had with his wife Sarah – arguments which he felt would only be diffused after he started agreeing with her (even if he truly didn’t!).

He told me, “There was one time Sarah and I were bickering over attending a PTA (parent-teacher association) meeting at our son’s school. I was adamant over not going with her because I was already tired from work on that particular day.”

In the interest of keeping the peace, Dylan eventually took the usual route of complying with Sarah’s wishes - even though he had a very different opinion about being part of the PTA to begin with.

Compliance Is Not The Answer

“No Dylan, blindly saying ‘yes’ all the time won’t help your marriage in the long run,” was my flat-out answer.

“Eventually, you’ll resent her – and yourself - for agreeing so quickly just to get out of an argument,” I added.

In many ways, agreeing at the drop of a hat is refusing to engage with the issues chipping away at your marriage. On a larger scale, it’s also refusing to engage with your marriage as a whole.

This is a dangerous mindset to adopt because you should be working on nurturing the friendship you share with your spouse. Agreeing without really addressing the matter today will only fuel arguments about the same issue tomorrow.

I continued with Dylan: “I don’t think anyone would want to have a partner who acted like a doormat all the time.”

Should I Say “NO” More Often, Then?

Well, no. Giving out a “NO” as soon as your spouse opens up about something isn’t going to work either.

The extreme opposite, saying “no way” right off the bat, is just as counterproductive as saying “yes”.

Dr. John Gottman, the author of “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, says that it’s a matter of willing to be influenced.

A common problem with a lot of couples is that they treat it like they’re each standing on opposite sides of the spectrum, doomed to never agree on anything. The issues you deal with don’t have to be as polarizing as you might think.

What needs to be done instead is to reinvent the concept of agreeing and arguing with your spouse.

It’s better to look at it as a process of talking about what you don’t agree on; then, you move towards finding a common ground to stand on.

Don’t take the single-minded approach of trying to change the other person’s mind. This is something many couples are used to doing, and many times it’s an exercise in futility.

In fact, Dr. Gottman points out that most marital arguments can never be resolved.

We all have deep-seated personalities created by our individual backgrounds; this is where our values and principles come from.

More often than not, these things are non-negotiable and key decisions we make are based on this inner core. And sometimes this clashes directly against our partner’s perspective.

Most of the time, trying to change these aspects in your spouse is like changing their DNA code – it just can’t be done!

Turning The Tides

Since saying “yes” all the time isn’t the answer - and reactively saying “no” right away won’t help either - what should you do?

It’s all about the willingness to consider your spouse’s side even if their take on things might not mesh with yours. According to Dr. Gottman, agreeing with each other should be treated as an active process of finding common ground.

This is a sounder attitude than setting out to turn around your partner’s opinion (which is often next to impossible!).

In Dylan’s case, saying “yes” right away won’t help him - and neither will it help you!

He saw compliance as a “less confrontational” alternative to what he really wanted: to make Sarah agree with him that PTA meetings eat up their free time and add to their stress levels.

This is the wrong way to handle things. To better understand the roots of the issue, I asked Dylan to describe Sarah’s general personality.

According to him, she’s “a socially butterfly, with a warm and radiant aura.” He explained that being outgoing is just who Sarah is.

It then occurred to me that this is probably why being part of the PTA was so important to Sarah. She’s naturally extroverted and flourishes in situations which require social interaction.

In other words, it was an extension of Sarah’s personal traits.

In this scenario, Dylan couldn’t just make Sarah do a complete turnaround – but he could very well express his side and get her to meet him halfway.

And this is why reaching a compromise starts with an agreeable mindset; but this shouldn’t be confused with being a “yes man”. As we covered earlier, it doesn’t do the relationship any good by agreeing without thinking it through.

You can be a good example by expressing an openness to see what your partner is saying. This puts you in a good position to add your two cents to the matter.

It’s a lot easier for your partner to hear you out when you construct your statements along the lines of “Well, that’s an interesting idea, but this was also what I had in mind…”

So taking the initiative to say, “Why not?” to their side of the issue is creating an invitation for your partner to meet you halfway.

This is a great starting point for a healthy discussion about your wishes while considering your spouse’s own feelings in the process.

Agreeing to Disagree

So what if you don’t agree on everything you put on the table?  What matters more is that you both went through the motions of putting the issue on the table in the first place - that's the breakthrough that you need to make.

This is an awesome approach because somewhere down the line, you’ll eventually hash out the common aspects you can agree upon. Don’t be discouraged that you and your spouse won't see eye-to-eye on everything under the sun – it's impossible to expect that from any couple.

With an approach and mindset based on agreeability, you’ll be left with a larger feeling of satisfaction…even if neither of you totally changed your minds about a certain issue.

And remember, this wouldn’t have been possible if you had simply just said “yes” without even trying to find any middle ground at all. Saying “yes” in this context is a cop-out.

(Nor would you make any progress with a flat-out “NO”.)

I drove this point home with Dylan, and he took my advice into serious consideration for later use in future discussions with his wife.

When we met again a month and a half later, he was happy to report that Sarah no longer made him come to every single PTA meeting that was scheduled at their son’s school.

Ultimately, they agreed on Sarah going to some meetings alone and together with Dylan during the others.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Dylan said. “I’d still rather stay at home and put on a DVD after work and Sarah is still passionate as before about making a difference at our kid’s school.”

“But after we talked about it a few times, we made some major progress and we’re no longer butting our heads over it,” he cheerfully added.

Dylan agreed to go to some of the PTA meetings when he wasn’t feeling too drained from the work day. He told Sarah that he understood how important being part of the PTA is to her, and that he’d like to support her even if he doesn’t see it the same way.

On the other hand, Sarah appreciated Dylan’s earnestness. She reciprocated by acknowledging that Dylan’s work is stressful during certain days of the week so he can’t be there during every single PTA meeting.

In the end, they still saw PTA participation from different perspectives, but a middle ground was forged in time.

I know that going through a similar exercise with your partner won’t always happen smoothly, especially if you’ve just started adopting this into your relationship.  However, you will benefit greatly by putting your relationship’s interests ahead of the initial discomfort of finding middle ground.

In my next entry, I’ll talk about how you can make your marriage an easier place for reaching a compromise even if things may get heated, so stay tuned for that.

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15 comments on “Saying “Yes” All The Time: The Key to a Happy Marriage?”

  1. My husband claims our 2 problems are due to his culture italian and mine aussie we live in australia and secondly his need to tango dance. i believe we it is deeper like our communication. his keeping secrets and he says he is open and honest.... keys to sheds and motor home not given to me. ever... his pay not open and shared together. mine minute but i survive on it .... no togetherness

    1. Hi Lesley, thanks for your comments. The odd thing is that Italians have a very strong culture in Australia and the two are quite compatible, so I don't really see how his culture is an obstacle in his view of your marriage. The issue here is his participation in the marriage, particularly when it comes to assets and income. Have you spoken to him about your longing to be closer, and be a more connected couple? You want to share in each other's lives because you love him. Make sure that when you talk to him about these issues you use the terms 'connection', 'love', and that you miss him. Tell him you want to be more a part of each others lives. Best of luck!

  2. He had 27 phone calls to a dance partne even calling at 1 am 11 pm in work hours and while I was away his past 13 month dance partner and says he clean yet they are old friends she single socialised together in past and his stories vary... over time

    1. Thanks for your comment Lesley. I have one for you: What are you doing to nurture and strengthen your marriage? We could look at the threat this dance partner presents, or we could focus on something you can control, namely the attention, the unconditional love, and the effort you put into your husband and marriage. You can't control his actions, but by being the very best person you can be, you maximize your chances of winning back his love and attention. Keep in touch.

  3. my husband is not working and he has a child from previous marriage,i am the breadwinner.i have a problem with him because he is so attached to this child he doesnt even want her to be disciplined and we also have a son with him but his love is on his daughter,if he has to give me something it has to be shared between me and her and i told him many times that i dont like it.when we disagree or had an agument he will go and have relationships then arrive home late what should i do?

    1. Hi Mary,
      Thanks for your message.
      The very first thing you need to address is your husband's habit to walk out on arguments and come home late. If your marriage is going to survive, he has to respect you and the marriage enough to stop having relationships with others. If you let him continue to do it, he's making a mockery of your marriage and your feelings, especially considering you are supporting him financially.
      Set down your ground rules regarding minimum expectations. Faithfulness and respect are paramount. It's okay for him to walk away and calm down if it's getting too heated, but he needs to set a better example to his children. If you set down these rules and he breaks them, there has to be consequences. Withdrawal of financial support, separate bedrooms, insisting he gets a sexual health test, and counseling. I understand you love him so you need to find ways to communicate these expectations to him in a positive and loving, but also a firm, manner.
      You can find out much more about communication techniques and conflict resolution by checking out our course.
      Regards, The Save My Marriage Today team

  4. My husband has an inappropriate relationship w a coworker. She is in live with him , has stated it multiple times in email over phone etc. although he hasn't been intimate with her, he obviously led her on at some point bc she assumed he would leave me for her. She has not stopped the inappropriate behavior. His birthday she got him a card . It said, I live you thiiiis much and had a monkey opening Arms. Then she wrote " I live every second we spend together. I love you. And look forward to all our good times ahead"
    My H, says she loves him like a brother now bc he made it clear that he wld never be with her. Regardless, she has disrespected me.. Cursed me out when I emailed her asking her to stop pursuing my husband. Then she posted stuff all over fbook (not using my name) but clearly making disrespectful rude statements at me.
    And my husband has to keep a 'professional' relationship with her . My q is. Isn't it reasonable for me to ask my husband to make it clear to her that she can't treat him as if he is her best friend . It disrespects me and our marriage, especially given the Fact she tried to break up our marriage for months and has cursed me out for it an never apologized or even acknowledged that what she did was wrong

  5. My husband and I fight less frequently. However, our biggest argument concerns his emotional affairs. He has all the signs of having an emotional affair. He has admitted to having all the signs, but he won't admit to saying that he had emotional affairs. I realize I can't change him. But I told him that I need time to get over his constant running to these women and him excluding me. I told him that he has to stop talking to these women. One woman he has stopped talking to. The other woman, for whatever reason, he wants to continue talking to her. As far as I know, he talks to this woman only in passing. Supposedly, She feels uncomfortable talking to him and he feels uncomfortable talking to her. There is no reason why he needs to talk to her. Our kids don't even attend the same schools. Our kids don't even hang out together. He says he feels comfortable talking to her in Cantonese, which I don't speak nor do I understand. This woman has lied to me numerous times. I don't trust her. My husband finds an excuse to talk to her. He wants me to agree for him to talk to her. I don't want him to start all over again with this emotional affair. As far as I can tell, either he stops talking to her or I get mad with jealousy. He can't control himself once he starts talking to her. She becomes like a drug to him and he is the addict. I don't want to go through another one of his emotional affairs again. I am still trying to recuperate from his last emotional affair. He has to realize that when he has these emotional affairs that he is hurting me. And since he has a habit of having these emotional affairs, it is best that he not start such friendships with these women especially since he can't control himself. If he truly loved me and respected me, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. So in this case, I can't agree with him without setting myself up for more hurt. At this time, I can't see a compromise.

  6. My partner Emma has put two patterns together to make what seems to me to be a particularly difficult problem to resolve. First, she has walled off her emotional responses from me and secondly she sees any flexibility as dangerous inconsistency. I think that if I could reach her emotions I would be able to discuss compromises, but as things stand that's not going to be allowed.

  7. My wife and I have two children of our own and I have 2 children from a previous marriage, but one of the them moved out so it is only 5 of us in the house. (2 adults, 2 seven yr old twins and 1 fifteen yr old girl)

    I have been told that I am too harsh on the younger twins and too easy going on my 15 yr old. (This is true I will admit) however I am trying to fix this but do not know how or where to look. My health insurance is horrible as I am self employed and paying out of pocket would help but it would also cause unwarranted financial strain. I have been pretty much told that I am not to discipline the younger twins anymore as I am too harsh.

    I am also told that my 15 yr old (and the 18 yr or that moved out) speak too harshly and are mean to the younger twins at times. This is more than likely true but I probably put on my parental blinders and just do not see it.

    My wife is starting to pull away from me very quickly and has threatened to move out more than once in the last three months.

    Oh, I also found out that she had met a man online and from what I can tell it wa only an "emotional affair" but still I am having a VERY HARD TIME getting past that even though I am more than willing too. She said she did this because I was ignoring her for quite onetime and I didn't even know it.

    I need help please, I still love her dearly and I want to save my family.

  8. Been married 19 years together for 21. Wife was 17 when we go together 4 children 20,16,13,11. Only argued twice in all those years cause I was a yes man. About a year and a half she was having a emotional online affair that I final out my foot down she then ask for separation she needed space . Due to money we were in able but I dia move into another room 3 months ago. That's not good enough she is now looking at public housing. I have bought her anything she wanted over the years and took her where she wanted when we could I have put all my life into family no drinking friends or hobbies for 18 years. I finally go her started in a small business and have our home paid off and now she wants out. She has been unfaithful at least 2 times over the 20 years both times I forgave her in the last year we tried counsel twice both times she quit saying it won't help I still go and I give her lots of space but I'm losed on next step. The other night she drank to much told me she hated me then kissed me over and over like a teenagers out first kiss in over a year , I could of had sex but I didn't cause I want her the right and sober way not that way. HELP

  9. First, about the article. There is nothing to disagree with in the content and I think it is solid, high quality advice. The challenge for a man comes with the actual implementation. If he follows the advice to tee with the wrong frame of mind, she will not accept it and will not respect him. The right frame of mind includes an authentic concern for her, a sense of unconditional love, and a crystal clear *intention* of respect and trust. By coupling this frame of mind with a masculine sense of confidence and non-apologetic personal values, she will more easily participate in the discussion without making it a power struggle. As the man, he must be focused on creating feelings within his wife that "shout" love, respect, trust, and safety. Only then can an angry, frustrated wife be able to participate in a joint solution/compromise.

    With regard to Michael...the number of times that you wrote "I'm told or Have been told" is extremely telling. She is frustrated with you because of your willingness and acceptance of constantly being "told" what to do. Arm chair coaching is dangerous, but I'm pretty sure I'm on point here. This problem is the first thing you should fix for YOU...then her. I'd love the hear Andrew's thoughts on that and see if he picked up on it too.

  10. Hi Michael, an emotional affair is a sign that she's disillusioned with the marriage for a number of reasons, such as your parenting-related conflicts as well as a lack of intimacy. This has likely driven her to seek romance elsewhere, hence her actions. The best thing to do now is be a good example to both your wife and children through positive and concrete actions. Perhaps it would be a good idea to see a counselor to sort out your marital issues and the negative emotions stemming from them. Additionally, find some resources of effective parenting to address your children's situation as well. By taking the initiative to take control of your circumstances (instead of the other way around), you're showing your wife that your committed to moving forward in your marriage. This can help you make the breakthrough you need to get her to come around.

  11. Thanks and very helpful.My husband and I got married for 12 years.I have 3 kids.Then he left us and got married to another woman.He never come home to see the kids and never supporting us fiancely.He has no concern about me and the kids.Big problem is no more communication.please help.

  12. I've been married to my first and only husband for 45 years. I became a 'yes person' to avoid conflict for the majority of our marriage. 7 years ago I had him removed from the home ( becasue of threats of physical violence... and we were separated for about 3 months before I allowed him to come back. over the past 10 years I have changed into a different person than I used to be when we were first married. My allowing my husband to have his way 100% of the time did neither of us nor our marriage any good. He is still having to grable withfinding out during the period of the past 10 years.a different wife....that I don't agree with him about everything. He's finally expressed his displeasure about my not being in agreement with him about everything by withdrawing from me emotionally and physically. All affection has been withdrawn from me for the past 6 years. He has used this in years past in order to make me come back 'in line'. I'll not go there any more because I've discovered who I really am and that's not a 'clone' of him. It's been a struggle but I will make it. thank you for this article. I will use this information the next time I disagree with him about something and see what he does, I do pray for improvement. He does allow me to hold his hands while I pray for him before he goes to work but that's been the only physical contact. I do show him unconditional love by the things I do for him. I believe his first love language is acts of service I thank God for small beginnings.

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