Why My 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Marriage Didn't Work

Somewhere in the middle of my marriage, I gave up.

I had built up an inventory of complaints -- Meg's bossiness, my withdrawal from physical contact, our adequate but perfunctory sex life -- but resolving them just seemed too daunting to be in the realm of possibility, so I kept them to myself.

By not saying what I wanted I ensured I would never get it. My complaints were creating distance in my marriage and a leaden feeling in my gut whenever I thought about the woman I was once crazy about.

Instead, I just settled in for what I assumed would be a long, lukewarm ride through our average American marriage. After all, things were pretty good: we loved and cared deeply about each other; we were raising a successful brood of children; and unlike many of my friends, at least Meg and I had sex.

And then I discovered an alternative to the "don't ask; don't tell" model of marriage: radical revealing.

It Doesn't Have to be That Way
It was my job that woke me up. As a network TV producer, my work had always been pretty exciting, with travel and deadlines and office politics. But after years of adrenaline-fed excitement, I was getting tired and bored. After a big work blow-up, I took charge of my aspirations to radically redirect my professional life. And it worked -- the job became more enlivening with new challenges and connections with my colleagues.

For a while, that only made things at home seem worse. I saw how work life could be changed for the better, and at the same time, I became even more dissatisfied with home life -- to the point where anything was better than sleepwalking through marriage.

Taking the Radical Step
So I mustered the courage to actually say out loud the complaints about my marriage that kept recycling in my head, complaints that I voiced to others, but not to Meg.

I made a rule for myself: if a thought occurred to me more than three times, I would say it. I practiced it with others before I tried it with Meg. At first, it was so much easier to reveal my true desires with my friends; I had nothing to lose with them. Then I moved on to practicing on my colleagues and employees, in the name of developing my authentic leadership.

But it was hardest to do with Meg; as the person closest to me, I had the most to lose with her.

But when I finally began saying those recycling thoughts out loud, I was shocked to learn that in most cases, Meg was just as unhappy. And Just like the questions in that recent "How to Fall in Love with Anyone" formula, we grew closer the more we revealed what we really wanted and why it was important to us.

The Change Formula
Turns out there is a formula for change -- any kind of change, whether at work or at home. It goes like this: (Vision X Dissatisfaction) + First Steps > Resistance = Change. That is, if you have a powerful motivating vision of what you want, combined with enough dissatisfaction with the way things are, and you combine that with some first steps in a way that overcomes your resistance, you will get change.

For me, once I got an inkling of how life could be better and grew even more dissatisfied with the status quo, it was easy to find some first steps to take me where I wanted to go. The most essential first step was choosing to reveal rather than keep concealing what I really wanted or thought.

Try This at Home
Start small and work your way up: commit to revealing your thoughts. Use the three times rule, like we did, say you'll reveal at least one new thing a day, or use those intimacy questions from the Fall in Love with Anyone formula.

Then work your way up. Focus not on "solving" the issue, but on learning about what your partner really wants and why they want it that way. Then see what happens.

Meg and Tim coach couples that have drifted apart while pursuing careers and raising families rediscover who they are as individuals and show them how to reignite passion in the relationship.

You can read previous blog posts at www.megdennison.com/blog. Go to www.goodtogreatmidlife.com to find out the Three Things that Sabotage Relationships and explore how Meg and Tim could help you create a great relationship or get clear on your life purpose. For more on business relationships, visit www.peekdisruption.com

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