One Simple Technique to Get More of What You Want


As a lot of you know, I’ve been working with Barbara Sher, author of all those great books on how to live a life you love, for a dozen years or so. She taught me the incredible power of saying “I want ____, but I don’t know how to _____.”
If you go silent for a bit after saying this, most people will do mental somersaults to help you find a way around your obstacle. They’ll tell you how someone else got around it or refer you to their uncle who could help or suggest something they think just might work. Sometimes, they’ll even offer to do it for you.
If what they suggest seems outlandish or pointless, you need to know the followup: “What I like about this idea is _______, but what do I do about ______?”
Guess what? It works with spouses, too. In fact, it’s a whole lot more effective than whining or pouting or being mean to get your spouse to do whatever it is you wish was done.
You deserve an example. Back in my first marriage, when I was an ignorant amateur who thought marrying a great guy was the trick to having a happier marriage than my parents had, I wanted to learn ballroom dancing. I thought it would be fun, and it would come in handy at weddings and work events that included dances.
When I would ask my poor husband to come take those classes with me, it was apparent he thought this would be even less fun than having all his teeth pulled. Worse, it might lead to my asking him to dance with me at those weddings and work events.
Imagine if I had known to say to him, “I’d like to learn ballroom dancing, but I don’t know how to find a tall dance partner for the classes.”
He might have said, “Why don’t you take a girlfriend and you dance the male part, since you’re so tall?”
I could have replied, “What I like about that is I would feel really comfortable having a girlfriend in the same class, but what do I do about my klutziness when, say, one of my cousins asks me to dance with him at a wedding? I’d be stepping all over his feet!”
He’d have laughed. I am notoriously klutzy, especially when I need to do anything in reverse. Then he probably would have come up with, “Why don’t you ask your cousin to take the lessons with you? Or that dad at preschool who’s trying to get back into the dating scene. He’d probably appreciate a chance to learn with someone he’s not trying to impress.”
Even though I would have loved to dance with my husband, it was pretty clear he would never enjoy it or move freely across the dance floor with me in his arms. He’d much rather have stayed home and checked a mathematical proof for logical fallacies or played poker, neither of which I’d find at all fun.
So my choices were to make him feel bad — for turning down the woman he loved or for saying yes and having to take dance classes — or to give him a chance to help me do something I really wanted to do.
Stupidly, I chose the first. And not just once. Many times. Dumb move. Really dumb. We missed out on so much loving because I had no clue back then.
A friend of mine almost missed out on traveling to Europe just because her husband won’t fly. He turned out to be an enthusiastic partner in the trip planning and in savoring our photos and souvenirs when she went with option two.
And I just wanted to share that with you, in case there’s something you’ve been wanting.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • This post hits home for me. I’m married 19 years.Our youngest will be going off to college in a few momths. Without the kids my husband and I really don’t have much of anything in common and I’m finding myself longing to be away from him. I’ve even gone as far as meeting with a lawyer. My husband knows that I haven’t been happy but he has no clue that I’m hinking of leaving. It would crush him. I need advice.

  • I see myself living up to my full potential. Being spontaneous. Traveling. Giving more of myself to my career – which I enjoy by the way. Giving more of myself to others. Growing. I also feel that I’ve enabled my husband to live in my shadows and be complacent. I feel that my aspirations are a threat to him. I try to imagine how it would impact our relationship if I were to pursue my dreams within the confines of my marriage and I see it dividing us further. I’ve expressed this to him in one way or another over the years. I even asked him recently what he saw for himself once we became empty nesters. His response was basically he’s done. He wants to retire and live a simple life off his very modest pension. He doesn’t feel the need to “grow” or pursue anything further. That’s fine for him but that’s completely not fine for me.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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