The Year of No

The Year of No


Are you looking for a New Year’s resolution? I have a powerful one for you.

All it involves is saying a single two-letter word. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. At least not at first. Here it is:

Say NO. A lot.

The very idea of making “no” a bigger part of your vocabulary might unsettle you. I’ve seen that many women tend to feel very uncomfortable around this one little word. For some of us, saying no feels almost like an act of aggression.

Here’s the thing, though. None of us — no matter how capable and generous we are — can say yes all the time. Every time you say yes to one thing, you’re saying no to something else at the same time. Yes and no are like flip sides of the same coin.

So you have to get very deliberate. What are the important things in your life that you always want to say yes to? Maybe it’s having weekends free for your family, or enough time for the yoga classes that make your body and spirit strong. When you know what your yeses are, it gets easier to say no to other things.

It’s wise to start small when you’re learning to say no. You don’t have to leap right into a face-to-face announcement to your mom that you’re not spending Christmas Day at her house like you usually do. Pick a request that’s a little less emotionally loaded first — like turning down a telemarketer that wants just a few minutes of your time to make a pitch (“Thank you so much, but I’m not interested. Goodbye.”) And give yourself permission to take the easy way out. Say no by text. Or just don’t speak up first at a meeting when volunteers are being recruited.

Even then, you might feel guilty about saying no.This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Sometimes guilt is helpful, but sometimes it’s just a sign that part of you is uncomfortable and resisting change.If you can, just keep taking small steps, and you will find this kind of guilt tends to dissolve over time.

Saying no more frequently eventually opens up a sense of freedom. You can free yourself from time-wasting, meaningless activities, and use your time to do what you love with the people you love. You can free up space to take better care of yourself, whether that means sleeping and exercising more or delving back into a long-neglected hobby.

“No” might not feel natural for you at first. But it’s an essential word to master. So what will you say no to in 2017?


The Simple Resolution That Transforms Your Marriage

Marriage Hack

If you’ve made the resolution to strengthen your relationship this year, I have some good news. There’s a way to improve your marriage that’s confirmed by research.

And it’s extremely simple.

And it takes only a few minutes per year.


Researcher Eli J. Finkel of Northwestern University and his colleagues discovered “The Marriage Hack” when they were studying marital satisfaction. Finkel talked about the magic of the Marriage Hack at TEDxUChicago. (You can watch his talk in the video above.)

Couples in the study conducted by Finkel and his colleagues filled out questionnaires about their marriages every four months for two years. In the second year of the study, half of the couples did The Marriage Hack. Their questionnaires included these additional writing exercises:

  • Participants wrote about the most recent conflict in their marriage from the viewpoint of an objective third party who wants the best for everyone.
  • They were then asked to write about any obstacles they might face in trying to take on this outside perspective.
  • Finally, they wrote about ways they could overcome those obstacles.

The exercise took just seven minutes, and couples did the exercise three times over the course of the year.

Those 21 minutes had a pretty amazing payoff.

Normally, Finkel says in his TEDx Talk, marital satisfaction declines over time. That’s what happened to all the couples in the study during the first year.And, sadly, it’s what continued to happen to the couples who didn’t do the seven-minute writing exercise in the second year, But for the couples who did the writing exercise, the decline in marital satisfaction stopped.

That’s not because they reduced the number of conflicts in their marriage. What made the difference is that the Marriage Hack writing exercise helped them handle those conflicts more constructively. The payoff happened in every aspect of their marriages —trust, intimacy, even sexual passion. And study participants who practiced the Marriage Hack writing exercise reported feeling less stressed and depressed, and happier overall.

So why is this?

When we fight with our spouses, we get caught up in our own perspective, Finkel says. We focus on all the things we are doing right and even start to feel self-righteous. Chances are, if you’re feeling totally correct and vindicated, and your spouse is feeling the same way about his viewpoint, that’s the recipe for a destructive conflict.

The Marriage Hack writing exercise reminds us of the bigger picture. When we make it a habit to get off our high horse and look at conflict through a different lens, we can defuse anger and build understanding and empathy.

So do you have 21 minutes to strengthen your marriage this year? Happy 2016 and happy Marriage Hacking!

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Marriage

New year

Happy 2015! As the new year begins, we’re all thinking a lot about our goals and wishes for the next 12 months. Perhaps one of your New Year’s resolutions is strengthening your marriage. So how do you break a big goal like that into actions you can take every day? Pick one or more of the  ideas from the following list to turn into habits for 2015.

  1. Prioritize couple time. Work, family and the other myriad demands of daily life can easily crowd out your time for each other. But consider this: The stronger your bond with your husband, the more likely it is that the two of you will work as a team to face life’s hardships . Care for your relationship, and it will make your life easier.
  2. But don’t forget ‘you’ time. While you need times of deep connection with your husband, you also need some breathing room. Make time for the things that you love — the things that make you you. You’ll come back to the relationship a much happier and more intriguing partner.
  3. Reign in the disrespect. If you tend to be snarky, sarcastic, or roll your eyes when you’re unhappy with your husband, resolve to change your habits this year. Never shame, humiliate or show contempt toward your partner because you’ll eventually destroy the relationship.
  4. Show your love. Research shows that the happiest couples have a lot of positive interactions that make it clear they value and deeply care for each other — specifically, 20 positive interactions for every negative one. Need to bring up you numbers? Express appreciation, give compliments and even work on greeting each other warmly. It all counts!
  5. Give generously to the relationship. Do you find yourself “keeping score” on how each of you contributes in your relationship? This can keep you mired in resentment and hold you back from making positive changes. Granted, no one likes that “Do I have to do everything?” feeling. But in the long run, you’ll be happier knowing you are definitely doing your part to keep your relationship healthy.
  6. Protect your marriage from stress. Make no mistake: The stressful, demanding times we live in affect your relationship. Researchers Lisa Neff and Benjamin Karney found that couples exposed to high stress for extended periods tend to be much more reactive to the normal ups and downs of relationships. To ease stress, take care of your basic needs (getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food), ease up on your expectations for yourself, and take concrete steps to decrease the pressure.
  7. Listen up. Learning to listen deeply is one of the best ways to deepen your connection and sweeten your life together. This kind of listening means you must be present, so turn off your phone, put away the to do list , and make real human contact for a few moments. When you tune into each other in this way and then listen with an open mind and heart, you’ll uproot the feelings of loneliness and rejection that cause problems in many relationships.
  8. Just ask. Sometimes we hesitate to ask for what we need, figuring our husbands “should” know. Or we end up expressing our needs in complaints. It’s a lot more effective to ask instead of complaining or silently stewing, so resolve to be more direct this year.
  9. Correct your relationship vision. It’s not your imagination — it’s challenging to keep a long-term relationship vibrant and interesting. Our brains love novelty, so it’s easy to take the person you’ve been married to many years for granted. Because your partner is so familiar, you literally can’t see all of who he is any more. To make matters worse, because our minds tend to focus on the negative, it’s easy to get locked into only seeing the many ways in which he irritates you. So, resolve to make it a habit to periodically step back and really look at your husband. See if you can learn something new about him, and notice all his qualities, not just the annoying ones. Hopefully, you’ll be able to clearly see why you married him in the first place.
  10. Work on acceptance. Remember that you are two imperfect people probably doing the best you can in this relationship. Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to fix or change your partner to make him the perfect husband. Everyone has shortcomings. So, resolve to accept (and maybe even love) his imperfections, and you’ll keep your marriage on solid ground.

You can read more about each of these tips and get more ideas for nurturing your relationship in my book Strong Women, Strong Love: The Missing Manual for the Modern Marriage. I wish you a year full of joy, passion and close companionship in 2015!