It’s not always what you say……

I’m feeling nostalgic these days. The song Love and Marriage keeps rolling through my head. Some of you remember it- “goes together like a horse and carriage. Any time or weather you can’t have one without the other.” My they just don’t write songs like they used to. I know I’m dating myself since the song goes back clear into the last century, but it is indicative of a time when marriage held an honorable place in our society. At least much more honorable than appears to be the case today.

It seems we have evolved, or is that devolved, into a society where each individual’s wants and concerns are all that matters. If you please me, I will stay married to you, and if you don’t, I will leave you and find someone else who will.  I’ve heard of couples who vow to each other at their wedding to stay married “as long as love shall last.”

Last week I challenged you to realize that the person you married is no more or less perfect than you are and that there would be times when he or she got on your nerves. Times when you didn’t particularly like each other at the moment. This is normal and in no way an indication that you married the wrong person or that you should consider leaving.

It’s at these times that the XYZ technique can be very helpful. XYZ is a part of the PREP course (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program) developed by Drs Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and others. The beauty of this technique is that it enables you to draw attention to behaviors of your spouse without attacking them or their character.

Here’s how it works. The X is the specific behavior that you find objectionable. The Y gives specifics to help the other understand what you’re talking about and the Z is simply an expression of how or why the behavior bothers you. In other words – “when you do X, in situation Y, I feel Z.”

Here are a few examples: “when you leave your coat on the couch when you come home rather than hanging it in the closet I feel unappreciated for my efforts to keep a clean home.” “When you showed up 15 minutes late for our appointment with the realtor I felt you don’t respect my need to be prompt.” “When you invited the neighbors over to watch the game without checking with me first I felt disrespected as if my desires don’t matter to you.”

I realize that on a scale of 1 to 10 of hot button issues these examples are likely way near the bottom. I’m just trying to give you an idea of how it might sound to voice concerns about disturbing behaviors without giving offense or making the situation worse. The XYZ technique is certainly helpful in dealing with your spouse, but it shouldn’t be limited to your marriage relationship. You may want to use it with your children, co-workers, other family, and friends, etc.

Now let’s be honest. There are times when we get so upset with our spouse that we just want to rip into him or her and give them a piece of our mind. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but some of you don’t have enough extra pieces to be giving much away – just kidding. While that may be a strong temptation, let me urge you to do all you can to fight and overcome it.

George Thompson, author of Verbal Judo said you should “never use words that rise readily to your lips, or you’ll give the greatest speech you’ll ever live to regret.” I like how Dr. Kevin Leman, author of 42 books on marriage, parenting, and family puts it: “if you follow your feelings for 30 days, you’ll likely find yourself in jail.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting your spouse know that something he or she is doing is disturbing to you. In fact, in the healthiest marriages, this is a common occurrence. It’s all a matter of how and when you voice your displeasure. Say it as an attack, and you can expect a negative reception. Use the XYZ approach to voice it as a respectful suggestion or request, and you’re far more likely to get your desired result.

XYZ can also be used to express gratitude. “When you brought me flowers on Valentine’s Day I felt so loved and appreciated by you.” “When you told my parents how grateful you were for how they raised me I felt so respected and honored by you.” The XYZ technique takes some getting used to, but I think you’ll find it well worth the investment of time and effort.

Ron Price is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-C-3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners Area. He can be reached at or 505 327-7870.