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Part Two On Improving Your Relationship: Dale Carnegie on Marriage: Point Out the Positive


Dale Carnegie never wrote a marriage book, but we’re looking at his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, for a series of blogs on Improving Your Relationship with your spouse (to see the first one click here).  Since I’m a marriage counselor guy, we’re taking some of his generic principles and applying them to marriage.  A reviewer of Carnegie’s book on Amazon cautioned that his principles were written for business transactions, not for people in long-term intimate relationships.  That’s fair.  It’s with anything: you need a bit of wisdom to sort out the chaff from the wheat.  But, look: there are reasons Carnegie’s book is considered one of the most important business books in the 20th century.  I’m hoping as we look at some of his quotable quotes, you’ll pick up the book and find some gems in there that will help improve your relationships with everyone: your spouse, your kids, your coworkers, your clients and friends.

In our last blog we looked at one of his suggestions on what NOT to do: criticize.  That was from chapter one of his book.  His second chapter is just the opposite: praise.  Let’s start out with one of his quotes from Charles Schwab (not the modern day Charles Schwab.  This Schwab was appointed by Andrew Carnegie to run the United states Steel Company.):

“I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people,” said Schwab, “the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.

There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticisms from superiors.  I never criticize anyone.  I believe in giving a person incentive to work.  So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault.  If I like anything I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise (Page 23 Kindle Edition).

Approbation means praise, especially from a superior.  Your spouse is not your coworker or your employee and you are not your spouse’s superior, but the principle works the same.  Does this happen to you?  You tend to obsess on what your spouse does or doesn’t do that upsets you and then let him know in no uncertain terms what it is that bugs you and then you get mad when he doesn’t do what you asked.  And then, if you aren’t careful you conclude he must not love you because he didn’t do what you suggested.  And that makes you even madder and you shut down or get meaner?

Careful.  Pointing out someone’s faults is NOT the way to endear them to you.  We all have a hard enough time accepting ourselves.  We don’t need any help feeling bad about ourselves.  So if someone is criticizing us we’ll come to our defense.

The modern research on this topic is scary.  Some researchers are concluding it takes 5 positives to overcome 1 negative.  I don’t know.  It would seem the ratio might be closer to 20 to 1.  Consider: Nineteen people at a party tell you how great you look in your new outfit and one person comes up to you and tells you that’s the worst outfit they’ve ever seen and what in the world were you thinking?  Which of these comments do you remember?  Yeah.  Me, too.

I’ve had clients tell me their spouses or parents NEVER compliments them or points out anything positive.  What?  Nothing positive?  How are you supposed to enjoy life without any sunshine?  Everything’s gloom?

And stop it with the excuse that the reason you don’t compliment your children is because you want to build character in them.  Just stop it.  This is a sure-fire way to train your children to resent you and to not want to be with you.  They may even continue to do the behavior you keep bugging them about out of spite.  Spite can be a real motivator.  You may build character in them, but it may not be the character you were counting on!

Life is tough.  Life is short.  Life is fleeting.  Why not fill these tough, short, fleeting years with a little positivity?  Why not give your loved ones a little encouragement?

Careful.  As the Apostle James says, Your tongue is a fire.  “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a single spark.”  Or, he goes on the write, the tongue is like a small rudder that steers a large ship despite the wind and the waves (James 3: 4,6).  Your tongue sets the mood.

Michele Weiner-Davis, in her great book, Getting Through to the Man You Love, gives a cute illustration of this.  Imagine you get a new puppy and you are training it to do it’s peeing out of doors, not on the carpet.  She writes there are two approaches: In the first approach the master waits until the puppy pees on the carpet and then the dog owner freaks and takes a rolled up newspaper and smacks the puppy and yells and screams at the puppy and throws the puppy out the door.  What has the owner just taught this puppy?  To be freakin’ afraid of his master!  The puppy has learned NOTHING about bladder control.  Not a thing.  The second approach: the owner keeps a watchful eye on the puppy and when the owner can tell it’s about time to take the puppy outdoors, he takes the puppy outdoors and when the puppy does his thing outdoors the owner lavishes the puppy with praise.  The way to teach a puppy where to pee is with praise.

Now Weiner-Davis teasingly writes your husband isn’t a puppy, but, hey, positive feedback works for men, too.  Wives, also.  Kids, even.

Ignore the bad; praise the good.  We tend, instead, to do the opposite.  Consider another quote from Carnegie:

But what do average people do?  The exact opposite.  If they don’t like a thing, they bawl out their subordinates; if they do like it they say nothing.  As the old couple says: “One I did bad and that I heard ever/Twice I did good, but that I heard never” (page 23 Kindle Edition).

Catch your husband, your wife, your children doing well.  Praise them for it.  Pats on the back.  Accolades.  Attaboys, attagirls, waytogoes.  Awesome.  Proudofyous.

Jesus warns, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  Yikes!  You are what you think.  You say what you think.  If you think and say negative things about your spouse (or kids) day in and day out, YOU will be a negative person.  This will affect YOU.  And YOUR negative spirit will spill over to your spouse and children and family.

Hey, that’s no way to live.  Stop it already. I know you can do it.  I’m confident.  Waytogo!

I’m a little scared to give this advice.  If everyone kept it, I’d be out of a job.

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