5 Sales and Writing Secrets That Could Save Your Marriage (and Make Your Relationships Thrive)

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telling a secret
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Couples struggle in relationships because they don’t know how to talk to each other.

There are other reasons. But that’s the biggest.

Maybe I’m the only one, but nuanced, intangible things like “feelings” and “communication” and “psychology” never pulled much weight with me growing up, or even in my 20s.

Feelings?! Those are for girls!

Communication?! What’s there to talk about?! Everyone is basically the same!

Psychology?! That’s pseudo-science! Can’t we talk about something that matters, like football or movies?!

Yes, I was/am an idiot.

Those very accurate (if ignorant) thoughts and internal monologues explain why I’m divorced.

It’s worth repeating: If your marriage is miserable and broken, the reason is because you don’t know how to talk to each other.

Sure, you both have personal and collective problems outside of the communication spectrum, but two people pulling in the same direction who understand how to exchange healthy and productive dialogue about them will actually grow closer while overcoming the hardships together.

The future of our closest and most-treasured, most-meaningful relationships depends on us figuring this out. I say “us,” because I’m totally in the boat, too. A lifetime of bad habits and emotional triggers can only be broken and reprogrammed with new, better habits and thoughtful situational response.

Maybe my professional life can be a source of inspiration.

If Words and Sales Techniques Influence People to Buy Things, Could They Also Affect Behavior in Relationships? 

“They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.” — Carl W. Buehner

From dating through our divorce, my wife and I were together for 12 years.

Maybe it’s because we’re creeping up on four years since our separation and my memory isn’t what it used to be, but I can’t remember the specific words, tone of voice, timing and circumstances of any of our verbal spats.

I can only remember how it felt.

I was angry. Confused. Frustrated. Arrogant. Defensive. Ashamed.

Like most couples, we mostly had the same fight over and over again. A few details change, but it’s always The Same Fight®, with the same themes and argument patterns.

The Same Fight doesn’t always scare you when it’s happening because you’re used to having it. But The Same Fight is what infects hearts, breaks couples and destroys families.

People pay attention to, and try to change or fix things that scare them. Have you heard or lived the story of the husband who seems disengaged from his wife and marriage, but has a complete meltdown and goes into desperate Super-Husband Mode after his wife says she wants a divorce, causing “WTF???” reactions from a wife who felt ignored, unwanted and unloved for years?

That’s what I’m talking about.

Those men fighting for their marriages and families when it’s too little, too late are guys who would have made different choices all along had they only FELT what they now feel in their frightened desperation.

It’s the marketing and advertising industry’s most potent weapon — human emotion.

Coca-Cola is the world’s most recognized brand and, I believe, the top-selling beverage in every country on Earth where it’s sold except Scotland (where I believe it’s #2). Coke is last on the list of companies that need more brand awareness. Yet they spend a kajillion dollars every year on people-oriented or “feely” marketing campaigns and advertisements because they want people to feel good when they think about, or drink, Coke.

And this is a company selling a product that’s not particularly good for us.

I think maybe we should try to be more like Coke in our relationships, except what we are offering IS actually good for people. With due respect to the fine people at Coca-Cola, strong relationships and stable, cohesive families actually will change the world.

“But, Matt!!! Advertising and marketing stuff doesn’t work on me!!!”

Right. I used to believe that, too.

And maybe it’s true. I can’t prove nor promise that certain word choices will influence an individual person to take a desired action. But I CAN prove and promise that certain word choices influence people.

When I’m not blogging about what a shitty husband I was, I’m writing marketing content designed to influence people to buy or sign up for something. I see a lot of data. I read a lot about strategy for improving results.

And yesterday, for the first time, I asked myself the question: Couldn’t these ideas just as easily apply to our interpersonal relationships?

5 Sales and Marketing Tricks You Can Use to Improve Communication with Relationship Partners (and Everyone Else)

1. Pay Attention to Timing

It’s hard to sell Christmas gifts in April. It’s hard to sell swimwear to cold-weather residents during winter. It’s often impossible to sell things during a crisis.

For example, Sept. 12, 2001 was probably a bad day to launch a new mattress and bedding sale in New York City.

But more subtle than that in the marketing world is time-of-day engagement metrics for things like email open rates or social media posts and ads.

MANY more people will open an email at 9 a.m. Monday than at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, just as many more people will see and engage with a Facebook post or advertisement at lunchtime or 7 p.m. on a weeknight than most other times (though it varies by demographic – young people stay up longer, for example).

All that to say: Maybe dumping criticisms or complaints on people during their busy workdays, or making requests or demands of others right when they walk in the door from a long day at work or at home with small children (and we have no idea what they’ve been through) isn’t the most effective timing nor best idea.

2. Chemistry is NOT Pseudo-Science. Smile and Hug More.

I’m not a biologist or any other kind of doctor, but I’ve read about dopamine enough to know it’s one of, if not the, most influential chemical our body produces to give us feelings of happiness.

Smiling is measurably the highest positive emotional gesture we make. It makes others AND ourselves feel better. And it’s a non-verbal cue which connects us to others and signals that we mean them no harm.

Additionally, HUG. For at least SIX SECONDS. Not strangers, necessarily because that might be weird. But your spouse, for sure. After six seconds, the body releases all of these excellent chemicals, including dopamine, which makes everyone’s lives better.

You might not feel like smiling or hugging. You also might not feel like brushing your teeth, or going to the doctor, or replacing your vehicle’s tires. But you do it because it’s important.

Smiling and hugging (and the chemicals they release) are IMPORTANT.

Side note: When you are text-messaging, non-verbal cues AND tone of voice are absent. Stop discussing important things via text. Pick up the phone, or save the important stuff for later.

3. Use the Right Words

Effective marketing and sales copy is customer-focused. It either educates or entertains. Customers DO NOT care about companies. Customers care about how companies’ products and services can solve their problems or otherwise improve their lives.

A thoughtful copywriter always asks: “How does this make you feel?” rather than “Which message do you want to send?”

Specific word choice matters.

You, Because, Free, Instantly and New are the five most-persuasive words in the English language, according to data analysis of advertising and marketing copy. Using those words has a measureable impact on the number of people who will open an email or click something online.

What words have a positive impact on your partner?

What words have a negative impact on them?

Don’t know? Ask. Or pay attention to what words (and actions) soothe them or make them happy, as well as those that upset them. Keep track! Talk about them!

How is it that I know which words will help me improve my email marketing campaigns, but don’t know which specific words made my wife hurt or feel good?

No need to overthink that one. I was an asshole.

4. Talk No Longer Than 30 Seconds at a Time During Conversation

Brevity is critical in marketing. And while I’m decent executing it as a marketer, I’m fairly horrible in conversation (and writing blog posts, *ahem*).

I am the KING of the never-ending monologue because of the way my brain processes new ideas and keeps triggering new thoughts while I’m talking, but also because my dad used to monologue-lecture me. I can remember ALL of the things I did which earned the lectures, but none of the lessons dad tried to teach me.

I used to use a lot of words while trying to convince my wife she was wrong to be mad at me or on the wrong side of an argument.

Pro Tip: That shit doesn’t work.

“Sometimes we speak beyond what someone is able to listen to. What the research shows is that the human brain can really only hold on to four things at a time, so if you go on and on for five or 10 minutes trying to argue a point, the person will only remember a very small part of that,” said neurologist Andrew Newberg, co-author of “Words Can Change Your Brain.” “We developed compassionate communication with the idea of having several goals, and one of them is to speak briefly, meaning that you speak one or two sentences, maybe 30 seconds worth or so, because that’s really what the human brain can take in and absorb.”

5. Make three positive comments for every negative statement

Newberg’s research also suggests that negative arguments have a very detrimental effect to our brain. We need to pay particular attention to not let them take over and work against them by using the 3-to-1 ratio:

“When you get into a dialogue with somebody to discuss any particular issue, a three-to-one ratio is a relatively good benchmark to think about; you wind up creating the opportunity for a more constructive dialogue and hopefully a better resolution,” Newberg said.

In marketing, positive messages work better when consumers have time to ponder purchase decisions. (Your partner totally has time to ponder.)

And negative marketing messages work better when there are deadlines because people generally demonstrate a fear of missing out and want to avoid negative outcomes.

Both positive AND negative statements should be used in our personal relationships to communicate thoughts and feelings.

But, for best results, we must counterbalance the fear- and anxiety-producing ones by using much more positive and hope-inspiring words.

Less hate. More love.

Less anger. More forgiveness.

Less stress and anxiety. More peace.

No tricks or scams. No lies or deception. Just authentic, thoughtful word choice and message delivery.

What we say, where we say it, when we say it, why we say it, and how we say it all dictates whether our messages are heard, understood, and properly digested.

Though our behavior often suggests otherwise, our closest relationships are the most precious and important things in life.

Sales and marketing people. Writers. They’re not for everyone.

But in the realm of HOW to communicate effectively — maybe doing things as they do would go a long way toward inspiring change in the feelings and behaviors of the people we live and work with.

Of the people we love.

Only one way to find out.

35 thoughts on “5 Sales and Writing Secrets That Could Save Your Marriage (and Make Your Relationships Thrive)”

  1. I could do 4 pm on Sunday the 22nd. Will that work?

    Are you thinking ceremony and reception? How many guests?


    1. Not sure on the head count, but 4 pm on the 22nd sounds amazing!

      Not that I have any idea what you’re talking about!

      Did you accidentally blog comment while IMing or emailing a client? Please say yes.

  2. Happy New Year Matt.

    If you’ve never read “Sexual Utopia in Power” by F. Roger Devlin, I strongly recommend you give it a read. It’s available on Amazon in Kindle format…or as paperback, if you’re old school.

    I think you would find it very interesting and might identify with a lot of it. Check out especially the section titled “Rotating Polyandry – and its Enforcers”, where there is a book review of Michelle Langley’s “Women’s Infidelity: Living in Limbo”. Very interesting stuff, where it discusses how wives tend to just check out of a marriage. Then the hubby realizes something’s wrong, so he redoubles his efforts to please his wife…but this almost never works. In fact, it only makes her lose more respect for him. And Langley isn’t making this up in her own mind – she is just reporting what she found after doing a lot of interviews and research.

    Fascinating stuff. Give it a read, Matt, and see what you think. Maybe you can write a post about it.

  3. There’s a TED talk by Adam Galinsky “How to Speak Up for Yourself” that also offers good insight. But marketing is not enough. He talks about the “Low Power Double Bind.” I think this is what is really sabotaging marriages. We need to raise our boys to be husbands and our girls to be something other than wives. Sexism is prevalent which makes it difficult for women to speak up and easy for men to ignore them when they do. Women’s rights have given women more options so imbalance of power no longer traps women. As long as there is a perceived imbalance of power, marriages will still suffer. But please consider that divorce is not the enemy. Children are not better off living in homes where some members of the family are treated as less important. It’s also dangerous to think that women can fix this. There has to be a fundamental shift where marriages are based upon two people who both consider the happiness of both people equally important. As long as I have to convince you to treat me as an equal, I am clearly not

  4. Pingback: You really need to talk to each other – 5 sales and writing secrets. – Ramblings of a bald, hairy creative daddy designer

  5. You encourage compassionate, selfless communication, Matt. I wish I had known to do this when I was younger. I would have had a more loving life! It is makes me feel so good inside to read your words and to know there are men out there (you) who are willing to step into my feminine shoes. To see disputes from the point of view of the ‘other.’ Reading your blog (I love that they are longer) gives me hope!

  6. Powerful and well said, Matt.

    I can tell you that main reason why I am still married is because I have some serious communication skills. Hubby gleaned some of those skills from me and adjusted, adapted. I often say, women must set the tone, because most of the time, we really are far better experts at interpersonal relationships and communication.

    Here’s the catch though, that I think is really important. Men and women are different, we think different, we communicate different. So men should not learn to communicate like women. If you get too touch- feely, too emotional, too empathetic, too much like one of our girl friends, it usually doesn’t go well. Men need to step into their own, to communicate like men, because that’s what tends to help women feel that sense of safety and security that creates our contentment.

  7. I saw the title of this article and was about to turn away, thinking it was just sales talk, clickbait and what not. But it makes perfect sense! As someone who is just about to get divorced because we haven’t communicated properly in years – and yet I teach cross-cultural communication skills to managers in my professional life – I can vouch for the accuracy of what you are talking about.

  8. 1) Timing on both sides of the coin:
    I tried to always smile and wish him a good day as he left for work. He 100% of the time gave a nasty snarky comeback. I looked forward to seeing him when he came home but he needed space to transition when he came home. So I smiled or said something to greet him or screwed up and crowded him or whatever but inevitably got hurt in return. I eventually adjusted some and even tried to not only understand but train the kids to give time and space too. But he never adjusted and gave anything back for our walking on eggshells till he was ready to be a human again. In fact he didn’t even give himself or us the time and space to adjust that he demanded. He came home and began in on his own negatives that he liked to throw at us and only after that then withdrew. He’s a critic and a complainer just like his mom. People need to learn to use some smart timing to make your last impression when parting in the morning something positive for the love of your life, something that lifts them up. People can and should use the first moment back together as a family at the end of school or work just as positive even if only for 10 seconds before claiming their needed transition time. And don’t drag your transition time out. You need a plan for what works for you. Do it and then be present in your family most of the rest of the day!

    2) wow did I ever need more hugs, longer hugs, safer hugs, more of his physical presence and strength in a million ways! No clue why he always preferred to deny it and make me feel paralyzed where more and more often I couldn’t even reach out for it in accordance with my own natural tendency. What a porcupine. I think he’s just a natural abuser. He likes to feel justified and focus on complaining criticizing and punishing just like his mom always did to his dad and to others. In any case I had continual skin hunger and was perpetually starved for affection and happy hormones and of course arousal hormones get heavily effected as people get more and more out of sink and a man grows more and more emotionally dangerous. Liking sex, desiring your husband, and then getting caught in a downward cycle of him being unkind and making unjust and flat out stupid accusations about your feminine sexuality as frustrated men almost always do is hell on earth. I have no idea why men are often so stupid that they hurt women and then after paralyzingly her accuse her of withholding and all that other idiot crap they grow more and more convinced of. But at least I can say, never marrry a man with mommy issues. And avoid feminist men like the plague. When he asks you to reject him sexually rather than appreciating it when you want to always be able to say yes even when you have some difficulty getting aroused from all the stress, or when he begs you to always or more often be the sexual aggressor or whatever other bizarre manifestations he comes up with to want to hate you, you’ll be in a living hell. And keep in mind that those confusing messages of the guy who is begging you to initiate but then also ignoring you and rejecting you when you do has no clue how confused he is. He won’t ever fix it or figure out his mixed messages. He’ll just be the weak and confused person he is and hate you for witnessing it. You’ll be the scapegoat of his bottom of the barrel ego problems. Men who devalue themselves devalue women, every single time. Just avoid that guy. Marry a guy who hasnt been wallowing in the mud of this world practicing ways to dump women and be dumped by them as many times as possible and worshipping all the ways of the Internet to screw up his sexuality, and who has enough confidence to cope with life including a few uncomfortable communications or hiccups or misunderstandings here and there.

    3 & 4) wow, just as big but also just as much me as him. I desperately needed to learn to be more concise and less rambly. But the more off-kilter and unsafe and unloved I felt the worse I got…and I mean wildly worse. In recent times with my daughters I’ve learned to cut myself off if I’m too frustrated and realize I’m rambling or repeating myself. He sucked at communication. It almost feels like he might have been better off had he not known any spoken language. But now I realize just how far off the mark I often was too and I have to own that and learn and grow.

    Then I just say, “I have no where to go with this that will feel like closure so I’m going to stop talking now.” Lol. Luckily they are learning and growing and healing too…and generally amazing human beings.

    5) I love this idea. It’s not like I’ve never heard it before, but it bears repetition and emphasis until I get it more firmly into my stubborn head. How many of us know it and still don’t do it? I know my husband was about a million miles in the opposite direction from very early on in our marriage. But I wasn’t consistently good at it like I wanted to be and thought I was. Sometimes I was probably pretty far off the mark. And I know I did badly at it in later years when he was just a drunk and an emotional terrorist. I know he was wrong and heinous and I’m not trying to justify him. I’m just saying his mistakes don’t excuse mine. It goes both ways. If one partner has to own their own stuff, the other does too!

    Anywho, thanks for letting me ramble and express negatives, Matt. 😉
    I’m doing the work. I’m usually using my journal to explore and process the negatives of twenty years of abuse. And I’m learning to let it go most of the time. Now the waves come less often and less intensely. God is with me. I’m thankful to be free of the abuser. It is far better to be alone than to be with a bad guy. It is well with my soul.
    I’m going back to school at The American Institute of Alternative Medicine to become a masseuse. It’s about to be a rough year financially. But I do have a huge pell grant and a student loan and I’m just going to do it. I’ll accrue more debt even though I’m already wildly uncomfortably in debt and owe my lawyer a couple of thousand dollars I’ll have to deal with tomorrow. But I’ll chip away at it once I have a more substantial income. Everything is going to be OK.

    1. Sometimes while I’ve been processing and healing my thoughts on my husband tend to sound much more harsh than the way in which I want to operate.

      The truth of my views is that I do not have a problem with men having their own issues just like I understand that women have their own issues. I believe that both sides need to own their own stuff. I believe that all people need to constantly return to prayer and to thoughts of “what can I do to be better?” as well as “what can I do to better address the issue that I feel needs to be addressed?” I believe that marriage is, and should be, a permanent commitment. The ultimate betrayals/abuses are flushing that other person and your commitment to them down the toilet through adultery, abandonment, or both. I believe that all people mistreat other people at times and that all people can turn that around and be a part of creating something better in future after the problems, no matter how badly they have hurt their partner.

      But the fact remains that I was abused and I am having to process all of those years all over again in light of also processing the ultimate betrayals. So if my words offend, I do feel badly for that effect happening to those who experience that offense. I hope the candid sharing of my current and past experience is helpful to someone out there.

      1. Girl, I totally understand you need to process. I use journaling to do that too, for my own stuff. 🙂 Some of the stuff I write…. “harsh” hardly begins to describe it. 8)

  9. Happy New Year my friend ☺

    Learning how to EFFECTIVELY communicate with with each other, especially during conflict, was a game-changer in our marriage. It didn’t magically “fix” all our issues, but it gave us a framework to work through them. Honest, effective communication is the foundation upon which we built our new marriage.

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me once again recommend “Feeling Good Together” by David Burns. Applying what we learned from it has literally changed the course of our marriage. I highly recommend it!

  10. I always learn something, sometimes it is something new and sometimes it reinforces something I knew, but forgot. Thank you.

  11. Love this post! My husband and I had the ‘usual’ argument last night. I wanted it to be different, I wanted to do something/anything different for a different outcome. And somehow it was about the same, and ended with great frustration. I appreciate the way you can see similarities and possibilities and your ability to consider what seems unrelated in the quest for what works. Gets my brain out of its rut

  12. Matt– I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about the brevity issue. Teachers are being told this all the time these days– “neuroscience shows that humans can only process ten seconds worth of information at a time, so eliminate from your classroom anything that can’t be broken down like that…” When you’re trying to teach students about the complexity of something (say, gender relations), and then you’re told by “brain science” experts that the first thing to do is to simplify and streamline, it’s pretty maddening.

    I’m interested in your thoughts on this b/c you write about complexity. And you do it, as you note, in long blog posts. They NEED to be long, imho, BECAUSE the issues are complex, new to your audience, and possibly off-putting. If you just dumped them out there in tightly compressed thought-pellets, with no elaboration, humor, or self-reflection to string them together and to leaven the loaf, I would find them far less compelling. Focus, precision, concreteness, clarity, and definitely receptivity– all these are communications goals to strive for. I’m not sure that “brevity” in and of itself is a virtue.

    But I’m aware that by temperament and by training alike I’m a serious outlier on this topic. You’re not, so I’m very curious about your further thoughts on brevity.

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  14. One very simple concept here that isn’t spelled out, but kind of hangs over all this – why do we treat our coworkers better than we do our spouses? Let’s start with something very obvious: we dress up for work and look our best, and the MINUTE we get home, the sweatpants and old T-shirt go on and we get “comfortable.”

    Nothing wrong with that…but it’s an example. We extend courtesies and niceness to the pretty-much-strangers we work with, and then mentally slip on the stained, ripped tee for the person we’re supposed to love.

    I’m working on switching that around (but you will pry my yoga pants out of my cold, dead hands….)

    1. 1. I don’t know any men who frown upon yoga pants.

      2. This is a great observation. Although. I question whether we really get dressed up FOR our co-workers. One wonders if there was no cultural standards for dress code what each person would choose to wear, and what their reasons would be.

      I think it’s fair to say most people wear comfortable, albeit “less attractive” outfits at home because people value feeling comfortable at home.

      I don’t see a problem with that. But it’s mostly a metaphor. And you’re right. We carry that attitude into everything we do, treating the salesperson at the mobile phone store, or the sign-in ladies at our doctor’s office better than our partners.

      It would be rad if we could intentionally behave in ways consistent with our love levels for people. Doting on our families and close friends and extending simple courtesy to strangers.

      1. Yep. We start doing this because it’s the expectation…but why shouldn’t the person we love the most get similar respect? It’s something to think about if it goes beyond clothing. (I love me some comfy clothes and a recliner!)

        1. If this is a hidden issue in relationships I am going to have issues all my life. I am pretty sure if given a choice between my dream man, John Mayer, and yoga pants, I’d choose yoga pants every time.

        2. And as a side note I have heard MANY men complain about yoga pants and leggings. They are all given a swift kick to the balls when I hear it, but I’ve heard it nonetheless.

  15. I found this brochure entitled “Your Family Can Be Happy” that speaks more in depth about communicating effectively in a marriage. Here’s the link to a video about it and the brochure can be downloaded for free https://www.jw.org/en/publications/videos/intros-for-the-ministry/family-can-be-happy-intro/
    Everything you said makes perfect sense. Being more considerate, loving, patient and humble will help us solve problems not just win arguments.

  16. That’s so accurate. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Could you please my blog ghat I started on Relationship Psychology. It would mean everything to me. Thank you ?

  17. Pingback: 5 Sales and Writing Secrets That Could Save Your Marriage (and Make Your Relationships Thrive) | Journal Edge

  18. Yeah, when I try those “three positive things for every one negative thing” my husband hears “I’m OK on balance so I don’t need to change anything”. When he even hears anything.

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