As a recently married man, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on our relationship and what has allowed it to be successful over the past 7+ years. I’ve discovered the our “secret” can be lumped into two groups: natural attributes and designed attributes.

Natural Attributes

When I say “natural attributes” I’m referring to anything that is an inherent part of our personalities. These are typically what makes you fall in love with a person in the first place: shared interests, compatible values, mutual priorities, etc. These natural elements are fundamental to who you are as individuals and these are the things that you were drawn to when you first met.

Designed Attributes

Perhaps a better way to phrase this would be “by design attributes” because here I’m referring to anything you’ve had to work on as a couple to make the relationship work. These don’t necessarily come naturally to either one of you but they are an integral part of making a relationship work. Communication is traditionally one of the biggest sources of conflict in relationships so it should come as no surprise it is also hands down the most important “designed attribute” to a healthy and successful one.

Asshole Clause

Anne and I developed the Asshole Clause years ago to help us communicate better as a couple, specifically to help us “fight better” as a couple. Let’s be honest here…fights are going to happen and trying to avoid them entirely is a pointless endeavor. However, if you can learn to fight better, respecting the other persons perspective and communicating toward a resolution, you’ll develop a better understanding of what triggered the fight in the first place as well as how to pre-empt future arguments. When you’re involved in an emotional argument, you’re not always able to communicate your thoughts in a calm, cool, and collected way…and this is exactly what the Asshole Clause is designed to address.

The Asshole Clause is based on two simple realities. The first reality is that people hold on to their emotions until given a reason not to. We hold grudges if we don’t feel we’ve been heard and we fixate on our own biases if not given the opportunity to express them. The second reality is that we’ve all been in situations when one person has simply blurted out what he or she is thinking with no regard for how that will be affect the other person. More often than not, the second person feels insulted or demeaned, which leads them to get defensive and causes what could have been a small argument to escalate. Anne and I found these realities to be a fairly consistent in our arguments, so we developed the Asshole Clause to address them head on.

Simply put, the Asshole Clause allows us to say exactly what we are thinking even though we acknowledge that it may come off sounding asshole-ish. We realized that if we fixate on our own frustrations or spend too much energy trying to find a politically correct way to express ourselves, we’re not able to listen to the other person and we make no progress toward resolving the conflict. The Asshole Clause lets us give voice to our frustrations without having to worry that it will be taking the wrong way.

The key here is that you must verbally invoke the Asshole Clause for it to be effective. The person invoking the Asshole Clause must acknowledge that what they are about to say may sound insulting but it’s not intended to be. Conversely, the second person needs to accept that the first person isn’t trying to be rude or insulting, they just have something they need to get off their chest. The Asshole Clause allows both of us to concentrate on what is being said rather than how it is being said. The first person has the luxury of talking through their issue out loud, clarifying without feeling the need to get defensive, and being able to raise issues for further discussion understanding that what they said or what they want isn’t the ultimate goal. The second person can then ask questions, can clarify for himself or herself, can respond to the sentiment behind the comment rather than the potentially incendiary language of the comment.

Next time you’re in a seemingly endless, circular argument, I suggest you try out the Asshole Clause. It may not work for everyone but communication is essential to any successful relationship (romantic, professional, personal, or otherwise) and relieving yourself of the burden of political correctness you can get right down to the heart of the matter and truly push for a resolution.


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