How Marriage Advice Can Save Your Career

Last Updated Jan 6, 2011 1:51 PM EST

A few years ago, Alisa Bowman was sure her marriage was falling apart. She fantasized about divorce (or her husband's untimely death) several times a day. But rather than call a lawyer, this Pennsylvania-based journalist decided to test drive marriage advice from multiple self-help books, learning how to voice concerns, argue fairly, and invest time in her relationship. She found the process so effective that she and her husband renewed their vows.
Her memoir about the saga, Project: Happily Ever After, is out later this month. As I was reading a galley, I realized that her advice applies to any long-term commitment, including the relationship we have with our jobs. In an interview, Bowman shares how marriage advice can help you at work, too.

Q. You managed to turn around your marriage in four months. Could someone could use the same process to salvage a bad job situation?
A. Yes. I've now used the project approach to improve nearly every area of my life: friendships, social life, career, parenting, and marriage. You just need to know your ultimate goal and then find the courage to take small, doable steps toward that goal. What stops most people from successfully improving their marriages or their careers is not a lack of resources. It's fear and blame. The fear stops them from trying and the blame causes them to find a scape goat - their spouses, their bosses, their coworkers, and so on. If you make a decision to own your happiness - in all areas of your life - then you will be able to use fear as a source of energy that drives you forward. Once you do that, you will find that there's very little that you cannot change in your life.

Q. Both marriages and jobs can benefit from making time for fun. How did you pull that off, and what advice do you have for people trying to inject that into their work?

A. A sense of humor can take you a long, long way in life. I try to fix the aspects of my life that are in dire need of duct tape. For the rest, I choose to laugh it off.

For instance, I used to get really annoyed when my husband would back seat cook. He would walk through the kitchen and adjust the oven temperature on me or he would stand right behind me and tell me that I was flipping a pancake the wrong way. Eventually I learned to lighten up. I might even say something like, "Daddy back seat cooked. It's time for Daddy's spanking!” Then our daughter would chase him around the house and try to spank his bottom. (Note: I don't recommend trying to spank one's coworkers, though!)

It's important to understand, however, that I am only able to laugh this off because we've worked on the really serious issues in our marriage.

I believe it's the same at work. We all have had co-workers who are a little annoying or bosses who have eccentric habits. These are the things that can make work fun â€" and they provide great stories to tell your friends during cocktail parties. Yet such situations are usually only fun if the big stuff is all in order. If you feel as if you have zero autonomy, are not paid what you are worth, and are not given credit for your ideas, those little eccentricities will drive you mad.

Q. What advice about marital communication would be helpful on the job?
A. There are three important secrets I learned about communication from working on my marriage that have helped me everywhere in life, including my career.

Speak your mind out loud. Your spouse doesn't have ESP, and neither do your co-workers or boss. The people around you do not know what you are thinking or feeling, and you don't know what they are thinking or feeling, either.

Remember it is a three-legged race--not a tug of war. My arguments with my husband used to be about winning and getting my way. Now they are about collectively solving a problem together. Rather than, for example, blame him for the credit card bill, I might say, "Wow, our credit card bill is really high this month. Can you help me figure out a way to ensure we don't end up with a similar bill next month, too?”

You can do the same at work. Instead of seeing coworkers as adversaries, see them as members of the same team with a common goal. Help each other get to that goal together.

Say less, accomplish more. Most of us lecture people when we want to achieve a desired result, and a big part of this lecture is about why they are bad people and why our feelings are hurt as a result. I've found that this isn't effective. The longer I talk, the more my husband tunes me out. Now whenever I want my husband to do something, I try to phrase my request in just 3 to 4 sentences.

The technique works in every situation you find yourself. For instance, not long ago, I was stranded at the Roanoke, Virginia airport and I was trying to talk a gate agent into helping me get booked on another flight. She had just told me that I would have to spend the night in Roanoke and fly out the next day. I was not in favor of that scenario, but I didn't go on and on about how bad of a day I was having. I just said, "I'm supposed to give two speeches tomorrow and people are counting on me. I would really appreciate it if you could help me get to Oregon before tomorrow morning.” She did just that.

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Sounds like good advice to me. I'd love to hear in the comments section from people who've managed to salvage a bad job situation. Or how did you decide it was time to get "divorced" ?

Image courtesy of Flickr user, Lel4nd

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