Valentine’s Day Cards Are Nice, But Here’s How to Improve Your Marriage Every Day

I had returned to my hotel room during a recent business trip to Minnesota. It had been a long, tiring day and I still had a lot of work to do. I knew I’d be up until 3 or 4 in the morning getting it done. But before I started back in, there was one thing I had to do first.

Call my wife.

We spoke for about 15 minutes about what we had done that day, and caught up on anything else that was going on. I hung up the phone and returned to my work, focused.

That phone call was the travel version of an activity that my wife, Arlene, and I engage in every night. We call it Couch Time. Each night, usually right after dinner, we sit down in our living room and spend the next 30-60 minutes discussing things like what happened that day, how the grandkids are doing, where we should go on our next vacation.

We also discuss business, and she knows the names of all my clients and the projects I am working on. Sometimes we drink a glass of wine and often hold hands.

Neither one of us is quite sure how Couch Time got started. It sort of evolved from our first date, and it’s something we have continued religiously during our seven years of marriage.

Last week we went to dinner with some friends and had a lovely time. On the way home we realized we had not had Couch Time yet, so when we returned, we settled in for our nightly discussion.

In my book, How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs Mistakes, I discuss the 10 C’s of bank relationships for CEOs. One of these is Communication and as I note in the book, nothing is more important to a banker than communication. I’ll go out on a limb here and say communication is also the key to a successful marriage.

As Valentine’s Day approaches and people are encouraged to recognize a loved one on February 14, I thought about how a good relationship cannot be sustained just by buying expensive gifts and flowers on one day a year. It may even be a challenge with just a weekly date night. It takes daily maintenance.

I read about a recent study in an article on CNN.com, “Act Like a Long-Distance Couple Even If You’re Not,” that said long-distance couples can form stronger bonds than couples who live in the same place.

“Long-distance couples try harder than geographically close couples in communicating affection and intimacy, and their efforts do pay back,” says Crystal Jiang, Ph.D., who coauthored the 2013 study, which appeared in the Journal of Communication. “People in long-distance relationships often have stronger bonds from more constant, and deeper, communication than normal relationships.”

The good news is you don’t have to move away from your loved one to form those bonds. You just need to make an effort to strengthen them by incorporating that level of communication into your daily lives.

So go ahead and celebrate Valentine’s Day with a heartfelt card, flowers and a nice dinner out. But to really keep the marriage on track all year long, you don’t need to venture farther than your couch.

Sometimes Winning Isn’t as Important as This One Other Thing

I like winning. And learning that winning is not always the best outcome in a negotiation is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in my 30 years in business.

My father used to tell me that being successful in making deals is strongly tied to the ability to leave something on the table for your counterpart – even if you are in a position of power.

“But isn’t it always better to pay less for the same items or to make more money on a particular deal?” – you may ask. Not always, because the “buy low, sell high” principle fails to account for a crucial element in business: relationships.

Back in the day I used to be a very tough negotiator, and I wasn’t even aware of it. I was simply unwilling to settle for a deal that I thought could be more advantageous for me or my side. And I got the best deals. But what happens after you close a deal?

Life goes on and other negotiations and business opportunities come around. And, somewhat inevitably, some of these opportunities arise with folks who know you or have heard about you. Following what I considered to be successful deals at the beginning of my career, I was confronted with the ramifications of the experiences of those with whom I had previously negotiated.

That is when I began to truly understand the meaning of win-win solutions in business environments: the benefits of leaving something on the table so people enjoy working with me and feel like they’ve won, too.

Because of my reputation as a fair negotiator for the past few decades, business partners often seek me out even if the deal with me is slightly less financially advantageous for them. Most negotiation counterparts also come to me with fair deals to start (as opposed to starting at extreme positions) which cuts down the negotiation time and leads to more efficient business deals. Saving time and minimizing stress in business situations is often overlooked when evaluating the process of getting to a solution in a case.

Due to the many good relationships I developed in my industry and other fields, business partners trust me. And trust is one of the most valuable assets you can have in business.

Is my “always leave something on the table” advice applicable to all cases and situations? Of course not. You must know when to focus on a mutually advantageous outcome, and when getting the absolute best price or deal is the only objective. But don’t forget, you may not be seeing the last of the person on the other side of the table.

Do you believe in win-win solutions in business? Do you find them challenging to achieve? Share your story in the comments below.