Episode 209 – The 12 Principles of a Highly Successful Marriage or Relationship

Steve Shallenberger: A quick message for you: We wanted to let you know that the Becoming Your Best 2020 Planner has arrived and, as you’re starting to set your sights on having an extraordinary year in 2020, this planner will be a tremendous resource for you. We want to let you know that, particularly this year, there is a big-time discount for you! They’re here, they’re ready to ship, so if you would like to get yours on the way, just write to us at – you’re going to love this planner! 


Welcome to the Becoming Your Best podcast show, wherever you might be in the world today! This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and we are privileged to have you join us – thank you for taking the time! 


How many of you would like to have greater happiness, joy, closeness, and deep love in your marriage or partnership? Isn’t that, really, one of the greatest things that we can accomplish in life? Well, this podcast is being done today during the Christmas season. I love this season! It’s a season of love, and tenderness, and kindness. I love the songs – one of my favorite upbeat songs is “The 12 Days of Christmas”. Well, this season, in addition to the 12 Days of Christmas, I’d like to suggest the 12 Principles of Highly Successful Marriages or Relationships can have a huge impact in your life. And so, that’s the title of our podcast show today – The 12 Principles of a Highly Successful Marriage and/or Relationship. And you can see these 12 Principles as a gift that you offer to your partner every single day of the year. Just like giving a gift is something special, so is giving the gift of living the 12 Principles. When one person lives the 12 principles, it definitely helps them become the very best person that they can be. Living the 12th Principles of Becoming Your Best is an investment into your own happiness, health, and prosperity, but has a deep impact and influence on the relationship and how you feel about one another and the height of this depth of happiness and joy. 


Well, when one person lives the 12 Principles, it can change a relationship, team or an entire organization. When two people live the 12 principles, especially as in a marriage, or in a relationship, it accelerates the realization of greater happiness, health, and prosperity. It really takes only one person making the decision and effort to live these principles, but when more than one does, it changes an entire culture or family, and puts that family or team on steroids to success and happiness, and how to endure and deal with setbacks and challenges. It creates a powerful culture, an environment to deal with the ups and downs of life, that we all encounter. I invite each one of you to join me, especially this Christmas season, and throughout the entire year, to imply the principles not only in your own life but together, as a couple. It may not only save your relationship if it’s challenged, but far beyond that, it leads to this type of closeness, of happiness that I’m talking about today, and can produce one of the most productive times in all your life and experience. 


As many recall, the 12 Principles of Highly Successful People and Leaders are founded on 40 years of research and here’s the background: as early on in one of my very first companies, after a few years, we had 700 employees, and many of them would come and say, “How can I be a top sales rep?” or “How can I be a top manager?” And I thought I maybe had a few answers, but I knew there’s a lot I didn’t know. And so, I started this research of what set high performers apart from everyone else. I interviewed over 150 CEOs throughout the world, and studied the lives of hundreds of historical figures that have changed our lives, and here is what we discovered from this research – that none were really perfect. They all had flaws. But we also saw over, and over, and over again, these 12 things that were present, that actually created their success that set them apart from all others. It was these habits that they developed around these 12 Principles that made the difference. And these are behavioral principles that produce a predictable result, and they have just the greatest impact on you as an individual, as an organization, as your relationships on a team, and so forth. 


So today, let’s start with Principle #1 and briefly go through all 12 with you and your relationship in mind, with you and your marriage in mind. You may even decide to listen to this podcast together with your spouse or partner and then, afterward, as you take notes, talk about what you can do to apply these in your relationship in the coming year. It can be a time of renewal and rededication to everything that you hope your marriage and/or relationship might be. 


Here we go! Principle #1: Be True to Character. This principle means being honest, and there is a moment of choice, even multiple times every single day. Being true to character means that if you have something that bothers you in your relationship, that you are committed to being honest and talk about it. This can be a great commitment that you make upfront with one another, and it is a terrific companionship principle to #7 – being an effective communicator. So, number one, and number seven, work beautifully together. And number one and seven helps you realize number six – Build and Maintain Trust. So these really work together. Make a commitment to not only be honest with one another, make this an ironclad commitment, but also to give permission to each other to share whatever is on your mind. Nothing is out of bounds. Create this type of 100% confidence in one another, that builds the ironclad trust. And you can trust that your confidence to share will not be shared with other people. This type of commitment will build a special closeness and friendship. It will be the glue that holds you together, like best of friends, that you can share anything. So that’s number one. 


Number two is Lead with a Vision. What you’re really focusing on here, you may have your own personal vision – that’s awesome – or an organizational one, but we’re talking about a couple’s vision, and it can be one of the most inspiring and fun things that you can do together. Roxanne and I, as of least this particular podcast, have now been married for 45 years, and I remember doing this early on in our relationship. It was fun! You’re able to talk about it and what does this look like. An inspiring vision leads the way for the direction you choose to travel together. What is the personality of your relationship? You’re never too young or too old to create this kind of a historic and legendary document. So, how do you go about it? Well, it really can be pretty simple. One way is to start with three blank sheets of paper. To start, each one of you can write down the words that describe the vision that you have in mind for the marriage and/or relationship. Consider different aspects of the vision – fitness, health, financial fitness, spirituality – so gospel study, prayer together, worship together, fidelity, respect for one another, how we communicate parenting, treatment of each other. All of these things can be part of the vision. Write in present terms, in other words, “we are”. 


I’ll just give you a few examples that I put down here – and of course, you’ll have the written text from this podcast, so if these kind of give you a starting point, if you don’t have a couple’s vision yet, then great! You just modify it to yours: We are considerate of one another. We do not yell at each other unless there is a fire in the house. We do not physically or emotionally abuse each other. On the contrary, we’re thoughtful, kind, patient with one another. We believe in the principle of the talking stick, and we are considerate and courageous in our communication with one another. We set up a happy, spiritual, fun, pleasant tone in our home. Our home is a haven of peace and joy, and a refuge from the world. So, how can we make our relationship a special one of happiness and joy? This is one of the ways as we figure it out and describe it in advance. 


Then, you take the two sheets, and one of you can wordsmith your ideas and come up with a discussion draft on the third sheet that combines both of your input. Once you have that, then you just clean it up together. Length is not really an issue – we’re not talking about a big corporation here where it has to be a few words; we’re talking about the two of you, and you’re going to read it and reread it and it’ll have deep meaning to you. Then, once you have the final draft, you can make it pretty. You can frame it, you can do special things with it, you can put copies in your planner, in your device. This is your Couple’s Declaration of Independence or Constitution, that’s written down. That’s number two. 


Number three: Manage With a Plan. With your vision in hand, now you can focus on your goals for the coming year. This is a ritual, year in and year out, that you set annual goals with one another. “What are we going to do this year to make our marriage special?” Your relationship or marriage is most effective when you can break out the roles of your relationship – in other words, dates and intimacy and exercise, things that you can do together, parenting, health, maybe dreams that you’d like to do, or family traditions, attending church together, praying daily. Then, write out the goals and make copies for each one of you. 


I’ll never forget early on in our marriage, Roxanne came home one day and said that she wanted to run a marathon. I never thought I’d run a marathon or put my body or subject it to that kind of punishment. But I looked right back at her, and said, “If you want to run a marathon, I’ll run it with you.” And we did. Oh my goodness, what an experience that was! We ran something called, “The Deseret News Marathon”. At that time, we didn’t know it was one of the 10 most difficult marathons in the country, but we started our training together, and we ran together, and those are some of our really wonderful memories and happy times. We’ve since run 5Ks together, and it’s been a great experience. That’s just one example of something you can do together. You can really, purposefully, decide to be interdependent, where it’s even greater than being dependent or independent. It’s how we live our lives together, celebrating each other’s individual lives, but also doing things together. 


Here’s the fourth of the 12 principles: Prioritize Your Time. This can be such a huge challenge for busy couples! And as a family comes along and as you develop community responsibilities and career responsibilities, how do you balance all of that? One of the very best ways to do it is to develop the habit to do pre-week planning, both as an individual, and then, let’s say, by Sunday – definitely before Monday – come together as a couple and coordinate your schedules. How can you make it a great week together? So, by putting in this small investment where you do your pre-week planning, and then together make your adjustments, oh my goodness, you’re going to come up with huge communication together, being aligned in your activities, how do you really take advantage of each other’s strengths to produce the greatest week. One of the things you may want to do is invest in a Becoming Your Best Planner for each one of you, it’s a great tool! So regardless of whether you use a paper planner or an electronic planner, it is a tool that is designed to help you put leadership first and effectiveness first and what’s right first, and then, how do we do it well? And this will be one of the least expensive things that you can do that will have one of the greatest impacts on your relationship. 


Next is, Live the Golden Rule – it’s a terrific principle that we’ve seen is foundational for all successful organizations. It’s a fun principle that never fails. And when you do your personal goals for the year, you can think of things that you can do for your spouse or partner that keeps the spark alive and the relationship thriving. They all have to do with the golden rule, but they can become part of your annual goals, right? Well, maybe this is a personal one, but write four special letters of appreciation during the year. Here’s one you certainly can do together: go on two days per month without the children, where that applies. Make them special dates, not just something thrown together at the last minute, not an afterthought. And you can actually alternate who plans the date and see if you can make it the most fun date. That’s a great way to go on that. Do nice things regularly for your spouse or partner – do the dishes, clean the room, make the bed, clean the house, take care of the children so your spouse can have some time alone and a break, go hiking together. I’ll never forget the little sign that Roxanne had on the kitchen sink: “I love hugs and I love kisses, but what I love most is help with the dishes.” Well, there is a good reminder for us. Notice your partner and compliment them every single day. Notice the good things that they have. This type of thing is just a wonderful way, the Golden Rule, of staying close and give service to your partner. 


Here’s the principle #6 of the 12 Principles: Build and Maintain Trust. Keep in mind this great metaphor, the trust meter that looks like a gas gauge, and you can use it at any time. Just imagine it: you’re holding it in your hand and hold it up to your partner and see where the gauge goes to. Is it full, is it midway or is it toward empty? Well, this powerful tool can help you to unilaterally do things that move the needle to full. It’s very much engaged with some of the other principles, like the one we just talked about, in principle #5, which is Live the Golden Rule, and Principle #7 – Be an Effective Communicator – that boost that gauge indicator. Be determined that you’ll do your part to keep the gauge indicator full. 


Okay, principle #7 is Be an Effective Communicator. Clearly, one of the greatest gifts that you can give to your partner and spouse, is the gift of being understood, the gift of being listened to. There are a lot of ways to communicate. One of the ones that I have loved throughout our marriage, I actually got this from one of my mentors who was married over 50 years and did in their marriage, is regularly ask your spouse, “How are you doing on a scale of 1 to 10? On a scale of one to 10, how are you feeling? On a scale of 1 to 10 how is your happiness?” I mean, there’s no way to dodge these. These are big-time questions, and if you do it regularly, it’s not a surprise to your spouse, and it’s an invitation for them to be honest, courageous, considerate and unflappable. We’re going to be courageous to share our real feelings and create an environment in our relationship where that can take place. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about our relationship?” – 10 being great, wonderful, and 1 being lousy right now. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how’s your health? How are you feeling?” So, that’s a great way to communicate. Be determined to build this skill. 


In our book, “Becoming Your Best”, there is a great chapter on being an effective communicator, and we actually outline a number of things you can do that help you to be an effective communicator. One of those are the five steps, and it’s realize that you want to look in the eyes and be fully present, right? Realize that the body language and also the words all have an impact. Step four is to thank them for being willing to give feedback. That is such a great one! And the fifth is, “Let me be sure I’ve got it”, so you can confirm understanding through putting labels of what you think they just said, or how they’re feeling, their emotion. This is a great tool, skill set. So, you could say, “It seems like” or “It sounds like”, “It looks like”, “It feels like”. You’re trying to understand, and if they say, “No”, that’s part of communication – “No, you got it all wrong.” “Well, thank you for sharing. And let me just be sure that I got it then, it seems like this is it?” “Well, you’re getting closer but you don’t have it yet.” So, you hang in there with each other until that person really feels understood. And if you have something that you want to bring up, in the spirit of Principle #1 – Be True to Character – and you’re going to do it as we’ve talked about, you can start out by maybe saying, “I’ve been thinking of something and wanted to get your thoughts and ideas on it.” So, these are all skills that help us be a good communicator and strengthens our relationship as we show amazing respect for our partners. 


Here’s #8 out of 12: Innovate with Imagination. This really flows on the first seven, and particularly, on these last few – you set the environment, you’re considerate with others and there are high levels of trust that you’ve built, the gauge is all the way to full and you have developed and honed together the skills of communication. Now, in that environment, it’s easy – much easier – to innovate together. One of the tools that you can use is the Six Steps of Planning and Execution – that’s a great way to take any problem or opportunity and move it to a better place. You’re better solving problems together than individually, and you can really have a lot of fun in brainstorming and mind mapping, and developing great solutions and options together. This can be a fun thing to do! 


Principle #9 is to Be Accountable. This is such a significant one! And by the way, this is one of the most liberating principles that there is, and it’s where you commit to take responsibility for your actions and behavior. Get this, I don’t always use absolutes, but NEVER blame, criticize, or condemn anyone, especially your spouse or partner, but you fully take responsibility for the success of the relationship. And that’s really hard sometimes, if you feel upset or you feel crossed, or you feel betrayed. So, how can you make the best of things? And this is really at the heart of leadership because leadership comes from within and isn’t dependent upon all of the things that are happening to you. It’s what we do about what happens to us that makes the difference. And your leadership – I’ve seen this so many times over the years – can have such an impact. It can bring gentleness, your responses can bring a different spirit. It’s not easy – I’m going to be the first to say that – but it is certainly one of the most powerful ones here. 


And #10 is to apply the Power of Knowledge. Oh man, this is an exciting principle that can help bring couples together. You can read books together or individually and share, give a book report to one another. Books on strengthening relationships, on listening, bringing new energy and light into your relationship, how to have a healthy and happy intimate aspect of your marriage or partnership. You can listen and discuss podcasts, TED Talks, you can attend seminars together. This, by the way, can be something that you’re deliberate about when you set up your annual goals. And so, you can say, “We’re going to read six books together, 12 books, or we’re going to listen to six TED talks and have a fun discussion, or we’re going to attend this seminar – Becoming Your Best seminar or a marriage enrichment seminar, whatever it might be. But, applying the power of knowledge is a big deal and has a huge impact on a marriage or relationship. 


Number 11 out of the 12, is to Live in Peace and Balance. One of the fun things in the book “Becoming Your Best” and in the spirit of communication, is to take the circle of balance assessment. This is actually right in there, it shows you how to do it – you can do it on a clean sheet of paper where you make your own little circle, take the assessment, and then discuss your respective results with one another. Again, courageous, considerate, unflappable, as you communicate a commitment to being totally honest. This is what builds trust and a stronger relationship. We always do it respectfully. The other aspect of living in peace and balance is to maintain a positive outlook and attitude. And so, you just do not permit a single negative thought about your spouse to enter in your head – that takes great discipline – and always look for and comment on the positive. 


And the last of the 12 is to Never Give Up. A friend of mine, who ended up being married for over 60 years, once commented to me when they were much younger – she and her husband had been married at that time for 25 years and they were having their anniversary. I said, “Happy anniversary! That’s amazing! How has it been?” She says, “Well, we’ve been happy for 17 out of those 25 years.” I had to laugh at that, but it’s laughing on the square because living with a spouse and countering the severe challenges of life, individually and together, is simply not easy. And then, throw on top of that the different backgrounds that each one of us comes from, I mean, it’s a miracle that any of us survive. Well, seriously, there are, naturally, ups and downs in life, and in marriage or in a partnership there’s no exception. And this close of a relationship requires a real commitment to these types of things we’ve been talking about today, to each other, and a hope and a faith that things can and will work out. When you both work on living and practicing the 12 Principles of Highly Successful People and Leaders, it provides a wonderful, powerful, lasting foundation for your marriage and relationship. They will help you have shared values, a common language, tools and skills to help you navigate the wonderful opportunities of creating a glorious and happy legacy in a close and enduring relationship. 


Now, there certainly are a few things that you can put in place to help strengthen your marriage and relationship. Number 1 is be sure you both receive the weekly principles of Becoming Your Best – these are free – and when they come, you can get on the same page and just alternate teaching the principle to each other. One of you can take it one week, the other the next week, and just have fun doing this. It’s brief and goes quick, but this is something you can do to really build these deeply within your marriage or relationship. Number two is to invest in each other and just say, “You know, I choose us! We’re it.” And number three is – as I mentioned earlier – get a couple of Becoming Your Best Planners. They’re really designed to help you put the things that matter most in the front, at the forefront of your life. And then, individually you can do pre-week planning and then take a few minutes on Sunday to collaborate together and making it a great week! 


I’d like to share an experience that happened two years ago, just about this very time, with an acquaintance of mine named Andrew. He actually lives about 10 houses away. He and his wife had five boys, they were a young couple – maybe about 40 or in that range – and on December 15th, Andrew’s wife handed him an envelope. So what do you think was in the envelope? Well, it was divorce papers, and Andrew was completely shocked and taken aback. He had no idea this was coming, it just kind of shattered his life. I’ve often reflected upon this. If Andrew, for example, and his good wife, both good people, would have been working on these principles together, this may have had a far different outcome. Let’s just take, for example, pre-week planning, maybe an annual goal of going on two dates without the children per month, throughout the year – just those two alone. If that would happen, on his pre-week planning under his role of spouse, he could put, “Go on a date. On Monday lineup the sitters, make it a fun date – we’ll have dinner, go to a movie, whatever it might be.” That could be his turn, and then, they’re out to dinner and he could work on communication, right? He could look at his wife and say, “On a scale of 1 to 10, Mary, how are you feeling? And on a scale of 1 to 10, how are you feeling about our marriage and our relationship? On a scale of 1 to 10, how’s your happiness?” Well, if she says seven or eight, then that’s great, things are going pretty well, but if you’re really listening, committed to being honest with one another, and she says, “Well, I feel like our marriage is at a three.” And then he can respond, “Well, thank you so much for sharing that. And I really want to understand this because I want you to be happy.” Just imagine, if you do this 24 times in a year, and you do the other things that we’ve talked about – these do not take a great deal of time; they’re small, steady doses of investment in each other. I would suggest to you, on December 15th, that one of two things would have happened: either a) Mary would not have delivered the envelope, they would be working through things, she might have greater hope or encouraged that maybe they can resolve whatever is causing the concerns, or b) there would be absolutely no surprise for Andrew that he was getting an envelope. And this is the deep lasting power of these principles. They can be life-changing, that’s why they’re so significant! 


Our marriage, between Roxanne and me, I’m sure is very normal, like anyone else. I remember the second year of our marriage was tough, the fifth year, the seventh year, the 12th year, but we worked through those things. I’d like to share with our listeners, regardless of where you’re at, that the last 20 years, maybe more than that, but certainly the last 20 years have been absolutely the very happiest of our entire marriage and lives. We’re close, we’re friends, and we’re deeply in love. And so, I believe that as you work on this, it has a cumulative impact. And the impact of these principles is intergenerational. When your children see you work on the principles, individually and together as a couple, you will be teaching your children or friends or family members, and certainly, your posterity, that the principles will bless their lives in a deep and significant way. And this happens through your example, modeling of living the principles just because you’re working on it, and really through behavioral osmosis. 


So today, I hope that you’ve gotten an idea or so. I love the application of the 12 Principles of Highly Successful Marriage and/or Relationship. We’re wishing you all the best and in this special time of year, a wonderful holiday season! This is Steve Shallenberger, with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership. 

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