Children who lack the motivation to achieve are frequently taught that old adage, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!" It's not as if parents who recite this and other similar clichés do not have our best interests at heart. Certainly a parent uttering such a phrase wants his child to perform in some beneficial manner.
Most of us grow up believing that when something does not work, keep doing it-- only harder-- until it works. This strategy, unfortunately, frequently fails to produce the desired outcome. In the context of adult intimate relationships, repeating tactics which previously failed can lead to recycled arguments or more devastating consequences.
Darlene knows. Believing her husband was suffering from inexplicable mood swings, she tried with the best of intentions to help him. Every night when her husband, Bob, came home from work complaining about his job, she would offer advice about how he could have resolved the problem. Bob would then become angry at Darlene, ridiculing her for offering foolish suggestions when she wasn't there and thus, couldn't appreciate how difficult this was for him. Feeling unappreciated, Darlene would then attack Bob for his callous remarks. A fight would ensue. Typically, neither one could remember exactly how it began; but both felt drained, angry and disenchanted with their relationship. Darlene now knows better. She learned a more useful cliché, "If at first, second, or third you don't succeed., do something else!”
When her husband arrived home complaining about his job, rather than trying to be a "wife for all seasons", and fix the problem with suggestions that he would only shun, she did something else: Darlene totally ignored Bob until he made one comment about anything other than his job. Then she made eye contact, touched him gently, and, speaking softly, told him his dinner was ready, or how nice he looked, or any of a variety of other "positive" comments. Whereupon, looking puzzled, his mood--and concurrently, his voice and appearance-- changed for the better.
A "relationship" doesn't exist in a vacuum-- it has no life of its own. The word represents an on-going, fluid process called, relating. When two people relate to each other, what they know to say next becomes interdependent; one comment influences the next. If an individual, whose comments typically get the same response, continues in the same manner, he or she will continue getting that same response. When the response he or she gets is useful, that's good; but when it leads to winless arguments that rage on, like an angry tide during a storm, slinging mud, clouding the waters of the relationship, something needs to change. A bridge to more effective communication is worthy of construction:

  1. Assume an "as if" posture. Put yourself in the place of your spouse. Step into his or her body and see, hear and feel life from this new perspective. "In order for me (acting as my spouse) to respond more positively, how would I expect the other person (you) over there to change?" Then return to your own perspective and design a response that gets you the desired outcome.
  2. Do a quick 180. Essentially, this involves adopting a position and corresponding behavior that is opposite from the one you have used repeatedly and ineffectively. This is, in essence, the technique adopted by Darlene in the previous example. Rather than actively trying to offer help for which she was just rejected-- the object of ridicule-- she offered no contact unless her husband's comments met a different criterion (positive).
  3. Be a self-appointed prophet; make a self-fulfilling prophecy! When someone says, "I know this just isn't going to work", an unpleasant outcome often results. Unconsciously or otherwise, that individual behaved in ways that lead to failure. This has been called a self-fulfilling prophecy and, traditionally carries a pejorative connotation. But why should this only apply to bad outcomes? After all, a prophecy is a prophecy! Make better predictions about the future: Sit down with your spouse and, irrespective of today's events, predict that tomorrow will be a good day. A day in which you effectively communicate with each other, and enjoy something that specifically relates to you in some fashion. As you verbally make this prediction, state how you intend to make this happen.

So if at last you don't succeed, try, try something unexpected. Bridge the sea of troubled waters in your relationship.