Two days ago, strolling down the sidewalk on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I said something stupid to Katia.

It happens.

Over the course of hundreds and thousands of comments to our partner on any particular day, a few will land off base.

Like most stupid things I’ve said, two days later I can’t remember what actually splashed out of my mouth, but she was already a little stressed and my addition doused gasoline on the smoldering blaze.

Her brow sharpened. Her body tensed, her arms retracted like measuring tape.

We were clearly wobbling on the edge of the danger zone. Duly trained, I went straight to her User Manual troubleshooting tips.

Stay with her. I touched her retracting bicep before she twisted out of range. (Lovingly!) She sped away; I jogged after her. She stopped walking; I froze like a professional mime.

Tell her she’s awesome and you love her. I started piling on the compliments like I was first in line at the all-you-can-eat compliment buffet. These were essentially non-sequiturs and had zero to do with what we were talking about, but I plowed ahead blindly with my declarations of love and appreciation.

Note: this is especially easy to do when you believe all the compliments, and a reminder that we too often skip over saying wonderful things about the people who matter most to us out of laziness, taking each other for granted, the submergence of what really matters to the faux urgency of millions of details.

Really, for no good reason at all.

“I know what you’re doing,” she said sharply after five seconds of my compliment bath. “The User Manual.”

I was busted. I looked up at her, concerned that I’d said something unfixable, that going to the User Manual reeked of manipulation and thus undermined the point.

Katia tried to look tough…but she was clearly holding back a smile. A second later it burst through.

We were cool! And with that, Sunday was saved.

Following our partner’s User Manual works on two profound levels.

  • We give our partner what their lizard brain needs. Something inside us needs the compliment, the reassurance that we love them even when we say something stupid, time alone with a book, fresh coffee, a back scratch, a butt squeeze–whatever. When we’re hungry, feed us.
  • It shows we’re trying. Katia busted me for following the User Manual. In other words, she saw definitive proof of me following the specific rules she’d prescribed for me. I was acting against my instinct to do exactly what she asked for–and that willingness to try is everything! Absolutely worth getting busted over.

This was a particularly perfect outcome, a little too textbook even to me. I’ll be sure to share the less-than-ideal field notes that come along in the future. But Sunday’s save does reaffirm my belief that a well-honed User Manual is an essential tool to create ridiculously amazing relationships–and can revolutionize partnerships for so many of us.