Why You Should Treat Customer Relations Like a Marriage

Why You Should Treat Customer Relations Like a Marriage

I get a lot of guest post offers, and some of them come from people who leave me scratching my head wondering why on earth I’d accept their post here at Men with Pens. I mean, come on. What’s in it for me? For my readers?

That was the case when Dr. Corey Allan, a marriage and couples therapist contacted me about a potential guest post. A marriage guy? On a freelancing blog? Okay, sure, maybe freelancers aren’t having enough sex, but… well, there’s more to life than that. (No, really. There is. I swear.)

When I read his post and realized the business value of his message, everything changed. Everything can change for you too… if you read this post and apply its knowledge to your customer relations and client experiences. Enjoy.

Many of you regularly read Men with Pens (as I do) because of the great information and tips about writing and creating stuff that sells. So what, pray tell, is a marriage and relationship guy doing here?

Glad you asked. I’m blatantly lobbying for better relationships!

Relationships are the cornerstone of every successful venture, including start-ups, one-man shops, online businesses, offline businesses, and even Fortune 500s. Whether the relationships are with co-workers, customers, clients, readers, affiliates, partners, or even competitors, the quality of those relationships impacts your business and your life.

Everyone enters relationships with varying expectations and beliefs. In marriage, there’s the belief that marriage exists to make us happy. When things don’t go as planned or we’re hurt by our spouse, then it must be time to move on.

Or maybe you have the belief that marriage should be easy and that you’ll peacefully coexist in a symbiotic state throughout the course of your life together, enjoying long walks on the beach followed by romantic evenings filled with passion, excitement and love.

Or, maybe you believe that your relationship will complete you. This one’s popular, thanks to Hollywood movies.

These beliefs are everywhere. And these beliefs affect your relationship – just as beliefs affect your business.

But what if you changed what you expect of your relationships? What impact would different beliefs about relationships have on your life? On your business?


If you believe, as I do, that relationships are designed to help you learn and improve, then learn and improve you will. If you believe that your relationships with your readers or clients are designed to help you grow, then business will get better – because you will get better.

For example, maybe you’ve had an unreasonable client you couldn’t wait to get rid of. What if you changed your beliefs about that relationship and your expectations of the client? What if you believe you’d contributed to that unreasonable situation? What if you believed the frustration was co-created by all involved?

Change anything? It should.

Back to the marriage world.

As your marriage relationship evolves, many times you reach a point where there’s something about your partner you want to change. They constantly leave socks on the bathroom floor. You can’t remember the last time they initiated sex. Their work consumes them to the point of neglecting you and the relationship.

If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time, you know what I’m talking about.

You also experience the same thing with your business relationships. Readers constantly leave great comments or emails that are very supportive, but they never buy anything. They come to you for free advice all the time. You get bombarded with requests to give feedback on projects or ideas or sites and you’re so kind that you oblige.

Know this: You teach people how to treat you.

Get comfortable with that statement. Think about it – a lot. Spend time today examining the important relationships in both your personal life and your business. What are you teaching those around you?

When someone treats you in a manner that takes advantage of your gifts or talents, it’s up to you to teach them differently. That’s where this idea of growing up in relationship and changing your beliefs really comes in handy.

For example, my wife used to offer lots of push-back when it came to the time and effort I spent with blogging. I don’t blame her, really. In the beginning, I obsessed about blogging way too much. But as I held firm to my beliefs of helping marriages around the world, she came around to believing in the idea as well.

The same happened with my readers when I added a business and product component to my site. Some readers were used to the free blog idea, and they let it be known when I switched gears. I don’t blame them either – it’s what I had taught them.

But the push-back that came during the transition wasn’t about them – it was about me. (Well … it was a little about them, but the onus rested on my shoulders.) Sure, I could have gotten offended and said they just don’t understand the time or energy it takes to create something. Or I could have contemplated simply chucking it all and moving on. (I did both, by the way.)

Or, I could believe that relationships are designed to help me be a better person and recognize the opportunity in front of me to grow and teach people to treat me differently.

There will always be push-back in relationships of any kind. It’s a fact. But remember:

At the end of the day, you’re the teacher.

About the Author: Dr. Corey Allan is a really smart guy who counsels people on how to have better relationships. He’ll teach you how to get along with others, play nice, get more of what you want and enjoy giving back. He might even help you get more sex out of the deal, too!

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Thought-provoking piece; thanks Corey (and thanks James for running it!)

    This line particularly stood out for me:
    “You teach people how to treat you.”

    I’d never quite thought of it that way before, but it echoes true in my own business. We set the tone – on our blogs, in our emails, in our communication in general – and people tend to respond in that way. For me, it’s about being friendly and kind, without turning into a total doormat. I’m learning that it’s fine to be firm with people.

    In terms of readers, when I’ve had push-back (not often), I’ve explained my reasons calmly, and that seems to do the trick. 🙂

    • I learned this lesson long ago, and realized that a lot of my frustration with friends and family who didn’t respect my freelancing job and my need to work stemmed from my behaviours. I sat down and decided how I’d like to be treated, advised them all, and applied my new “rules” – it took a few weeks, but soon I realized that they were complying – and quite happy to do so because they reaped benefits from it!

      Fun times. 🙂

  2. Marriage is a powerful taboo based on commitment, compromise and procreation. Yet in many countries a third fail and many others have failed in their original intent. Business relationships are surely more stark in their purpose. There has to be strict mutual benefit, something in it for both sides. Yet is that a hasty judgement? There are millions of businesses that are in unequal relationships, just like marriages where women are enslaved. Think about anyone who supplies a supermarket, a clothes retailer or a third world food producer. We would all like to work with businesses where relationships are open and mutually beneficial. Alas all to often it is about power, designed to make one party successful at the expense of the other. A bit like some marriges we have all come across.

  3. Ali is right. (BTW I almost didn’t catch that you are now Ali Luke–we could have had your wedding picture up in the graphic:) :).

    Thanks Corey for 1. making us think about relationships; 2. showing us an excellent example of how to write a guest post blending your expertise with the needs of another audience.

    “You teach people how to treat you.” says it all. Of course, between my mother and the nuns, now I really need to go into therapy and unravel the whys and hows to do this. Or maybe I’ll go make my hubby a cup of coffee and give him some attention. And, then he won’t complain I’m spending too much time on the computer.

  4. Where’s the rest of the post? Go on man, tell me more!

  5. As someone who just celebrated his 150th wedding anniversary, I can relate to this post well. No, I’m not exaggerating and I’m not Methuselah; we have not had our first big fight yet, so we figure we’re still on our honeymoon and are celebrating monthly.

    Still, your take-away of teaching others through our reactions is prickly to me. In my business dealings I tend to stand firm on my position as to what I will and will not do. But with my wife I often yield when my nature says I should stand firm. I should not make a habit of that or I’ll paint myself into a (wussy colored) corner.

    You have me wondering why the different approaches. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    • I think that standing firm can be done in any relationship – by finding the acceptable compromise for both parties involved. There’s always a solution that lets both parties come away happy.

  6. Great post, reminds me of the quote: ‘You can get the most out of your life by helping others get the most out of theirs’ -Zig Ziglar

    Another way to look at it the relationship dynamics, if one is following this advice and truly excelling with relationships in the workplace/business, the relationship at home (spouse, partner, ect) would have to become stronger by default.

  7. Hi Corey-wonderful analogy. I know I’m mirroring the other commentors, but…

    …Know this: You teach people how to treat you.

    This is so powerful, and a line and belief and value I will use with my clients. Hell, I want to have a poster made and plaster it at the home and office;).

    I endeavor to look at my role in those relationships that are less than healthy/productive, and can always think of something I could change to help it along. Adding’we’ as in “We are not communicating clearly” takes the blame off the other person, and forces one to examine their role.

    You have a lovely site, btw.

    Thank you :).

  8. Just can’t buy into this one. There is simply too much that doesn’t make sense.

    So, we teach people how to treat us? I doubt it seriously. How people treat others is for the most part a result of their own character and behavioral patterns built up over the course of their lives. You can to an extent control how they treat you through proactive methods like setting limits and requirements regarding interaction with yourself, but if they are going to be rude, annoying, selfish or what have you, there is very little you have to do with it, or can do about it other than remove yourself from their influence.

    You don’t “teach” them how to treat you. You set demands for how you will allow yourself to be treated, and if they wish to interact with you, then they muct accept those demands.

    • Paul, I’m missing the difference between your statement of setting demands and that being different than teaching. Aren’t we essentially saying the same thing?

      • Educating implies that you have taught a skill set or imparted knowledge that will remain and be utilized. In this instance, however, what you have done is not educate per se, but rather simply set the ground rules for what kind of behavior you will accept.
        They already understand the difference between inappropriate or unacceptable behavior. You are simply making clear which will be accepted by you and which will not. You are setting rules for interaction, not teaching.
        If a client calls me irate and heated up, and begins trying to berate or insult me, the last thing I am concerned with is considering how I may have offended them and educating them about the finer points of tact and personal responsibility. No, what I will do is tell them in no uncertain terms that if they wish to speak to me, then they will do so with respect. I am not educating them; I am holding them to the common rules of decency and respect. I see this as simply standing up for yourself AGAINST the bad behavior of others. If you have taught anything, it is only that YOU will not accept their bad behavior.

        The next person in line who does not stand up for themselves with this person? What do you think the outcome will be there? Will this rude person take the “education” you have given them and apply it, or simply continue to act according to their own poor standards and lay into the poor schlep who is willing to take it? In other words, they have learned nothing, because you have taught nothing.

        In addition, it is THEIR behavior that is providing the impetus here. You have no part in how they react, and yes I realize that is only true to an extent, but for these purposes true enough. If they become upset because they don’t like all the time you are spending on the PC working and fail to see it as work, and so behave towards you with anger or denigration, that has nothing to do with you and is not in any way your fault. You did not “teach” them that behavior. You did not elicit it. That is how they chose to behave based on their own already formed false perceptions. Your job when they behave badly is only to let them know you will not tolerate it
        If my spouse wants to become overly upset with me because I actually DID add something to elicit some o f that response then fine, I am happy to take some blame and work to modify both of our behaviors. If I did nothing however, no way.

        Accepting responsibility for someone’s bad behavior, even in part, when in truth it is theirs and theirs alone DOES teach them something. I suppose I just see I differently Corey.

    • That is true to a point, but what I think the post is trying to say is that you can have influence over whether they are being ‘rude, annoying, selfish or what have you’. For an overused example, take an airline attendant who has to deal with rude, annoying, and selfish passengers after having to explain to everyone that a flight has been canceled. You’re the last person to come up and talk to this flight attendant. The flight attendant’s attitude is just rotten and is in a horrible mood after having dealt with all the previous irate passengers. When you talk to this person, you have two choices: 1. You can perpetuate the sour relationship by treating this person rudely as well, laying the blame for a delayed flight on the flight attendant. Or 2. Be positive, treat them kindly, smile and thank the person and watch their entire mood and attitude shift into the positive.

      Granted, some people are worthless and will try to take advantage of you, but I’m more of an optimist.

    • I have to disagree, Paul (politely, of course!) We all teach other people how to treat us, in that we educate them on what is acceptable and what isn’t.

      Here’s a simple example: Let’s say every time my kiddo calls, I get up and leave my work to go help her. I’m effectively teaching her that she can treat me like a servant and that she should expect immediate attention.

      Let’s say I start changing MY behavior and say, “From today, I’m sorry, but I can’t come each time you call. What I can do is have you come tell me what you’d like help with, and I promise to consider that request. If I accept to help you, I’ll come within 15 minutes.”

      At first, she’ll have a holy demon tantrum because I’m standing my ground and not accomodating her wishes. But eventually, she’ll learn that now, to have access to my assistance, she must follow this procedure. And she will, or she’ll do without.

      I taught her, educated her, how to treat me.

      • Disagreement is very often the heart of discussion right James?

        In my response to Corey I mentioned how “You have no part in how they react, and yes I realize that is only true to an extent,”, your example came directly to mind. In your example, you are demonstrating how a parent teaches a child who has yet to fully form or build the character or the knowledge of those already an adult. Of course you are teaching your child, because they are still ignorant and so, well, act like a child. This means tantrums, inappropriate responses to actions or events, and basically trying to destroy their parents sanity;)

        Adults however don’t have that excuse.

        • Well, actually, I’ve applied the technique (commonly taught by psychotherapists and NLPers) to adult situations as well, and I have to say it works 🙂

          For example, freelancers often have trouble with friends and family that don’t respect their work hours. Phone calls, drop ins, etc. Education is rather simple – you decide your boundaries and you inform the other party of that. Then you hold your ground.

          They learn.

          And it’s not just “learn how to behave with YOU”, because I’ve noticed that these same people go on to treat others more respectfully as well. They have the maturity required to take this situational lesson and apply it to other situations.

          It’s rather interesting what happens when you start accepting the belief that you teach others how to treat you and start applying it to life. I understand your arguments against that belief, but I do suggest that you make tests and experiements in your own life to see what happens.

  9. Corey,

    Excellent analogy, and it rings through on many levels. I appreciate your alluding to having some manner of loyalty and committment in the client/professional relationship because a lot of freelancers advocate dropping clients like a bad habit when things start going bad. In nearly every other human relationship, including marriage, this is considered bad form, so I wonder why it’s prevalent.

    Not to say any of us should stand for being taken advantage of by a rotten client. But as you said, we need to ask “how much of this situation is my fault? What can I do to smooth things out?” Often times, the more loyal (and lucrative) clients are those who have had a rift that’s been fixed.

    Thanks again for an awesome post!

    • I often like to say that it takes two to tango. So if something’s gone wrong or someone in my life isn’t content, then I’ve certainly had a part to play in that situation. And, I can control the remedy and results – so I do. Everyone comes away happy.

      And I agree – too many freelancers think the world revolves around them. Kind of sad.

  10. i got stuck at the part where you said something about freelance writers might not be getting enough sex……. I am getting plenty, TYVM! (in my most offended tone..) 🙂

  11. Oh man, this needs to be said more often! Relationships are best when each party can bring out the best in the other. This means knowing how to support and also knowing how to critique.

  12. Where was this fantastic set of ideas and suggestions when I was a young innocent wife? ;)! Of course my hubby will have an issue with the ‘innocent’ piece – I have never suffered from a weak personality….but alas, so much that you say here is true – about how we teach people how to treat us, about the way relationships go over time and things to do to spice things up again – and most of all, I love the introduction James give you, Dr. Corey Allan!

  13. Like in any marriage, you better let your significant other know that you are thinking of them, that goes for your clients and customers as well. Two years ago it was diamond earrings to my wife that got me out of honey do lists for quite a while (my poor son, got that list). It amazes me that business owners don’t take this same approach with their customers.

    It’s the holidays and I haven’t received one greeting card from my suppliers. Which leads me to think how important is my business to them? I’ve already sent greeting cards to my customers. Now what would happen if I took the same approach and forgot my wife? I will tell you what would happen. I’d be looking for a new wife! This is why I send greeting cards to my customers. Old school still works! Just like flowers, candy and a card. This makes for not just great customer relations but great relations period!


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