Valentine’s Day: The Gift of the Pause

Valentine’s Day:  The Gift of the Pause

I thought I had come up with the best Valentine’s Day Gift ever earlier this week when I wrote The Gift of the Magic Ratio

But I’ve just come up with something better.  I call it The Gift of the Pause.

To understand its power, I need to provide a short primer on The Magic Ratio.

By the way – this piece is 1,400 words long.  Your marriage is worth it.


The Magic Ratio is the ratio of positive to critical comments that husbands and wives use in their conversations with each other.

The relationship researchers at the prestigious Gottman Institute have found that a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to critical comments is a key ingredient for a lasting marriage.

That 5 to 1 ratio can be hard to achieve.

You know the challenge.

One spouse says or does something that pushes the other spouse’s button.  The partner reacts quickly and critically.  And a negative feedback loop is created.

That’s the pattern we aim to break right now with – The Gift of the Pause.   

I could never have come up with this gift – had I not stumbled upon a tweet from my friend, the funny, astute, quick-witted standup comic @PeteDominick


Dominick’s tweet recommended this piece by his wife Valerie Vendrame, a Yoga instructor who teaches children the art of mindfulness

I read it – and called Valerie for my own private mindfulness lesson, not knowing where it would lead.


How do you describe mindfulness to children, I asked the daughter of Italian immigrants (that detail will soon become relevant.)  

“I begin with pre-school children and tell them that mindfulness means paying attention to something.  Just that one thing.”

Valerie breaks down her lessons for children into several aspects of mindfulness.

“In Mindful Eating, for example, she has the children eat an apple “like they’ve never eaten an apple before.”  She recommends the book “No Ordinary Apple”.

Don’t worry – I’m getting to the Valentine’s Day Pause soon.  Please remain mindful.

Valerie uses a popular technique to teach mindfulness of thought.


Valerie creates a mindful jar.   She fills a clear glass jar with water.   Then she adds sand, dirt, baking soda.  Pours it all in.  And mixes it up.  The water becomes cloudy.

“You see what happens,” she explains to the children, ”when we have so many thoughts and feelings in our head.  Our mind can feel cloudy.”

So how do we get our clarity of thought back, which enables us to be more present and aware of the moment?

Valerie continues:  “We stop and sit down.  We close our eyes and take a few deep breaths.  And when we open our eyes – the debris in the water has settled,” just as our mind can settle if only we learn how to PAUSE instead of react.


The Power of the PAUSE is something that just this week was reinforced for me by one of the world’s leading instructors and practitioners of negotiation – Bill Ury – the author of the classic best-seller Getting to Yes.  (Our conversation will appear here next week.)

When a negotiation gets heated, Ury explained to me, and you feel like reacting … Pause and Go To The Balcony.

Say you’re in a discussion (in this case with your spouse) and the other party intentionally or inadvertently, pushes one of your buttons.

Instead of reacting, imagine you are on a stage.  Pause, imagine “going up to the balcony,” advises Ury -- and observing your conversation from the more objective perspective of the audience.

It will enable you to see things more clearly – to suspend judgment – to reflect – to become mindful of what’s happening – and return to the stage with a wiser response. 

Unnecessary fight potentially avoided.


Sounds good in theory.  But, as I mentioned, Valerie’s husband is the comic Pete Dominick – who, in addition to hosting the Sirius radio talk show Stand-Up With Pete Dominick, has logged well over a thousand hours as the warm-up act for  audiences of the Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert shows.

All that performing, with no script, before audiences filled with anticipation and expectations of the highest quality comedy, has helped Dominick become a master of improvisation.

Which means – he is adept at reacting – quickly.

You see where we’re going?

Being reactive helps a comedian in front of a live audience.  It can hurt in the quest to be a mindful spouse.  

Sometimes, Valerie tells me, Pete the husband, is too reactive.  And, she acknowledges, despite her mindfulness training, so is she.  


I asked Valerie to share an example in which she could attempt to be more mindful when Pete does something to which she normally reacts quickly and negatively.   Her Valentine’s Day Gift of the Pause to Pete.

Here’s what she offered.

“I react when Pete is left home with our daughters and the house is turned completely upside down. I haven't been able to accept his messiness - it's a trigger every time.  Never mind what an amazing job he's done as dad - the house is in disarray, I easily lose it. Another trigger is his reactivity.  When he reacts irrationally, it gives me incentive to do the same.  We tend to feed off each others energy.”

I circled back with Pete, to ask him what causes him to lose his mind(fullness) with Valerie.  It came full circle. 

“it’s when I have been taking care of our two daughters and comes home and says:  ‘You didn’t clean up after yourself.  I asked you to do one thing and you couldn’t do it.’  When she comes home,” says Dominick, “and in her opinion the house is a mess – but I’ve been cleaning for hours.  That sets me off.  That deserves a Pause.” 

And so – that is the Pause Pete Dominick intends to give his wife – BEGINNING on Valentine’s Day, but not ending there.


I now see that in order to realize The Gift of the Magic Ratio – 5 positive comments to every one critical comment – I will need to be more mindful.

And to be more mindful, I will need to Practice the Pause.

I had my teenage daughter quickly draw the booklet of Pause Coupons you can find – and share – on the home page thumbnail of this story as your own Valentine’s Day Gift.

These are Promissory Notes for Valentine’s Day that will entitle the holder, my wife, to ten Pauses from me when she says or does something that would normally cause me to react in a negative way.


Now, here’s where we come to the WaveMaker part.

I don’t want you to simply read this piece, Pause once, and move on.

My goal at WaveMaker is to create Waves.  To transmit energy over long distances.  Energy that is a long-term positive force.  That requires endurance.

As the oceanographer Dr. Sarah Oktay of Nantucket taught me, a big wave can be created by a light breeze, provided the breeze is sustained.

And so – this story serves as my light breeze.

I need you to share the story – the coupons -- to sustain the breeze.

The Pause Coupons will be used in the home of comedian Pete Dominick and his his Yoga instructing Mindfulness teaching wife Valerie who happens to have a Master’s Degree in in school psychology, and acknowledges that her parents, a Sicilian mother and Venetian father – two traditional Italian immigrants – did not really provide a model for the Art of the Pause.   She is determined to model mindfulness – model the Pause – for her two daughters.

Valerie and I will use the Pause coupons and create more if necessary.

And I have faith in my friend Pete Dominick.

Because even though he is a standup comic with one of the most quick-witted reaction times I’ve ever witnessed - which means he must be in reaction mode to thrive professionally  – there is something about Pete – as there was about my own father who was also a professional standup comic that gives me faith.

As a comedian, Pete Dominick understands and practices the art of the Pause on stage.  He does it so well, the audience probably doesn’t notice. 

But, of course, Pete and I hope that our wives notice our Pauses.

We hope the Pause will trigger Applause.