The Art of the Mulligan Marriage

You don’t have to be an avid golfer to enjoy the benefits of a Mulligan Marriage– the term “Mulligan”  has now entered popular culture. A “Mulligan” means any “do-over,” or second chance after an initial failure.

Of course, strictly speaking, golf rules forbid the Mulligan. That hasn’t prevented it from becoming a part of the game. Some golfers apply their own particular  “rules” on the proper use of the Mulligan, such as limiting its use to one “play” once per round, or limiting its use to the initial tee.

The Mulligan operates on a forgiveness principle. There are conflicting etiologies for the Mulligan. Of course, these perfectly reasonable but conflicting stories all start with a golfer named Mulligan.

However, the Mulligan offers an important mindset for marital communication.

When your partner criticizes, it’s only natural to defend. But what if instead of becoming defensive, you simply say;

Hey, I’m feeling kinda defensive right now.. could you put that a different way?

Learn the art of the Mulligan Marriage

The Mulligan marriage is a way of gently protesting to your partner that you feel attacked or criticized without falling into a reactively defensive posture. It gives them an opportunity to reflect on what they are trying to say, and how it actually landed. Basically, you are complaining that your feelings are hurt, while at the same time you are trying to stay engaged in the conversation that your partner is attempting to initiate.

A Mulligan can go both ways. Imagine that you said something to your partner that elicited a reactive defensive response. You could say something like “You seem a bit defensive. I understand. Maybe what I said was too harsh. Please forgive me. Can I try again?”

These are the key ideas in having a Mulligan marriage:

  • Remember that you love your partner. You want to communicate better. So if they are risking being vulnerable by offering you a Mulligan, don’t blow it by getting huffy and self-righteous.
  • When you see your partner is negatively impacted by how you said something, be courageous enough to acknowledge it. Make a repair attempt. After all, your goal is to communicate not infuriate.
  • We may not always be our best selves, but we can always admit when we aren’t. Maybe you give yourself a Mulligan in the context of a future date. “I came off kinda huffy there. I’m sorry. This isn’t just your problem, it’s our problem. Let’s talk about it later when I am not so… ( tired, hot, hungry. annoyed, distracted etc.).”
  • The importance of the Mulligan is in remembering that our partner does not walk the earth looking for opportunities to aggravate us. Patience and courtesy are the cornerstones of the Mulligan marriage.


About the Author Daniel Dashnaw

Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.

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