Several times in the past few weeks I’ve witnessed couples struggle with avoidable misunderstandings. John and Jane have a brief late night conversation about a hot-button topic, they keep going until they’re exhausted, and go to bed, thinking it’s resolved. Over the course of the week each one proceeds with their own version of the “agreement”, until the “alternate realities” become apparent in an explosive fight. Each is hurt, offended, and feels negated. Familiar scene?
Here’s two tips from a seasoned spouse and couples therapist to avoid the mayhem:
1. STOP when you’re tired — it only produces distortion! Tomorrow’s a new day.
2. When you think you’ve reached a resolution, don’t just walk away to water the garden or walk the dog. Instead, Restate Your Takeaway. Reiterate, in your own words, your understanding of what the conclusion was and why. If your partner nods, it’s good, you got it. If your partner tries to throw a plant at you, it’s not good, you need to ask for clarity, then try again. Now your partner needs to do the same, and when you both feel heard and understood, it’s good, now go walk the dog.
Good night and good luck,
PS. Go to my newly live website for lots more relationship tools: How To Be A Better Couple
Do you remember one of those days when everything that could go wrong, did? It happens to the best of us, and when it unfolds it feels like a sick dominoes game. My husband had one today, and couldn’t stop talking about all the gory details. Then when he was done, he seemed just ducky, and sat down to watch the news (about other people’s bad day). Clients of mine often do that, and then seem to feel some catharsis when they’ve drawn me in as witness to the misery. However, I’m less likely to make the mistake of offering some chirpy spin on the story as a therapist, than I am as a spouse. In an effort to provide support or show empathy to our husbands or wives, I think we often give unsolicited advice, opinions or solutions. Husbands are usually the biggest culprits here, having been trained by the culture to “fix” things. We all need to LISTEN more, and ATTEND to our partner’s experience! They’ll usually tell us if they need anything else, or they’ll just go on with the story…
Good night and good luck,
P.S. Check out my recently published articles about couples issues at: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Susan_Lager
Welcome back Reader,
Have you ever felt like you were talking to thin air when dealing with your partner? You make a benign request like “would you mind fixing the screen door this weekend so we can open up the family room?”
It’s the third request, your mate has promised to do it for weeks in a row, gets caught up in other projects, says “oops!”, and now it’s 90 degrees out and you’re literally and figuratively frying. You repeat patiently, you cajole, you bargain, you beg, you nag, you ask what the problem is, and he reassures you there is none, and with a sheepish smile promises he’ll get to it this weekend. This may seem like making a mountain out of a mole hill, but cumulatively it becomes a kind of cancer in relationships. I’ve seen this scenario play out more than once in couples therapy sessions just this week. It erodes trust related to a sense of dependability, and clearly undermines faith in supposed agreements. (Did you say yes to appease me? Are you annoyed about the request and acting out? Are you mad about something else? Or do you just have a brain tumor?) I’ve found that more often wives hold The List, and husbands “agree”.
The Requestor may consider the possibility that their “Honey Do List” has become oppressive. The “Don’t Worry, I’ll Get To It” Spouse may want to rethink the honesty of their promises. It’s always a kinder thing to graciously decline. No one will get killed.
Have you ever wondered if you were talking to someone from another planet when trying to get through to your spouse? It’s all too familiar in my own marriage, and loudly present in my work with couples. During a couples session today I watched the wife struggle with this question, and the subject was mild, like: what to do with the kids this summer. The husband sighed and looked out the window, apparently the way he usually does when she wants to discuss “an issue”. He felt she had just ambushed him again, as she had done in the original attempt at home. My assessment? There was no “header” and no “buy-in”! Partners often don’t preface a conversation with “I’d like to talk about _____” (header), and they often don’t follow it up with “Do you have a minute?” (buy-in). They just start talking, often about something loaded, and expect full attention and participation, even if their beloved is 25 feet up nailing shingles to the roof. If you too are a guilty party, try having a conversation “by agreement” and see if you get better results, like what to do with the kids this summer, so you can have some time to yourselves!
P.S. Check out my newly published article “How Do I Get My Partner Back?” A Therapist’s Reflection on the Question and the Road Through Grief.
Click on the link: “How Do I Get My Partner Back?” A Therapist’s Reflection on the Question, and the Road Through Grief