Want to fight less with your spouse? Then don’t be yourself! It’s only natural for there to be disagreement from time to time between any two people in a relationship. How you work things out (or don’t) has a great impact on your day to day life and on your marriage overall. So, how do you and your spouse go about fighting or disagreeing?
Do you do what you have always done or are you thinking of trying something different? How you choose to fight or try to settle disagreements has an enormous impact on the quality of your day to day life together. Couples often fall into a repetitive pattern of behavior when conflict rears its ugly head. This pattern may be undetectable to the spouses who are enacting it, but a studied, objective eye can be helpful in spotting the types of thinking, feelings, and behaviors are getting repeated. Here are a few examples of the unhelpful patterns that couples can fall into when each person is just acting as they always act and being “themselves”:
-We blame our spouse.
If there were actually a ‘blame’ lobe of the brain, it would be labeled the least productive part. Assigning blame or fault is not useful. So, why do the discussions so many couples have when they are trying to make things better so often dissolve into a “you did it, no you did” it situation?
Why do we do this? One reason may be that feeling ‘in the right’ can be pleasurable, it takes the focus off of our own behavior or our own difficulties with being close to someone and passes the baton over to them. This black and white way of viewing the world where I am right and you are wrong can make life seem less uncertain and more predictable. Also, often this is simply what we learned about marriage when we watched our parents!
–We become hopeless victims
“There’s nothing I can do about this because you never listen” or “I don’t see how this can ever get better as long as you won’t change”. These are but a few of the phrases I hear when coaching couples who want to work on their relationship.
Why do so many people feel helpless to make things better or to work toward positive changes in their marriage? The “I can’t fix because of you” position lets us off the hook. After all, if we are hopeless and victims, waiting for the other to change until we can see some light at the end of the tunnel of fighting and disappointment, then we don’t even have to try to make it better because we can’t, right? This position lets us off the hook as we shift all of the responsibility for causing this relationship mess over to the other person.
For many couples, the typical response to difficulty is a “The heck with this, the heck with you” position. Partners may feel helpless to fix things or to stop hurting so they just throw in the emotional towel and withdraw. We pretend it doesn’t matter or we deny that it is important or we refuse to listen and participate. Why do this happen? It could be that if we can convince ourselves that none of this matters, we can make the disappointment, anger, or hurt we are feeling seem less painful. This is a way to avoid having to feel too much and most importantly, it is a way to avoid having to do anything about the problem.
As you can imagine, this can be a dangerous place to go in your relationship as the emotional gap between spouses just widens and widens over time.
–We use Magical thinking
Frequently, clients will say, “You should know by now that I really hate when you do that” or “I know I said yes but you should have known I didn’t really mean it”. Over and over, spouses expect their partners to know what they truly want often without actually asking for it.Why does this happen?
Again, we are putting the responsibility on our partner to magically know what we want, fix it, and make it better. This works beautifully in fairy tales so why not in real life???
Asking for what we really want or need puts us in a highly vulnerable position. Once we have acknowledged that we need something from our partner, we can have the sense that they then have “power” over us, to provide or deny us what it is we are asking for. In addition to making ourselves vulnerable, we are also potentially setting ourselves up for some very intense emotions if our partner does not come through. Many people avoid this whole emotional mess by wishing or expecting that their partner will just somehow know what they are after and then give it to them.
Don’t Be Yourself!
Many self help programs say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yet, in our marriage, we do this over and over. How do we learn to work differently together? If we want to change things, how do we begin? Stay tuned for some answers coming soon!