A friend related the following scenario to me: On a recent birthday, she had told her husband she wanted to celebrate quietly at home. Instead, he baked a huge chocolate cake and invited a houseful of well wishers over for the evening. When she started to protest, he was hurt and said, “I went to a lot of effort to make this happen.” My friend wisely avoided a confrontation, graciously told her husband, “Thank you!” and then smiled sweetly as everyone sang her “Happy Birthday.”
These folks were experiencing spousal misalignment, a time when partners’ goals and perspectives are at odds and out of sync. One person reads the cues and arrives at a conclusion; the mate reads the very same cues and arrives at an opposing course of action.
Partners can be misaligned over oh-so-many issues. Childrearing, social functions, family gatherings, holidays, chores and finances can all be the source of marital discord.
But they may also find that they can be out of sync in some areas and completely aligned on many others. For instance, a couple disagrees about letting their cockapoo sleep in their bed, yet their marriage is generally stable and they enjoy being together.
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Most misalignments are petty. They don’t focus on fundamental disagreements. They seldom signal deep-rooted conflict. In fact, couples are frequently embarrassed they’re disagreeing at all.
It’s easy to see why misalignments happen. Spouses are two distinct people with divergent backgrounds, skills and viewpoints. They bring their own preferences, discomforts and expectations to every situation.
They also have conflicting needs. A wife might thrive on social stimulation, but her shy husband likes working alone on his computer. Every invitation creates possible discord if people are not sensitive to each other’s emo tional makeup.
Spousal misalignments frequently get blown out of proportion. A relatively benign issue (“Shall we take out the lawn and lay down AstroTurf?”) quickly gains a life of its own (“I can’t believe you are so morally corrupt!”). Couples needlessly infuse the situation with accusations and drama, turning a benign topic into a knock-down-drag-out in a matter of moments.
Of course, some disagreements truly are problematic and warrant lengthy discussions or possibly the dissolution of the relationship. But the vast, vast majority of misalignments can be filed in the “Inconsequential” category. It’s best to contain them as quickly as possible to prevent further fallout.
HOW TO SOLVE MARITAL MISALIGNMENTS
Keep things in perspective. If the disagreement is minor, don’t let it get out of control.
Pleasantly state your case. Express your opinion with respect. There’s no need to become hostile or accusatory.
Be willing to compromise. Problemsolve with your partner to arrive at a workable solution.
Identify make-or-break issues. It’s OK to say, “This is really important to me. I’d like things done a certain way.” The problem may require more negotiation to find the ultimate solution.
Know when to back out. Sometimes, stepping gracefully aside and avoiding a scene is the best option.
Plan ahead to avoid future problems. Does this problem crop up like clockwork? Develop a strategy to enable you to sidestep it next time.