Someone once said, “Most couples don’t have hundreds of arguments. They have the same argument hundreds of times.”
That’s because couples too often fail to resolve the difficult issues that initiate the quarrels in the first place.
These problems are generally accompanied by deep-seated emotions that erupt whenever tough topics are broached. The outbursts grab center stage while the real difficulty gets shoved to the background.
Let’s say a couple has different philosophies about spending and saving money. He thinks she spends too much on worthless items. She thinks he tries to control her.
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Once a month when the credit cards need to be paid, they re-spout the same accusations. A power struggle ensues.
Each partner feels unloved and unheard. They’re both frustrated by the recurring pattern but feel helpless about how to make a change.
The answer lies in recognizing the destructive pathway and trying a completely different route. Here’s how:
Identify your unresolvable issues. They’re the topics at the center of nearly every conflict. Name them. Bring them out in the open. You can’t fix something you’re unwilling to see.
Take away the negative charge. Describe each problem in neutral terms. Avoid saying, “He’s only thinking of himself.” Or “She’s been spoiled all her life.” Instead, try, “We disagree about spending time with my family.” That makes the issue less volatile.
Pick the right time to talk. Select a block of time when you can both devote your full attention to the matter. Put the kids to bed. Set aside electronic distractions. Make sure you’re both fresh and well-rested.
Be respectful and sensitive. Speak to each other in calm tones. Use excessively polite words. Keep your temper under control, and refrain from any snarky remarks that can easily derail your efforts.
Start by expressing your love. Tell your partner how much you value the relationship and that you want things to improve. Look each other in the eyes and consider holding hands while you do this. This sets the stage for constructive dialogue to follow.
State your case. Use I-messages (“I feel” or “I think”) to explain your viewpoint. Remember to stay calm and pleasant at all times.
Recognize if things start to get tense. Watch for such telltale signs as a raised voice, a sarcastic response or one partner clamming up. These indicate that the environment is no longer safe. Give yourselves permission to back off, breathe and smile.
Take a break if you need to. Nothing will be gained by forging onward and pouting or becoming angry. Summarize what gains you’ve made to this point. Try again at a later date.
Be patient. Remember, this is a challenging topic. Your relationship has been grappling with it for a long time, so don’t expect instant progress. Your efforts toward resolution speak volumes about your commitment to the relationship.
Get help. If problems continue, seek professional guidance. A trained therapist can facilitate the communication process and get your relationship back on track.