We all usually start well, going out of our way to think of our new love, to please & surprise and enjoy them. But living together and having to sort out differences, juggle work (and traffic, chores, family, pets & bills)- all these cause normal arguments and deadlocks. How many of us learned how to have a good disagreement where we really listen to the other person’s complaint, understand their feelings, even consider that maybe I too have some faults?
The most basic pattern I see in couples starting marital counseling is that of defensive countering. That is, one person brings up a complaint and the other responds with his/her own complaint. (“would you take the trash out, I’m sick and tired of having to remind you” and the counter is “well you don’t ever….”). Nothing gets resolved and the end result is that both people feel totally unheard.
The better dance is rather obvious, but still, we all fall into this at times. If infrequent, it may not build into a problem. But a regular conflict like this begins to cause resentment and distance. Often, there’s underlying unresolved anger or hurt beneath this conflict.
So the better dance is: first person says (in a nicer way) “Would you take the trash out? And I’d like it if I don’t have to keep reminding you” Response could be “ok, sorry., I will be better about remembering”. Even when there are grievances building up, dealing with those will be easier if the defensive tactics are dropped.
This pattern applies to everything.
(I want…. to play loud music,
you want… it quiet
I want… to watch sports all Sat afternoon
you want… to go hiking
I want…the kids to do chores
you want….them to not have to do chores and study more and play
I want…to shop often, buy new clothes and furniture
you want….to save for college, live frugally
I want…to go to my mother’s every Sunday for the afternoon
you want…to have time at home, especially on the weekends
These are basic differences and values that require thoughtfulness, flexibility and compromise.
But if you add more serious factors like excessive alcohol or drug use, over-spending, depression & anxiety and low self-esteem, the problems intensify. Extended family and stepfamilies all add more people and more negotiations. These frequently cause people to end up in opposite corners, dug in and hurt as they feel increasingly unappreciated or misunderstood.
To start improving arguments, take out the snarky, defensive responses, the inattention, the disrespect for the other person’s thoughts and feelings. Consider getting professional help for the really complicated problems.
(reading sources: John and Julie Gottman’s Seven Principles of Making Marriage Better)