You walk into the house after a long day of work, and you can tell she’s going to do it again. She’s angry that you’re 15 minutes late and you didn’t stop at the store for milk like she asked. You turn the TV on, hoping she won’t start yet another argument. She starts going on and on about how frustrated she is that you don’t care about what she says. All you want to do is relax after a busy day at work, but you can’t because she’s nagging you. And then she starts saying you’re not a good husband, you aren’t really here for the family. She starts yelling and bringing up all of the times you disappointed her, and talks about how she wishes you were a better man.
It’s 6:00 and you know what’s coming when he walks in the door. You wish it would be different, but every day it’s the same. He walks in and immediately goes to the TV. He plops on the couch and tunes you out. And, as he walks in today you can tell he forgot the milk which the kids need for breakfast tomorrow. He complains sometimes that you don’t spend time with him, that you don’t respect him, but he fails to see why. You’re so tired from taking care of the kids all day, and you want to connect but you’re still cooking dinner and he’s watching TV so how are you supposed to connect anyway?
Sound familiar? I can say that as someone who provides couples counseling, Atlanta couples definitely experience some conflict! But, in reality, lots of couples struggle with every day conflict that looks like a mess. We struggle with connecting, staying kind, being genuine. And, why is that?
We struggle with really staying in tune with ourselves. It’s easy to go to our comfort item (whether it be food, or TV, or working out, or isolation.) And, often times we aren’t really connected with the true emotions of the moment or the underlying dream that has been lost. Most of the time it’s not about the milk that was forgotten. It’s about the desire to care for your children while still maintaining your own sense of identity and connection (which you can’t do if you’re spread too thin.) It’s not about the fact that she nags you about forgetting things. It’s about the fact that you want to feel respected by and connected with your spouse. BUT, we often get so caught up in the argument that we forget to really talk about our real desires and feelings.
We forget to connect. We forget to make sure we foster a true friendship and strong intimacy with our spouse. Instead, we expect to be teammates. We work alongside eachother to build our relationships with our stuff with people and with the world, but we forget to build our relationship with eachother. So, the work gets done, but the relationship suffers. Instead of becoming closer and more fond of eachother, we become more distant.
We reject the idea of allowing our spouse to influence us in the small things. She wants me to eat healthier? No way. Cake is too important to me. He wants me to go golfing with him? No way. It’s too hot. See how that goes? Our spouses make requests of us often enough that we can become resistant. But when we peel back the layers of our resistance, most of the time we’re just being lazy or selfish. If you don’t want to golf because it’s too hot, go play at Top golf where you have fans and easy access to walk inside in the cool air conditioner! There are lots of little ways we can accept our spouse’s influence that won’t break us.
We fail to practice gratitude. It’s so easy to focus on the frustrations of a relationship. But there is power in thoughts and thoughts bring on emotions and behaviors. So, if we’re focusing on all of the negative parts of her nagging we forget that she’s been caring for the kids all day and she looks sexy in those yoga pants. We forget that she’s kind, and has the family in the spot of top priority. We forget that he worked all day, and closed that big account today which means the kids will get to go to summer camp.
These are actually big picture items that impact conflict in heavy ways. But there are great things you can do when in conflict to help tone things down quickly.
Tip 1: Speak to your spouse like you’re speaking to a coworker or friend or a beloved family member. We usually stay on our best behavior when we’re at work or with friends so try this approach at home.
Tip 2: Use ‘I feel’ statements and express your need. When using this method, state your feelings, not your judgments, not your opinions. Ex. I feel sad, I feel lonely, I feel disappointed. When expressing your need, ask for something that can be done. Ex. Can you help me with the dishes, do you mind if we take a break from arguing, will you give me a hug…
Tip 3: Don’t yell, and don’t curse. Both are perceived as aggressive and put people on guard.
Tip 4: Take responsibility for you. Even if you think your partner is wrong, own your part of things. Ex. I apologize for forgetting the milk, I know I sound like I’m nagging. Let me calm down.
Tip 5: Say what you’re thankful for. There’s power in introducing gratitude during conflict.
Tip 6: Remember the intent or goal of the conversation. Is what you’re saying going to get you to that goal? You can even state your goal if it’s not going to cause defensiveness. Ex. Honey, I would like to connect tonight. I apologize for forgetting the milk. Do you mind if we talk about why we love eachother. Ex. Honey, I want to feed the kids in the morning and I also want to spend some time with you tonight but I can’t do that if I need to figure out breakfast in the morning. Can you help me problem solve?