Step 3: Bandaging Wounds
Now that you have identified a few core issues that have kept your conflicts spinning, the next step is working to resolve or manage these issues. The first step is to come together and talk about the core issues when you are not already upset, when you are both willing and ready and when you have both had time to think through it individually. If you can’t mean these prerequisites, you are most likely not ready to take this step.
To help this conversation go as best as possible, plan for each of you to voice your side fully (although moderately concisely) but not to discuss what each other said. After you hear each other’s issues, part and give yourself time to think through what was said. Then, have a discussion about what to do about it. Be very intentional to stay on one issue at time. The conversation will get ship wrecked if you start stringing together all your issues and talking about everything at once.
The next step is harder to define. Hopefully, your conversation will help answer these questions: What do we do about these issues? How can I help that not happen anymore? What do I need to feel better about this issue? How do we keep this from happening in the future?
If you can’t get to these questions or you can’t find a good enough answer for it, then it might be time to seek help from a counselor. Having a trained, third party to help you identify and work through these issues will be a different experience that you trying to do it on your own.
Finally, remember that you both have been wounded. Even if your conversations have been more productive, you might not feel totally better or you might still be sensitive about the issue. You will likely need some positive experiences together to replenish your relationship.
Your Best Friend
I’ve recently been reading John Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. (book review coming soon). I’ve read a lot his professional writings and have been wanting to read his self help book. Unlike the vast majority of self help books, Gottman’s book is born out of research about marriages. I wanted to share one thought from his book so far.
Gottman talks about one of the biggest factors that make marriages happy and satisfying is when spouses are truly friends. This idea could easy be discounted as cliche — how many wedding songs and cards talk about marrying your best friend. He outlines why friendship is so important to marriage.
You truly know your best friend — what makes him happy, how to tell when she is in a bad mood, what helps after he had a long day, what are her pet peeves
You give your best friend the benefit of doubt — He says something rude, you take it as what happened at work. When she forgets to call you back, you assume that she got distracted and nothing more.
You use your manners with your best friend — When you are upset, you typically restrain yourself from yelling at her, calling her names, assassinating her character and talking about all of the her wrongs from the past.
You want to be with your best friend — This is the person who you have the most fun with, who you share great memories and stories, and who makes you the most comfortable.
Gottman talks about how a foundation of friendship can carry couples through the difficulties of marriage because their friend continues to connect them. All friendship can get stretched thin and have to be nurtured to continue to be strong. As a side note, I would add that often we would tell our friends more directly what we want or need but often expect our spouse to just know. So at risk of sounding cliche, maybe your marriage can get stronger if you focus on reclaiming your friendship a little today.
The Problem with Problems
- Money —-> there’s none left or you see the receipt from a shopping trip
- Going on Dates —–> its Saturday night and you still at home
- Division of Work —–> Wife’s had a hard day with the kids and husband comes home and needs to work after dinner
- Kids doing things when they are told —–> its 9:30pm and he just started his homework.
One of the biggest problems with problems is when they happen. Timing. We start talking after the problem has already happened. You’re mad. You’re being blamed. Likely you’re busy and tired. In these circumstances, its easy to see how conversations quickly lead to arguments that don’t turn out well.
And then when you’re not dealing with a problem, why rock the boat by bringing it up? Just deal with it when it comes up again. Right? Then you will be talking about what happened this time and the last 5 times and you’re upset.
For problems that keep coming up, often a helpful strategy is to talk about when it isn’t happening right in front of you. This will help start your conversation off as best as possible. Research has shown how a conversation starts is one of the most predictive factors of how successful it will be.
So for the problems that keep coming up, here are some ideas to tweak your approach…
- Give a preview —> give each other some notice about what you want to talk about instead of just launching into the conversation
- Put the weapons down —-> Start off with neutral or positive statements like “I want us to get better at….” instead of “we have to talk about how you never….”
- Know your limits —> For issues that you’ve been dealing with for a while, there is likely a backlog of unresolved situations and feelings but know what you are going to focus on and stay there. It isn’t possible to work through everything in one conversation.
Presidential Politics and Couples Quarrels
When you hear a news clip of the Presidential candidates, mostly likely they are talking how the other guy has it wrong, did it wrong in the past, is being dishonest, doesn’t know what he is talking about or what the American people want, etc. Listening to a lot of that is draining and frustrating. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a politician say “here are my steps to improving this issue”, “I respect what my rival has done in this area”, “I made the wrong decision” or “I would have done that differently now”.
Often couples find themselves making similar statements. Arguments are about proving the other person wrong, assaulting their character, questioning their motives, and getting your point across at any cost. It reminds me of a line from a country song “nobody wins, we both lose, we’ve both lost this fight before”. Couples don’t want to continue to argue like this and it is hard to pull yourself out of this pattern once it starts.
Just as it would be refreshing to hear Obama or Romney talk about their plan, their actions, their thought process and even their failures, a couple can make some crucial steps to restoring peace and connection by talking about themselves. Statements like “I hope we can improve…”, “I would like to try…,” “I feel better when….”, and “I should do better at…” are much more likely to get a positive response and make it easier for your partner to do the same in return.
Typically we argue so passionately because we have been hurt and our needs haven’t been met but to move forward together it takes finding a way to deal the hurt without injuring our loved one. Talking about yourself instead of what the other person hasn’t done is a good place to start.
Habits of Healthy Couples
Relationships take proactive effort to remain strong. Here is list of a few habits that help keep a couple’s connection alive and well. These ideas are taken from Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson, the co-creator of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.
- Holding, kissing, and hugging when leaving or coming home
- Writing notes or letters to each other
- Participating in religious events or family rituals
- Calling each other during the day just to say hi
- Having time each day to check in with each other
- Keeping a regular date night
- Celebrating special events like birthdays and anniversaries
- Doing projects or learning something new together
- Supporting their partner in daily struggles and stresses
- Recognizing or complimenting your partner in front of others
Maybe you can pick up a good habit for your relationship.
To forget one’s ancestors is to
be a brook without a source,
a tree without a root.
My paternal grandmother wrote a family history and included this proverb at the end. She believed that it was important to remember and learn from our family’s past.
Knowing and learning from your past is a critical element from a therapeutic perspective. Our families give us a blueprint of how to be in relationships, how to respond to problems, and how to show love to others. While your past is not your destiny, you are much more likely to repeat patterns from your family if you have not examined and learned from them. It is usually not enough to just want to be different. You have to understand how that pattern or characteristic is present in your family, what kept it repeating, and what will make you likely to do it too.
I have told clients before that your past is most likely to hurt you if you are too afraid to turn around and look at it.
All that being said, our families give us many things to celebrate and want to carry on the the next generation. Today I am thinking about how when you came to Grandma’s house, she would always say “Oh goody-goody! Come in and have a handout.” I hope I can make people feel as welcomed in my house and she did in hers.