Elaine Fantle Shimberg, author of Blending Families says lack of communication is the root of all other problems. She says, “You can’t communicate while you’re checking your Blackberry (editorial comment: OK, so the article is a few years old—it still goes for your iPhone), watching TV, or flipping through the sports section.” Harriet Lerner, PhD said “Learn to be a good listener.” But just as importantly, learn to be a good communicator. She says, “Figure out how to describe the problem in three sentences or less. Get to the point and keep it short. Don’t inundate your partner with too much information, and keep to one issue at a time. A conversation that starts with, ‘You didn’t call to say you wouldn’t be home for dinner. I can’t trust you. You never do what you say you’ll do, and you forgot to bring the dog in last night and the garbage is overflowing…’” is doomed to failure before it gets started.
Part of marriage, part of any interpersonal interaction, is learning to handle conflict. Realize that it is up to you to decide how you will react to stimulus. If you think you’re a victim, realize that it’s your choice to be so. If you feel hurt by something your partner has said, first ask yourself why you are hurt by it. Then ask yourself if it might be more a problem for your partner than for yourself. Here is a short list of ideas you can keep in mind when conflict arises.
- Do whatever you can to maintain your positive outlook.
- Don’t give in to the “poor me” syndrome.
- You can only change your behaviour and your thinking.
- Realize that if a behaviour or thought pattern has not worked in the past, it probably won’t work in the future. Don’t be afraid to change. In fact, accept the fact that change is inevitable. The decision you have to make is whether you are going to change in a way that helps or hurts your marriage.
- Don’t overreact.
- Be sensitive to your partner’s feelings.
- Realize that disagreement is only that–disagreement. Two rational, intelligent, caring adults can see a situation from completely different viewpoints and arrive at entirely different conclusions concerning how to handle it. A disagreement is not an attack on your character or intelligence, and it’s not a sign of disrespect.
- Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Be willing to apologize. But on the other hand…
- Don’t play the blame game. By that, I don’t mean to necessarily just blame the other person, but also blaming yourself. Blame won’t get you anywhere. It’s a waste of time and emotional energy, so why bother? We use blame to make ourselves feel better. Either it’s the other person’s fault, so blame him or her and absolve yourself of any responsibility for the situation. Or it’s all your fault, and by taking the blame you show what a grand and glorious person you are, willing to be the martyr. Normally, there is enough blame to share, but that mentality doesn’t get you anywhere. It immobilizes you and slows or halts any progress toward solving the real problem. And maybe you are to blame. Maybe you know it and your partner knows it. So what? Playing the blame game isn’t going to get you one step closer to solving your problems. So just stop! It might make you feel good in the short term, but in the long run, it’s a marriage killer.
- This is not to say that you don’t need to accept responsibility for your own errors, or that you shouldn’t do everything you can to remedy a bad situation. Sometimes we make changes for the good of the relationship even though we’re not changing anything that is necessarily bad. If you’re driving down the highway and are coming head on with a car traveling the opposite direction in your lane, it does no one any good to talk about who has the right of way—who’s wrong and who’s right. You need to take immediate evasive action before you end up in the hospital or the grave. A tombstone that says, “But I was right!” at the end of the day, is still a tombstone.
- When disagreeing, don’t just give up. Susan Heitler Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong & Loving Marriage says this leads only to resentment and depression. And worse, some couples avoid the difficult discussions altogether. The issue isn’t going to go away on its own, especially if it’s so sensitive and upsetting that you can’t even talk about it. That brings up the image of Voldemort in the Harry Potter series—a thing so terrible its name can’t even be spoken. That’s a great literary technique, but it will kill a marriage. There is no topic that cannot be discussed.
- When discussing or arguing, keep the topic narrow. Discuss only the single topic at hand. There is plenty of time to discuss past issues. Narrow the scope of your discussion, come to a resolution, kiss, and have sex. Life will be so much better.