YES! There are smart ways to avoid marital strife before it starts.
WHY COUPLES QUARREL---------
AND HOW THEY CAN --------- STOP
H E STANDS AT THE KITCHEN COUNTER DRINKING COFFEE, WONDERING what she wants from him. She stands at the sink, feeling her temples throb. Neither can remember how they got from deciding whether to get a new refrigerator to arguing about money to a shouting match. Each silently asks: Why can’t we stop arguing like this?
That’s a question most couples ask at one time or another. Fights spring out of nowhere and can quickly get out of hand. “You never take me anywhere,” she accuses. He responds, “If you’d dress nice, I might feel like it.” She replies, “How can I buy nice clothes on the money you earn?” And so it goes. It’s all too easy to settle into hurtful, repetitive and even predictable ways of arguing with those we love. But in my many years of marriage counseling, I have found that couples can often stop arguments before they start if they use the following “circuit breakers.” These tips won’t necessarily settle your disputes, but they will give you breathing room—the perspective you need to create a positive and nurturing relationship.
SWITCHING ROLES. A middle-aged professional was convinced that his wife was too extravagant. “No matter how much I give you for a household allowance, you always run short,” he said. “Do you have any idea what food costs these days?” she replied. “Next time, why don’t you buy the groceries?” Thirty minutes at the supermarket was enough to show the husband that his ideas of how much it cost to eat were about ten years old. Role switching may not itself resolve disputes, but it does lay the foundation for talking about them from a new perspective.
MAKE A U-TURN. “My husband tunes me out,” said a 36-year-old Indiana postal worker. “Sometimes he leaves the house and won’t even tell me where he’s going.” “Change how you typically react and see what happens,” I told her. “This week, don’t ask him where he is going. And don’t just wait at home. Join a club, or go to a movie, or visit a friend. If he asks you where you went, say honestly, ‘Oh, I just needed to get out for a while.’”
It wasn’t easy for her, but she agreed. The next night, she kissed him on the cheek and said, “I need to go out for a while. See you later.” She went to a movie and came home after midnight. The next night, when he left with some friends, she wasn’t there when he returned. When he asked where she had been, she said casually, “Oh, just out. I love you, but I’m not going to worry so much about you.” He was hurt when she told him she was spending the weekend with her mother. The next weekend, he asked her out on their first date in a year. And their relation-ship slowly improved.
Sometimes it’s easy to blame or nag. And, we think, if a little doesn’t work, we’ll double it. That’s natural, but not always helpful. Instead, try making a U-turn from unsuccessful behavior. You might be pleasantly surprised.
SIDESTEP. When I ask couples what topics spark conflict, they usually tell me: insensitive comments, expensive purchases, undone chores, and sex or the lack of it. “When my husband mentions my weight, it really sets me off,” says a 40-year -old Indiana teacher. And he knows that when she once again refers to the clutter in the basement, he’s in for trouble. These “red flags” are cues that the couple are venturing into areas virtually guaranteed to start a fight.
If couples learn to watch and listen for “red flag” subjects, they can use them as warning signals to back off, slow down and lower the tone of the discussion. University of Oregon therapist Robert L. Weiss suggests that couples agree to immediately stop arguing as soon as either partner recognizes a “red flag” word or issue. They resume the discussion when they have calmed down.
KNOW YOUR TRIGGER TIMES. Arguments are seldom random or unpredictable. For example, my wife usually picks a fight before dinner or late at night times when she’s stressed out. My rough-edge times are when I feel hassled and she asks me, without warning, to fix something around the house. We identified the usual circumstances for our arguments and made adjustments. If Susan is tired, I tread lightly. If she has an odd job to get done, she presents it softly and with advance notice.
One couple found most of their quarrels happen around 6 p.m. on week-nights, when their two children are clamoring for attention and there is a meal to prepare. With these times in mind, the couple devised simple techniques to deal with them: serving food prepared ahead, and establishing a 20-minute cooling-off period when each partner was entitled to privacy and quiet.
LIGHTEN UP. Humor may be one of the most effective means of avoiding or derailing an argument. My friend Sam Cladding of Wake Forest University was arguing with his wife, Claire, early in their marriage. “It reached the heights of absurdity,” Sam says. “Finally, I said quite seriously, ‘You know what they would do to you in Russia if you did this? They’d take you out before a firing squad!’ “What Claire said in response to my self-righteous statement was, ‘So I made a little mistake—shoot me!’ After I stopped laughing, her words made me realize how absurd the argument had gotten. Now when Sam and Claire argue, one of them will say, “So I made a mistake -- shoot me.” Whenever they say it, they laugh—and become more civil. Humor can change the emotional climate of an I’m-right-and- you’re-wrong fight. You begin to realize that the argument is absurd—and see you are part of the problem too.
ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE. Author Tom Peters, an expert on management skills, has examined America’s best-run corporations for years to discover the secrets of their excellence. Much of what he found can be applied to personal relationships. One key to corporate excellence is a minimum of conflict. Companies that have defused corporate discord know it’s important not to focus on problems. Instead of zeroing in on what someone did wrong, they pay attention to the things people do well.
Similarly, how a couple looks at their marriage can make all the difference between having a relationship that centers on problems and arguments, and one that encourages respect and love. A few years ago, a professor and his wife were on the verge of separating because they couldn’t stop quarreling. Then one evening while talking with old friends, the couple started recalling the fun they’d had as newlyweds going to free art exhibits and discovering inexpensive restaurants. After that evening they repeated some of their earlier experiences, recapturing their old positive attitudes and gradually knitting their marriage back together.
Another marriage was plagued by constant arguing about the husband’s thoughlessness. Immersed in his computer-programming business, he seldom remembered his wife’s birthday or their anniversary. “Fighting with him only made matters worse,” said the woman. “Instead,” she continued, “I remembered how pleased he used to be, years ago, when I hugged and kissed him whenever he brought me the slightest trinket. So I waited for the first chance I had to praise him for some small act of thoughtfulness.” When he brought home a book she’d asked for, she thanked him as if he had given her a diamond. “He looked at me oddly,” she admitted. “But I knew he was pleased. I did this a few more times, and gradually he began to want to think about me because he enjoyed being appreciated, just like in the old days.” When couples force themselves to take a positive approach, the results can be surprisingly rewarding.
IN THE END, FORGIVENESS WORKS. I am often asked if a relationship can be saved. I usually respond, “No, but you can build a new relationship.” Forgiveness allows that process to begin. We may feel we’re admitting defeat when we do the forgiving. But on the contrary, as the saying goes, the one who forgives gains the victory. Forgiveness involves letting go of anger, restoring respect and offering acceptance. If you can find a way to offer the gift of forgive-ness, you will have discovered one of the strongest circuit breakers of all, one that allows you to put down the burden you’re carrying. With your hands and heart free, you and your partner can begin building a new, more fulfilling relationship.
“STOP MARITAL FIGHTS BEFORE THEY START”
Copyright @ 1994 by: Norman M. Lobsenz and Fred P. Piercy
Published by: Berkley Publishing Group,
200 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10016
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993