You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…(Part 2)
The Husband and I have worked to build a healthy marriage and a healthy family culture since we were engaged a little over a decade ago, and I think we’ve been very, very successful.
Here are several tools and principles that have helped us over the years:
Each person gets a chance to tell their ‘side of the story’: Each spouse should get a chance to tell what they think is going on. Sometimes it means that each person retells the events surrounding an incident from their perspective. Other times it means that each person tells why they think their way of doing something is the best way to do it. The point is to give each person a chance to put their perspective out there. Let them do that with no (or at least minimal) interruption.
Mirror, mirror: Listening to what someone says and restating/paraphrasing the feelings, words, and ideas is called reflecting. After your spouse has told their ‘side of the story,’ reflect what they said back to them. The idea is for each of you to have a chance to feel like you’ve been heard and understood. Reflecting is probably the most useful tool in working through conflict. The Husband and I have made this technique part of our normal communication.
Avoid The Right Fight: Sometimes in a debate, it can be easy to get into what I like to call ‘The Right Fight’ (I may have gotten that phrase from Dr. Phil. Don’t tell anyone). When a couple gets into The Right Fight the disagreement becomes about picking apart every little thing that happened and making assessments about the other person’s actions. It’s not always about being correct. Seek to understand the other person’s perspective instead of fighting the right fight.
You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…: Sometimes there are discrepancies in how the events leading up to a conflict are perceived and retold. No one has a perfect memory. Avoid getting bogged down in minutiae. Sometimes it’s better to just move on than to go around over something no one can definitively prove if or how it happened. If the crux of the conflict is about a disputed detail then it’s time to start thinking in broader concepts. Instead of debating about if or how something happened, shift the discussion to the emotional content. How did you feel when you thought it happened. Most of the time, affirmation of feelings brings more healing and clarity than affirmation of if something actually happened.
Don’t let it fester: The husband and I have a policy. We don’t sleep on any dispute. Ever. Sometimes it means that we don’t go to bed until late, but when we go to bed we are able to lay our heads down without any frustration or hurt feelings. Don’t sit on your frustrations. All that does is add fuel to the fire. Seek closure and peace.
You’re not a mind reader: You know what really grinds my gears? Getting into a disagreement with someone who thinks can read my mind and knows all of my thoughts, feelings, and motives. It’s absolutely maddening because they are wrong 99.9% of the time. Fortunately, I’m not married to this kind of person, but I know people who are/have been. Let your spouse tell you what they are thinking, how they feel, and why they acted a certain way. Believe what they say.
If you have an issue with being able to trust them enough to believe what was said there is likely something deeper happening. That something deeper usually falls into the one or more following categories:
1) You are believing some sort of lie: Sometimes we have trouble believing or trusting others because of our own flawed mindsets. Oftentimes, a combination of our past hurts, upbringing, and unmet/unrealistic expectations color how we interpret things and that interpretation could be the wrong interpretation. The way this manifests is in wife who believes her husband thinks she’s stupid because “everyone” thinks that of her (and she may even think that of herself from time to time). Or maybe a husband who thinks his wife is unfaithful because he knows many women who have been unfaithful to their husbands.
2) You’re being triggered: Along the same line as believing a lie, being triggered stems from our experiences and mindsets and can significantly affect how we interact with others. When something is an emotional trigger, it causes the person being triggered to experience heightened emotions (anger, fear, sadness) that don’t match the situation at hand. A good indication that someone is being triggered is if the level of emotion displayed is disproportionate to the level of emotion being displayed by others or for what’s appropriate for the situation. Anything can be a trigger: Words, actions, events, etc. Is there a phrase that your spouse says that makes you angry or really hurts? Chances are it’s a trigger.
3) There has been a breach of trust: Has your spouse done something concrete (as in you can say exactly what they did and have evidence or an admission of it) that broke your trust? Often, broken trust will spill over into other areas of a marriage. Past sins may be forgiven, but the emotion and lack of trust is still there. If this is the case, you really need to examine what’s happening. Is your spouse still behaving in a way that’s untrustworthy? Or are you still holding their past ‘sins’ over their head?
Put your behind in your past (a.k.a. put your past behind you): I remember very few of the disputes that The Husband and I have had over the course of our marriage. If you were to ask us what our most recent disagreement or dispute was about, most of the time I’d have to think really hard to even remember. The reason is that we talk through our disagreements until we feel like we have closure. Many times we end up laughing at the end. Settle the dispute and move on. Resolve not to keep a record of grievances. Bringing up ancient history is a sure way to make sure you’ll keep having the same dispute.
Avoid accusation and labeling: One of the worst things you can do to your spouse in a dispute is to make accusations toward them (“You don’t care about me or this family!”) or to label them (“You’re a liar!”). When you accuse and label, you put your spouse on trial and you become judge and jury. Conflict resolution is about finding common ground, not about who is right and who is wrong. Speak in terms of how you feel (“I feel like you don’t care about me or our family,” “I don’t fee like you’re telling me the truth.”) and allow your spouse room to either affirm or negate what’s been said.
Avoid getting defensive: There may be times that you hear tough truths. You may think one way about yourself and your spouse shows up and tells you that you’re acting another way. Really listen to and consider what’s being said. You have the right to say if you feel like something is wrong, but do so in a way that acknowledges any potential truth in what’s been said. Don’t rush to discount what’s been said.
Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help your next marital disagreement go smoothly!