Couples Questions and Answers
Brent, a 33 year old married man writes:
"I have been married for 2 years and 2 months and now within the last year major conflicts have arisen. She screams and never talks and is never happy she is telling me to make a $30,000 and I was beginning a breakdown and now I am changing careers after feeling stagnant and a contract job came up and she said she didn't care she wanted me to stay even though my doctor had put me off work on compensation. She know tells me I am not proud of you and I dont believe your career will work out and I even hired a career consultant to aid me in my quest 7 months back. But because of being employed for a contract for 3 months and I was told they truly were impressed with my work ethic that they put my name back into the top a this job pool for a recommendation to call after 2 months and 2 weeks. Now this time has elapsed and I am on unemployment and just making a hundred and 50 dollars less a month a I give her all the money and she says "I dont want to support us, I shouldn't have to go through this I am too good for this I want you to move out. And your family I always disliked them and because you call me at work at certain times of the day they know you are not working don't call me anymore!!!!!!!!. I can do better. what should I do I told her I would move out separate she is 34yrs old and she said you can move back when you get your s... together. When she comes in from work supper I have dinner on the table and she says don talk to me. What is your advice?
Dr. Goss Responds:
Sounds like life has been throwing a lot of problems at both you and your wife. You both are certainly entitled to feel disappointed and angry at the situation you are in, but unless youre careful youll both take these feelings out on each other. If you do youll make all your problems even worse and run the risk of winding up facing them alone.
Share your letter and this response with her.
Tell her that youre doing your best and that you share her feelings of anger and frustration. Ask her what you can do to help her deal with them. Ask for her help, support and understanding. Try to give her yours.
At times like this you can either work together to resolve the crises or you can tear each other apart over them. It doesnt sound like either of you created the situation. So why do you feel like adversaries? You got married in order to work as allies in life.
Heres a tip. When she complains about the problems, instead of trying to defend yourself and shifting the blame back, apologize instead.
Apologies dont mean that you accept blame. They mean you understand her feelings and feel sorrow over the fact that she is experiencing them.
"Im sorry that youre hurting. Can I do anything do help you feel better?", might go a long way towards defusing the situation.
You both will be much more likely to solve your problems if you work together on them than if you exhaust yourselves beating each other up over them.
You are not enemies. You are allies in pain.
Help each other, and get some counseling if you cant do it alone.
L.C., a 34 year old married woman writes:
My husband and I have been together 6 years. During the last year or so I notice that whenever I try to discuss matters that concern me with him he tends to get defensive or blow up at me. I'm just trying to let him know how I feel about things. Is it him or me? How can I get him to just listen?
Dr. Goss responds:
It may be neither you nor him. You sound well intentioned but he sounds as if he's warding off verbal blows. Let me preface my answer with a short story...
When I first went into private practice I began to spend a lot of time dealing with psychologically healthy individuals who had sought couples or family counseling because they didn't get along with their spouses, kids or important others. I hated it! I would sit there and listen to my patients engage in yelling, screaming arguments that Im sure had already been repeated a million times at home, feeling absolutely helpless and very un-therapeutic. Eventually Id get frustrated and angry myself. I finally decided that dispite all of my training I didnt know what I was doing and became determined to invent a method of genuinely effective relationship therapy. I embarked on a systematic exploration of arguing, during which I discovered some tricks that I firmly believe can be applied to all of our interpersonal relations --- enabling us to get along constructively during even the most stressful of times. When I applied these principles in my work with patients the fighting and arguing stopped, meaningful discussions began, conflicts were resolved and my sanity was maintained.
We dont want to fight with the people we care about, but we do anyway. We can sit down with our spouses, friends or co-workers with the best of intentions, determined to have positive constructive discussions and still wind up arguing. Why? How? When I began my investigations I made the assumption that since nobody wanted to fight and that therefore, the tendency had to be habitual rather than intentional. I studied the transition that took place when discussions turned into arguments. I tape-recorded hundreds of fights and carefully listened for the moments when things turned ugly. What were the triggers?
I was amazed to discover only three fightstarters. Its been 19 years now and I still know of only three. Eliminate them and arguments cease! Really! Without them fighting becomes virtually impossible. All three are bad habits we fall into out of ignorance or laziness. All three begin with good intentions. All three are correctable with practice.
Avoid the three fightstarters!
Practice using their opposites instead.
Talk about your own feelings instead of what produced them. Make it clear that you assume responsibility for your own feelings. Ask for help in dealing with them. Assume only that nobody intentionally "caused" them.
Go out of your way to acknowledge your partner's feelings. even if they seem unjustified or incomprehensible. They really are real! Ask for help in understanding them. Avoid the temptation to try to explain them away or to console your partner. Above all listen. Then ask if there is anything you can do to help.
State your opinions as opinions. It won't kill you to preface your statements with, "You know, it seems to me as if..." or to finish them with, "...anyway, that's my opinion; what's yours?" Doing so opens a dialogue instead of issuing an edict.
Above all, tell your partner about the three fightstarters. Ask him or her to gently let you know if you inadvertently use one. All they have to say is "ouch". Apologize immediately and try again, using an opposite.
A week or two of practice with this simple technique will have a dramatic effect on your communication skills and enable you to be open an honest while being confident you won't start a fight!
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