I heard something about relationships and conflict on the radio the other day. The announcer was talking about a recent study that analyzed couples and how they handle disagreement. It stated that most problems should be settled within 3 minutes of a disagreement beginning. After that time, the likelihood that you will start arguing over other things or something from a past argument increases significantly. We have all been there! You start talking about something that just happened and 20 minutes later the tears are flowing and you are like an archaeologist digging up ancient bones from a decade-long relationship. At some point, you may think to yourself, “how did we get here” but you keep going because you have come this far. Read on to learn some tips on communicating with your spouse.
Raise your hand if you have ever found yourself in a disagreement with your spouse that has extended far past where it should have or has ended up in a place so far removed from where you started that you can’t remember the problem was in the first place. That’s cool, I am here to help.
What qualifies me to speak on this matter? I have been living with the same amazing human for 12 years and if our marriage can survive one bathroom and a queen-sized bed, I feel we can survive anything. When it comes to conflict, we have been deep in the trenches and have been able to emerge from those darker moments and have learned a thing or two about making sure the other person feels loved, heard and supported.
Remember: You Are On the Same Team
If you get nothing else from this post, please, please, please remember that you are on the same team. You have entered into some form of a relationship together and through that have decided that you are better together than apart. That is easy to remember when you are skipping down the beach together or in a state of ease, but when conflict arises, don’t pit yourself against one another. Whatever problem or issue is arising is both of yours to solve because you both have a vested interest in resolving it.
Lay Down Your Swords
I really hope you don’t have actual swords so let this be metaphorical. Have you ever had that moment in the middle of a difficult conversation where you have suddenly morphed into the most stubborn mule on planet earth? And you can see the other person hurting or struggling but there is a part of you that despite really and truly loving that person, you just can’t let go of your stubbornness? I speak from experience here people. My stubbornness can take the form of tenacity when I need to accomplish a goal but it has been a powerful weapon in the past.
What shifted? Well…realizing that we are on the same team really helps. Why would I hold onto something that is clearly hurting the person I love most in the world? Being stubborn in a conflict just for the sake of stubbornness serves no purpose other than protecting yourself. Putting that mule out to pasture means that you have to be vulnerable and that can be terrifying but it is the only way that you can begin to resolve the conflict. I remember every significant conflict I have ever had in my marriage and so much of that conflict was unnecessary and totally unproductive.
Having the Same Conversation Over and Over
I distinctly remember the moment my husband looked at me and said: “are we going to keep having this same disagreement over and over again?” Hello dolly! That was a bingo!
It’s remarkable really that in most other areas of your life, if faced with a problem, you would analyze it and seek a solution so that you could move past it. What is different about our relationship that prevents us from taking the same approach?
It’s no accident that the first two points are in the order that they are. We forget that we are on the same team and we refuse to take off our armour when conflict arises in our primary relationship. What does this lead to? It’s like Groundhog Day for marital strife. You have to be willing to have a different experience (more on willingness here). Do you really want to have the same argument for the next 40 plus years?
Leaving the Past in the Past
I barely remember what happened last week, but in the past I have been a master at dredging up ancient history to use in a conflict happening in real-time. I also happen to have graduated university with a history degree and should know that if we don’t learn the lesson of the past that we are doomed to repeat it. If you are having the same conversation over and over again, it is because you haven’t learned the lesson that you are meant to learn. How can you focus on what is really in the way of you releasing the past so that it can remain there? Conflict in relationships has the insane ability to shift the time space continuum and before you know you are in 2005 talking about that time your partner said something when he or she was hangry and it hurt your feelings. Decide that you want to close the lid on the tickle trunk of past conflicts and maybe padlock it and toss it in the ocean for good measure.
Duh! Seems easy right? Nope. I have been totally guilty of pretending to listen and in my mind I was readying a response that would make me right. That is the pinnacle of shitty listening.
What is the point of conflict? You need to speak your mind and provide your partner with the information but the other half of communication is listening. We all want to get to the place of forgiveness and resolution. Start with that end goal in mind and talk, but remember to listen. And if you have read all the way through this post, you know that I want you to lay down the armour, let yourself be vulnerable and stay focused on learning the lesson and finding a solution.
On True Happiness
Guess what? I am deliriously happy in my marriage. I have a ridiculous amount of fun with my husband, who happens to be the funniest, sexiest and kindest man on planet earth. Has it always been this way? I have always been in love with him, but the level of connection we share now has been part of our evolution of growing both as individuals but also together. I had no idea when we first got together, in the shiny newness of our early days, that I would find myself loving him more than I ever imagined possible. I know that we have a common goal and that in taking the steps above we were able to come to a place where we are equally heard, supported and fulfilled in our partnership. Our marriage is the greatest gift of my life and one that I would do anything to protect and support.
Tell me, have you ever been guilty of one of the above? Do you see how you could have a different experience?