Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fighting Fair in Marriage

Marriage isn't a license for uneventful bliss & happily ever afters. Couples will disagree, fight and argue. The key is finding resolution without damaging yourself, spouse and your marriage.
Here are some simple tips for improving your communication in your relationship.

by Peter Pearson, PH.D., for hitched
There isn't the space in this column to detail how to manage your triggers, but here are some ways that might break some negative habit patterns in your relationship:

1. When your partner is being harsh with you, don't ask yourself the action-oriented, non-thinking question, "What should I do about it?" Ask yourself instead, "How do I aspire to be if I am coming from my higher self in this situation?" For example, you might want to be understanding and empathic instead of defending yourself or starting a new round of finger pointing.
By focusing on how you aspire to be, what to do will become clearer. Asking yourself how you want to be in any difficult situation with your partner will give yourself more clarity and be more empowering than asking yourself what you should do.
This exercise is especially fruitful when you both identify a tough problem and then you express your goal to each other. For example, you might say something like, "Honey, in this situation, here is how I aspire to be when I respond from my higher self."

2. It's helpful if you each write out on a piece of paper how you aspire to be. For example, you might write, "When we talk about this problem I want to be understanding, empathic, curious, open, non-defensive, assertive, a good listener, etc." Write two to three guidelines for yourself. During the discussion, check your notes to help you follow your own guidelines about how to be.
Sometimes when I ask couples to do this in my office, they suddenly sound like professional communicators who have had years of training. The problem is that it takes practice to sustain the momentum. The point is, when each of you identify how you aspire to be during a difficult discussion and follow your own guidelines, you actually become extremely effective. It's far better motivation than having someone else tell you what to do, and if you try it you'll discover how good it feels to be in alignment with your own integrity about how you aspire to be in your relationship.
Here are some other questions to ask yourself:
* What would our relationship be like if we didn't trigger each other into defensive reactions?
* If we didn't squander time and energy being defensive, disengaged or self-protective what could we really create as a couple and a family?
* What if we could speak candidly without fear of repercussion?
* What collaborative dreams could we risk sharing and realizing?
Frankly, I am too old to seek ways to change slowly and in small steps either in my own marriage or for couples who are impatient in their desire to make things better. If you desire rapid improvements in your relationship, we have something in common.

Dr. Peter Pearson and his wife, Dr. Ellyn Bader, are founders and directors of The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California. As therapists, workshop leaders, authors, and speakers, they are dedicated to helping couples create extraordinary relationships. They have been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News." For more information, visit


Newbie said...

I cannot say how much I need to read this article tonight. I love being married and my husband very very much. But as newlyweds we need to still learn communication skills. Everytime we argue I ask myself, does this mean that we are getting divorce because I feel so bad after. Like he doesnt love me or how could I love someone who hurts me like this. Then, of course we make up and we are happy. But I know its not a healthy way to start out.

Thanks Spicy Wifey

Spicy Wifey said...

We are glad this article helped you. Learning how to communicate effectively will continue to be a work in progress. It takes time. And we are always evolving and changing individually, so what worked in the past may not work always, I'm afraid.

But the Dr. is right. You have to communicate in a way that isn't hurtful. Ultimately YOU LOVE eachother and its important to try to communicate from that place or your "higher self". It can be hard in the heat of the moment! Trust!!

But, I plan to try this technique as well!

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