A GOOD RELATIONSHIP STARTS WITH GOOD COMMUNICATION.
Couples argue. They fight and disagree. Life throws numerous, inevitable stressors their way that can divide the relationship and position each individual against each other. Arguments have a tendency to become irrational, emotional, and focused on throwing blame at each other.
Next time you find yourself in a heated conversation with your partner, ask yourself: “Are we fighting against each other or against the problem?”.
Alex and Sam are arguing about finances. Alex believes each penny should be allocated for in the budget, while saving for retirement, vacations, and children’s education. Sam has a more relaxed approach, wanting to have more flexibility in spending decisions. The argument quickly becomes each partner defending their position on finances and attempting to convince their partner why their belief is superior. Suddenly, the content of the argument transforms into past hurts, wrongdoings, and irreversible differences among partners. The problem caused Alex and Sam to separate and lose sight of the beauty in their differences.
Alex and Sam could have avoided an emotionally exhausting and damaging argument if they caught themselves fighting against each other rather than against finances. They may have been able to have a rational, calmer conversation in which each partner voiced their opinions and concerns. The couple would have then had the opportunity to reach an agreement about finances that met both of their needs.
Warning Signs in Unhealthy Conflict Resolution
There are three elements present in an argument – partner A, partner B, and the problem. Some of the most common argument starters include finances, parenting, sex, and extended family. When fighting about these topics, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of partner A versus partner B with the problem in the middle.
Give your relationship the opportunity to thrive by asking yourself, “Are we fighting against each other or against the problem?” when you recognize these warning signs:
Elise GriggCounseling Intern
Looking at Your Marriage Through New Eyes
Marriage can be one of the most rewarding relationships in life. In this relationship, we can learn the most intimate details of our partner, and we have the opportunity to truly be known by the other. When couples start dating, everything is new and exciting. We work to learn about the other by asking questions, listening, and observing inquisitively. However, as time goes on and we think we "know" the other person so well that we start to fall into the trap of setting expectations and having assumptions about the other. When this happens, we run the risk of not listening to the other, not stepping out and trying new things, and losing touch as each partner continues to grow and change over the years.
We all have expectations of how a relationship or marriage should be or how a partner should act in the relationship. Many of these expectations build from the relationships we saw and experienced growing up. We saw the example of our parents or the parents or others and we experienced different relationships (parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.) that all guided our expectations of how people should treat one another in a close relationship. The problem comes when our expectations don't align with those of our partner. For example, if I have an expectation that men work outside the home and women work in the home, that might be fine if my partner shares that expectation, but not if she believes in having a career outside the home and sharing household duties. The problem worsens when these expectations are unspoken. When this happens, we keep the expectations internal and expect our partner to just "know." Then, when they behave outside of our expectation we can get angry or hurt, but again we keep it internal until it builds up and comes out in a fight. It is important to talk about how we were raised and our expectations in the relationship, realizing that this new relationship is co-created between the two partners and both will need to negotiate the new "rules" in the relationship.
Assumptions in a relationship are when you believe you know what your partner is going to do or say before you give them a chance to do so. This causes you and your partner to behave differently, either because you are trying to avoid conflict, or you are afraid of hurting your partner, or you just don't want to be let down again. While this might be an attempt to protect yourself in the relationship, it is actually making things worse. Assumptions are very powerful because they are easy to validate, you just have to see an example of your assumption working out as planned and you have confirmed its validity. However, this is likely not always the case. Where before you might have said something or done something and received a good response 30 percent of the time and a bad response 70 percent, you now have no chance of a positive or different response. You are actually limiting the possibilities in your relationship and denying the chance that you or your partner can change.
Remove the Filter
This can be an extremely difficult task, but try to remove some of these filters that you look at your partner and relationship through. It is like wearing sunglasses that are distorting your view and taking them off.
This week try to open your eyes to the possibilities in your relationship and don't accept the status quo. Try to react differently than you always do and engage your partner as you did when you first were dating. Look for new reactions rather that what you assume will happen and you might be suprised.
James McMillian, LCPC
Resolve - Counseling & Wellness
Prairie Village, KS
"To be accessible means to be available for your partner, both physically and emotionally." - James Mcmillian
Are you A.R.E in Your Relationship
Sue Johnson, founder of Emotion Focused Couple Therapy, describes the need to be Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged (A.R.E) in loving relationships. Just as children become anxious or withdrawn when their parents aren't accessible, responsive, or engaged, spouses and partners find themselves in the same state of concern and feelings of disconnection emerge. As I have worked with couples in marriage counseling, I often see these as three areas that can be nurtured in the relationship.
To be accessible means to be available for your partner, both physically and emotionally. If you physically are never around then distance can grow between you and your partner. This can be through long hours at work, long distances between partners, or different interests or responsibilities pulling each in different directions. Sometimes children can even put an emotional distance between partners. If you find yourself in a time of your life where it is difficult to be physically accessible, try to find ways to counter balance the time away. If you have long hours during the week are you still able to spend time of the weekends? Are you able to call during the day or at night? Can you take a random day off together? When situations make this difficult it is important to be creative.
Emotional distance can be even more detrimental than physical distance. Are you willing to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner, or does it feel like you aren't even there even though you are in the same room? Being emotionally accessible means there needs to be a level of vulnerability and a willingness to share with your spouse what you might not share with anyone else.
When I think of situations where a spouse is not responsive, the picture that immediately comes to mind is of one spouse watching TV or playing on their phone while the other is venting about their day. It is like talking to a brick wall. Or where one spouse is deeply involved in a book, or a project, or anything that distracts from the person next to them who is crying out to be heard. Responsiveness is a must in relationships. If a partner isn't responsive then that thing that is distracting them is perceived to be more important than their partner. I have heard time and again that "___ is more important than me." Fill in the blank. We have so many things in society that can distract us from genuine relationships and interactions. To make committed and loving relationships work we must set priorities, and our spouse must know that they are at the top of that priority list.
Are you a passive observer of your marriage or an active participant? Being engaged in a relationship means to be active and involved, to go out of your way to reach out to your partner and ask about their day. To make plans for the weekend or to help plan your next trip. When you leave in the mornings to make a point of kissing goodbye and when you come home to make your partner the first person you greet. This sounds easier than it is. We get consumed with our jobs, chores, and routine of the day. We get stressed about money and children. We have so many responsibilities that pull at us that we can sometimes lose sight of our relationship and investing the time to keep it healthy. If you aren't engaged in your relationship then it is like having a pet that you never feed...the relationship will eventually starve.
When reflecting on your relationship ask yourself the questions posed above and find where you can actively work to improve. These aren't the silver bullet of healthy relationships, but without them you will likely find yourself and your partner slowly growing apart. They are the foundation of a healthy relationship.
James McMillian, MA, LPC, NCC
Resolve - Counseling & Wellness