Communicating on Difficult Topics
In marriage, it’s important to recognize and accept that we are different people with differing perspectives and opinions. One of the beauties of sharing your life with someone is the opportunity to learn and grow with one another. Sometimes our expectations are unrealistic and we come to believe that conflict or disagreement is a “bad” thing. It isn’t. Conflict is natural and a part of the way the universe works. It creates opportunities to evolve to a greater level of homeostasis and harmony.
The Cost of Not Communicating about Differences
Avoiding conflict can slowly erode a marriage. On the surface, things appear to be great. But underneath, unexpressed hurts and disappointments can lead to anger, resentment, and even contempt (the kiss of death in any relationship). Tiptoeing around important issues can also lead to disconnection from your spouse and compartmentalized emotions rather than integrated communication and successful problem solving.
Not What But How You Say it
Rather than having NO CONFLICT as a goal, let’s look at how to deal with struggles successfully. It’s not the disagreeing part that’s the issue. It’s how we verbalize our differing perspectives. The foundation for a thriving relationship is the trifecta of respect, honesty, and love. So, in expressing ourselves, we must have awareness as to whether our words, tone, and behaviors are consistent with our commitment to respect, honesty, and love. We strive to be fair and kind. We give the benefit of the doubt. We do not harshly judge and criticize. We attack a problem, not each other.
How Important is it to be Right?
Major areas of conflict within marriage include sex, money, parenting, work, and chores. EXPECT to have arguments about issues that are important in terms of values and quality of life. If your spouse has a different take than yours, be mindful that your response is fair and generous. There are many ways to be “right” about something! When you enter a discussion accepting differences and are more focused on resolution than being “right,” you increase the possibility for fruitful compromise. Being humble and kind trumps being “right.”
Some communication tips:
1. Begin statements with the words “I am” or “I feel” rather than “You.” (This leads to ownership of opinion rather than perceived criticism and subsequent defensiveness).
2.Include “we” statements for shared ownership of what you create together.
3. For every negative or problem focused interaction, strive for five positive interactions.
4. Refrain from yelling. Your spouse will only hear Charlie brown’s teacher saying, “wa wa wa wa wa….” Whispering is actually more effective to generate better listening.
5. Let your spouse know what you think you do WELL together.
6. Apologize. Sincerely. And frequently.
7. NO blaming, belittling, or bullying.
8. Agree to disagree.
9. Talk about things other than business (the running of the household, work, children, etc) Dreams, accomplishments, current events, personal growth.
11. The silent treatment does not work! If you must walk away to gather your thoughts or cool down, please say so. And make sure to return to the discussion rather than let disagreements linger.
12. It is ok to feel anger and to express it without hurting another human being.
Sometimes we disagree better with coworkers than we do with the people we love most. Hmmmmmmm……….
©2017 Alpha Resource Center