If you don't argue with your spouse, at least occasionally, then you are part of a minority of married couples. Most of us do argue. Why? Basically, because a couple is made up of two people who will inevitably get on each other's nerves. Nevertheless, arguing does not have to be so common or hurtful.
Actually, we should take a step back at this point and ask ourselves what goals we have set for our arguments with our spouse. Goals? Beyond sticking up for themselves, people often act like they are two tectonic plates trying to reposition themselves to a more advantageous spot. You may not hear the low rumblings as they grind against each other, but when they break loose... the consequences are seismic. As a result, two beloveds 'negotiate' as adversaries in a win-lose game. Fortunately, most adults also realize that if they come across too strongly, there will be bitter repercussions that could easily outlast the fight. And so, there is a lot of talking or yelling but not nearly enough listening. Therefore, most arguments set the stage for their encore. While everyone is upset and little, if any, progress is made in overcoming the source of conflict, the couple settles back into its routine. Hopefully, at least some energy has been released. But new tremors will not be far off as tension will start mounting again. It's quite a plan, this process we call arguing. But we can do better. SO much better.
Imagine the following scenario: Robert and Alice decide to preempt the next quake. They sit down to draw up a game plan. First, they analyze the patterns in their hostilities. Both of them are frustrated with their own lives. One of their frustrations has been their inability to build a strong financial footing. Alice is a natural with organization and so she has taken charge of the family's budget. Unfortunately, despite their wanting to climb out of dept, Alice has watched it grow ever more menacing instead.
As much as Robert and Alice want to move forwards, they are being kept back due to the time and stress involved with the extra care needed for their children. Robert would like Alice to be able to relax enough to start that home business she has been talking about for years. But Alice feels overwhelmed. While she's frustrated that Robert has not been able to earn more money than she has, she still feels pressure from him to do even more. At the same time, Robert is trying to develop a business in the evening hours when he is already tired and would like nothing more than to earn enough to give his wife the break she needs.
Everyone here feels trapped. Robert wants to earn more but he is finding it challenging to do so. Alice feels guilty that she is not better able to take care of the children at night so that her husband can be the man they want him to be, a fulfilled and solid provider.
So, what should they do? At this point in their marriage, Robert comes up with a suggestion. "Let's write down what our deepest feelings are," he says. Alice agrees and they come up with the following statements:
- Robert is convinced that his love-ability depends on earning more.
- Alice holds that Robert can't possibly really love her since she is failing to take better care of things.
Next, they discuss their conclusions. Eventually, they realize that:
- Alice does love Robert despite his not earning more.
- Robert is very proud and loves Alice and is happy with all that she is able to do.
Problem solved? Hardly. They don't feel any better. So, they go back to the drawing board and dig deeper:
- Robert realizes that he needs to see himself as the kind of man who can provide for his family. He worries that he may never achieve the success he always thought he should.
- Alice concludes that she doesn't want to relive her parent's marriage where her mother always had to do without.
Problem solved? Not yet BUT... they now have something more substantial to work with.
- Robert concludes that "my sense of self should be determined internally and not by external accomplishments."
- Alice realizes that "my marriage is not a replay of my parents'."
Will frustrations continue to mount due to their circumstances? Yes. But next time, instead of Robert and Alice attacking each other out of a sense of frustration, they can sit down and identify why they are upset. This ability to be logical when emotions are getting out of control is in itself a very challenging and worthwhile goal to aim to achieve and can positively redirect the course of their communication. Robert and Alice are on the right track.
The reality is that even if they are successful at better relating to each other, their budget has not budged. What they need to do next is the following:
- Prioritize their goals: is there anything that either Robert or Alice spends time or money on to self-soothe that is not a priority at this point? Can they free up this resource and put it to better use?
- Look at other emotional triggers: what other aspects of their lives feel threatened by the regular frustrations that they experience? Can they work to improve these areas to lower their stress and increase their satisfaction and productivity?
We can often achieve greater success in our lives once we have removed or lessened the daily stresses that entangle our mind and keep it wasting energy as it chases its 'tail' instead of being focused on problem solving and implementation. We all hide our deepest fears, even from ourselves. Let it go! Share and then you can build together on a much stronger foundation.