Hello folks, autumn is in the air in this part of the world, bringing upon bright colors, clear skies, and in our home, an invitation to sit by the fire, talk, laugh, watch football, eat, drink and be merry. That is the fun part. Spoiler alert: In marriage, there are other parts too: closeness brings about disagreements and arguments. It is inevitable; it is part of the deal and peculiarly necessary (arguments lead us to the reason we picked our partners, mastering how to repair them heals us.
Don’t worry; arguments, fights (excluding extreme dirty-fighting) and disagreements are not indicative of marital distress. What is, though, is its recurrence, the proportion of fights to the good times and most importantly, the mechanism of correction. In other words: how often, how many and how dirty and how they get (un)resolved.
The magic is to learn how to go from disharmony back into harmony.
I learned, in the process of becoming certified in Relational Life Therapy ™, over the years working with couples in therapy, and for a while in my own marriage, this is one aspect that has proven to be at best, adequate and at worst, inexistent. Even in really emotionally healthy families (rare, but there are some!) this re-pair skill is practiced behind closed doors. For the most part, we became adults and partnered up, being significantly clueless in this area.
The most common ways couples use to repair a disharmony have nothing to do with repair and everything to do with attempting to beat it down or hoping it dies of natural causes. The top 5 are:
- Talking in circles
- Withdrawing in silence
The good news is that by learning a few things and practicing them often (remember this is like growing a new muscle, it takes doing) you can master the re-pair process after a fight. By the way, if you are thinking at this point, why fight in the first place? You haven’t been married yet, you are in denial or, you are “superficially” married (a topic that has to do with intimacy/love avoidance).
I recently became keenly aware of a simple notion that I would love to share with you because it sparked a new level of understanding for me, a prerequisite to empathy (the ability to put myself in my partner’s shoes) and the map to how to abandon my own reality for a while when faced with a fight. I hope it resonates as deeply with you as well:
“We all make sense in our own minds”. With this in mind….
If we wholeheartedly believe that our partner genuinely cares for us, we can abandon our righteousness and listen to his/her reality. We can only hope they will do the same for us, which of course, is the ideal but not necessarily what happens at first, however if you are married to a caring and decent guy/gal, they will catch on quick (mainly because it actually feels really good to master this process).
Here is a roadmap to re-pairing a disharmony.
For the purpose of learning a new task I will assign a “He” and a “She” below to differentiate between the one that is approaching and the receiver. This is what a couple that wants to “re-pair” a disharmony would sound like:
She: the “approacher”
He: the “receiver”
The partner that feels the disharmony must approach the other (otherwise he/she is withdrawing)
She:(invites the partner to participate) ” Hey, can we talk about what happened last night?”
- Abandon the facts:
This is a pivotal point. Rather than state a fact that can (and will) be disputed, take ownership of how you interpreted and felt about the situation and phrase it like so:
She: “What I made up (in my mind) about you checking your phone twice when we were out to dinner last night was that you’d rather be somewhere else but there with me and I felt really horrible” (vs. “You insensitive bastard, you ignored me and couldn’t even pretend to enjoy dinner with me!”)
He: “That does not make any sense to me but I am really curious how you got to that conclusion” (curious tone, non defensive stance, real interest in your partner’s distress)
She: “The reason I made myself feel that way was because of that picture your slutty co-worker sent you once over a text and every time you check your phone, I think of that”.
He: (remembering that: we all make sense in our minds based on our own interpretations) “I get that, I get that if I were in your shoes I may feel the same way”(empathy). Note: At this point, your reality doesn’t matter, the fact that you may have been checking if your father was out of surgery wouldn’t make a difference! Not yet.
- Ask for what would help you
She: “What would make me feel better right now is to hear how safe I am with you, why you were checking your phone over dinner and in the future, don’t even take your phone out”.
He: Give what you can give genuinely.
- Ask how you can help him/her get you what you want
She: “What can I do so that it is easier for you to give me what I need? “
He: “What would really help me is that you talk to me on the spot when I am doing something that hurts you, so that I can either stop doing it or talk about what is happening”.
- Stay on track
When you have an audience, in this case, your partner, do not abuse it. If you want to keep on talking, ask your partner if he/she is willing to participate further: “Is it ok that we talk about this other thing right now?”
Roles can be reversed (encouraged) so then “she” would be the “receiver” and “he” the “approacher”.
This process works when:
You are not interested in winning or being right
You both respect and love one another even if you are enraged/distraught at the time
You have each other’s best interest at heart
You want to enjoy closeness
If you are now asking yourself, who talks like this in a marriage? The answer is: the ones who want to have a great one.