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Are You Having the Same Conversation I’m Having?


This is the first in a series of posts on couples’ communication. Good communication is the heart’s blood of a marriage. It not only enables the harmony and unity that all couples strive for, it can be a source of real joy and satisfaction to be able to work out significant issues together and find yourselves brought closer together through the process.

It will come as no surprise to any married person that misunderstandings, tension, and disagreement can crop up in married life. One tough situation is when we set out to talk about something, and find the dialog itself becomes a source of strain. Sometimes, in that situation, one of the problems can be confusion about what kind of conversation we’re actually having. Perhaps one spouse wants to reach a solution to a practical problem, while the other is eager to have a relationship-oriented conversation, such as coming to greater understanding about one another’s feelings about the issue. We can imagine what a perplexing exchange might result:

“I think it makes sense to stop for the night after about six hours of driving.”
“I’m not even sure I can handle seven straight days with your sisters.”
“Or would you prefer to go most of the way the first day so the second is easier?”
“Easier? Since when are you considering what’s easier? It always has to be your way. Why don’t you consider my feelings for a change?”

And onward it goes.

At times like this, it might help to take a timeout and decide which discussion is the best one to have at that point. Should it be planning the details of travel or sorting through the concerns about a week with the in-laws. So take a minute to have that timeout – we’ll wait until you’re ready. And don’t worry; you’ll have a chance to circle back to talk about the other issues later.

Use the right tools for the job
If you’re addressing the practical issue first, then there are particular tools that can help. These may include:

  • Assume good will on the part of your spouse.
  • Share your perspective on the problem and listen to gain an understanding of what the important elements are to your spouse and why they’re important.
  • Stick to the topic at hand.
  • Speak clearly and on your own behalf, not assuming anything about the attitudes or feelings of people who aren’t you.
  • Check to be sure the other person actually heard what you meant to communicate.
  • Explore alternatives you may not have thought of before that could address concerns and still offer as many mutual “wins” as possible.

The way to go about having an effective relationship-building conversation is a little different:

  • Again, assume good will on the part of your spouse.
  • Seek to understand your spouse at a deeper level, listening appreciatively rather than discarding thoughts or feelings as unnecessary or invalid.
  • Affirm love and commitment.
  • Be willing to be authentic about yourself.
  • Don’t try to fix the other person’s issues. Instead, try responses like, “I can see how you could see it that way,” or “What would be helpful or supportive from me?”

Don’t neglect the other part of the conversation

Don’t walk away after settling the issue you care most about. It’s an important part of respecting your spouse to take seriously the conversation they wanted to have. You don’t necessarily have to embark on it right away, but be committed to loving your partner by taking seriously what they take seriously. So be sure to make plans together to follow through with whichever topic you set aside at the beginning.

Check in at the end

A good way to end is to ask “Are we really done?” If there are still unclear or tense issues, either make quick work of them if that’s possible, or jointly acknowledge that they’re there and will need attention in the future.

Remember, marriage is a team project. You’re together in this. The rewards of working hard together are immense. And enjoyable.

– Roz Dieterich, LMSW

“If” Versus “Because”

People often seek therapy to find relief from anxiety and depression brought on from stress. The field of psychology offers many great treatments for these issues. People feel stress because they may fail at their job or feel depressed that someone has rejected them. Failures and rejections are painful and can cause anxiety or depression.

Sometimes the stress that comes from failure and rejection is not the real problem. The real problem is the meaning failure and/or rejection places on one’s worth or value. If I believe I am valuable only when I perform well or if certain people accept me, then I am worthless if I fail or am rejected.

Why is this? One way to look at it is to ask how you finish this statement. A person is valuable if______________. For example, “If they are productive in life or if they are loved and accepted by family or a spouse.” People start defining the “ifs” early in life. The definitions are made by parents, caregivers, peers and even the church. The “ifs” set our standards (shoulds) and our standards tell us what we have to do to be valuable.

How would God finish the statement? He would erase the “if” and put in a “because” in its place. He says, “A person is valuable because I made them—period!” No “ifs” “ands” or “buts” about it. Imagine your life if you knew that to be true. What if you did not have to live up to the standards to believe you have worth only IF you perform a certain way, or IF you get approved by certain others? What would failure or rejection look like if they did NOT have any reflection on your value as a person? Failure then turns from “I’m a failure” to “I failed to do this specific job as well as I would have liked.” A rejection by someone would no longer mean “I’m rejected because I’m worthless.” Now it means “It hurts knowing the person I care about is choosing not to accept me, but I am still valuable.”

Ridding ourselves of the “ifs” and embracing the “because” is a process that can happen. It is a process that a therapist can help a person learn to go through. A good place to start is by challenging the “should” in your life.  Maybe ask yourself, “Why am I trying to meet this standard?” “Who put it there?” Maybe it is one of a long list of “ifs” that have been put in your life that you think make you valuable. But if you are already valuable “because”, then that if “should” not be there.

– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP

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