If you want to have a miserable marriage and a probable divorce, be sure to communicate in destructive ways. There are four particular behaviors that research shows are fatal to good marriages: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Engage in any one of them and your marriage will likely be in trouble.
Let’s start with criticism. Have you ever said anything like this:
“Sometimes you can be such a slob; you never put your towels in the hamper. I’m not your maid you know.”
Think about what you’re saying. How would you like to be on the receiving end of such criticism? Wouldn’t you rather hear this same thought rephrased? Like this, perhaps:
“Would you please put your towels in the hamper? I’d really appreciate it so I don’t have to do it. Thanks.”
See the difference? It’s so much more pleasant the second way, and yet it gets the point across. You don’t need to call your spouse a slob. It’s just not nice. You would never say that to a friend, right? So treat your spouse at least as well as you’d treat your friend.
Not criticizing doesn’t mean you can’t complain. You are actually complaining in the second example, but so gently that it’s not destructive. You really should complain if you are repeatedly bugged by your spouse’s behavior. If you hold it in time after time, you will build up resentment and eventually explode. It’s better to voice your complaint, but nicely.
“It drives me nuts that you’re always late. Are you doing it to make me crazy? It’s just so disrespectful to me. You act like your time is more important than my time.”
All of the above may be true, and it’s so easy to blurt out what your partner is doing wrong. But this kind of negative communication is not conducive to a good relationship. Your partner may very naturally respond by being defensive or counter-critical, which will only take you further down the path of a damaged relationship. Instead, try something more positive, like this:
“You know how important it is for me to be on time. I feel terrible when I have to be rushed and make apologies to people when we’re late. I’d really appreciate it if you’d make an effort. Let’s talk about ways we can work on being on time.”
The key is to work toward getting what you need and want from your partner, while letting other, less important things, go. When you let go of grudges and bitterness, you can work together to find constructive solutions. Maybe you both get up 15 minutes earlier in the morning. Or maybe you do a chore for your spouse so he has more time to get ready to leave the house on time. You must give your spouse an opportunity to repair the damage in the relationship.
When you make your needs known, clearly and openly without rancor, then you allow your spouse to make a positive difference. And when you work together you connect in a way that deepens your relationship. You are a team; you have each other’s backs. And that’s good for both of you.
Next week we’ll talk about the destructive powers of contempt and how to avoid it in your marriage.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact