Rid Your Marriage from Childhood Ghosts Are the ghosts from your past haunting your marriage? Try these 3 tips to put the dead to rest. BY SHARON RIVKIN, M.A., M.F.T.
To move forward with your marriage you must rid yourself of childhood ghosts.
“ And so it goes... when we feel attacked, we defend, but we never resolve the conflict.”
If you don’t get rid of the ghosts from your past, you’ll never stop fighting with your spouse. What does that mean? We all have childhood issues that we bring into our relationships which, like ghosts, we don’t see, but we get a sense that something is there that is infiltrating our fights and wreaking havoc in our marriages.
So how do you exorcise the ghosts from your past... those pesky childhood issues?
1. Peel away the topic of the conflict to locate your personal history that makes you react so strongly.
2. Reveal your childhood issues for a deeper understanding of why you get triggered by your husband or wife.
3. Heal the relationship by knowing what you’re really fighting about, so a solution can be negotiated and the argument resolved.
Take this scenario as one example:
You hate to clean the house and your husband wants everything in its proper place. This creates a continuous battle in your marriage and makes you really wonder why you hate to clean the house so much since you actually like an orderly environment! What’s the ghost from the past? Your mother only cleaned the house when her boyfriend came over, which you hated as a child. You swore you’d never be like her, so you went to the opposite extreme without even knowing the reason, and simply had this aversion to house cleaning. Once you confront this ghost from the past you can then communicate your understanding of the real issue to your spouse and then negotiate a solution. All of a sudden the fight about house work is no longer the issue. You now know the real reason for the fight which begins to change a hostile situation into one of understanding and cooperation.
Now that you know what the ghosts from your past are it doesn't mean you’re not going to fight again, it just means you have a valuable tool to use when future fights happen. So remember that when your next fight erupts, the surface issue isn’t what you’re really fighting about. Instead, think about your ghost from the past that is getting triggered. This will enable you to avoid the three biggest obstacles that escalate arguments and cause damage to relationships:
1. The need to be right. This causes a battle that can never be a win-win situation. And the truth is, you’re probably both right. There’s no room for negotiating, problem-solving, or brainstorming, because you’re just fighting to win. In healthy relationships, couples fight to resolve.
2. No blaming. We blame because we think that if we can show our partner that they are worse than we are—more at fault than we are—then they’ll stop blaming us. Unfortunately all we do is continue the argument, alternating between attacking and defending. And so it goes...when we feel attacked, we defend, but we never resolve the conflict.
3. No shaming. When shame is brought into an argument, we move from focusing on an issue to attacking the person. After many years of fighting and saying shaming things to one another, the love a couple once had begins to diminish and is replaced with hostility and contempt. It has been found that one of the best predictors of divorce is a tendency to feel contempt for your spouse.
So as Halloween approaches, let it be a reminder that our ghosts from the past don’t need to haunt us. If we simply take the time and energy to look at them and see how they’ve been wreaking havoc in our lives, we can use them to better our marriages.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and is the "Resident Shrink" on Coach Ron Tunick's radio show, The Business of Life, on KKZZ 1400AM. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com.