Releasing the Negative from Your Marriage Sharon offers 3 ways give your spouse the benefit of the doubt when it comes to simple arguments. BY SHARON RIVKIN, M.A., M.F.T.
When you listen from a defensive point of view you can't hear what's really being said.
Where has all the love gone that you once felt for your spouse? Do you seem to fight about everything? Have they become your enemy? How did it happen?
These are common questions I address time and time again in my private practice. The process of "building a case against our spouse" begins quietly and unconsciously, so we hardly notice what we’re doing. The emotional battle often begins after the honeymoon phase of a relationship and reality has set in. Suddenly the one who could do no wrong, can’t seem to do anything right. The one who used to make us happy is slowly becoming the enemy… someone to defend against and distrust. We’re certain they’re doing things just to annoy us and make us angry. We retaliate by doing things to them that get the same result. Slowly we have forgotten that we love our spouse and now wonder what to do.
One of the most important things to start regaining the love is to begin giving them the benefit of the doubt, like you would a friend or even a stranger. In order to do this, remember these three things:
1. Step out of yourself and listen to your spouse. What is she/he really saying if you weren’t already expecting the worst and waiting to defend yourself?
Example: Your wife is upset that you’ve come home late and says, "Here we go again, you’re late for dinner and you didn’t even call me." Your first reaction is to defend yourself with excuses of why you’re late. Instead, just listen to her—when we’re busy talking, we don’t really hear what our spouse is trying to communicate. You may see that your spouse is simply trying to tell you that they are hurt, and not that you’re a bad person. By holding back your defenses and addressing your partner’s concern, a conversation can ensue rather than a defensive arguing match. In this situation, apologizing for being late, listening and seeing the situation from the others' point of view would dramatically alter the dynamics of the situation.
2. Don’t take everything your spouse says personally. In other words, don’t just react impulsively from just your emotions. Let your head help you to think about the situation and what’s been said rather than assuming your partner is trying to hurt you. To help you not just react from emotions (taking a remark as a personal attack), try asking yourself these simple questions: How might I respond to my spouse if I did not take what she/he is saying personally? What if what she/he is saying isn’t about me? If this was true, would I hear her/him differently? Would I respond differently?
Example: Your spouse had a hard day and has been unable to talk to anyone about it. Then you walk in and start talking about your day. All of a sudden they are angry that you never listen. If you take a minute to think about the situation, without immediately reacting, you may realize that your partner did have a hard day and needs to be heard, not necessarily that you never listen. By not reacting to your own hurt, you might be able to be there for them and then they’re more likely to be there for you. Again, a potential argument could transform into an intimate conversation.
3. Treat your spouse as friend not foe. What if I didn’t see my spouse as my enemy? How would I respond if I still loved them the way I did when we first met? How did I respond in the beginning of our relationship?
Example: Your spouse asks you if you're free this Saturday night, but rather than assuming they want to do something that you like, you instead assume they want to drag you to one of their events and begin to complain, make arguments, and create distance between you and your spouse. All they wanted to do was take you to see your favorite band.
The questions you need to ask yourself are: do you want to be right or do you want a resolution for the argument? Do you want a healthy relationship? The healthiest relationships are the ones where both people can be right and have the opportunity to express their feelings and be heard. It only takes one person to change the pattern of the relationship. Be that person. Stop attacking and putting your spouse on the defensive. Begin with an act of kindness to yourself and your spouse by giving them the benefit of the doubt. By doing so, you begin to change the pattern of your marriage from negative to positive, from attacking to understanding, from fighting to intimacy, from enemy to friend, lover, and spouse. One act of kindness goes a long way, leading to a different and healthier way of communicating.
"What’s the big deal? All I said was . . ." Sound familiar? Argument/affairs expert and therapist Sharon M. Rivkin helps couples fix their relationships by understanding why they fight. Sharon says, "If you don’t get rid of the ghosts that haunt your arguments, you’ll never stop fighting!" Read her new book, "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy," to learn the tools of therapy to break the cycle of destructive fighting. Sharon has been featured in "O: The Oprah Magazine," "Reader’s Digest," and DrLaura.com, and appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio. http://www.sharonrivkin.com