Before you begin, ask yourself why you feel upset – Are you truly angry because the ketchup was left on the counter? Or are you upset because you feel like you’re doing an uneven share of the housework and this is just one more piece of evidence? Take time to think about your own feelings before starting an argument.
Discuss one issue at a time – “You shouldn’t be spending so much money without talking to me” can quickly turn into “You don’t care about our family.” Now you need to resolve two problems instead of one. Plus, when an argument starts to get off topic, it can easily become about everything a person has ever done wrong. We’ve all done a lot wrong, so this can be especially cumbersome.
Use “I” statements – When sharing a concern, begin your sentence with an “I” statement. This technique will help you share your true feelings about the situation instead of spewing blame which will often cause defensiveness.
“I feel ____________ when you ____________ because ____________.”
Use reflective listening – Oftentimes we focus on getting our own point across rather than listening. When reflecting, you will repeat back what someone has said to you, but in your own words. This shows that you didn’t just hear the other person, but you are trying to understand them. For example, you can say, “I think this is what you’re telling me, but correct me if I’m wrong.”
“I hear you saying that…”
“It sounds like you feel…”
“You’re telling me that…”
Focus on the problem, not the person – When a disagreement turns to personal insults, raised voices, or mocking tones, the conversation is no longer productive. Be careful to focus on the problem without placing blame on the other person. No put-downs, swearing, or name-calling. Degrading language is an attempt to make your partner feel bad.
Know when to take a time-out – When the conversation is becoming argumentative, insulting, aggressive, or is a repetitive pattern, it’s a clue for a time-out. The person who called for the time-out is the person who will call for a time-in when he or she feels calm and relaxed enough to continue the conversation. Spend some time doing something alone that you find relaxing. Focus on how you can make this a more productive conversation.
Work toward a resolution – Disagreement is a normal part of a relationship. If it becomes clear that you and your partner will not agree, focus on a resolution instead. Attempt to find a compromise that benefits both individuals. Ask yourself if this disagreement really matters to your relationship and let yourself move on, if not.
Dawn Schroeder is a professional counselor who enjoys helping people of all ages overcome life’s struggles. She also has a special place in her heart for working with children and teenagers. To learn more about Dawn, or to set up an appointment click here.
The movie War Room quickly jumped to the top of the charts in recent weeks. I had the opportunity to view it with my wife and another counselor. Although it was not what I expected, I found it to be an extremely positive film which accurately portrayed situations and principles consistent with good counseling practice.
In this film, the middle-class Jordan family is facing the kind of marital and family crisis that is typical of those we see daily in the counseling office. The film clearly depicts Danielle, the daughter, experiencing the devastating impact that marital issues and lack of parental attention have on children. Often couples in the midst of marital problems deny this reality.
Elizabeth Jordan, the wife and mother, is confronted by Miss Clara who perceives her marital and faith struggles. Miss Clara is a wise, delightful and engaging character that I enjoyed very much. As a result of her interventions, Elizabeth is challenged to focus on herself and her role in the marital discord. She strengthens her faith and changes her behavior with the results having a tremendous impact on the relationship. She “rocks the family boat”.
Tony Jordan experiences the natural consequences of his behaviors and “hits the bottom.” His changes result in some unexpected and positive changes.
Some reviewers have been critical of the changes that Elizabeth made claiming that she became a passive, dependent female. They miss the point entirely. What she did was find herself and her personal identity. Rather than falling into old relationship traps, she found personal and spiritual strength and became a strong leader in her family.
One trap that wishful viewers may make in viewing War Room is the belief that if you change, everything will turn out well and you will “live happily ever after”. In this case Elizabeth and Danielle have gained something wonderful no matter what the marital results. Unfortunately, the reality is that as one person in a relationship changes the partner will have to change. That change is sometimes very negative and the relationship is lost. In difficult marriage situations, we find that when one person in the relationship changes the relationship has to change. Unfortunately people usually only seek out help when they reach a crisis point and often that is too late.
This is an excellent, faith based film and I strongly recommend it keeping my cautions in mind. Healthy marriages do not come easily in today’s society. Pre-marital coaching, the early recognition of problems and joint counseling are the best possible options.
Lee Webster is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has over 40 years of counseling experience. He is also the founder and clinical director of the Center for Human Development. To learn more about Lee click here.
*Barb and I had the opportunity to meet and have our picture taken with T. C. Stallings who portrayed Tony Jordan at the American Association of Christian Counselors International Conference recently
How strong is your marital toolbox?
A “marital toolbox” can provide a couple with an arsenal of tools to assist them with problem-solving and the decision making process. Used effectively, this strategy can form the foundation for a healthy marriage. Couples that prepare themselves for difficult situations in advance, often handle these situations better.
Here is an example that will help you in understanding this– the “carpenter toolbox.” Years ago many carpenters built large boxes out of wood to store their tools in. Whether at the workshop, or at the worksite, these toolboxes went with the carpenter. Every tool of importance was placed in this box. No matter what situation came up, the carpenter had what was needed to handle any job or situation.
Like the old carpenter toolbox, the marital toolbox prepares a couple to address many situations. Being in a healthy and thriving marriage requires time, commitment and communication. Married couples need to decide which specific tools should go into their marital toolboxes. Listed below are some ground rules which can assist couples with the tool selection process.
- Respecting your spouse- he/she will have good ideas or insights.
- Willing to hear your spouse’s perspective without interrupting them.
- Entering a discussion without having a pre-determined solution in mind.
- Speaking one at a time when discussing things.
- Taking time-outs from discussions to cool-off, process information, or seek counsel.
- Writing notes when your spouse is speaking so you will not forget what was said.
A marital toolbox consists of husband and wife working together to select the appropriate tools. Participation in such a process assists greatly with future difficult situations. Like the carpenter, a husband and wife need to be able to handle any job or situation they face.
Dave Tice is a licensed professional counselor at the Center with over 6 years of counseling experience. To learn more about Dave, or to set up an appointment click here.