What is the most fought about thing in marriage?
January 25, 2014
In my 30+-year psychotherapy practice I have come in contact with many couples who say that if they could only stop the fights they would have a much happier marriage. Even though they want to change they seem unable to stop fighting. They ask if there is a way that I can teach them to stop fighting before it’s too late. I have used this 3- step method with a lot of success. The steps are the same as the one’s we learned as kids to stay out of trouble when crossing the street. A fight is a lot like that.
When it’s all clear it’s ok to cross the street into your partner’s arms.
Does any of this sound familiar?
I feel angry a lot in my marriage. Every time either of us asks the other to do something we start to fight about who is responsible for doing what. Who does more?
I often wonder what happened to the partner I married. We used to have great sex and we could talk about everything. Now we fight about everything, especially when it comes to the kids. We just don’t see eye to eye on how to bring them up.
My husband and I don’t fight out loud. But we do battle silently. Charlie will leave dishes in the sink or crumbs on the counter when he knows that drives me nuts. I do his laundry but I don’t fold his t-shirts the way he likes.
We weren’t born with the fear of crossing the street but it was important that someone taught us that we should be. So let’s say that this is the time to learn how to cross the street again. This time the “curb” is what reminds us to stay awake and choose to stop before the fight. When we first learned to stop at the sidewalk, most likely before we can remember, we were taught that something bad could happen if we were not aware and if we did not make the choice to stop at the curb. Lets say it’s the same in your relationship as you step toward the curb of an argument. You can see it and feel it and you can chose to be aware that it is coming. You can choose to stop. If you chose to stay aware that the curb is coming you can use your will to stop. Stopping allows you to know when it is safe to cross. Stopping will allow you time to make some better choices than the usual patterns of fighting. If you stay in the usual pattern of fighting it is like running in to the street without knowing if the cars are coming!
You may think that you end up in a fight before you are aware that it was coming. But if it really were a street and not a fight you wouldn’t get to do that too many times before you were hit by a car. So what is different? You have trained yourself to be aware and use your will to stop at a street. You did that because you decided it was important. Awareness and will are something we all have. We can strengthen them like a muscle. We can use them to stop before a fight just like stopping at the curb.
Your Awareness is a muscle.
In this present moment you can have an experience of awareness: while reading the words on this page notice you also have awareness that you are reading this page. Take a moment and become aware of other things: the chair underneath you, your breath, the light, the temperature in the room. It’s easy, right?
If you decide something is important enough to stay awake for and you strengthen your muscle of awareness then you will be able to do it. If someone were going to give you a million dollars if you could stay awake then you probably would be able to summon the awareness to do it. If it were your last chance for real, you would be motivated to stay in your awareness. In this case you could decide to stay awake to when a fight was coming instead of being swept into unskillful habitual or emotional reactions and just STOP. We can easily be consumed and overpowered if we do not develop the muscle of awareness.
Try this to develop the muscle of awareness:
For some a fight does not look like screaming in anger. It may look like silent resentment and then withdrawal followed by depression or incapacity to give or receive affection. There are many versions. In any style once you are in your awareness that the curb/ the fight is immanent then its time to stop.
Your Will is also Muscle.
To be aware of how you are relating is different than being able to do something to change it. So what helps us change our ways? It is not only our awareness but also our will. We can think of our capacity to have both awareness and will.
Try this to build the muscle of your will.
Right now take 20 seconds to do something random that you choose to do. It can be get up and walk across the room. Or stretch with your arms above your head. It can be to sing a verse from a favorite song or tap on the desk as though it were a drum. Be aware that you can chose and do something different even when it is not in the direction you were going. That is your will. That is the muscle you are exercising. In the midst of your life you can choose to take 20 seconds and do what you have decided to do that is in a different direction from the flow you are in.
Use your awareness to notice when the curb is in sight.
And use your WILL to STOP.
It’s hard to feel close to your spouse when you fight a lot whether it’s out loud or silently. It’s hard to have a happy marriage if you fight by being sarcastic or even just bickering. Stop, look and listen can help you stop fighting and begin to create the happy marriage you want. It takes practice.
Stay tuned for my next Blog on how to LOOK and LISTEN.