How to reduce resentment toward your partner – even if your partner won’t change!

Do You Have Resentment In Your Marriage?

Mary, age 40, came to see me recently for a consultation on how she could improve her marriage and deal with an angry husband who refused to see a marriage therapist. She was extremely resentful, unhappy and depressed. She had tried “everything” to get her husband to change- all to no avail.

The resentment Mary was feeling was normal when a partner has grievances toward their partner which are unexpressed – or- when your partner does not respond even when they are indeed expressed. Take our free Anger Quizto assess the degree of resentment in your marriage. Many times grievances are formed in a marriage because some essential needs are not being fulfilled – needs which you want satisfied through the marriage. After all, satisfaction of some of those needs are the reason you married in the first place.
Mind you, just because you have normal needs doesn’t necessarily mean you are “needy.” We all have needs, as a famous psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote about way back in the 1940s. Here is a simplified version of his needs diagram. In Maslow’s theory, lower needs (such as having enough to eat) need to be satisfied before higher needs such as “esteem” seem important.

The question is:to what extent should we look toward marriage to satisfy some of these needs?

According to Dr. Finkel, some people put too much pressure on the marriage to satisfy those needs without considering other ways to get them satisfied – so that the marriage can still survive and you can be happy again.

Fact is, many people never ask themselves exactly what their needs are and to what extent they expect their marriage partner to satisfy those needs. When I asked Mary what she wanted or needed out of her marriage, she looked at me like a deer in the headlights.

She had never asked herself that question; she only knew that she was very unhappy with her life – and very unhappy with her husband who never seemed to change even though she constantly expressed her frustration and resentment to him.

You may not be aware of some of your needs

In reality, it not a simple question to answer for a number of reasons. First, you may not be aware of some of the needs you actually have – like needing to feel safe or needing to be acknowledged often for your contributions. If that is the case, you might want to consult a psychologist to help you sort it all out. After all, it is unfair to your partner to resent them for not satisfying needs that even you don’t know that you have.

Need satisfaction is a moving target requiring re-calibration

Secondly, what partners need from each other often changes as the marriage goes through different developmental stages (yes, marriages have developmental stages just like children do). Successful couples find a way to adapt to these changes and strive toward satisfying these changing needs either through the marriage itself or in other ways.

This often requires a recalibration of your relationship which is accomplished by asking yourself some basic questions, rather than holding resentment toward your partner who isn’t changing despite your pleas.

Three questions to ask yourself about your needs:

  • What needs do I have that can only be satisfied through my partner? Some needs indeed can only be satisfied by an intimate partner. After all, that is why we got married in the first place. Examples of needs in this category are to develop and sustain a warm emotional climate in the home, have a steamy sex life, co-parent and enjoy your children.
  • What needs do I have that can be met through our partner or some “other significant other” (OSO) such as a friend or other family member? Examples of needs in this category are to receive emotional support when something bad happens at work, celebrate when something good happens at work, debate politics, attend cultural events, travel.
  • What needs do I have that can be met through our partner, through an OSO, or on our own? Learning to meditate, anger management, deepen relationship with God, learning to play the piano, writing that long-promised novel.

When Mary looked at her list of needs, she was shocked at how much she was asking of her marriage. With her therapist, she began working on a more deliberate plan for meeting her needs.

The most difficult part of course is evaluating what to do about needs that indeed can only be satisfied by one’s partner. The good news is that often through re-calibration, we can create a different vibration in the home so that our partner might respond by being more motivated to indeed try harder.

For instance, if your need is to have a warm emotional climate in the home, you might work on being less critical and more trusting by letting go of resentments caused by things done in the past. How do you do this? Through the process of “forgiveness.” You can learn to forgive either through therapy or through a a faith-based approach (all religions encourage forgiveness).

Five tips for preventing resentment from ruining your marriage

When you and your spouse hit rough times, it seems that no matter what you do, things get worse.

You blame your spouse; your spouse blames you and nothing changes.

Out of desperation, you eventually step back from your situation and try to think more clearly. And thankfully, when you aren’t mired in the muck, you actually figure out more productive ways to handle your differences. You are determined to do better the next time a challenging situation rears its ugly head.

And then it happens. It feels like a déjà vu. The same old argument starts unfolding.

You and your spouse have been there so many times before.

And although you promised yourself that you would take the high road this time- to remain calm and loving in the face of controversy-your anger and resentment have another plan for you.

You are going to do the same old thing because you’re mad and resentful as hell and your spouse doesn’t deserve better treatment. All the brilliant planning for a better outcome goes right out the window.

Resentment wins. You lose. Sound familiar?

If you want to improve your relationship, you have to find ways to triumph over resentment so you can live up to the promises you make yourself to approach your spouse in more productive ways.

But the sixty-four thousand dollar question is, “How?” The following are five tips for rising above resentment.

  • To prepare for the next challenge, ask yourself, “How will I resist the temptation to allow resentment to run my life?” Most people believe that feelings are the trigger for how we behave.If we are fearful, we should avoid anxiety-producing situations. If we are shy, we must stay away from people.If we anticipate failure, we need to avoid challenging activities.But psychology has taught us that the best way to overcome negative emotions is to push ourselves to do the very thing we resist.When we face our demons, the demons go away.And it is then that we realize that feelings don’t have to run us. We can choose our how we act and react despite our feelings.The same is true for dealing with long-standing resentment in relationships. You can feel resentment and still behave in loving, productive ways toward your spouse.You can notice that you feel angry, but you can choose what you do next. In those testy moments, ask yourself, “What can I do to resist the temptation to give into this resentment?”You might need to take a few deep breaths or go for a walk. Perhaps asking your spouse for a time out would work.You might notice what that little voice inside your head is saying when you are angry. Is it fueling the fire by telling you your spouse is trying to make you angry?If so, turn down the volume of that voice. It’s just a thought and it isn’t helpful. Decide to replace it with a more positive thought such as, “She is doing the best she can right now.”
  • Understand your role in things spiraling down You might be wondering how you can beat resentment by understanding how you contribute to the problem. Here’s an example.George was extremely unhappy about his sex life. He and Fran made love once a month. If George had his way, they would make love three times a week. Clearly, there is a sizable desire gap in their marriage.If you ask Fran whether she likes sex, she will tell you, “Yes, but I don’t like having sex with George when he is angry.” Fran needs to feel close to George emotionally before she wants to be physically close.But George insists that he is angry because Fran won’t have sex. The angrier George becomes, the less Fran wants sex. The less Fran wants sex, the angrier George becomes. You get the picture.This is obviously the case of two rights. If George wants Fran to desire him, he has to be nicer to Fran. If Fran wants George to be nicer to her, she has to consider his need for touch.But even if George knows that he needs to be nicer to Fran, he might say that he can’t because he is so resentful about Fran’s blatant disregard for his feelings. However, if he can understand that part of Fran’s withdrawal has to do with his irritability, he can empathize with her and feel less resentful.When you feel resentful towards your spouse, ask yourself, “What are my steps in the dance we do together when things aren’t going well?”“What could I do differently that would, in turn, change our dance entirely?”And once you acknowledge that you really do have something to do with the problematic situation- and the solution- you will feel more compassion toward your spouse.Compassion helps you rise above resentment.
  • Focus on results Rather than pay attention to your feelings of resentment, when things go haywire, ask yourself, “What do I want to have happen?” “What’s my goal here?”In the same way that George realized that he had to be nicer and kinder to Fran if he wanted her to be more affectionate, he didn’t always feel like behaving that way.However, over time, he started to connect the dots…”When I’m kinder to
    Fran, she wants to be closer to me physically.”Observing the results of your behavior as opposed to the feelings you have inside is a sure-fire way to increase the odds you will get more of your needs met.And once that happens, resentment dissipates.
  • Forgive Judging your spouse harshly and feeling angry isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s downright harmful.Even if your spouse is making mistakes, it doesn’t mean he or she is doing it purposely. Poet and sage, Maya Angelou says (adapted a bit), “People do the best with the tools they have. If they knew better they would do better.”I totally believe this.If you truly believed that your spouse isn’t out to hurt you and that you are willing to wipe the slate clean, you will feel better and start acting in ways that signal you are ready to let go of the past.No one can free you from the shackles of resentment. You have to do it yourself. It doesn’t just happen. It requires a conscious decision to forgive and move forward.Once you realize that holding a grudge is really hurting you and your marriage, you can choose forgiveness and resentment will gradually melt away.This will make it easier for you to stick to your marriage-strengthening plan.
  • Remember, you are not perfect either I’ve heard it said that people who think they’re perfect have lousy memories.And isn’t that true? Everyone makes mistakes, even you and me.Remembering that you are great but not perfect will make it easier to be less judgmental of your partner.We are all imperfect beings.Don’t feel guilty about your mistakes but on the same count, don’t hold your spouse to a higher standard. If you do, you will have a hard time letting go of lingering feelings of anger and resentment.
  • Have compassion for both of youHere’s a personal challenge. The next time you feel resentment welling up in you, implement one or more of these five tips and see how much better you feel.

It’s a formula for success. 

© Michele Weiner-Davis, all rights reserved. michele@divorcebusting.com 303.444.7004 PO Box 271 Boulder, CO 80302

Needing to be Right- A Sure-Fire Losing Strategy for Partner Communication

When I was a young psychologist, I recall a young woman in my practice who was very upset because men simply didn’t see her as very feminine and treated her like “one of the guys,” instead of like a “girl” as she deeply desired. I asked for an example of what she meant.”The other night we were having drinks in a bar and one of the guys said that I wasn’t very feminine,” she said.

“How did you react?“I asked her.

With a serious face she said, “I stood up, took a swing and knocked them all to the floor.”

Psychologists call this self-defeating behavior. In over 15 years of conducting anger management classes in southern California, and hearing hundreds of stories of relationship conflict, I have seen this pattern repeated over and over again. Partners need, want and deserve different things in a relationship, but go about getting it in the wrong way due to poor marital communication.

It’s like looking for a herd of buffaloes  in New York City, or convincing people who live in Antarctica to purchase air conditioners. It ain’t going to work.

Think in terms of Losing vs Winning Strategies
Married people often don’t step back, take a look at themselves, and ask if they are going about it the right way to have a loving and devoted partner, to feel deeply connected to their spouse, to reduce conflict, or to have a peaceful home with happy successful children. But, for good marital communication, having strategies to achieve marital harmony often separates successful couples from others. Successful couples regularly employ what we call “Winning Strategies,” while other couples unfortunately use “Losing strategies”, (which they often learned as children) yet expect good results.

To improve  marital communication, we begin a series of blogs on losing strategies regularly employed by couples in trouble, in the hope that you can improve your marriage by not using them in the future. Then, of course, a series of blogs will follow of winning strategies- those ways of communicating that are used by black-belts of relationship success. Full disclosure- This material is based  on the writings of famed therapist Terry Real in his book “The New Rules of Marriage”. I would highly encourage you to download his book and read it as soon as you can.

Losing Strategy 1- Needing to always be  Right. 

I was raised by the philosophy that there is a right way to do things, and a wrong way. This way of looking at the world certainly ensured a shared vision of things (it encouraged all family member to see things the same way) but it also stifled creativity and individuality. Instead of teaching us to consider “options” in how to deal with a problem or issue, we were taught that if “A” happens, then you handle it by doing “B.” If somebody tried a “C’, they were told they were wrong because, again, there is only one “right” to a problem or situation.

Of course, sometimes this IS true. The ‘right” solution to prevent tooth decay is to brush daily; the “right” way to have money in the future is to save it or invest it. The “right” way to stay healthy is to eat your fruits and vegetables, exercise, and don’t smoke.

But, other times it decidedly is NOT true. Or, in many cases there can be multiple truths – not “the” truth. People can have long lives eating meat or not. Heavy drinkers are not necessarily alcoholics. People who don’t go to college can still become  millionaires. Dishes can get clean in the dishwasher without pre-washing them. There are multiple ways to get to a destination in your car. Different people feel loved differently. Some people can change bad habits easier than others. Some children respond to tight discipline and tight structure much more than other children.

Children who are raised to believe in the right or wrong philosophy eventually marry other children who also believe this. So, why is this a problem?  They clash because they were taught different ‘rights’ and “wrongs” – and they were not taught to be tolerant of those differences – and they often certainly were not taught to embrace individual differences, nuances, and variety in our world.

Some partners go so far as to feel “disrespected” if their spouse does things their own way. For example, what sane person puts the glasses in the cupboard upside down to prevent dust from accumulating in them? Everybody know glasses go right side up but CUPS go upside down, Right? Or did I get that wrong?

Learn to disagree without being disagreeable
Successful relationships depend on developing successful strategies to deal with disagreements and conflicts without destroying each other in the process. You can disagree without being disagreeable.

The trick is to focus not only on the argument but on HOW you argue and communicate- in other words, focus on the process as well as the issue. Very hard to do in the heat of battle but this skill separates beginners from black belts in marital communication. It helps to remember that (1) subjective reality cam be different from objective reality, that (2) Words spoken can have different meanings for each partner, and that (3) Body Language conveys tons of information, regardless of the words you use.

Subjective vs. Objective Reality
What is the difference? Let me explain it this way: You and your partner are sitting in the therapist office and your partner says “It is cold in here.” You say,  “there you go–always complaining. Actually it is NOT cold in here- the temperature is 72 degrees.” Who is “right”?
Objective cold is not the same as subjectively “felt” temperature.If your partner feels cold, the reality for him or her is that it is cold in the office , regardless of the actual (objective) temperature. Would you argue like Perry Mason to prove your case that your partner is crazy and that it is NOT cold in the office? I grew up in a home where that is exactly what happened – which typically then caused a major argument.

The truth is, most of the time nobody cares if you are factually (objectivity) right or not!

I recall the case of  Mike and Ann who fought about everything. Mike was incapable of understanding this idea that partners can perceive things quite differently. To test him, we did the following dialogue:

Therapist: “Mike, what is the color of that lampshade over there?”

Mike: It is beige.

Therapist: “Ann, what color do you think it is?”

Ann: “It is Brown.”

Therapist to Mike: “Mike, why do you think Ann sees it as Brown and you see it as Beige?”

Mike: “Because she is lying.”

What are you going to do with a person who thinks that way?

Often words spoken can have different meanings to each partner:
A second reason that partners argue over things is because spoken words can have different meanings to each partner even though the same word is used to describe something. To remedy this,try to remember the famous words of Robert McCloskey:

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

? Robert McCloskeyThe remedy here is to be sure to clarify what you mean by the words you use.Example:

45 year old Sam to Therapist: “We only have sex  once a month. Last time was 4 weeks ago- on a Saturday night.”

Sam’s Wife to therapist: “That is simply not true. We had sex just 3 days ago. Tell the therapist the truth.”

Sam to wife and therapist:” That wasn’t REAL sex – that was only Clinton sex.”

Finally, remember that your body language conveys more meaning than do your words: What does your voice tone communicate? Your voice volume? Your facial features? Your general tension level? All these forms of communication are being “picked up” by your partner regardless of what your words say. Monitor yourself when you are talking to your partner for an appreciation of what you may be communicating to them with your body language.

How To Deal With a Passive-Aggressive Partner

HOW TO DEAL WITH A PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE PARTNER

Husband- When I got mad at you, you never fight back, How do you control your anger?
Wife- I clean the toilet.
Husband-How does that help?
Wife- I use your toothbrush

As this little vignette illustrates, passive-aggression is a way to get even at someone behind their back, often without their even knowing that you are doing it. It is sneaky revenge to get your own way, to serve a “pay-back,” or to sabotage the efforts of your partner when appearing to want to help, cooperate, or solve the problem.

Common passive-aggressive behavior in relationships:

Agreeing to do something and then either not doing it at all, doing it poorly, doing it grudgingly.

Keeping score and then doing small things to your partner to balance the score card.

Constantly being late- but only with partner and always with a good excuse.

Violating marital agreements behind partner’s back…e.g. Revealing details of relationship that partner thinks should be kept private.

Withholding things (money, sex, affection, support)that they need to purposely frustrate your partner or to even a score.

Hiding hostility in jokes or sarcasm, then denying that is what you are doing when confronted. For instance, disparaging your partner’s cooking ability to cause hurt, then saying “I was just kidding”.

Allowing your child to do something or buying something for your child behind your partner’s back which violates an agreement or understanding you had..

Not sticking to the budget behind your partner’s back, or not even having a budget when budgeting is important to your partner.

Does your partner know they are doing these things?
Sometimes your passive aggressive partner knows what they are doing- that is, they are doing it on purpose. They are snakes in sheep’s clothing. They want to get even with you so they smile while stabbing you in the back. Or they become catty or sarcastic, sending you double-meaning messages that you can’t comply with or make you feel helpless to deal with. You can read more about this on Airportkiss.com

Other times, however, they may not be aware themselves what they are doing. For instance, as a little girl Sue felt defiant toward her parents who always pushed her to “do it faster”. At eight years old, the more her parents “pushed” her, the more she slowed down. This pattern became “etched” in her brain circuits.

Fast forward twenty years…

At age 28 her husband says “honey, hurry up, we will be late for the dinner reservation”. Inside her brain, an alarm goes off reminding her of someone trying to control her again.As was the case before with her parents, she did not openly defy her husband or even admit she is angry toward him for his demands, so her mind goes into passive-aggressive mode without her realizing it. She finds herself running late while telling to her husband to deal with it because she is doing the best she can.

Patterns of passive-aggression
Your passive aggressive partner will often deny that they are doing what they are plainly doing right before you, or they twist the reality of what they are doing by justifying it, or minimizing it. Often they may attack you as a defense, convincing you there is something wrong with YOU for being so upset over what they are doing.

Passive-aggressive partners are not emotionally honest people- at least not with their partners. They often are conflict-avoidant and will do anything to avoid a fight or confrontation. So, they do things behind their partner’s back as a way of coping with their partners- and staying out of trouble. Or sometimes, they are passive-aggressive as a learned method to get what they want with the least amount of hassle or conflict.

Like most personality traits, passive aggression is not either/or but on a continuum. Your partner may just have tendencies to be passive-aggressive or may be full- blown. They may be passive-aggressive with everybody, or just with you. Sometimes a small amount of passive-aggression is a good thing, but done routinely it causes major problems in relationships because it is not honest communication and is manipulative by nature.

FIVE STEPS TO DEAL WITH THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PARTNER

Step 1- Could you be the problem?
The first step in dealing with the passive-aggressive partner is to ask yourself if you are unknowingly somehow part of the problem. Do you maybe create an atmosphere wherein it is easier for him/her to NOT be candid with you to avoid emotional pain or hassle? If so, the obvious solution is to find a way to have open communication with each other where you can both openly express opinions, feelings and thoughts without so much judgment, conflict or demands for change. Don’t turn you partner into a liar.

Step 2- Don’t be a victim of their passive-aggression
Once you have identified your partner as a passive-aggressive, don’t plan your life around their promises or commitments if they don’t keep them. If it isn’t too bad, (but irritating) just accept that they are passive-aggressive, instead of getting angry about it. BUT, then ALWAYS have a plan B when dealing with them, until trust rebuilds. If they don’t show up on time at important events, go separately and meet them there.Make the bank deposits yourself is they are unreliable in this regard. In public, don’t set yourself up so they can ridicule, denigrate, or make fun of you.

Step 3- Write things down on paper, as in agreements.
Couples aren’t used to writing down agreements they reach, but these can go a long way toward avoiding later conflicts in relationships, especially with passive-aggressives. This works especially well with things like home chore responsibilities, spending habits, and other family rituals such as meal preparation days, time spent daily to connect with each other, and understandings about what information about your relationship is “private” vs being shared with relatives or close friends.

Step 4- Share feelings when you suspect your partner is being passive-aggressive
Let your partner know how you feel when they do something that bothers you or hurts you, instead of suppressing it or shoving it under the proverbial rug. They may not realize the effect their passive-aggressiveness is having on you. Be honest with them, so they have an opportunity to change their behavior if they elect to.

Say things like “I feel really hurt and unloved when you…”

Or, “I was humiliated and embarrassed when you got drunk and told everybody at the party about our sex life, like it was a joke”

Or, “I feel violated and untrusting toward you when you tell your parents personal stuff that I tell you, expecting that it will be held in confidence”.

Step 5 – Assertively consequences if they continue their behavior – then follow through.
If their passive-aggressive behavior is truly something you cannot accept, and you elect not to tolerate it, the next step is to make clear the consequences of their continued passive-aggressiveness. As an example, if your partner continues to overspend to the extent that they are ruining the FICO scores of both of you and propelling the family toward bankruptcy, you can insist on separate bank accounts, credit cards etc. Don’t just threaten, however – you must follow through in order to survive.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE THE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE PERSON

What should you do if you are the passive-aggressive person and your behavior is threatening to destroy a relationship?
Acknowledgement of a problem is the first step toward solving it. Start by looking at your behavior. If indeed you have tendencies in the PA direction, vow to yourself to start being more honest in your communication with loved ones, even if there might be some painful consequences for you. If something bothers you about your partner or the relationship, deal with it up front instead of letting it fester and grow for a long period of time.

Instead of “getting even” with your partner because of the issue, try dealing with it in a mature loving way- start by talking about it. The strategy of “peace at any price” isn’t a good one because putting off “the talk” often just makes things much worse in the long run.

Giving up passive-aggression is often an issue in your character development. Like any character trait, you need to decide to change for anything to happen. Often this change is motivated by fear of losing something or someone you love – .like your partner or your family. Keeping this fear in mind often can propel you to communicate differently- less passive-aggressively and more real, genuine, and honest.

Remember, it is Ok to FEEL anger and hostility. All people in relationships do. The issue is how you deal with and communicate this natural anger. As a matter of personal growth, you will be much less passive-aggressive (and much less angry generally) if you acknowledge your anger and express it in healthy ways to feel better and to resolve conflicts.

10-hour local anger management classes

Can Personal Values Differences Destroy a Relationship?

You bet they do. Often the seeds of destruction are in the relationship the moment you meet even though it my take many years for it to actually die. Famous marital researcher Dr John Gottman teaches and trains therapists as follows:

“It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.”

Often that is often because partners have different values about life, relationships,money, parenting, orderliness, in-laws, or sex.

Take Cliff and Mary, for example. Cliff is a very successful 42 year old restaurateur in a local beach community. He literally works 18 hours a day. He almost can compete with Jay Leno in terms of the number of luxury automobiles he has in his garage. Every year he treats his extended family from Eastern Europe to a two week vacation at Disneyland, then gives each one (about 20 people) $25,000 to return home with. Yet, his marriage is falling apart as he opens up yet another restaurant.

His wife Mary begs him to be home more of the time, but he sees that as nagging. He values only occupational success, everything else in life is secondary- even sex. He could care less. When he needs it, it is available all around him. He says women have been throwing themselves at him since he was 12 years old. Why does he need a wife for sex or emotional comfort? If she is unhappy, then she should move on, he says.

He does agree to therapy but almost falls asleep during the session because he has been up most of the night. In the session, while his wife is in anguish, he yawns. He wants her to just return home and enjoy the affluent life he can give her; why should she complain, he reasons, when she can have almost anything she wants? What other man could give her such a life?

Value differences are hard to reconcile even in marriage therapy, because neither partner is right or wrong. There are many ways to live life. Demanding that your partner change their values because they differ from yours is a sure path toward relationship conflict and ultimately destruction.

In our example, Cliff lives his life by the values of success, money,hard work, and complete devotion to what one does to succeed. Mary values relationship, love, family life, and emotional connection to one’s spouse.

The only hope for this marriage to survive with any kind of harmony is for her to surrender to the reality that neither she nor her husband is capable of changing their very different but deeply ingrained values. Cliff has already mentally surrendered and has no intention of changing himself. Mary, however, is in anguish daily, still trying to reform her husband.

Mary can certainly make the decision that these value differences are deal breakers and that this type of marriage is not for her. Who would blame her?

But she could also make the decision to accept what is and find a way to create her own life around this reality. This would work because Cliff has basically told her he doesn’t care what kind of life she builds, as long as it doesn’t require more time or emotional involvement from him. Some wives would relish this freedom while enjoying the fruits of a very affluent lifestyle.

Value conflicts such as this one require us to look deeply into ourselves to discover what we really believe and what is important to us. When we make decisions based on values instead of emotions, our lives work better with much less turmoil.

As I often tell my clients, if you can’t change the direction of the wind, you must adjust the sails to get to your destination.

10-hour local anger management classes

Successful Couples Repair Conflict

Let’s face it. All couples fight. In successful relationships as well as others. Having fights is not necessarily a sign that your relationship is doomed to failure.

If all couples fight, What then makes the difference between successful vs unsuccessful relationships?

Simply put, one major difference is having the skills and ability to repair the emotional damage done during the fight. Some couples simply can’t get past it and simmer for days, weeks, even months. I know of one couple that kept a resentment for years. They didn’t divorce – they simply built a wall between them and added a few more bricks every month until there basically was no hope of reconnecting.This couple slept in separate bedrooms, rarely talked to each other, ate meals separately and kept separate financial resources. They basically were roommates.

Other couples fortunately have better skills and can bounce back from a conflict, a bad behavior on the part of one or the other, or from the pain of a grievance. Some couples just know how to do it. Mary and Jim were such a couple. They were a young professional couple with no children but strong personalities and a strong need for autonomy. She often wanted to do something that he considered irresponsible or not practical (she was an artist). He would “question” her on it (which she heard as a challenge). Her response? Anger, saying to herself “he is not going to tell ME what to do.” He replied that he was not trying to tell her what to do, he was just inquiring as to what was going on.

This led to an escalating fight with each “pushing the buttons” of the other until they no longer could stand to be in the same room. In effect, they had activated each other’s psychological alarm system so both their brains were now in a “fight and protect” mode. So they sulked for a while, until their nervous systems calmed down to normal levels. This allowed one of them (Mary)to quietly say “I’m sorry.” Then came, “I really love you and can’t imagine life without you.” Jim then said, “Let’s get on the same team and figure out a solution to the issue.”

More generally, partners with good repair skills do with following:

  • They keep the relationship itself in mind when arguing over an issue. It’s not only about “winning” – certainly not at the cost of rupturing the relationship. They WANT the relationship to work. They strive for emotional connection and harmony.
  • They realize that not all couples problems are fixable – some issues will always be there. The trick to repair is to learn how to live with each other around the issues rather than trying to change the other person to make them less irritating to you. The challenge is to cope (within reason and without losing your “self” in the process) better while finding ways to satisfy each other’s needs.
  • They are mature enough to realize that their partners have a perfect right to their own opinions and ways of doing things. They try to drop judgment and instead strive to understand their partner better.
  • Finally, couples with good repair skill do not bring up the past to use as a weapon. They stick to the current issue without slamming their partner with insults, name-calling, accusations, or “dead cow” issues.
AngerCoach Online

Couples Conflict – The Dance of Anger

Jim and Sally have been married for 10 years. They argue so much that friends invite them for dinner a lot because they provide the evening’s entertainment with their bickering and constant conflict. Their arguments are over many of the same issues over and over again. They just seem to trigger angry responses in each other and it is never ending. Watching them reminds one of seven year olds fighting in the sand box.

If you took a picture snapshot at any point in time you might think that one of them is the culprit starting the fights. But, taking a snapshot at another point in time might give you a different impression, as you observe the “victim” actually now provoking their partner.

Truth is, they are in a strange, intimate dance with each other even though they probably don’t realize it. Psychologists might say that we are observing the battle of part of the brain called the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the limbic system. It is in the amygdala that hurts, pain and anger are stored. Its purpose is to protect you from harm, even though the threat is not physical but the verbal assaults of your partner. So, it immediately prepares you for fight and survival. You are programmed to attack back,to protect yourself.You are reacting on a nervous system level but may not be aware of this fact. It happens so rapidly that things can spin out of control before you know it. And the anger dance begins.

The “Issue” Is Not The Only Issue
It may appear that you are fighting over the kids,who should do the dishes, or how much money you should spend on a new car. But you are also fighting on deeper levels often without your awareness. My experience with many scores of couples is that you are really fighting because you are triggering in each other old ways of feeling or behaving toward someone you love which you learned as a child from caretakers or others. Under stress, your brain reverts back to that earlier learning, never mind that you are now an adult professional, a responsible community member, and a parent. So, instead of being a reasonable human being, you become that petulant child who is not getting his way, you grind on your partner over minor infractions to wear him or her down (just like you wore down your parents), or you openly rebel to communicate feeling hurt and rejection.

In the heat of battle. many partners forget to pay attention to the damage they may be doing to the relationship itself in how they are fighting or arguing. They focus on winning the battle, but lose sight that they may be losing the war. What good is winning the argument if you are pissed at each other afterward or experiencing feelings of hurt for days or weeks? Successful couples broaden their lens and see that they must always be aware of how what they do or what they say will affect the relationship itself. Successful partners know that even if they conflict or disagree with the benefits of softening your water, they have each other’s back and they feel secure in knowing that they will be there for each other, regardless of the outcome of the specific argument.

<strongThe Dance of Security
Feeling secure in a relationship seems to be a basic human need. Secure functioning should be a major goal of any intimate connection. When there is secure functioning, partners protect each other at all times, in both public and private. They notice how they are affecting each other. When they emotionally injure each other, they know how to make quick repairs. Secure functioning partners are skilled at being able to quickly change their own emotional state and positively influence the emotional state of their partner. They think in terms of what is best for both of them not only as individuals but also as a couple.

Problem is, partners often come into relationships with different styles of feeling secure. This is because of different backgrounds and different ways of learning how to “attach” to loved ones. Unless partners learn to deal with each other’s styles of attachment, they will trigger INSECURITY in each other which often leads to anger and other negative emotions.
Jim, for instance , doesn’t believe in talking in public about personal things; he believes in strict boundaries. He is self-contained and doesn’t turn to others for emotional support or problem-solving. Sally, on the other hand, loves to talk and to share everything with everybody, especially after a few glasses of wine. Talking and getting feedback from others helps to regulate her emotions and feel good and connected with others. She firmly believes that Jim should love her no matter how she behaves in public; if he shows disapproval, this means he doesn’t really love her (in her thoughts). She doesn’t see that she is doing anything wrong.

Clearly, they are working against each other. That which reduces her anxiety, increases his, and vice versa. She becomes more and more angry and resentful as he pulls away and increasingly avoids her. He doesn’t deal with anger directly, so he starts to “passive-aggress” her by snipping,jabbing, innuendo and sarcasm. She fights back by denying him sex later that night. He complains. The next day she accuses him of not loving her for her and says that he is emotionally unavailable and she can’t stand it any longer. The dance is on but it is anything but a fluid tango….it is more like a war dance.

Putting the Pieces Together
Partners come in all sizes and shapes emotionally, many with ragged edges which we sometimes don’t see until later when the dating hormones settle down. At this stage, sometimes partners worry they are fundamentally incompatible with each other, that they may have made a mistake or that they were deceived by the other who is now clearly showing a different side to their personality. In couples therapy, we explain to the partners that they are probably going through a developmental period in which they are challenged to learn how to function as individual yet learn to do things differently so as not to trigger insecurity and anger in the other.

The simplified principle is this: Instead of trying to change your partner,find a way to give your partner what they need so they will be more motivated and eager to give you what you need. Both of you will feel more secure and will co-create what Dr. Stan Tatkin calls “the couple bubble.”

In our case example, Sally and Jim both have hard-wired (and different) styles of attachment and ways of regulating their emotions to feel comfortable. It is highly unlikely that either can change this. They can greatly decrease their levels of conflict, however, by accepting the differences between them and doing things to make the other more emotionally secure. Each needs to ask himself/herself what they are doing to make their partner feel better, not worse. They need to further ask themselves why they are doing things (like bringing up personal marriage thing in public) that they know emotionally (and socially) harms their partner. Or why Jim doesn’t share more with Sally when he knows that she needs this to feel secure inside and feel loved.
If we love someone, shouldn’t job number one be to try to make them happy (within reason) and be a source of need satisfaction for them (as long as it is reciprocal and we are getting it back)?

10-hour local anger management classes

Anger Class 101: Silence is an Anger Management Tool

They say that silence is golden.

Tell that to Sally and Jim who argue constantly and fight like cats and dogs over almost every issue. Both are highly successful, intelligent and verbal so there is no end to issues over which to fight. If perchance they do run out of issues temporarily, they creatively start fighting about fighting. They need anger class 101.

Let’s listen to the dialogue for a moment:
with one accusing the other of being unfair or talking “with that sneer of yours,” or “shouting at me.” while the other insists they are not shouting.

As a couples therapist, and someone who has conducted over 1000 anger classes in Southern California and a calgary naturopath, I sometimes want to say to one or the other: “Why don’t you just keep your mouth shut so avoid an argument? Partners often inflame each other, escalate anger, and talk themselves into major fights which could easily be avoided with the practice of temporary silence. This is known as the tool of “Retreat and Think Things over” in out system of anger management.

As Lao Tzu is quoted as having said:
“Silence is a Source of Great Strength.”

But, back to Sally and Jim who continue the argument:

Yes, Jim says, but I am right and she knows that I am right, so why should I silence myself?” “The restaurant WAS where I said it was – NOT where she kept insisting (wrongly) it was located.”

“Oh Lord, It is so hard to be humble when you are perfect in every way”
…….Mack Davis song, 1980

Know anyone who ALWAYS has to be right, like Jim? Not only do they always have to be right, they have an irrepressible urge to point out when they factually know that you are wrong. So,like Jim, they correct you, contradict you, argue with you, contest everything you say, and then later remind you that “I told you so” if there is any evidence that you are wrong and they were right.

The frustrating thing is, often these people ARE right, or partiality right as http://stridestrong.com says. But, few important issues in the world are about absolute right or absolute wrong. They are about shades of each. Only very rigid people divide the world into absolute rights or absolute wrongs. Partial truths often drive arguments because of mis-communication or misunderstanding.

“Black and White People” vs “Gray” people.

“Black and white” people see the world in absolutes. It is either this way or that way. “Gray” people see in between possibilities, and understand that “truth” or “reality” in many cases is a matter of perception..not a matter of fact. Often, “black and white” people marry “gray” people and the fight is on.

Some common examples: Jim sees wife Mary as stubborn and unbending. She sees herself as morally right, principled, and duty-bound to do things Jim does not agree with. As another example, Mary sees Jim as lazy, not ambitious, and negligent in his household duties. Jim sees himself as evolving to the place in life where he can enjoy life, have fun with the kids, and generally appreciate his good health and financial freedom.

Who is right and who is wrong in these examples? Honestly, is your experience that the world most people live in is black and white, or do most issues fall in the gray area?

Four ways to deal with a partner who sees the world differently than you do.

1.LET IT GO.
For some people, it is part of their personality and their ego. They cannot stand not to be right, correct an injustice, or make sure you know the right way to do things. It validates them and makes them feel good about themselves to be right and to prove you wrong. You should not be around a person like this unless you are super-secure. Let them be right in their own minds, if they have to. Let it go! (Most times). If they swear it is noon; calmly show them a clock showing it is 1pm. Do you want to learn more? Then just click here and read the website.

2. AGREE TO DISAGREE
On many issues in a relationship (research shows 69%), you are never going to agree anyway. So, agree to disagree and don’t bring the subject up unless the “house is on fire.” (or unless it is really doing damage to someone)

3. SEPARATE IN YOU REMIND THE ISSUE FROM WHO YOUR PARTNER REALLY IS. Personally, I like many people even though they are diametrically opposed to things I truly believe in. If you get irritated over one slice of behavior displayed by your partner, try to see him or her as a total person.

4. DON’T TALK AN ISSUE TO DEATH TRYING TO PERSUADE YOUR PARTNER OF ITS TRUTH OR YOUR RIGHTNESS. Sometimes the more it is talked about, the worse it gets. Let the issue get some rest. MAybe it will recover sooner.

Are You An Anger Hypocrite?

There are many definitions of a hypocrite, but the one that I wish to discuss in this blog is a person who professes one thing but does another. The hypocrite imposes standards on others to which his or her own behavior does not comply.

The Anger Hypocrite
One specific type of hypocrite that I often see in my couples work is what I call the anger hypocrite.

Simply explained, the anger hypocrite expects their partner not to lose anger control while they themselves rage uncontrollably and rarely control their own anger, frustration or displeasure. The anger hypocrite justifies their behavior by convincing themselves that their anger is a normal reaction to the horrible behavior displayed by their partner.

But, when you stop and think about it, is it fair to expect more of your partner than you deliver? Put in another realm, if you and your partner are both alcoholics and both agree to stop drinking, would you expect him/her to stop drinking while you continued (and then become upset when they drink)? Or, is it fair to demand financial responsibility from your partner if you are a spendthrift or don’t stick to an agreed upon budget? Preaching one thing but doing another spells hypocrisy, doesn’t it? Continue reading “Are You An Anger Hypocrite?”