My husband and I have been unhappy for some time and we just can’t seem to break out of our negative cycle of arguments. Eric and I were high school sweethearts and always had some rifts but things got worse after we had three kids and he lost his job. We disagree over small things and both dig our heels in and have trouble apologizing when we make a mistake.
Right now, Eric is starting a small business and we are mostly living on my salary as a teacher. Money is tight but the biggest stress is how we communicate and blame each other for our problems.
For example, our six-year old son, Kevin, has autism and even though he’s smart, he’s in a separate class for kids with disabilities. Eric and I need to attend meetings, read his daily note from his teacher, and help him a lot with homework. When he has a bad day or we have to pick him up early from school, Eric and I tend to get defensive and point fingers at each other. Fortunately, our two daughters are in regular classrooms and don’t have problems but taking time for Kevin can take its toll on our marriage.
Please help me to feel better about my marriage and to manage my stress as a wife and mom.
It is common for couples who have children, especially a child with special needs, to have a lot of stress and to struggle with communication at times. It’s tempting to launch into expressing anger and to get into the attack mode when you feel hurt or frustrated. However, you’ll accomplish more and improve your communication if you’re vulnerable and tell your partner what you need in a positive way.
Here are four ways to curb defensiveness so you can begin to listen to each other and adopt a mindset of “we’re in this together.” By working as a team and avoiding the blame game, you’ll restore your positive feelings for each other and be better able to create an optimistic environment for your children.
4 Ways to Curb Defensiveness:
- Keep a calm composure: While it’s natural to raise your voice and get agitated when you feel attacked, lower your voice and adopt a friendlier tone. If you feel yourself taking things personally, press the pause button and suggest a 10 to 15-minute break to your partner before continuing a conflictual conversation. You might say “I’m trying to listen but I can feel myself getting defensive. Can we start this conversation again in 15 minutes?”
- Listen to your partner’s side of the story and validate them. Instead of focusing on your own agenda and the points you want to get across, ask your partner what is bothering them and really listen before responding. When you respond, validate their perspective and use a soft start-up such as “I value your input and I’d love to hear more from you.” Be sure to use good eye contact and reassuring touch to comfort your mate.
- Focus on the issues at hand. When you focus on changing your partner, you miss the opportunity to work together to come up with a solution. You are no longer on the same team. Instead, focus on the issues at hand to meet both of your needs. Don’t throw in the kitchen sink when you disagree. Stay in the moment and resist the urge to bring up old issues or touch on your partners “raw spots.” Use “I” statements and focus on expressing your feelings in a way that invites your partner to communicate non-defensively, rather than pushing them away.
- Take responsibility. If you focus more on your part of the problem, you’ll be less likely to point your finger at your partner or take things personally. Reflect on how your words and actions might make your partner feel and let him or her know that you own your part in a disagreement. For instance, you might simply say “I am sorry for keeping a secret about money from you. I love you and won’t do it again.” By taking responsibility for your part in the dispute, even just a small piece, this will validate your partner’s feelings, promote forgiveness, and allow them both to move on.
According to relationship expert Dr. Patricia Love, it’s important to stop keeping score and to try not to win every argument, even when you are in the right. Instead, Love says, “think of winning an unofficial contest I like to call ‘Who’s the Bigger Person?’ Resolving Conflicts is about who wants to grow the most and what’s best for your relationship.”
Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry