How does your relationship compare to other couples in your life. Consciously or unconsciously this is the question we often ask as we look at social media. Is social media really a problem for relationships?
Over the last few weeks we have been exploring how to fight better. We discussed the soft start-up, repair attempts, compromise, and influence. This week let’s take a look at how we can self-soothe and soothe our spouse when anger and fighting get the best of us.
As we have discussed earlier, fighting often leads to flooding. As emotions increase we enter the “fight or flight” response. Blood flows from our brain to our extremities, blood pressure increases, heart rate increases and our ability to reason decreases. If not dealt with, flooding can result in lashing out in anger or engaging in withdrawal and stonewalling. None of these are good for a relationship.
To resolve flooding a couple can engage in two activities, self-soothing and soothing each other.
Use Your Time-Out Effectively – Soothing
A couple of weeks ago we discussed how and when to take a time out. A time out allows you the time to self-soothe with the goal of calming down and restoring blood flow to the brain where you can reason through an issue. People do this in many ways. Reading the bible, praying, meditation, deep breathing exercises or listening to calming music are all ways to calm yourself. Remember, it takes longer for men to exit flooding than women so additional time may be required for self-soothing. Once you have calmed down, helping to soothe your partner can have even more benefits.
Dr. Gottman, author of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work explains: ” Soothing your partner is of enormous benefits to a marriage because it is really a form of reverse conditioning. In other words, if you frequently have the experience of being calmed by your spouse, you come to associate him or her with feelings of relaxation rather than stress. This automatically increases the positivity of your relationship.” Soothing can take many forms but normally the first step is simply discussing why the flooding took place in the first place. There are many ways to soothe your spouse but what is important is they choose the method and enjoy it. A husband might give his wife a foot massage or they may take turns guiding each other through meditation activities. Whatever the activity, it is important that, in the end, both of you are calmer and better able to engage in the discussion that started the fight.
Prepare for Battle
One of the things that I heard in the military was that it was better to sweat in peace than bleed in war. In other words, preparing during peace allows you to be more effective in combat. This also applies to soothing. Taking some time before your next fight to think about how you will soothe one another can pay huge dividends. Simply think about your last fight and what it was that resulted in flooding. Discuss how you can prevent flooding in the first place, recognize flooding as it is happening, and what it is you need to do when things have spiraled out of control. Finally, discuss how you can serve one another by soothing each other during your next fight.
Over the last few weeks we have been exploring how to fight better. We discussed the soft start-up, repair attempts and compromise. This week let’s take a look at how we allow our spouse to influence us.
Recently I was sharing with some friends that when I was much younger I got a little depressed about my work situation and joined the Air Force without discussing it with Patty. In essence, I made a life-changing decision that took a newly married young woman away from her family of origin without allowing her to influence my decision. I didn’t even ask her opinion. I returned home and advised that within 3-5 days I would be in a uniform being yelled at by a training instructor and within a few months we would be moving. Destination – Unknown. Looking back I am surprised I didn’t show up to basic training with hand prints on my throat.
In the end, it worked out. Looking back I am surprised it did.
When couples fight one of the things that they are often trying to do is influence their spouse. According to research, couples who resist influence are much more likely to divorce. When a man is not willing to share power with their wife the couple is 81% more likely to end up in divorce court. A marriage is a commitment to allow the other person input into those issues that effect them. Couples who share power, who allow their partner to influence them during an argument, feel like they are part of a unified marriage.
Common sense should tell you that you need to allow your spouse to influence you. Patty sees things from such a different perspective than I do. Wisdom would dictate that I not only take her insight into consideration, but that I seek it out regularly. She is more relational where I am task oriented. In our ministry both are needed and her strength offsets my weakness. She was made a helpmate for me, and I am blessed to have her and blessed when she “weighs in” on issues.
However, when emotions are running high and a fight ensues we often withdraw and refuse to listen. We feel we have the right viewpoint and then work hard, sometimes too hard, to defend it. When that happens people feel disrespected and unappreciated. Then it is on like donkey-kong.
Before the crazy cycle starts take a moment and ask yourself if you are resisting influence and if so, why. Are you embarrassed over a decision you have made and now feel the need to defend yourself? Do you really feel that your spouse has no valid viewpoint on the situation? Are you really so filled with pride that you feel you don’t need input from your spouse? Beware, you are crossing into dangerous territory.
Strong couples value the opinion of their spouse and seek influence often. They may not always choose to take the advice when provided, but they seek the advice and consider it when making a decision.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)
After three plus decades of marriage research John Gottman, from the University of Washington, was able to identify a number of strategies that help when couples are already engaged in a fight. One of those strategies involves repair attempts.
The great philosopher Jack Sparrow said “It’s not the problem that’s the problem, it’s your response to the problem that’s the problem.” That guy is a genius.
Did you know that 69% of all of the things you and your spouse fight about are perpetual problems. By that I mean they are problems that will most likely resurface throughout your marriage. If you are like most couples in their first three decades of marriage you will be fighting about:
– Division of Housework
– What a clean house looks like
– Finances and other issues of security
– How to raise your children
– Frequency of Sex
These issues often have a lot to do with deep seated expectations, roles played in family of origin (how your mom and dad did it) and preferences around security and money. Over time, as your marital relationship matures and God works within your marriage towards unity, these issues may come to some resolution. However, these changes do not take place quickly. As a result, you will have fights.
The question is not if you will have a fight, it is how you choose to fight that makes all the difference. If you want to have a fight which results in anger, disharmony, disunity, demeaning behavior and possibly homicide (because divorce is not an option), try one or more of these methods:
- Wait until your husband has been working three hours in 102 degree weather under the hood of a car and is hungry, then ask him about the $20 he spent at Academy with an accusatory tone;
- Come home from work after your spouse has spent the day with two sick children then roll your eyes when she asks if you can run and pick up dinner for the family;
- Try to motivate your spouse to look for a better job by comparing him to the neighbor that just pulled up in a new Vet. In fact, it will be even more effective if you wait until the neighbor can see you and then turn around, point your finger at your hubby and yell “You need a job like his so I can get a new car;”
- Start asking him hundreds of questions just as he walks into the house after a long day at work.
A second option is to use scripturally supported and time tested methods to have conversations with your spouse that have a better chance at resolving conflict. This week let’s explore the first one.
Slow Your Roll
Proverbs 15:15 says “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. ” In short, make sure you have your temper and emotions under control before engaging in a conversation that may result in a fight. In addition, give your spouse the opportunity to prepare for the discussion.
Let’s Throw Down
Sally walks into the house after a long Monday to find John standing there with his phone. He has just seen a $200 charge she made over the weekend and is angry because they had agreed to watch their spending so they would have funds for a vacation next summer. As she walks in he holds up the phone and in an accusatory voice says “You never keep our agreements. Can’t you control your spending for even one month? You’re just so irresponsible!”
What went wrong?
- You should never point a phone at someone, it’s rude.
- He does not know what she spent the money on or why.
- Terms like “always” and “never” put people on the defensive, primarily because they are an untrue accusation.
- He jumped her at the door and did not give her the emotional room to prepare for the conversation.
As a result, she feels attacked and in self-defense says something like “If you had a real job I wouldn’t have to worry about a few hundred dollars.” She goes on the attack and treats him with disrespect because he was unloving towards her. It’s on like Donkey-Kong.
A Better Way
When John sees the charge and starts to get angry, he should ask himself two questions: Why am I so angry and what do I not know about this situation. In most cases we get angry because we are not getting our way. In addition, he has very little information concerning the “what” and “why” of the situation. Instead of waiting at the door to pounce he could simply wait for her to come home and let her know he wants to talk to her about their finances later that night. Then, in a calm manner point out that he had seen the charge made on the credit card and felt like it might violate their agreement concerning finances. This is known as a “soft approach” and allows a couple to start a conversation that has a better chance of a positive outcome. Yes it requires some self control and patience. However, as a follower of Jesus you have both (Gal 5:22-23).
So here is the first step towards better fights; Choose a good time and place for a discussion and then give your spouse some warning so they can prepare for an emotional conversation. In the event your spouse has had a long day, give them some grace and choose another time for the conversation. Don’t wait too long and stand firm on the need to have the conversation, but be sensitive to your spouse. A friend of mine used to use the phrase “I need to enter your garden” when he needed to talk about an emotional topic with his wife. She then could proceed with the discussion or take a few minutes to get mentally prepared. If she postponed the discussion, she was responsible for “reengaging” before the evening was over. Patty and I simply say “I need to talk you about something that might get emotional, is this a good time?” By being patient and letting both parties mentally prepare, there is a much better chance of a positive outcome.
Next Week: When things get out of control – attempting to repair hurt feeling in the middle of a fight.
Thursday Patty and I were headed west, separately. She was heading west to visit her dad, a monthly visit now that he has recently moved; and I was headed west to my Mom’s house to mow the desert (no rain for weeks). Somehow we ended up west bound on Interstate 20 in the same location. She pulled up behind me, flashed her lights, then pulled up beside me trying to get my attention. She honked, flashed her lights, started singing Mama Mia, all to no avail. I was talking to one of my team members after she had experienced a challenging day in the classroom and apparently it negatively effected my situational awareness.
Is it just me or does that happen a lot with the ones we love. Not necessarily on Interstate 20, but in the day-to-day practice of living and loving. We get focused on almost anything else and fail to pay attention to the ones we love the most. We get caught up in what Steven Covey called the “thick of thin things.” We pay more attention to the lawn mower repair than the little princess wanting to share high tea with dad; the game instead of the bride of our youth; we waste time on the next episode of House Hunters instead of noticing that our spouse has had a really rough day.
Part of the challenge with us guys is that we get focused. While women may be able to multi-task to some degree, we men are programed to focus on one thing at a time. When that one thing takes a few days, we may fail to notice the needs of our spouse. I read an article recently about how a husband had fought with his wife over his insensitivity towards her need for some attention. She had become irritated that he was simply not paying any attention to her as he was spending the weekend completing a paint job on his car. As the fight progressed she used the “A” word (always) as in “You always pay more attention to (fill in the blank) than you do to me.” She was not feeling cherished, loved or appreciated. After some thought he realized that he simply got swept away in his activities and often went days without really expressing appreciation or engaging with her in any meaningful way. His answer was simple, set two reminders. The first reminder goes of every morning at 9 am and reminds him to think about how lucky he is to have such a great wife. Periodically, he follows the thought up with a quick text telling her how lucky he is and why. He knows that words of encouragement mean something to her and so, being the wise man he is, he uses this time to invest in their relationship. The second reminder goes off at 8 p.m. and reminds him to kiss and hug his wife. Sometimes it is quick kiss, sometimes a chance to catch-up, sometimes a little more; but each time he is reminded that he needs to focus on the most important human relationship in his life, the one with his wife.
I know ladies, not overly romantic. Richard Gere didn’t have reminders in Pretty Woman. Maybe so, but God made men and women different, and one of those differences is the ability to focus intently on one thing at a time. While focus is extremely helpful when hunting for dinner on the great plains, it may work against us a little when we need to focus on relationships. Help a brother out and just kiss us when the alarm goes off.
Have a great week all.