Well, you’re not alone. Fighting, lack of communication, and inability to solve problems and conflict are some of the leading causes of divorce.
The reality is that few of us are equipped with the skills needed to communicate effectively and solve problems with our partners.
These skills must be taught, and it is rare that couples take the time before marriage or early in marriage to learn these necessary skills.
The good news is that anyone can learn and implement them once they decide to.
Identify whose problem it is. This is not as easy as it may seem. You might think that if your husband leaves his clothes all over the floor, that he is the one with the problem. In reality, though, it probably doesn’t bother him at all. It bothers YOU, and therefore it is YOUR problem.
You may ask why this matters, but it affects the entire conversation and process. You must know whose problem it is in order to properly communicate and address the issue to a satisfactory resolution. If you get this step wrong, you will likely fail at resolving the problem.
Find the right time to talk and address the problem. This is not always easy, but think about the importance of this step. If you try to approach someone to have a meaningful conversation while in the midst of a heated argument, what type of response do you think you will get?
If you approach your husband the minute he walks in the door after a stressful day at work, he will not be in the right mindset to problem solve. Similarly, if you approach your wife right after dealing with a hectic toddler tantrum, that might not be the most productive time.
Sometimes, it is even useful to approach your spouse and let them know that you’d like some time to discuss some important things, and actually schedule the time. That way, each of you has time to mentally prepare and nobody feels blindsided. Do not underestimate the importance of finding the right time.
Articulate clearly what the problem is and whose problem it really is. If it is your problem, own it as such. If it is a mutual problem, make sure to state that so your partner does not feel blamed and become defensive.
An example of this would be, “I’m having a problem with something and I need your help. When you leave your clothes all over the floor, I get frustrated and angry. I’ve spent a good portion of the day cleaning up around here, and it feels like it’s all undone in a minute. Also, it is hard for me to impress upon the children that they need to pick up after themselves when you don’t.”
Take notice of the difference here between owning the problem and blaming your partner. The example above sets a very different tone than saying, “You’re such a slob. I don’t understand why you leave your clothes all over the place. How many times do I have to ask you not to do that?”.
This type of communication will undoubtedly result in defensiveness and an unresolved argument. While it might be how you are feeling, it is not how you should express yourself if you want to solve the problem.
Look for solutions. This is the part when you would say, “So, do you have any ideas of how we could make this better?” or “I have a few ideas that might make this less of a problem. Would you be willing to consider them?”.
State your ideas and listen carefully to what your partner offers. Agree to try a couple of each other’s ideas. If nobody has any ideas about what you can do, agree to think about possible ideas and come back and discuss it again in a few days.
Using the above example, you could say, “I know you don’t care that much about having clothes on the floor, but it really bothers me. I don’t want to always be picking up your things and putting them away for you. So, what if we had a basket or two in areas that would be easy to toss your stuff into? That way, you don’t have to spend the time it takes to put the things away, but at least they wouldn’t be on the floor, and I won’t always feel like the house is messy. Would that work?”.
Thank each other for the time to talk and address the problems. Recognize the efforts each is making to communicate and look for resolutions. If nothing was resolved, make sure to talk about when you will revisit the issue, and then actually think about ways to resolve it before that next talk.
Don’t take each other for granted or blame one another for any of the problems. Rather, express your love and gratitude for one another, and remember that it takes a lot of hard work from both partners to make a marriage work.
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Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas. Contact Lori at lorifresontherapy.com or call/text 818-514-LMFT