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Early in my marriage, way before I knew anything about communication, I remember regretting having said anything because we made things worse with immature habits of handling issues—and now on top of that had resentment.
As any honest couple can admit, we feel distanced and disconnected when we have difficulty saying what we mean, hearing each other, and staying calm and respectful when disagreements arise. In all honesty, disagreements will arise—you can bet on it!
A wise start to making an argument healthier is to recognize what IS destructive. Work hard to get rid of it and keep what does work.
If I may, I’m going to be brutally honest. I do it with love and for purposes of education. So let’s go through some of the ways we prevent solutions and loving connection. Then in my next article I will hopefully offer you some relief with a list of options you can do instead that will offer instant results if you make the effort. Just know, it’s simple and easy, all it takes is effort.
Now, onto the ways we crash and burn, like a toddler with a tantrum.
1. Kitchen-Sinking: happens when a person brings up a complaint and instead of sticking to one issue to move on to a solution, many other complaints and frustrations are brought up as well. Meaning, everything is brought up, but the kitchen sink.
Example: “You’re late today because of those friends, and because you don’t want to help me clean or cook. It’s your laziness.”
By hopping on as many issues we can bring up, the focus drifts to too many and none get resolved.
2. Mindreading: happens when we assume we know the thoughts, feelings and opinions of our partner without asking or double-checking.
Although common in couples, it’s destructive when used in a negative perception, believing your partner did things for a negative reason, even if it might have been because of a neutral or positive reason.
Example: I know why you didn’t finish your dinner. It’s because you think I’m a bad cook and you’re getting back at me because I didn’t like the restaurant we ate at for lunch.
3. Yes-butting: finding something wrong with what our partner suggests.
Example: Sure we can try that, but it won’t work.
4. Cross-complaining: instead of showing concern or compassion for our partner’s complaint, we reply with our own complaint.
“I hate how you leave all the drawers open in the bedroom and all the cupboard doors in the kitchen!”
“Well, I hate how you watch so much TV and never help me cook!”
5. Criticism: is our attack to our partner’s character instead of the specific behavior. (When trying to address leaving socks on the floor, it’s important to specify the act, not the behavior.)
Example: You’re so lazy!
6. Contempt: is a form of mockery, hostile humor, sarcasm and most importantly, tone of voice. It can be with body language (rolling your eyes) or verbal.
Example: Do you even know how to boil water?
7. Belligerence: happens when we reject any participation in solving the issue with hostility.
Example: So what? What are you going to do about it?
Couples that often display contempt, defensiveness and belligerence stand less of a chance in staying together.
These patterns happen to us all. It’s the frequency we have to watch out for.
But there are simple ways—just with practice—to replace these bad habits. Watch out for my article next month on how to avoid these traps, because it’s not always easy to do it without a guide.
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