As a marriage therapist, you learn a lot about what not to do in a relationship by sitting across from couples who are struggling on a daily basis with communication. Hopefully, it will be helpful for you to see some barriers and pick a couple that you want to focus on.
There is nothing wrong with conflict…. when it’s done in a healthy way! It can even bring you closer and create more emotional (and physical) intimacy. Most couples are afraid of conflict. Some of my couples who come in are so proud to admit they never fight. I tell them I worry more about them than I do the couples who I have to referee.
It’s normal to have conflict when you have two people, brought up two different ways, living under one roof, and many times raising multiple kids. Who wouldn’t argue? It’s how you do it. So don’t avoid it.
This one is dangerous- this is when you believe you know what your partner is thinking or feeling and you base your reaction on your belief. It’s dangerous because you are assuming that you are right and may respond or react based on your belief and not what they are thinking or feeling.
What’s sandbagging? It’s piling on one complaint after another, causing your partner to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. It’s important to stick to one issue or concern at a time.
It’s helpful to keep a notepad handy and write down something if you think it’s important enough to talk about later. Then at another time, let your partner know you would like to discuss it.
But to bring up too much at once can make the conversation get too heated and your partner may feel they can’t see the forest for the trees so to speak.
Black and White Thinking
This is when someone thinks about things in extremes. They are not willing to see or think about the gray. When partners can’t see the gray, it can cause negative thinking and lack of compromise. It’s important to not get stuck in this type of thinking.
Not listening because you are focusing on what you are going to say next
If you are formulating your answer or thinking ahead of what/how you are going to say something, you are not truly engaged in what your partner is trying to tell you.
You may be able to repeat it back, but you probably aren’t fully aware of their feelings or able to have empathy and understanding of what they are saying.
This is the same thing- if you are interrupting, then you were thinking about what you were going to say and not listening. Besides that, it’s rude!
Thinking everything must be resolved and you can’t agree to disagree
Did you know that many problems in a marriage can’t be solved? Yep, me- a marriage therapist is telling you this. Many times there is not a solution.
Most of the time, partners just want to be heard. Sometimes it does help couples to just listen and try to understand each other. Notice I didn’t say agree. I said try to understand where their partner is coming from.
Many times when problems can’t be resolved, couples need to just listen, validate, or empathize with their partner’s feelings and agree to disagree or agree to come back to it another time.
Feeling you always have to be right and prove your point
I love how Dr. Phil says, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” It’s so true. People who think they are right and have to prove it (usually because they are insecure in the first place) leave others to feel frustrated and defeated. “Why try to if they are always right anyway?”, I hear partners say.
It’s okay to admit you are wrong sometimes, even admit your partner be right for a change, and even keep it to yourself if you are right. No one enjoys talking to a know-it-all. Keep it to yourself sometimes.
Leaving abruptly either physically or emotionally.
It’s true- sometimes things get heated and you need a timeout. It is okay to do this as long as you designate to your partner why you are leaving, when you will be back, and that you are willing to continue talking when you return and cool off.
What is not okay is to just leave the house and slam the door behind you because you are mad. Or to just cut off the conversation because you are “done” and don’t want to talk anymore, and then going a week without talking to your spouse.
I know none of you would ever do this but some people do, and it’s unhealthy!
Bringing up old issues as weapons
If something has been worked thru in the past, it is hurtful to keep throwing it up in your partners face. Speaking of throwing it up, it literally feels like vomit! It stinks, it stains, and makes the person feel worse because you are throwing it up on them!
It’s not helpful. If you still have an issue with something from the past, it is not going to be productive to bring it up when you are in conflict over something else.
Think about it at another time and ask yourself if it’s truly important or were you just using it to hurt, as a weapon? If so, let it go. If not, and it is still an issue, talk with your partner, at a different time, about how you are feeling, letting them know you may need to revisit it.
What can you do?
I’m sure many of you reading this can recognize the barriers that your partner is creating. For those of you thinking this way, I would like for you to go back and read it again and think of what barriers YOU are creating!
Then start small. Pick one or two that you want to focus on. After you have mastered them, pick one or two more.
Good luck breaking down those barriers that create walls in your relationship. Breaking down the walls will create the intimacy we all wish and long for! Thank you for reading.