Every couple has differences, but when they can’t identify and utilize ways to bridge them, they can become deal breakers. The following is a list of the differences most commonly cited by couples considering divorce.
∙ The sharing household work and responsibilities
∙ Handling of finances, spending, and debt
∙ Problems with emotional/physical intimacy
∙ Dysfunctional communication
∙ Conflict over parenting differences
∙ In-law and extended family issues
If you and your spouse are struggling with any of these, how have you attempted to address them, or have you? Too often couples passively opt to wait until they have more time, energy, and resources to devote to an issue; or they fear that confronting it will rock the boat and lead to further destabilization. Ironically, what generally results from this avoidance is a slow breakdown of communication and intimacy; which leads to increasing distance, negativity, resentment and loss of desire for one another. It is at that point that couples often decide they have irreconcilable differences and the only solution is separation and divorce.
The best way to avoid reaching this unhappy place is to begin working actively together to find ways to meet in the middle, which is the only place where both people can get their wants and needs adequately met. Incorporating the following behaviors into your couple dynamic will turn negative interactions into productive ones and will help keep your differences from becoming irreconcilable.
Eliminate the negative from your interactions
Simply put, this means eliminating all name calling, character attacks, blaming, avoiding and stonewalling, and/or withdrawing and implementing the silent treatment. All of these actions put one’s partner on the defensive, shuts down communication, and begins erasing all the goodwill and positive feelings that a couple once felt for one another. Negativity is also manifested through a person’s general attitude and how they usually perceive and approach challenges and setbacks. In other words, always seeing, expressing, and highlighting the negative takes away from the general happiness and well-being of both people.
Always approach each other with respect
Stress, disappointments, and setbacks are all part of everyone’s existence. When couples are experiencing these feelings, they need to manage and express themselves in a way that is respectful. Respect is earned simply by giving it, and if you are disrespectful, this is what will come back to you. Respect is shown in a number of ways that include; staying mindful of your tone/pitch/tempo of voice, and the words you use to express your frustration and upset, treating your partner as an equal, showing acknowledgement of and consideration for your spouse’s feelings even when they are different from yours, not interrupting when they are speaking, not demeaning your partner for something they feel, and/or acknowledging that their feelings and needs are important to you and to your relationship.
Always ask yourself how something you do/want will impact your partner
When you act without regard to how your behavior will impact your partner and relationship, you are sending a very clear signal that their feelings and needs are not a priority. Over time, this can lead a couple to think and act as separate individuals who are in a competition where one wins and the other loses; but the relationship always loses when a win-win cannot be achieved.
Being mindful of how your ‘wants’ and behavior will impact your spouse does not mean you have no autonomy or that you must seek permission before acting on anything. Instead, this means you and your spouse will have a collaborative partnership where you check in with each other and get a read on how the other feels about something, especially about bigger issues with higher stakes. Candidly airing feelings and concerns will only make the relationship stronger, so long as both partners listen deeply and are willing to work together to find a compromise.
Say you are sorry and make amends
Everyone takes missteps and has moments of thoughtlessness and selfishness. And sometimes a misstep causes real hurt to a partner and damage to the relationship. When this has happened, it is very important to acknowledge how your behavior impacted your partner and express regret for your actions. Yes, there are two sides to every story, and many times there are circumstances that contribute to missteps. However, each person needs to own what they brought to the problem, apologize for their behavior, and find small ways to make amends. Saying you are sorry, but. . . is not a sincere apology and will probably only increase the hurt and anger your partner feels. Say it with humility and real feeling and ask what you can do to help with the process of forgiveness, recovery, and moving on.
All relationships have ups and downs, and it is inevitable that couples in long-term unions will encounter some serious challenges along the way. Those who stay together and thrive will make an effort to see themselves and their relationship through their partner’s eyes, to listen deeply, and not jump to criticism and judgment when they feel hurt or disappointment; and they treat one another with respect and strive for win-win outcomes that meet their individual and collective needs, which keeps trust alive and their bond strong.
Toni Coleman possesses a master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, a certificate in family therapy from the Family Therapy Institute in Alexandria, VA, a certification in Neuro-Linguistics Programming Techniques (NLP), and is a certified life coach. She is a Virginia licensed couples, marriage, family, and group therapist who has been in private practice for 26 years