What makes marriage work? Boundaries for conflict resolution

What are the boundaries for effective conflict resolution in marriage? Often, when couples get married, they come into the marriage with unspoken expectations. A common one that comes up is the right to free expression. I should and have the right to express every emotion that I have in the name of honesty. Hogwash!! This can be incredibly damaging to a relationship! Some of this may sound contradictory to that last post that talked about being your genuine selves with each other, but in there I mentioned there has to be boundaries. Well in this post we are talking about those boundaries with the understanding that unbridled self expression can be very damaging to a relationship. It might feel good in the moment, but what feels good in the moment is not necessarily for the benefit of the relationship. Everything you say and do in your relationship will either move you closer together or push you further apart. So ask yourself that question when you are about to “express” yourself. Is this going to bring you closer or push you further?

Here’s an example: when my husband is with the kids for a few hours, I come home and the house is a disaster. If I were to come home and start complaining that the house is a mess, he might feel resentful that I don’t appreciate the time he spent with the kids so I could have some time for myself. I might feel annoyed that the house is a mess, but for the sake of the relationship and my husband’s feelings, I keep that to myself and focus on appreciating his efforts. Is that disingenuous? I don’t think so, because both feelings exist, but I choose to express the ones that will draw me closer to my spouse.

Think about how you can do this in your marriage. Next post I will write about how to express dissatisfaction about something in the relationship without pushing your partner away.

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Saving Face

What does it mean to save face?

Have you ever seen someone trip or do something you deemed embarrassing but looked away so they wouldn’t have to feel embarrassed? If you have, you have allowed someone to “save face”.

What does this mean in a relationship? When couples get into arguments, they often get caught up in trying to prove themselves right and each other wrong. When one is wrong they are in the position of being the loser. When one loses, the relationship loses. By allowing your partner to save face (even in the event they were wrong!) no one is a loser and the relationship wins.  

 So why is this important?  Whenever you get into pointing fingers, making each other own up to every mistake, demanding apologies, demanding he/she see your point of view, it does damage to your relationship, to your connection with one another.

  Let me illustrate this point with an example. A couple has their wedding anniversary coming up. She plans a special dinner for her husband for when he gets home from work. He forgets it’s their anniversary and un-knowningly makes the decision to stay late at work to finish up a project. There are two reactions she might have. She may get angry and yell at him something like, “how could you forget our anniversary, you always do this kind of thing, you just don’t care about me or what’s important to me!” Or she might say, “You must have forgot our anniversary, let’s plan somthing special for tomorrow night and you can make it up to me” (said in a lighthearted manner). The latter is an example of allowing your partner to save face. There are other important relationship skills at play in this scenario, but allowing your partner to save face keeps kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, and love alive in the relationship. I will leave you with a quote that embraces this idea: “Sheila and I just celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Somebody asked her, what was our secret? She answered, “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of Tim’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would always overlook. I figured I could live with at least ten!” When she was asked which faults she had listed, Shelia replied, “I never did get around to listing them. Instead, every time he does something that makes me mad, I simply say to myself, ‘Lucky for him, it’s one of the ten!'”
Tim Hudson, Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul, 2002

Marriage Counseling

Helping restore your intimate bond

Marriage counseling is an important part of any successful relationship. We will all experience stuck places and moments of disconnect in our significant relationships. The key is knowing how and when to reach for help. There is no reason to have to navigate these painful stuck places alone.

We all need a sense of belonging to a few important others from the cradle to the grave. We are social beings and wired for this sense of belonging and connectedness to important others. When we can’t reach those we emotionally depend on, we panic, and that results in a few behaviors that can create distance and disconnection in intimate relationships. We can often experience feelings of shame around these reactions, but we all experience this when we cannot reach the people that matter most to us. We can reshape these reactions when we understand what is going on and can create a path to healing. That is what marriage counseling from an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy perspective is all about.

Your connection with your intimate partner is essential to your emotional and even physical wellbeing. Study after study has shown that when we have strong, quality connections with our significant others, we are mentally, physically and emotionally stronger. When our intimate connection is distressed, it affects all other parts of our lives. Marriage counseling can help bring clarity and understanding to what is going on and how to get back into secure connection with one another.

Do you end up fighting about stuff that seems petty on the surface? Of feel like you keep revisiting the same old argument over and over? Have you ever felt alone in your relationship? Do you end up being critical and demanding and escalate because you end up feeling like your partner doesn’t really care and you don’t know how to get him/her to hear you?

Or maybe you feel like no matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, you just can’t get it right with him/her, nothing you do is good enough so you end up shutting down and pulling away, hoping to not ignite another argument.

These are the typical positions partners take when they can’t connect with one another in the ways that once seemed to easy. These reactions and patterns end up making things even worse, and the longer it goes on, the more hopeless it can feel. But there is hope. We now have scientifically based, researched ways of understanding these relational patterns, why and how they occur, how to stop them from spiraling to restore a loving, secure, intimate bond.

Understanding what is underlying these arguments is key to pulling out of these negative patterns that seem to snowball and get worse over time if not adequately addressed. This is where we can help.

Marriage counseling through Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy with a trained professional will help create a safe space to explore painful emotions that underlie your reactions. It will help the two of you understand what is happening, slow down, and calm this seemingly out of control cycle so that you can pull out of it together. It will help the two of you turn to each other from a softer place, alleviate feelings of shame, understand the ways in which your partner is trying to reach you, understand and express your longings and needs,  and navigate these painful experiences to find your way back to bonding and connection with one another.

We are here and ready to help. Contact us today.