I argued with a client today at The Marriage Recovery Center. Betsy, a forty-two year old mother of three, had come for a two day Personal Intensive, hoping she could not only stabilize her life but repair her marriage as well.
Betsy found her physical and emotional health drained after years of marital struggle. While only in her forties, she appeared much older, with wrinkles under her eyes, hair uncombed and clearly distraught. We are seeing much greater numbers of physical maladies associated with emotional conflict.
“I’m just so frustrated,” Betsy said, shrugging her shoulders and turning away. “He won’t stop arguing with me. I try to make my point and he just won’t hear it. I try and try but it has no effect.”
I decided not to comment on her shrug, though this too is a symptom of emotions not dealt with in an effective manner. Pushing issues away never works. She was clearly in emotional distress, but had found ways to shrug it off in an effort to manage her day to day life.
“Tell me again what happens with your husband,” I said, “and we’ll figure out where you’re losing your influence and what you can do to change it.”
“I’d sure like that,” she said. “I just feel drained from fighting with Craig. He can take any wind out of my sails, that’s for sure. What am I doing wrong?”
“The short answer is ‘arguing with him,’” I said. “Of course, that answer is too simple. It’s hard not to complain about issues that are concerning you. But, if you find yourself arguing about the same things over and over again, you can be sure you’re caught in a ‘crazymaking; cycle and you’ve got to end it.”
“I try to end it,” Betsy said pleadingly. “I really do. But he won’t stop. No matter how I try to show him what he is saying is wrong, he has a comeback. He has to have the last word.”
“And what do you do?” I asked.
“I keep trying to get him to see what he is doing,” she said. “I keep pleading with him to listen to me. It doesn’t work.”
“Exactly,” I said. “I’d like to explain a few critical truths to you that may change the way you interact with him.”
Five tips toward ending marriage complaining
First, don’t argue with anyone—ever!. Okay, I’ll grant you that this is a broad, general statement that may not make sense on face value. But think about it. Has arguing ever got you anywhere? When you argue, does your mate stop and listen, attending to your words? Not likely. Arguing doesn’t work.
Second, don’t complain. This may sound equally challenging. Many of us are used to complaining about our lives. We complain when our mate leaves dishes in the sink, the bath towel on the floor, our gas tank when he leaves it on empty and so on. We complain—and the complaining lands on deaf ears. Why? Because, no one, and I mean no one, wants to listen to complaining. They will turn us off, tune us out and dismiss any concerns we have.
Third, do bring issues up in a structured, safe format. While many may find this constricting, (arguing feels so much more natural!), bringing issues up when both people are ready and willing to really hear the other is a better way of problem-solving. So, do set up a time to talk; do agree to really listen to each other, validating each other’s point of view; do make your complaint clear, specific and non-provocative and do ask for a specific outcome.
Fourth, do work on problems ONLY when both are in an emotional space to listen to each other. Solomon advised us “Don’t try to talk sense to a fool; he can’t appreciate it.” (Proverbs 23: 9) A fool is someone who is close-minded, defensive and stuck on their point of view. A wise person realizes their mate has something important to say to them. They realize there are many ways to approach an issue, and their mate has an important perspective to share.
Finally, do work on problems together. At the right time, in the right way and with the right mindset, talk about problems. Don’t talk about each other’s character traits or blame the other for the problems. Don’t complain or find fault. Work the problem much like you would work together on a jigsaw puzzle. Show respect for each other, be creative and get the problem solved. Then celebrate working effectively together.