Couples often seek out relationship help or marriage advice because of a breakdown in communication. Distressed couples find themselves caught in cycles of negativity that erode intimacy and these cycles can be difficult to break out of. It is essential for couples to identify these negative patterns (preferably early on) in order to reverse their harmful influence.
Here is how one couple (let’s call them Eric and Linda) broke out of a communication dead end.
Meet Eric and Linda
Eric and Linda were pretty frustrated with one another. For the last month or so they argued about the same issues, neither taking responsibility for their own part in what went wrong. Each feeling unjustly treated, arguments seemed to go nowhere or worse, spiraled out of control. They even discussed “neutral” topics with an emotional edge.
Like many couples overcome by frustration and hurt feelings, Eric and Linda abandoned “I” statements and began every sentence began with “You always…, or “You never…” [followed by a flurry of accusations].”
My attempts to redirect and offer suggestions was of little help. Statements about the other’s shortcomings were volleyed back and forth with such speed that I lost track of what was being said. They both appeared exhausted—I certainly was.
Then a dramatic shift occurred when Linda, with sincerity, said:
“I don’t want to fight anymore. Our relationship is too important to me.”
There was dead silence for several minutes and then I noticed that Eric appeared to soften. His tense demeanor slowly melted away and he looked like the Eric I knew before the fighting started.
Toward the end of our couples counseling session, he agreed with Linda and the energy between them was no longer hostile. I was amazed at the transformation. For the first time in weeks they were able to carry on brief conversations without yelling or stonewalling.
Marriage Advice: Why was the “I don’t want to fight anymore…” statement so powerful?
When Linda said that she didn’t want to fight any longer, she stepped out of the immediacy of their unwavering disagreement and reminded herself (and Eric) about the importance of their marriage.
In essence she proclaimed that the greater good of their relationship (“our relationship is too important”) should take precedence over their individual differences.
Linda wasn’t using the “I don’t want to fight anymore…” statement as a means of avoiding an important issue that needed to be addressed. Instead, she realized the futility of their entrenched differences about a particular issue and held the relationship to a higher standard.
Ultimately, Linda and Eric needed to walk away from the issue that was feeding their conflict and reconnect with all the ways in which their relationship flourished.
Maybe Linda and Eric will attempt to find a way to resolve this issue in the future; maybe they’ll agree to disagree. Whatever the case, I believe their relationship will remain more resilient if they remind each other of the bigger picture—the shared vision of their relationship.
This is an important lesson for all of us: It’s easy to lose perspective when we get entrenched in repetitive arguing. Let’s all try to add the “I don’t want to fight anymore; our relationship is too important to me” statement to our communication toolbox.
Dr. Rich Nicastro