The biggest challenge in marriage counseling so far has been learning how to effectively talk to my husband. Usually by the time I actually say something, I'm already so overwhelmed with emotion that I just blow up. And then we end up arguing about how I said it rather than what I was trying to say.
Now there are lots of formulas out there on how to communicate with your spouse, so I was pretty surprised when our marriage counselor showed us one I had never heard of before. And not only has it helped us tremendously, but it's had an effect on our parenting as well.
Now, I was expecting her to tell me that most people have a difficult time talking about their own emotions, even to their spouses, so what they do is go into attack mode and start everything with "you." This ends up putting the other person on the defensive, which is just a recipe for a big, disastrous fight. So by starting with your own feelings first, for example "I feel frustrated when you don't call to tell me when you're going to be home," it softens the blow and helps facilitate a discussion rather than a fight.
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But instead, our therapist pulled out a big poster board with two types of parents -- critical and nurturing -- and proceeded to tell us about a research study that was done awhile back that showed employees were happier, more loyal, and much more productive with a nurturing boss. Those people with critical bosses were more likely to steal office supplies, come in late, and talk negatively about them behind their back.
Not surprisingly, this concept applies to relationships as well. Because we both grew up with severely critical parents, anytime either of us were using that approach with each other, it was really rubbing our child selves the wrong way. My husband's reaction is what he does with his mom: tune her out, or worse, just not say anything at all and shut down completely. I do what I used to do with my dad: get hurt and become angrily defensive.
Basically, we need much more nurturing than the average person.
So for the last few weeks, we've been taking our homework seriously and doing our best to speak to each other like nurturing parents. And let me just say, it's easier said than done, especially when you're also caring for four young children. When you haven't gotten a full night's sleep in a very long time and your patience is already worn pretty thin, it's really hard not to just explode at every little thing.
But wow, it's worth the effort. And sometimes, just stepping away and not saying anything until you've given yourself a good five or 10 minutes can change the entire dynamic.
Even better, we're applying this technique to how we parent our kids because we probably know better than most people what kind of effect critical parenting has. It's not a legacy we want to pass on to our children.
What challenges do you have communicating with your spouse?
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