My husband and I have a bad habit of avoiding touchy subjects because lately it seems like when we talk about something stressful, we end up in a yelling match/argument and nothing gets resolved. After an argument, we just ice each other out for a day or two and then change the subject. We both hate confrontations so now we’re just walking on eggshells and trying to avoid triggering an argument. But we really do need to talk through some of these things, especially the topics related to our kids, finances, etc. How can we set up ground rules for hard conversations so that these disagreements don’t result in a series of fights that hurt our marriage?
Response by Kim Bond, LMFT, and Whitney Gates, LCSW, of Ozark Guidance
Hey, great question. Difficult things like parenting and finances are a source of friction for a lot of marriages. In fact, if good communication skills aren’t established, things as minor as the thermostat setting can be the spark that ignites a huge argument.
First, you should know that many marriages go through stages like this and with time, improved communication, and sometimes therapy, the marriage can get better. It does sound like the communication skills you and your husband are currently using aren’t working. Someone who is trained specifically in Marriage and Family Therapy may be a great resource for both of you as you begin working to improve these skills.
Also, a therapist can work as a mediator between you and your husband as you tread through the difficult topics and work to “translate,” so to speak, what you’re trying to say to each other. Often strong emotions can take a simple sentence like “Please do the dishes” and turn it into “Why do you never do anything to contribute to this household?” Emotions are valid, but they often make horrible communicators.
Here’s one thing to try: When things are calm and you’re NOT arguing, establish a “safe word” either of you can use when things start getting heated. When one of you says this particular word (like “pineapple” or some other word you don’t usually use), ALL communication immediately stops between you and your husband and you both walk away. But do it with the understanding that you WILL talk about it again when you’re both calmer and can better express what you want. Learning to think before speaking and to say what you really mean can be very helpful and can greatly improve communication.
Like all other skills, these things take time and practice. Seeking a qualified Marriage and Family Therapist may be a great start to help you learn – and practice – communication skills. If your husband is not willing to go to these appointments right away, that’s okay. Go by yourself, and when you start to model good communication skills, that may be the grain of rice that tips the scale and causes him to want to behave differently as well.
I hope you and your husband are able to work through this. It sounds like you’re very concerned about your marriage and want to make improvements. That’s a great first step.
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Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.