Arguing constantly about the same old things without resolution is often one of the signs that a marriage is headed for divorce. Couples can get used to frequent arguments so much that they forget how to communicate effectively.
In my practice, I see the same three behaviors among my clients whose marriages are troubled and continuing to become more troubled. I see:
Anger and escalation. Constant criticism and arguments never get resolved. Instead, one fight leads to another and another and another. When your anger gets out of control, tell yourself to stay calm and take a time out. This could mean going into another room or taking a walk to help you calm down.
Negative outlook. Often, partners express a negative outlook on every situation. I hear many couples say things like, “See, I told you that you will never change!" Or “There you go -- you are doing it again!” They also use phrases like “you always” or “you never.” Having a negative outlook will only make everything worse and not better. Work on seeing the good in your partner and telling them about it.
Not speaking. Often, I see couples in which it is normal for them not to speak to each other for days or weeks before someone chooses to break the ice. The problem is never solved. It is only swept to the side until the next big event.
Not speaking to each other only leads to more isolation and will increase the emotional gap between a couple. Soon, the couple won’t have an emotional connection that binds them together.
How can you and your partner combat these behaviors? I have one easy exercise that makes a big difference for arguing couples. In just eight easy words, couples can go from arguing to understanding.
The “Help me see it like you see it” exercise
There is a well-known psychological assessment called the Rorschach where the examinee is shown 10 cards with different pictures and colors on them. There are popular cards that obviously look like a butterfly or a bat.
So let's say the examiner shows the client the card that looks like a bat and asks, “What might this be?”
Let’s say the client says, “I see a car.”
Well, the examiner could say, “You are so stupid! It’s obvious that it’s a bat!”
That isn’t what the examiner ever says. Instead, the examiner is trained to say, “Help me see it like you see it. What makes it look like a car?”
This is what I advise couples to do. When you are having a problem with your partner, don’t be judgmental. Don’t start calling the other person names. Don’t interrupt. Instead, ask your partner those eight easy words: Help me see it like you see it.
Help me see why you are so mad about the way I parked the truck. Help me see why you think we should visit your mom this weekend. Help me to see why it’s OK for your son to play video games the whole time he visits, but it is not OK for our daughter to do the same thing.
You ask them to to help you see it like they see it -- and then listen until you get it.
Your partner then doesn’t have to give up and shut down in frustration because they are not being heard or understood. They don’t have to get angry. Instead, they explain thoroughly until they feel understood.
So often, I see how couples are stuck in their relationship. They don’t know how to move forward. This kind of simple practice works wonders in a marriage and helps couples move to a better place in their relationships.