It’s not my fault | Sunday Observer

It’s not my fault

Recently at a private dinner party, I was introduced to Marcia Schreiner, a middle-aged lady from USA who was holidaying in Sri Lanka. An after dinner chat with her revealed that Marcia is a professional Marriage Counsellor with a Master’s Degree in Marriage Counselling and over 20 years clinical experience. We talked about her experience in dealing with marriage conflicts and this piece is based on her disclosures.

Every married couple knows, marriage provides fertile ground for conflict. Simply by sharing space and time, husbands and wives limit one another’s freedom in a score of ways, every day. How well the marriage works depends to a great degree on how well the couple learns to handle the conflicts arising from these limitations.

Some couples fall into the trap of dealing with disagreements on a win-or-lose basis. They do not realize that the idea of “winning” a marital conflict is an illusion - that one person’s “victory” inevitably turns into a loss for both.

Techniques

How can a person discover whether he or she seeks to win rather than to resolve marital conflicts? Marcia says, if you use extreme or irrational tactics to gain your point, or if you are willing to hurt your spouse to win or if you exploit compromise to avoid losing an argument, then you are one of those people.

There are also other techniques for manoeuvring to win. One is demanding a payoff for past favours: “I’ve typed all your reports. The least you can do is this.” Another is to claim to be tolerant about mistakes your partner has made and then demand to win: “I’ve put up with a lot from you lately. You surely aren’t going to fight about this.”

Still another is to hoard old emotional hurts, carefully nurturing them and producing them at a climactic moment. “That’s the same lousy trick you pulled three months ago. Only this time you are not getting away with it.”

Winning

Why do some husbands and wives feel they must fight to win? What are the subtle motivations that lie behind the need to be a winner?

Marcia says, sometimes ‘”winning” is necessary to maintain a partner’s self-esteem. People who are essentially insecure often struggle to create a false image - both to impress outsiders and, subconsciously, to deceive themselves. For such people, to yield on any issue is to threaten the counterfeit personality they have created.

Marcia speaks about a person named Jack Morgan who was a quiet, self- effacing government employee married to a lively woman who generally managed to have things her way.

Morgan compensated for his feelings of inferiority by insisting that he was sensitive to her moods. “She walks in the door and I know what she’s thinking,” he said. Often, he would suddenly ask, “What’s the matter?” This never failed to irritate her. She’d say, “Nothing.” He’d say, “Of course there is. I can tell you’re angry.”

By this time, she was furious, and her husband would point out how right he was. He had won - but lost.

Marcia says, certain issues - unimportant in themselves – might have great symbolic significance for a partner.

There was a couple who feuded for a month over a few dollars. She had wanted to send a letter to their son at camp by DHL; he insisted that it should go by airmail.

Later, it was revealed that the husband who created a scene over extra postage was telling his wife that he was angry and hurt that she seemed to pay more attention to their child than she did to him.

Help

Obviously, some conflicts are inevitable in any marriage. So how can couples approach their disagreements constructively, seeking to resolve rather than win them?

Marcia gives some helpful steps:

1. Keep in mind that marriage is a cooperative enterprise, not a competitive one. The goal is not to settle which of you is right or wrong. The goal is to reach a solution both of you can live with - a compromise that will make life together more pleasant.

2. Learn the art of effective and honest compromise. That means, both parties are more or less satisfied with the end result, and, when each person must reasonably stick to it rather than seek delay or modification. Even if it is not ideal, a compromise that works is better than the most brilliant solution that one partner is likely to sabotage.

3. Try humour as a way of mood change. A husband reports that his wife had a habit of writing little notes and reminders to him that she characteristically signs, ‘ ‘Loving wife.” “One night,” the man said, ‘we had a big argument. We went to bed still angry. The next morning, I found a note beside my coffee cup. It was a comment on our dispute, but was signed ‘Distant Relative.’ The joke didn’t solve anything, but it did open the way for us to start talking again.

4. Avoid letting mild disagreements become full-scale conflicts. If you are arguing about where to go on a Saturday evening, keep the discussion on that specific point. Do not suddenly rake up serious differences about money, say, by accusing your spouse of being unwilling -”as usual” - to spend little extra money on the evening’s amusement.

5. Be careful about setting up or falling into power traps. Certain phrases -”Give me an example” or ‘Prove it!” - are rarely used by a person who knows he or she is losing an argument. Those are statements made by a person who is ready to move in for the kill. And, it often moves the argument away from its real point to what may be an irrelevant or petty side issue.

Ultimately, the basic reason why winning does not work is that it reduces marriage to a power struggle. And when power becomes the prevailing force, love is diminished.

When couples deal with marital conflict, they must make a choice: They can opt power and seek to win. Or they can opt for love and seek to reach accord. 

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