Most couples come into marriage counseling looking for help with their communication. They insist they just can’t communicate with one another. However, a typical couple has fallen into a predictable pattern of communicating that is no longer effective. They enter a predetermined dance, follow the steps and usually land back in the same place, without a resolution on the perpetual issue. When this happens repetitively, couples either escalate or retreat from one another.
Example: A wife initiates a conversation with her workaholic husband. He dismisses the conversation and she experiences rejection. She escalates the conversation into a fight, demanding his attention. He responds to the escalation and they spend two hours battling about his work habits. They do not resolve the issue, he angrily goes back to work and she returns to her daily routine feeling abandoned in her marriage.
Example: A husband sends texts to his wife reminding her to make the necessary dentist appointments and scheduling for the children’s activities. He also wants to ensure plans for dinner have been arranged and that the laundry gets switched over so it doesn’t mildew in the washing machine. The wife reads the texts, feels controlled by his nagging and does not respond. She continues working on a craft project for the kids bedroom that takes up the dining room table and orders pizza for the kids. Doctors appointments and carpool schedule can wait. He accuses her of being irresponsible. She hates being nagged to do all the domestic chores.
Shirley Glass, in her book “Not Just Friends”, reveals the common relational patterns that negatively contribute to the demise of a relationship.
Pursuer and Distancer
One of the most common examples is the wife pursuing her husband for emotional connection and he withdraws physically or emotionally. When the wife is rejected, she intensifies, fearing abandonment, resulting in critical harsh interactions.
One partner makes requests and other procrastinates to avoid the task. This typically escalates into commands and overt refusals. There is no winner here and the relationship suffers.
Saint and Sinner
A wholesome individual may seek out a wild partner, initially enjoying their lack of constraint. However, the expectations of the saint typically change after the birth of a child, ultimately seek to reform their partner. The saint can default to stern, critical and disapproving of the “free spirit”. The differences in lifestyle typically diminish over time in a healthy relationship, but become more pronounced in a critical house.
Bully and Sneak
When one partner is judgmental and intimidating, the other may resort to sneaking behaviors. An overly controlling financially conservative may find their spouse hiding purchases. Intimacy is lost when hiding, sneaking and lies become a part of the relationship.
As you experience ongoing conflict with your spouse, step back and track the pattern. Then do one thing to interrupt the predictable pattern and see what happens. When you have been wronged, avoid criticism or controlling threats. If your pattern is to retreat away from hard discussions, step toward your spouse and engage in their hurt. Make the choice to stop the chaos and start connecting.