Emergency!

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Chances are you have just had a fight with your partner. Now you’re angry and possibly even concerned about the future of the relationship. You may be tempted to resume the argument in the hopes of making your partner see things the way you do. That is probably not a good idea. Chances are your argument was about one of the following:

  • Your partner said something critical of you which caused a defensive reaction on your part which only made the situation worse.
  • Your partner asked you to talk about the relationship and “open up” and get some issues on the table. You may have left feeling defensive and unappreciated.
  • Routine subjects such as sex, money, or children are camouflaging larger issues that the two of you need to talk about but you’re not willing or able to do that at the moment.

Here are some things to keep in mind. When a woman criticizes you in a relationship, she sees it as a loving gesture. The way she looks at it, she would not bother to offer feedback/criticism to someone she didn’t care about, and her partner’s loving acceptance of the criticism or feedback is an indication, to her, of true intimacy. How strange is that? Likely in your wildest imagination you would never think that way–that is why men and women are different. So what should you do when your partner offers unsolicited criticism? Your only option is:

  1. Listen patiently and empathetically as this person shares feedback with you, and
  2. Accept that it is intended as a gift.

As difficult as it is to hear negative feedback, give it a day to settle in before you begin to react defensively. Keep in mind that your ego can be very fragile and an attack on your behavior can seem like an attack on you. But that is truly not the case. Accept the feedback as what it is, even thanking the person for the feedback, and then make a decision about how you want to handle it and how much you’re willing to change.

When your wife asks you to open up and talk about your feelings, she is not trying to make your life difficult. Talking about feelings is the natural side of the feminine personality and, in her mind, is the most important indication of intimacy. Go ahead and take the plunge and make an effort to talk about how you are feeling about issues. It is likely that your history tells you that this will result in a fight, but it does not have to. Share as much as you’re comfortable talking about, then ask for reaction and try to paraphrase back what she said. This can be the beginning of some true dialogue about issues important to both of you. And this will require using some “muscles” that you have not used in a long time. If you want a truly intimate relationship with your wife, you have to be always working on improving your ability to talk openly with her. This is never easy and it is uncomfortable because we are rewarded for talking about our feelings at home and chastised for doing it in our professional life. Give it a try at home and see how it goes.

Very often the traditional subjects of a fight such as sex, money, children, parents, etc. are camouflages for much larger issues. In fact, many times we cannot even remember what the subject of the fight was–we can only remember the hurt we endured. Keep in mind that you are bringing into this relationship (and this argument) all the values and experiences you had in your family of origin. Your wife is doing the same. (In some ways, it is the parents of the two people who are having this argument.) Make a true effort to analyze why you are saying the things you’re saying and feeling what you’re feeling. Chances are your issues around this came from your parents, and as a grown adult, it is good to re-examine them to see how well they’re working for you. Hanging onto old stereotypical reactions makes as much sense as using caveman behavior in a modern office environment. The environment has changed and the responses required have changed as well.

Finally, keep this in mind. Nothing salves a relationship like the words “I’m sorry.” If you haven’t already done so, make the effort right now to embrace your wife and say those magic words. Don’t allow yourself to get back into talking about the issue– simply hold her and let her know how much she means to you. Ideally, you will receive an “I’m sorry” from her, but even if you don’t, you have done the right thing. Let the issue drop and talk about it at some other time. (This is not the same as avoiding the issue. In fact, it is important that you set time to talk about this issue when both of you are calm and the emotion is not so rampant.)

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