As I have worked with couples, I’ve noticed that some of the big rules, like fidelity and being truthful, are well known. But here are some other “rules” I find that couples aren’t always aware of, or if they are aware, they don’t know how to speak about them.
Rule #1 – Don’t criticize your spouse’s friends or family members. That may seem obvious until you realize how subtle it starts. Say your spouse starts to vent about a friend or a family member. Careful now, there’s quicksand just up ahead. It would be so easy to say, “And yes, I’ve also been upset by . . . . “ and we add our complaint to our spouse’s complaint. If you’ve done this unknowingly, you know what happens next. Your spouse will quickly shift gears and start to defend the person they were venting about moments before. Stay focused on what your spouse is feeling and empathize with his or her feelings, and don’t be tempted to join in.
Rule #2 – Resist the urge to give your spouse advice. Men are the typical rule-breaker on this one. They listen for a bit, and then they are quick to give advice. After all, aren’t men naturally born “fixers?” But both men and women can do it at times. What we forget is that 99% of the time our spouse only wants to vent to a listener. Again, your best response is an emphatic one–listen, don’t try to fix!
Rule #3 – Don’t bring up past arguments. Once a discussion becomes historical, it’s time to stop the discussion for it is well on its way to becoming a major argument. IN two earlier posts, I pointed out that 69% of the problems couples experience in a marriage will never be resolved. (http://drstoop.com/speaking-of-problems/ http://drstoop.com/making-friends-with-your-problems/) When we bring things up from the past, we are still caught up in trying to resolve what are most likely part of our “unresolvable problems”–problems that are unique to us. We have to learn to laugh about the old issues and stop being historical.
Rule #4 – Don’t use the “D” word (divorce, that is). Studies have shown that once the “D” word is used, it almost takes on a life of its own. Not only is it hurtful to threaten divorce, I’ve found that once couples start using the word, it becomes easier and easier to use it, and eventually it becomes easier to think about actually seeing a lawyer.
Question: How many of these rules have you followed? Which ones have you broken? I’d love to hear you comments.