Puzzled how to resolve conflict in your marriage communication?
Remember when you met your spouse and you had that giddy, excitement that inspired you to share the depths of who you are with this lovely new person?
Maybe it was talking all night. Maybe it was fishing companionably all day.
Or maybe you wanted to burst out in song because you felt so fabulous with this lovely person, but your fear steps in and says, “Are you crazy? People don’t just start singing! Shut up!”
Fear is the part of you that tells you to shut up.
Clarity is the part of you that knows you want to burst into song.
How do you deal with conflict in marriage communication?
Short answer: you get crystal clear about what you want.
Clarity reduces conflict.
We talked about how to overcome fear last week. Now we’ll talk about how you can get clear about what you want.
Clarity gives you courage and inspires action. Action to become more of who you are. When you feed the fire of who you are, you create an irresistible warmth that draws your spouse closer to you.
When you lack clarity, and you’re confused, the top conflict-producers sneak in: trust-issues, jealously, and invisible expectations. These emotions set you up for conflict in your marriage about finances, chores, sex, and how you communicate (or don’t communicate).
How can you overcome fear and get clear in marriage communication?
Get clear about what you want: I want to sing. I want a singing lifestyle.
Get clear about your fear, so you can overcome it: I’m afraid my singing will push people away.
You’ll overcome your fears of vulnerability: I’m afraid my singing will push people away. But I want to sing with my spouse because I only want to live in a house where it’s embraced that I sing.
Which lets you live a lifestyle of the clean ask which is step three (we’ll talk about this next week).
Stop conflict in your marriage when you ask cleanly
See if you can identify the overcoming of fear, the clear desire and the clean ask in the following sentence:
I’m afraid you won’t like me if I sing, but I really, truly want my life and relationship filled with songs. So, will you sing with me?
That’s the kind of clean ask you can find when you overcome your fear and you get clear.
Without clarity, your rmarriage is haunted by confusion. Confusion sucks the life out of you and your marriage. It paralyzes you with fear of the unknown.
Causes of conflict in marriage communication
In an effort to escape the desert of loneliness that confusion creates, you blame or shame your spouse, or, like a turtle, you hide inside your shell because you have no idea how to connect.
Instead of fear that causes us to attack or pull away, we need desire that tempts us to lean in, investigate, and jump into the pool of togetherness.
Clarity is how you charge the battery of your desire.
Desire is a driver of intimacy. Desire drives your enthusiasm, your curiosity, and your ambition. Then desire drives you to connect and share who you are with your spouse.
To reduce conflict, first identify where you’re confused
A black hole is a place in space where the gravity is so strong that even light can’t escape. You may experience a black hole feeling in your marriage at one time or another, or certain subjects or topics of conversation may feel like a black hole that allows no conflict-free communication.
Would you believe that one of the black holes of conflict in my marriage was about making our bed? It sounds inane, but this tiny, microscopic thing seemed to represent the macro-marriage I wanted. The un-made bed caused tons of conflict in my marriage.
I was typically up and out of bed before my husband. Each day, after he woke up, he’d stumble out to the kitchen to make coffee leaving the sheets tangled and the blankets bunched up.
Later in the day, when I went back into our bedroom, I got frustrated by the mountain of sheets and blankets. I saw that big ball of mess and felt my jaw tighten. A feeling of hopelessness haunted my gut.
How do you feel right before conflict begins?
I felt abandoned and neglected.
Isn’t that interesting that I took the messy bed so personally? But we all do it, right? You give attention to the tiny spaces in your life because you are a physical creature and a meaning maker.
Many times, I walked into my bedroom and realized that I cared more about our marriage than my husband did. I mean, come on, if he loved me, he’d make the bed we shared.
The minute I asked Dave to make the bed, he’d start making it, but that only confirmed in my head that he didn’t think about our marriage until I reminded him.
How was I going to stay married to a man who didn’t care about me and about our relationship unless I reminded him to care?
Can you hear how lost I was in a black hole of confusion? I had absolutely no clarity about what a teeny, tiny problem our unmade bed was.
The romantic reason conflict happens in your marriage communication
Communication is that magical summation when speaking and hearing are united. We all strive for communication where there’s no difference between what is spoken and what is heard.
This is simple to articulate, but not easy to achieve.
I thought I was clearly communicating that I wanted David to make the bed. Why wasn’t he hearing me?
My answer is romantic. The gorgeous thing about marriage is that blending feeling. Sex is the epitome of this blending. That orgasmic moment in your marriage when the boundaries that define you and the boundaries that define your spouse disappear and you are ONE.
This ONEness in your marriage erases the existential angst we all live with. Those lovely sex hormones erase that feeling of separateness and make you feel like you and your spouse are one person.
How that romantic feeling turns to conflict
Now watch the black hole of confusion that gets built inside of me because of this feeling of ONEness:
- David and I are one person.
- We want the same things.
- I want a made bed.
- So, David must want a made bed.
I’ve already got you giggling at the ridiculousness of this line of thinking, right? But what can I say those hormones are powerful.
Just wait. It gets worse.
It does NOT occur to me to question this made-bed-truism because we are the same person and I want a made bed because a made bed is what happily married people have and I want to see that we are happily married each time I walk into our bedroom.
And then—shock of the century—I walk into the bedroom and there it is: a rumpled pile of sheets and blankets.
First emotions, then fear, then conflict
Now I get afraid. (But my fear disguises itself as anger.) We talked, last week, about the variety of disguises that fear wears.
Isn’t that funny that seeing an unmade bed is freaking me out? But again, come on, people like you have come into my office and whispered to me stories just like this one.
And I hear their fear too.
So, I know I’m not alone in this wacky way of seeing the world.
Your hormone-filled brain desperately wants to believe the premise that you and your spouse are the same person too. It’s terrifying to question that. So, instead of questioning that you’re the same person, you question your spouse’s intention about the tiny thing, like the unmade bed.
You create beliefs which lead to more conflict in your marriage communication
I decide David’s message to me is I don’t care all that much about maintaining our love. I’ll leave that to you, Rebecca. I’m sure you’ll take care of our love life the way you make our bed each day.
I arrive at this fear:
- Because of my parent’s divorce, I’m sure David and I will be divorcing any moment. Finally, I’ve found the moment: the unmade bed will be the death of our marriage.
- So, I leap to the far-flung conclusion that IF David loved me, THEN he would care about a made bed.
Armed with this (false) awareness, each time I see those sheets and blankets piled up, I practice this message in my head: David doesn’t care about our marriage.
Your fears cause conflict
Of course, this is my fear talking. It’s not even remotely rational, but rarely is your Inner Lizard rational.
Because the template in my head was that marriage doesn’t work, I was pre-programmed to see evidence for the impending divorce I knew was coming.
David didn’t have the fear that we would divorce. So, no matter what happened in our relationship, he never saw evidence for divorce.
You each have fears that set you up for conflict in your marriage communication
However, David did fear that marriage would usurp his independence. So, he saw every tangle we had as a threat to his independence.
He didn’t like rules like: Make the bed when you get out of it. That made him feel beholden. Subconsciously, maybe he didn’t make the bed to prove to himself he was independent. No one could tell him what to do.
Lack of clarity causes confusion. And confusion leads us to fear. We each had a fear. Fear was messing with the way we saw things.
Can you see the power of this black hole of confusion? Can you see where we were each lost in our fears? How that sets up our marriage for conflict?
Clarity allows freedom from the conflict in your marriage communication
This clarity allows you to see why you and your spouse might see the same situation and come to very different conclusions about what is true.
OK that was strategy #1 to help you get clear: First get clear about where you’re lost. Now, let’s talk about strategy #2: Get a clear perspective.
The first tool I have to help you get a clear perspective is this:
Stay in your own business.
The Most Important Tool I Can Recommend to improve your marriage communication
Stay. In. Your. Own. Business.
All those years that David forgot to make the bed; I took it personally. I imagined he was neglecting the bed on purpose to send me a message.
It never once occurred to me that David just doesn’t really care about making a bed.
It was never about me. It wasn’t really even about David. David’s not a morning person and, each day, when he got out of bed, he was groggy and in search of coffee.
Byron Katie—in her excellent book entitled Loving What Is—talks about three kinds of business: yours, mine, and God’s. Your business is the things you can control. My business is the things I can control. God’s or The Universal business is the things beyond human control.
Here’s a quick overview of how these three businesses intertwine:
- It rains. That’s God’s business. I can’t control the rain, and you can’t control the rain.
- I want to run outside and feel all that rain on my skin, so I do. That’s my business.
- You don’t like the feeling of how rain makes your clothes stick to your skin, so you stay inside. That’s your business.
The first tool when it comes to finding clarity in your marriage communication is “Whose business are you in?”
Here’s how it looks in your marriage
All those married years I came into our bedroom and saw that unmade bed, I got right into David’s business:
- He’s not making the bed on purpose to send me a message that I can’t control him.
- Each time he “forgets” to make the bed, he’s “forgetting” me.
Can you see that I am in David’s business? I’m imagining his motivation. I’m making meaning of his actions.
But how can I know what David is thinking? That’s his business.
Yet, we do this. All. The. Time.
This singular tool—stay in your own business—will help you get clear right away.
Anytime you’re attributing meaning to your spouse’s actions, you’re in their business. Anytime you’re telling your spouse what to do (even if it’s only in your head), you’re in their business.
Being in your spouse’s business will sour your marriage quickly. Why? Because you have no power there. Every minute you ponder life from a position where you have no power you will get frustrated/angry/sad/despondent and a host of other emotions.
Avoid conflict by staying in your own business
Stay in your own business where you are powerful and you have agency and you can change things.
The truth of the unmade bed saga is that my husband doesn’t value a made bed. At night, he’s totally fine to crawl into a bed full of rumpled covers.
Yep. I wasted two decades of my marriage trying everything in my power to get that man to make our bed. I imagined horrid scenarios—rehearsing pain every day. Then I find out the simple reason he didn’t make our bed is that he wasn’t interested in a made bed.