Flash Forward was an action-packed TV series about a cataclysmic event that knocked unconscious almost every human on the planet and for those that survived, allowed them a 2-minute glimpse into the future.
Some characters saw nothing—indicating that in a few short months they were to be dead; other saw huge changes in their future. The show's underlying theme was a question of whether that future is predetermined or whether we still have control over our destiny. Thrilled to find a new show (now off the air) after mourning the end of my previous favorite ER, my husband and sat together on a cozy couch, on a rainy evening, watching and wondering how things would change if either of us were granted that prescience. Perhaps some will think us morbid, but he and I often talk about what we'd do if we had only one year to live... or one month or one day. We ask ourselves if our jobs, our relationships, our actions would change knowing that time was short.
Therapy is an opportunity to sit with someone who can tell you about the end-game of the relational path you're on. This week, I sat with a young couple who had difficulty being civil to each other. Their words were harsh; each point and counterpoint not only poked but nearly stabbed each other. They wanted to be honest they said. Knowing that if they were that honest in front of a stranger, I thought, they must be brutal at home. I wondered if they might change their tone if they could see the inevitable damage 6 years down the road. Clearly, sex was already derailed. If they knew that this lack of discipline would irreparably severe their relationship and tear apart their children's home—would they be so ruthless? I'm not an advocate of say-it-like-you-feel-it "honesty" in marriage. Yes, absolutely, you need to talk about your feelings, upsets and conflicts. To avoid it is to let the marriage grow cold. Vomiting up your feelings, however, may make your sour stomach feel better but your partner ends up with mess all over them. Closeness after those encounters requires a bit of time to shower off the barf; don't expect them to feel better just because you got it out of your system. Really, I think you should think about it twice and then again before you offer a complaint or criticism. Marriage can't sustain a no-holds-barred-argument style. HOW you say it makes all the difference in the world and in your future.
When the characters in my new favorite show took slightly different paths, there were entirely different outcomes to their supposed futures. So let me suggest small directions that will make your present and prospects happier. First, let about 70% of your criticisms go. Nobody's perfect, you included. Maybe she didn't get the kitchen cleaned but think instead about how she rocked the babies at nap time. Maybe he doesn't put his tools away, but remind yourself, he volunteered to fix the washer.
Next, tell yourself to not take your partner's mood personally—if they're upset with you, wait 'til they tell you. So much of the time we assume that our spouse's bad mood or bad day is our fault. Probably not. People just have bad moods from time to time. Don't be a mind-reader; let the responsibility for bringing up the upset stay with the person who is mad. I'm not saying that he/she has a right to take out their bad day at work on you, I'm just suggesting you let it ride for a while. Offer food or a back rub instead of asking if they're mad at you. In fact, declare a moratorium on difficult conversations before everyone is fed and after 9:00 pm when everyone is tired. And if alcohol is in the picture-wait until morning to discuss anything. While it's difficult, it's not impossible to continue in your own good mood when you've look forward to hooking up in the evening with your partner all day only to discover that they haven't the frame of mind to really be with anyone. One task of early marriage is learning how to be separate enough to not get down, just because your partner's down. Ironically staying out of someone else's mood is imperative to closeness. Trust me—consider it practice for having teenagers.
When you've decided you really need to bring something up—start with the solution you want. This requires thinking on your part but offers tremendous hope to the listener of the complaint. For instance:
I'd like you to call when you're going to be more than 15 minutes late.
I'd like you to suggest another lovemaking time that is better for you when you turn me down.
I'd want you to keep your volume at a 5 when you're speaking to the children because I believe anything louder intimidates them.
I'd feel most supported if you would be the one to have dinner planned and started while you are out of work instead leaving it to the last minute when we are all hungry.
I'd like you to call more often. OR. I'd like you to not call me at work because I'm afraid my co-workers will think I'm not concentrating
Beginning with your ideal end result gives the listener a sort of emotional life-preserver as they listen to your feelings and upset.
Lastly, control your temper. What is that saying—master your tongue and you master the world? No screaming, no name-calling, no sarcasm, no biting words, no blocking the doorway and obviously—or it should be patently obvious—no hitting. Every verbal slip-up costs you and your partner something. The payment is withdrawn against intimacy and warmth and yes, good sex. No one wants to sleep with someone who uses anger to get their own way. Trust me—if these are part of your regular repertoire, I can tell you your fortune—it's bleak. Your marriage will decay and your children will be hurt or perhaps worse, they'll mimic you. Eventually, they may not want to visit you when they leave home. That future is lonely.
Link for more help from Laurie Watson with Marriage Counseling in Raleigh, Cary, Greensboro and Chapel Hill, NC. Laurie’s book Wanting Sex Again is available on Amazon!