Avoid Communication Meltdowns in Marriage

There are many reasons high percentages of couples continue to get divorced in today’s society such as infidelity, finances, lack of maturity, alcohol and/or substance abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, or falling out of love. However, the number one reason causing couples to stomp off to the courthouse to file papers for “irreconcilable differences” is communication – or lack thereof.

Avoiding Conflict

Often, couples avoid conflict because they believe it creates problems that can lead to divorce. So, rather than openly discuss issues and calmly disagree while getting things out into the open, they stew over the situation they are upset about. In doing so, they build up a mountain of resentment because their partner can’t read their minds. Then, the proverbial top blows off and all of those ugly, pent-up emotions come spilling over and contaminate the relationship.

The reality is that no two people are going to agree on everything 100 percent of the time. And, that’s okay. In fact, it’s normal. In the event of a disagreement, and you are both unable to reach a mutual agreement, you can at least strive for a compromise. If that doesn’t work, you may simply have to “agree to disagree” so that you can move ahead in a new direction.

Understand that giving your spouse the “silent treatment” (which is not the same as a cooling off period) can be very harmful. In some cases it can be emotionally abusive because it leaves your partner feeling confused, depressed, and/or intimidated.

Contemptuous Communication

When conflict escalates into toxic arguments with one or both partners demonstrating disrespect, contempt, and criticism – all meaningful communication disappears. After the dust settles, hurt feelings and deep resentment continue to lurk just under the surface, which further unravels the bonds of the relationship.

In an article written for Psychology Today, author, Preston Ni says there are four major types of contemptuous communication:

  1. Using “YOU” language with directives such as “You are such a slob,” or “You should call when you’re going to be late.”
  2. Universal statements that are often used in combination with YOU language: “You always forget to put down the toilet seat,” or “My family thinks you are a jerk.”
  3. Being tough on the person, but soft on the issue by using YOU language. For example, a spouse may be upset and say something like, “You never help me with paying the bills,” or “You constantly forget to take out the trash.”
  4. Invalidating a partner’s feelings also causes hurt and resentment such as, “I don’t care how you feel about that,” or “You’re overreacting as always.”

No one likes being judged or told what to do, especially in a critical way, so naturally this type of behavior creates resentment and defensiveness. Using softer language like, “I know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now, but I could use some help around the house,” or “I really appreciate it when you call to let me you’re going to be late so I won’t worry,” can get your point across in a much more harmonious way.

Communication Skills

Motivational speaker and author, Brian Tracy, once said, “Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.”

Many couples simply don’t know how to communicate and handle conflict. However, skills to handle disagreements and work out compromises can be learned from a qualified mental health professional or therapist. These skills can be useful at any stage of your relationship whether you’ve just become engaged, are living together, recently married, new parents, or have been together for decades. And they are definitely helpful for couples who are in serious distress and/or considering divorce.