Couples in conflict have often been helped by learning to become more collaborative. Not, “If only he would…”, or, “I will when she…”, but discussing the language of ‘we’. One author, Daniel Wile, has specialised in helping couples to focus on the ‘moment’, rather than the ‘problem’. When moments are better handled with better communication, then the relational connection is strengthened. After all, many past problems marshalled as evidence for present feelings are often less significant when those present feelings are resolved.
Wile suggests that people often lack a voice in a conflicted relationship. This can be due to numerous factors related to upbringing which shapes our default styles of managing issues. For example, a person who complains and expresses intense frustrations about others may have grown up feeling undervalued and therefore unable to articulate their own feelings. This leads to an inability to describe and own their emotional responses to life and to interpret (or even attack) the words and actions of others (especially behind their backs and in the company of those closest to them). Such criticism then becomes destructive to a couple because the whingeing pushes one’s closest supporters away, it is not a shared exploration of a feeling, and the complaining is likely to also have invaded the relationship anyway. If a husband reacts like this, for example, then the wife may feel unsafe to explore any concerns and to feel uninvited in the ‘moment’ to what is clearly an overarching ‘problem’.
The lack of ability to talk directly with a partner about a situation that is occurring either inside or outside the relationship leads to fallback measures to cope with a current ‘moment’. We can ‘attack’ (even if mildly) with words of blame, complaint or accusation which hide under the cover of problem solving or leadership! Another measure is to ‘withdraw’ (‘flight’ versus ‘fight’) where we control our own processing of emotions and justify some kind of deprivation in the form of silence, retreat, pornography, alcohol, or even just conversation-switching. Alternatively, the rush-to-fix seeks a solution without conversation and prioritises the ‘problem’ whilst missing the ‘moment’ (thus exacerbating the problem). And when one fallback measure is met by another, it can result in a different fallback measure, or just more of the same. The ‘moment’ is lost and the problem gets worse.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the solutions that Wile suggests and relate these to the differences between men and women.