Question:

My husband and I are both stubborn, and have different perspectives on a lot of things.  We seem to end up in stalemates where neither of us feels our desires/needs/opinions are being respected or included.  We try to work things out, but it seems that we just repeat the same things trying to convince the other, while getting more and more frustrated, and end up feeling like we have to basically betray ourselves to come to an agreement, and then feel resentful because we’re not really happy with the solution.  When we try to analyze how we could do things differently so this doesn’t continue to happen, it seems that one of us eventually comes to the conclusion, “You just think it’s all my fault.”  This phrase keeps coming up, even when each is trying to reassure the other that is not the case, and even trying to take responsibility for own contributions to the problem.  I’m tired of this cycle, tired of feeling like I constantly have to surrender, tired of feeling my husband resent me, and tired of this phrase popping up!  What do you think is going on, and how can we change this cycle for good?

 

Answer:

Your question reminds me of the saying, “you can be right or you can be married.” Both of you are passionate individuals and more than likely have very compelling points of view on different topics. You might even win the occasional debate. However, your marriage loses every time you seek to win.

You noted that in your effort to have your partner hear your desires, needs, and opinions, you end up getting into more of an argument trying to convince instead of trying to connect. I want you step back and watch what’s happening to the relationship as you fight to be heard. In your efforts to build connection through outlining your position, you actually alienate each other. It’s tragic, really, as you both want the same thing.

Try taking turns and working to really dig in to better understand why each partner feels so strongly about their position. Perhaps you won’t come to any resolution, but you will have done something more important by building a true connection with one another. John Gottman found in his research with married couples that most couples will struggle to resolve a handful of issues in their marriage, but they can learn to dialogue about them without losing their connection. The key, he says, is to put aside solving the issue and instead focus on really understanding why this is so important for the other person.

When you discover an issue where you both end up on different sides, recognize that this is one of those times you could potentially lose your connection with each other if you keep plowing forward. Commit to one another that you’re going to spend the time to really understand each other’s perspectives on this. Find out why this is so strong for each other. See if there is a story behind it that drives the passion. Maybe ask what would happen if the way they wanted things to go didn’t happen. Work to keep each other talking about it while the other listens.

Imagine how powerful it could be for the two of you to know that each of you will gladly invest time and focus on better understanding something that’s important to each other. My guess is that most of the issues you get stuck on aren’t urgent. Take the time you need to value and appreciate each other’s unique view of the world. Stay curious and open. See if you can both view this as a journey of exploration that will never end. You can both be endlessly fascinating to another. You’ll certainly never run out of things to talk about on date night.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available atwww.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT