July 25, 2012 in Features

Tread gently into conflict with wife

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: So my wife is a one-upper, and after 30 years of marriage, it is really getting to me. I don’t want to be the corrector, but it’s gotten like fingernails on a blackboard to me. – A Hot Place

It doesn’t take much imagination to envision an insecure mate reading your negative body language and saying, “Oops, you’re right, I’ll stop dominating conversations!” No – she’s going to fortify her defenses, and churn out one-uppings to keep pace with her need to feel good.

If my interpretation is accurate, then you have only two choices: perpetuate this cycle, or break it.

To break it, I suggest you summon the will to drop your defenses, and keep them down no matter how loudly nails meet chalkboard. Force yourself to set aside your anger, your hopes she’ll transform, your desire for vindication, all of it. You are kindness, forgiveness, peace.

From there, the most straightforward approach is to look at your wife not merely as the host of this conflict, but instead as the whole of the person you love. Unfortunately, looking for what’s wrong with other people tends to comes naturally, once the pheromones back down, especially when you’re trying to justify your side in an ongoing conflict.

Think fully about her for the specific purpose of renewing your appreciation for her.

If you haven’t the affection or patience to pull that off, then you’ll need the have-it-out conversation, where you start with a “When you do X, I feel Y” statement, and then you ask her how she would like you to handle this. The “Help me” approach welcomes where the “Do this” approach repels.

This doesn’t guarantee anything, either. However, both ensure a change to what you bring to the cycle. Since that’s the only part of it you control, and since you’re the one seeking a new outcome, that’s where any productive path has to start.

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