Relationship Issues Stressing You Out? 3 Tips to Improve Marriage Problems Without a Marriage Counselor

marriage problems -- package it properly

“Why do I NEED to consider her point of view after all the marriage problems we’ve had, and the way she’s treated me?”

A divorce mediation client angrily asked this of me after I made a comment suggesting the possibility that he might need to consider his wife’s perspective.

I was trying to suggest that it might be helpful to understand what she was saying by looking at the situation through her eyes. After all, stepping in to someone else’s shoes is a common approach to improving communication in relationships. Well, the word “need” really set him off!

In hindsight it was clearly a poor word choice by me.

After a moment’s reflection I told him that I was wrong to use the word “need” and that in fact he did not “need” to do anything that he did not want to do. This calmed him down.

To his surprise I followed up by asking him what the harm would be in considering her point of view.

Now it was his turn to take a moment to reflect. To his credit he tried to consider her perspective.

Your Laziness Might Be Creating Your Marriage Problems…and Creating Business for Your Local Marriage Counselor!

I learned an important lesson from this exchange.

I had developed a very comfortable rapport with this client (we had met several times already). My comfort led to a lazy statement that made him defensive.

Similarly, couples get comfortable with one another. Over time, their internal censor diminishes and they sometimes talk before thinking. Their message may be rough around the edges, their partner bristles, and the stressful relationship issues rear their ugly heads.

Don’t we get lazy in the way we communicate all the time in our relationships at home?

Want to Stay Out of the Marriage Counselor’s Office? Package the Message Properly and Your Marriage Problems and Relationship Issues WILL Improve

My client was not adverse to considering an alternative viewpoint – even if it was his wife’s – but he was surely not going to do it because he was told to do so. When he did not feel forced or directed, he found that being able to step in to her shoes for a moment helped him work through the current impasse.

Ultimately, how we go about saying something is often more important than what it is we have to say. It is all about the packaging of the message!

Lazy communication is like crumpled gift-wrapping — it sends the wrong message.

Three Strategies For Improving Your Communication Packaging

1. Tell your partner what you think and feel, NOT what they should think and feel. “I” statements are far more effective than “you” statements.

2. Think about what you want to say before you say it. Just because you are talking to someone you love does not mean they don’t deserve the same sensitivity you would show an employer or member of the clergy! They do.

3. If you are angry or frustrated — heated in any way — wait. Wait until you are calm. Wait until you have had time to think it through.

I have found that the way I frame messages in my work as a mediator, and in my life as a husband, son, and father makes or breaks a difficult conversation.

What additional tips on how to package messages productively can you share with other readers? What other communication strategies can help improve marriage problems?

Tags: , , , ,

About the Author ()

I help families resolve conflict through family mediation and divorce mediation in Massachusetts. My services include mediation for co-parenting disputes, marriage problems, separation and divorce, parents and teenagers, and family conflicts. The goal of my mediator's blog is to help teach or remind readers of helpful communication and conflict resolution techniques that can be used in their relationships. I live in Natick, MA with my wife, son and dog and mediate throughout the Metrowest Boston region. Please note that my name is spelled Ben Stich, not Ben Stitch.

Enter your email address to subscribe to Ben's blog:
Privacy guaranteed. We never share your info.

Comments (10)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Anne Lafleur says:

    Nothing to add, just a thank you for stating that so clearly. They say love is a verb, and that the feeling of love is created and reinforced by our actions. Bring lazy about communication is an easy, obvious way to kill the love. Thanks for the reminder to pay more attention.

  2. Richard Cohen says:

    yes yes yes, Ben. Hit the nail on the head. Great advice for anyone in conflict, not only married couples

  3. Very nice post Ben.

    We all, even with the best of intentions, have words come out of our mouths, without thinking, that cause negative reactions. I too have done it and I too and reacted poorly in the past to hot-button words.

    That husband in your post obviously felt ordered by the word “need” and he clearly had other negative experiences with either that word or being directed to do something. He might have also reacted that way because he felt his interests weren’t being acknowledged or met yet either.

    Your post is accurate – choosing “I” statements, owning our feelings and not pointing at the other party, allowing our animal/lizard brain to cool before expressing dissatisfaction, responding in a way that is respectful and mutually understanding and taking time away from the conflict if necessary to maintain composure.

    • Ben Stich says:

      What a great summary, Michael!

      Isn’t it so true — we all fall victim to trigger words and need time to compose ourselves. I had that exact experience today at work in an email someone sent to me — I wrote a response, re-read it, realized I was writing from a frustrated place, and deleted it. Took a couple of breathes. Sent a venting text to my wife. And then sent another fresher objective and more effective response to the email later on.

      Your comments are great Michael — would love for you to contribute them to the comment discussion on my blog if you have time or interest. I’m trying to build up engagement on the blog through comments and subscribers.

      Either way, I always enjoy reading your responses on these linkedin groups. Thanks Michael!

  4. Great article Ben. I like the idea that we seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Thanks.

  5. Gail Katz says:

    Love the concept of “lazy” communication, Ben, and what we need to do to correct it. Also your article is brief which makes it more powerful in my opinion. If we choose to share our lives with someone, we owe it to them to do our best to share and communicate in a genuinely respectful and caring way. It is easy to fall into traps of complacency, misdirected anger or treating complete strangers better than we treat our spouses and kids! My daughter and I once discussed this, and the concept is still mind-boggling to me, but as you stated, and I’m glad you did, it’s an issue to reckon with for most all of us.

    Thank you for your thoughtful guide – if folks would follow your words, relationships would have nothing to do but improve! I think we forget how precious our families truly are sometimes and how important it is for us to acknowledge to ourselves as well as communicate to them just how special they are to us and how much we love them. Life will not go on forever for any of us, but our words and our actions will. Just read a quote that relates and resonates:
    “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”
    Mother Theresa

    • Ben Stich says:

      Your sentiments are timely with the Thanksgiving holiday just around the corner, Gail! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Gail! It sounds like you have a great line of communication open with your daughter and a self-awareness that helps you avoid falling in to “traps of complacency.” You sound very passionate about this topic!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *