A friend in her early 50s recently wrote me a personal account about how, at the age of seven, she was stunned when her mother told her that her ballet teacher was getting a divorce.
“It was after dinner―some time during the mid-1970s. I was dancing around the living room when our telephone rang. My mom answered the call, which happened to be from my ballet teacher. Their conversation was serious and oddly unrelated to the upcoming dance recital.”
“When my mom hung up, she sighed deeply and said: ‘Your teacher won’t be offering ballet lessons anymore. She is getting divorced and moving away.’”
“At seven years old, I didn’t know how to respond to that news, so instead, I simply listened to my mom ponder aloud something that echoes in my ears to this day: ‘She and her husband never fought. But they never talked,’ my mom mused.”
“I’m hearing that more and more these days. People seem to be getting divorced not because they fight but―maybe―because they don’t.”
During a marriage, situations come up when a couple needs to have an urgent conversation to avoid their marriage going on the rocks. These are conversations that involve difficult issues that neither party may want to talk about. These are conversations that may make both of them defensive, feel hurt and get angry. Nonetheless, these are conversations that cannot be avoided by pretending that there is nothing wrong―a true recipe for disaster.
If you need to have a “must” conversation with your marriage partner because a situation has taken place that points to a gulf between the two of you, consider the following tips from our book, Conflict―The Unexpected Gift: Making The Most of Disputes In Life And Work:
- Disentangle: suggest to your partner that the two of you set aside your differences temporarily, and be willing to talk about them at a different time. Taking time to self-reflect, calm down and let pent-up feelings subside can work wonders.
- Inquire: ask your partner to tell you about the concerns they have on their mind, as well as the feelings they are experiencing in connection with their concerns.
- Empathize: try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and identify what you believe they are thinking and feeling.
- Listen: focus carefully and attentively on what you hear your partner saying to you, avoiding interrupting them or talking over them when they are speaking.
- Reveal: disclose your thoughts, feelings and needs to your partner. Be open and honest in describing your emotions, and explaining how you experienced the disagreement and the impact it had on you.
- Apologize: take responsibility for what you said or did that offended your partner, and commit to changing your behavior in the future.
Following these tips can help you and your marriage partner bring resolution to a conflict that caused friction between the two of you, and in doing so greatly strengthen your relationship.