Sally was upset that Harry was late. She started to resent him, noting the many times he prioritized work over her. While waiting she finished reading her email and updated her Facebook posts on her phone. Then he sauntered in. Harry apologized profusely. He was excited to tell her about a great interaction at work, when she cut him off, expressing her displeasure with his tardiness. He then got upset that she was being petty since she got off work early. Thus began an unpleasant dinner in public. They weren’t loud but they were unhappy. Sally thought Harry was being selfish, and he thought she was unbending.
But there’s another way to see it. Sally wanted to share the evening as it was planned. Harry was late because he wanted to climb the corporate ladder to support their lives. They both had positive objectives, and yet they both made assumptions that diminished the other’s best intentions. Each was misunderstood at the moment.
Disagreements are part of any relationship. What we need are tools to recover and restore when things go south.
Here are 3 sure-fire tools to institute when married couples assume the worst
1) Stay open
Even though we may be convinced that we’re right in our interpretation of how our partner acted, listen to what he or she has to say. Keep your opinion to the side, so you can hear if something else was going on, or if your spouse sees things differently.
2) Be willing to apologize
Sometimes even when we have the best of intentions we can still hurt our spouse’s feelings. We can apologize with sincerity that we upset them. This is not an admission of being wrong, only that you recognize that what you did or said caused some upset, and you’re owning that.
If you need to change the subject, go for it. If you can talk about something that you both love, great. Or, best of all, fall back on a private joke. Laugh with each other. Laughter brings us closer together and shifts upset to ease.
4) Agree to disagree
Naturally, there will come times when married couples see things differently. Often we assume we share all the same viewpoints because core values align so well. Sometimes we change in the course of time, and what used to be true no longer holds. Whatever the case may be, conflict is a very normal part of relationships. As a relationship therapist, I hear from couples, “If we are arguing, what hope is there for our relationship?”
Other times a couple will say, “We shouldn’t have to work so hard.” Both of those beliefs can keep the relationship stuck. If we think we aren’t supposed to feel bad in a relationship, or we have to avoid fighting at all costs, then anytime a disagreement comes up, we are bound to think the relationship is doomed.
Rather than imbuing unrealistic ideals on your marriage, how about we look at ways to recover from any hurt that happens, and restore the relationship to a place of mutual respect.