Ever heard of the ‘tyranny of the shoulds’?
Karen Horney coined the phrase, and it basically suggests that we have an idea about how we should live, and how others should respond to us, and how society as a whole should be.
When our expectations do not match reality, if we hold too tightly onto these shoulds, we can end up experiencing anxiety and depression.
In a marriage, there are two (often conflicting) sets of ‘shoulds’, thereby increasing the risk of conflict. So how can we manage this a little better?
1. Beware the multi-dimensional nature of a marriage
What we bring into our relationship is not just our experience of that other person. We also bring historical hangovers from our other significant relationships, whether that is intimate, familial or friendship-based.
For example, in our familial relationship, we might have become the Scapegoat, the emotional dumping ground for other family members. If we carry this into our current relationship, we might assume the same of our partner.
The more we can be honest with our partners about our previous relationships, and how that might impact on our feelings now, the more chance we have of working things through together, as a solid union.
2. The why, not just the what
It will help our partner no end if they can understand why something is so important to us.
Therefore, it is not enough to explain what we need out of a relationship, but why it is so important to us. The issue in question might seem ridiculous to the other person, until they understand the background a little.
3. Have we communicated our needs clearly enough?
We might make too many assumptions about how our partner understands what we need.
And even if we think we might have communicated it, sometimes it takes a few attempts to really make the message clear.
4. Assertive communication is the bedrock of any relationship
Many people fail to grasp what assertive communication really is. It is the opposite of aggressive or manipulative behaviour.
In the face of opposition, offer a clear, calm repetition instead of an apology; keep statements succinct; resist the need to over-explain; practice the skill of saying no.
5. If we don’t know, how is the other person going to understand?
Before we make demands of our partner, perhaps we need to spend a little time on self-awareness.
We might not know why something is so important to us, why we cannot bear to see the dishes piled up in the sink, for instance. It would be helpful to take a step back and really understand what is going on.
The stress or anxiety, or the pit of dread dragging down the centre of our stomach, might be less about the dishes and more about our need for control.
Or perhaps we interpret the dishes left as a sign that our partner does not care about us. Is this more about us or the other person? Perhaps a little of both, but until we know about our own processes, we cannot really understand the other person’s, let alone agree on a way forward.
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
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More by Chris Warren-Dickins