By: James E. DelGenio MS, LCPC
Senior Staff Therapist,
The Family Institute at Northwestern University
No relationship will last if there is a lack of civility and respect.
All couples need rules of engagement for conflict. When a couple loses civility and respect their relationship is in serious trouble. They feel distant, disconnected and as a result, bickering occurs.
Case Scenario – Tony and Julie
Tony and Julie have been married almost two years. Tony is thirty-two; Julie is thirty. They have one child who is one and a half years old. Tony’s parents divorced when he was 6 and Julie’s parents are still married but have never had a good relationship. Tony and Julie dated for almost three years before marriage, but they never learned how to resolve conflict. Both are determined to win the argument. When this happens, no one wins. The baby has not helped the situation because he has colic. The resentment is building because of unresolved issues which are now affecting their level of intimacy. Arguments turn into history lessons in which the conflict is never resolved and never focuses on the issues at hand. They recognize their marriage is in trouble. Tony and Julie want to find their joy again and address issues before they end up divorced.
After getting the necessary preliminary information, I acknowledge the stress that they are experiencing and try to reestablish civility and respect when in conflict. No couple can withstand loss of respect. I point out that it will take some time to change their communication habits. When one or the other fails at respect, I encourage them to immediately say “I’m sorry; I should not have said that” as a step in the right direction of not having lost respect in the first place. Time out is the signal that this conflict is going nowhere but the rule of time out is that you have to get back to the issue within twenty-four hours. Hopefully, with a day to reflect on the discussion, it will be more productive. If that fails then they are instructed to save the discussion for our next appointment. I also look at how long it has been since the baby was born that they have had a night out together. In most instances, they have had no time out together because they have no babysitter that they trust. I encourage taking the time to find a babysitter; bring in the sitter and let them get to know one another under the parents’ supervision. Their goals also include a date night at least twice a month if possible. It may take three or four sessions to begin to see some changes but more often than not they will start to see better communication and less conflict.
Many marital problems are rooted in poor communication. As seen above, effective communication between partners can be learned and developed.
When communication is poor and feelings go unsaid or unaddressed, the couple feels disconnected. Over time, this leaves them feeling distant, even resentful. Resentment creates a further distance which in turn creates a lack of civility and respect and a lack of intimacy.
Good communication is often oversimplified as just being romantic. It is not. Good communication involves the sharing of ideas and feelings. Good communication is made possible by means of trust, confidence, and mutual understanding.
Try to convey to your spouse the importance of expressing their feelings, even though they may think it’s silly. Explain how important it is to you and how it makes you feel. Explain to them how never knowing how they feel about this or that, confuses you and makes it more difficult for you to feel connected.
I encourage both men and women to use “I feel” statements. This allows the couple to say things that have in the past created conflict when sentences are started with: “You always” or “You never”. Never say never or always. This is known as skidding into other issues or a history lesson into the past and therefore a minor conflict is never resolved and may even be magnified.
Now I can work via secure zoom with anyone, anywhere in the country and it may still be covered by BCBS Insurance. Check with your BCBS representative for more information. Call James E. DelGenio MS, LCPC, Senior Staff Therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, 847-733-4300 Ext 638.
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Disclaimer: This material is meant to be used in conjunction with psychiatric treatment, medication, if necessary, and supportive therapy. Always share this material and your questions about this material with your doctor and therapist.