Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Why Do We Drive Each Other Crazy?
You see, they were caught in "ME mode."What I mean by that is they were not even able to see outside of themselves. They were not able to see how they were getting in the way of the relationship. Each one pointing the finger at the other. In fact, every conversation quickly went back to "what's wrong with you."
I couldn't see how they could make any changes because they were so caught up in seeing why the other person was wrong. They were never able to see why they were wrong. What a catastrophe! I couldn't believe that we couldn't go even 30 seconds without one pointing the finger at the other end telling me how right he or she was and how wrong the other person was!
You see, even therapist get frustrated sometimes! I played referee for an entire hour! At the end of the time, I suggested that each one needed to decide whether they wanted to really make any changes, or just point out the faults of the other person.
Sadly, this couple could probably fix their marriage with little effort... IF they were willing to see that each one had fault. I just needed a little room. I didn't need any major changes. All that needed to happen was for one or the other to decide that it was not just the other person's fault.
So why do we drive each other crazy? Why are marriages so difficult? Because we are rarely honest with our spouse. More than that, we are rarely honest with ourselves. Over time, everyone of us builds up resentments. Over time, few of us share our resentments. Each one may be very small, but if you add them up, you've created a tinderbox that leads to marital distress, frustration, and ignited of anger.
I am not suggesting that we have to tell our spouse everything that is on our mind. In fact, that would be quite destructive to the relationship. However, we often refuse to even tell the few things that could make a real difference in our marriage. In this case, the man simply wanted to feel like he was liked. Oddly, his wife did like him. She just didn't express it in ways that he recognized. Tragic!
For her side, she kept waiting for him to tell her exactly what he was upset about. Why didn't he? Because in his family, the rule of thumb was to not fight, not argue, and not tell what you wanted. Her family? They fought it out, argued it out, and told you exactly what they wanted.
Two different families, two different roles. And spouses the didn't talk about it. In fact, didn't even recognize it. Now, a marriage is about to end because both people think they are correct, and are definite that the other is wrong.
My advice? First, couples need to get in the habit of talking about the little difficulties. We wait until they build up, they suddenly become very personal, very painful, and almost always intractable.
Second, we humans are a lot like animals. At least in how we train each other. If behavior gives us something that we want, we keep doing it! For example, my dog is one big Labrador retriever. His head can easily rest on our table. Every now and then, my son lets a piece of cereal fall out of his bowl and onto his placemat. It only took a couple of times for my dog to realize that he got a treat as soon as my son left the table. Now, it is very hard to keep my dog away from the table.
When we humans get rewarded for "bad behavior," in other words, when our painful actions towards others gets rewarded, we tend to repeat the behavior, even if it hurts the other person. In fact, we often fail to see that it hurts the other person.
Couples train each other in what behavior works and what behavior doesn't work. Be careful in how you train your spouse. For example, with the couple I saw yesterday, when she pouted, he came to the rescue. But the difference between pouting and looking angry is very slight. Over time, her pout began to look like anger to him. From then on, she was pouting for attention, and he was feeling rejected.
Would either believe me if I told them about this? After about an hour of trying to convince them, I can tell you that neither one will believe what I'm saying. They have already made up their minds.
Third, one thing that is often missing in a marriage is our attempt to not just understand but to accept our spouse. All of us have our faults, and when we forget that, our spouse has a hard time living up to our expectations. Suddenly, all we can see are their faults.
So, the threat is in expecting perfection in our spouse, or seeing only fault. So here's the conundrum: we want to be accepted for who we are, but we have a hard time offering that to our spouse. "ME mode"is probably the most destructive pattern in any marriage. When we get caught up in ourselves, we forget the other. Marriage is all about WE. Remember that, and you have increased the likelihood of success in your marriage a hundredfold.
More marriage saving information can be found in my ebook, SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE HERE.