This weekend, I remembered just how tough it can be to solve marriage problems.
It all started when I got into a fight with my wife on the Sunday before Thanksgiving…
Here’s what sparked the conflict:
Kalee’s family had invited us to their church’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, which started at 6:00 PM on Sunday. Everything was fine until Sunday afternoon when her mom informed us that she wanted to get there 45 minutes early to make sure we got a good table and had plenty of time to chat with friends. My wife wanted us to go with them at the same time.
That’s exactly what I did. I complained.
“It’s a paid-entry event,” I said, “They can’t run out of seats!”
“There’ll be plenty of time to talk to people after we’re done eating,” I said.
“Can’t we leave at 5:30 instead of 5:00?” I said.
I complained, I put up a fight and I didn’t apologize – eventually my wife got mad enough that she stormed out of the house and went to her parents’.
That’s the problem; what did I do to fix it?
As you continue reading, you’ll learn the simple 3-step thought-process I used to solve this specific marriage problem, but first…
Let’s get this clear from the start – I don’t believe that communication is the “core” of marriage.
- Communication won’t save a failing marriage
- It’s not the hidden secret ingredient for a happy marriage
- It’s certainly not the only reason marriages can exist or function
Communication is a skill. And as with any skill, being good at it comes in handy sometimes. You can use it to solve problems.
Most importantly, being a good communicator is part of being a good leader. It will make you grow as a man and get more of what you want.
The problem solving advice you’re about to read is straightforward and to the point. It isn’t anything like the typical, run-of-the-mill clichés that are most commonly thrown about. After all, heartfelt communication is a lot more than ‘being a good listener’.
In my marriage, I typically work through these three steps:
- Understand what you’re really saying, and why you’re saying it
- What is your wife hearing and what does she really want?
- Identify the difference between the surface conflict, the root problem and behavior patterns
As you continue reading, you’ll learn how I applied each step to the Thanksgiving Dinner Problem with my wife.
What Am I Really Saying & Why Am I Saying It?
To me, I thought all I was saying is that I didn’t want to get to the Thanksgiving Dinner early. To me, getting there early meant sitting around for 45 minutes waiting to eat.
It was only after my wife left that I took the time to think about why I was so averse to going early…
See, throughout my childhood and adolescence I absolutely hated “family time”. I did everything in my power to avoid it. Not only because “family time” usually meant conflict, but also because I’m an independent introvert and my idea of a good time is playing video games with a hot cup of coffee.
The real reason I didn’t want to go to the Thanksgiving Dinner wasn’t because I couldn’t stand the thought of being bored; it was because my gut-level reaction to family time is to avoid it at all costs. Being asked to spend extra time with extended family just isn’t something I naturally want to do.
Awareness is the first step in solving any marriage problem. Just by being aware that I have a natural aversion to family time will make it easier in the future to prevent the same problem from happening.
After reflecting on why I said what I said, the next step was to put myself in my wife’s shoes and figure out what she was hearing.
What Is My Wife Hearing & What Does She Want?
Did my wife really care that much about getting to a dinner early enough to guarantee seating?
Not at all.
What my wife cared about was getting to spend precious time with her family. Since we were spending the actual Thanksgiving holiday with my grandparents, this church event was going to be the only real Thanksgiving dinner she got with her family this year.
This is a key step to solve any marriage problem – Ask yourself, “What is my wife hearing through my objections?”
Even though the only thing my words were saying was that I didn’t want to go to dinner, what I was really telling her was that I wasn’t willing to make a sacrifice for her. I was saying that my time and what I want to do with it was the most important thing to me.
And, just think about it from her perspective…
If I was this resistant to leaving a little early for a family dinner, did that mean I would always throw a fit when she wanted us to spend time with her family?
She had no reason to believe it would ever be any other way, especially because this wasn’t the first time I’d been resistant to spending time with her family.
The Problem Solving Formula:
Surface Conflict, Root Problems, & Behavior Patterns
Real quick, here’s what each of these terms mean:
- Surface Conflict – The specific problem that you’re facing right now
- Root Problem – What is the real reason behind the conflict? Is it a difference of understanding, opinion, or priority?
- Problem Patterns – Is this problem becoming repetitive? Has it happened before?
Applying those to the Thanksgiving Dinner Problem, here’s where we’re at…
The surface conflict in this situation was that I didn’t want to get to a dinner with my wife’s family any earlier than we absolutely had to. My wife did.
From my end, the real root problem was that I have a gut-level resistance to family time. It’s hard for me to get excited about it. I had to identify that root problem and take conscious steps to correct it.
From my wife’s end, she was frustrated that this conflict was becoming a problem pattern… If I was being selfish and apathetic about this one little request, how would I react when she wanted to go on a longer vacation with them or something in the future?
She’s thinking, “Will it always feel like pulling teeth to get me to spend time with her family?”
Back to the Thanksgiving Dinner…
What did I do to resolve not only the surface conflict, but also the root problem and the problem pattern that my wife worried was forming?
All it took was one text message. After cooling off and spending about half an hour reflecting on what happened, this is the exact text I sent to my wife:
See what I did there? I effectively combined everything in this post into a single text message. I…
- I admitted that a problem exists, and that it was my responsibility to fix it.
- I validated that she felt frustrated.
- I identified that me fighting her on family time was becoming a pattern, and that I’d be aware of it and try to fix it
- I told her, “I love you,” because for love to be unconditional, it must remain in place during conflict.
Again, I couldn’t have arrived at any of these conclusions unless I’d worked through the mental process outlined above. You have to be able to think in order to communicate, and you have to communicate to resolve conflict.
What was my wife’s response? Check it out:
You CAN Solve Marriage Problems
Now, I realize that this is perhaps a rather “light” example of conflict. Many of you reading this have much bigger problems than not wanting to go to a Thanksgiving Dinner with your wife. But, the way you think about and solve small problems is the same way you’ll think about and solve big problems.
Being a leader doesn’t mean you never apologize. It means that you apologize the right way when you do.
I’ve always said that communication won’t save your marriage, and it won’t. Without leadership, communication is nothing more than a band-aid. However, when you ARE the leader in your marriage, communication is a great way to maintain your wife’s trust in your leadership abilities.
Keep in mind, the process I outlined above isn’t the only way to solve marriage problems. But, if showing you how my mind works when I’m solving a problem helps you do the same, then I’ve done my job.
Much manly love,
With much manly love,
I'm Stephen, the guy behind Husband Help Haven. I'm not a marriage counselor or a lawyer, I'm just a guy on the Internet who has talked to a loooooot of men going through separation... Over 2,000 in the past 5 years. My goal is to give men the tools they need to save their marriage from separation. Read more here