Ten Tips To Help You Avoid The Breakdown Of A Relationship

Posted at 17:51pm on 17th January 2009

When you look back on an argument you’ve had recently with someone close to you, do you sometimes feel it was a squabble over nothing? That what seemed like a major misunderstanding at the time was, actually, nothing more than a petty clash of opinion; or a state of affairs where the two of you have different expectations?

I wrote, a few days ago, about a situation like that, which arose between my husband and me, and I finished with some of our strategies, used to resolve conflict. I hope you found them helpful. Or at least that you are now able to recognise those areas of different expectation in your own marriage, in order that you may not only identify with one another better, but also learn how to eliminate those areas of misunderstanding. I promised, in that Post, that I would show you the method of Feedback which my other half and I used, years ago, when we trained as Marriage Enrichment counsellors, and ran regular classes to teach couples a new way of resolving conflict. Although designed for married couples, they are a useful method for all couples to adopt, in order to eliminate the breakdown of a relationship.

I remember when I first came across Marriage Enrichment. The Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment (A.C.M.E.) was founded by David Mace in 1973, and a friend had lent me the book a few years after my second marriage, in the eighties. I recall sitting up in bed reading bits of it aloud to my husband. Its approach is to help couples become more aware of their individual and partner needs, and to teach problem-solving, and communication, skills. With one failed marriage behind me, I felt tremendously excited by the sheer simplicity of the techniques. It was as if all the common-sense strategies I’d known of for years had suddenly become crystal clear – revealing the fog through which I’d been viewing them in the past.

REVIEWING TECHNIQUES WHEN RESOLVING CONFLICT

The whole point of marriage enrichment is that its aim is to strengthen good marriages, rather than to wait until they fall apart. But it seems that many couples believe that “if you’re in love” a good marriage happens automatically; or that marriage is a private matter, not to be discussed in the open. Unfortunately, many a marriage has foundered upon that premise. Besides, the beauty of marriage enrichment is that there are no group dynamics; no sharing with anyone other than with your spouse. Everything that is taught to the group by the leader is later put into practice between the two of you, in privacy. If you choose, subsequently, to share your discoveries with others in the group, that’s up to you. No pressure is brought to bear.

AVOIDING MISTAKES, MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND MISINTERPRETATIONS

It is unrealistic for any one of us to expect to be able to go through life without a clash of opinion. Miraculous as it seems, given the number of people in the world, we were all created with a unique set of personality traits. Harmony may reign for a while in the home, but with the introduction of other personalities – in the form of children – the complexity of human character and behaviour, the potential for misunderstanding the nature and motivation of our loved ones, and the different expectations of each family member, leave us wide open to the probability of conflict in our lives.

For peace and reconciliation in a partnership to be the norm, rather than a rarity, it is almost certainly necessary to build in some sort of regular means of communication. (I’ll be writing more about this at a later date.)

But for now, let’s assume that you need to know more about giving and receiving feedback in order to maintain some sort of equilibrium in your family. Imagine that you were the Debs and Harry I wrote of earlier when retelling the events that led to my disagreement with my husband. That squabble was about a minor occurrence, and developed because of a difference in personalities and expectations of one another. Here’s how they handled it – and how you might, too.

HOW TO GIVE CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK AND AVOID SQUABBLES OVER NOTHING

  1. Choose a time and place where you can have some peace, away from the pressures of work, family, friends and home.
  2. The one with the grievance should begin – so in this case it would be Debs.
  3. Hold a cushion, or some other object, to signify that you’re the speaker. You have ten minutes in which to put your case. Set a timer which you can both see and hear.
  4. During that time, the person you have a grievance against – Harry in this instance – agrees not to interrupt at all. If you, as the speaker (Debs) stop speaking, the silence should continue until you resume.
  5. You (the one with the grievance i.e.Debs) should state your case without accusation. So however angry you feel, there’s no saying: you are . . . so stupid (not knowing how to fix the new booster seats) . . . uncaring (knowing how tight the straps are for the twins on the baby seats) . . . thoughtless (knowing how hard I find it to fix the straps now the twins are bigger).
  6. What you do say is: When you don’t think ahead and put the car seats in the car, I feel (that’s the operative word, because it describes your feelings, rather than those of the person you want to accuse) let down / frustrated / angry . . .
  7. At the end of the ten minutes, set the timer for a further three minutes – of SILENCE.
  8. Pass the cushion (object) to your partner, and reset the timer for five minutes. This is your partner’s opportunity to FEEDBACK what he has understood you to be saying. It is not a time for him to put his view of the case. Neither is it a time for you to interrupt or put him straight.
  9. At the end of his Feedback, after two or three minutes of silence, it is your turn to state whether he has understood you correctly or not. This sequence continues until you are satisfied that he understands your grievance.
  10. Repeat the entire exercise from his point of view.

This may sound long-winded, but believe me it works! Not only that, depending on your personality, or that of your spouse, it could save you days of simmering resentment. Plus the possibility that the conflict and the misunderstanding could be thrown back at you months down the line!

If you’ve used this method, do leave a comment to let me know you got on. I promise that your contact details will not be revealed so your privacy will be intact. All the best!

Your Comments:

18th January 2009
at 6:46am

I recently read many of your posts and I enjoyed them. I think
that your writing thread is very important. Keep writing.

Mel Menzies
19th January 2009
at 6:52pm

Thank you, Writer, for your kind remarks. Mel

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