I try to be exceptionally honest and open with my readers. At the same time, I am very deliberate about writing a positive narrative for my life. I worry that it might seem like I’m trying to make everything look perfect on the outside. This post should clear that up and show you that we’re just like everyone else.
My husband, Jer, and I are BFFs. We do everything together and have made our marriage a top priority. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
Like many couples, we have opposite personality styles. This is great when we’re maximizing each other’s strengths to build our best life. It can be a nightmare when it comes to disagreements.
Jer and I have been stuck in a cycle of having the same argument over and over, with no resolution in sight. We raise our voices and make lots of noise, but neither of us feels like we’re being heard.
We’re not alone. The story of these arguments is detailed in chapter ten of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet.
When she and Greg disagree, her voice gets quiet and flat, her manner slightly distant. What she’s trying to do is minimize aggression—Emily is uncomfortable with anger—but she appears to be receding emotionally. Meanwhile, Greg does just the opposite, raising his voice and sounding belligerent as he gets ever more engaged in working out their problem. The more Emily seems to withdraw, the more alone, then hurt, then enraged Greg becomes; the angrier he gets, the more hurt and distaste Emily feels, and the deeper she retreats. Pretty soon they’re locked in a destructive cycle from which they can’t escape, partly because both spouses believe they’re arguing in an appropriate manner. This dynamic shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the relationship between personality and conflict resolution style. Just as men and women often have different ways of resolving conflict, so do introverts and extroverts; studies suggest that the former tend to be conflict-avoiders, while the latter are “confrontive copers,” at ease with an up-front, even argumentative style of disagreement. These are diametrically opposite approaches, so they’re bound to create friction. If Emily didn’t mind conflict so much, she might not react so strongly to Greg’s head-on approach; if Greg were milder-mannered, he might appreciate Emily’s attempt to keep a lid on things. When people have compatible styles of conflict, a disagreement can be an occasion for each partner to affirm the other’s point of view. But Greg and Emily seem to understand each other a little less each time they argue in a way that the other disapproves of.”
When I read this chapter I thought, yup, this is us. I then asked Jer to read it. As he was reading he’d say, “That’s us, that’s you, that’s exactly what happens …” It was clear what our problem was. What wasn’t clear was how to fix it.
One of my goals this year is to learn to communicate better with my spouse. We’ve been making progress on our marriage for years, but couldn’t seem to figure out our communication differences. We needed help.
I saw three options: marriage counseling, a relationship coach, or a marriage retreat. The introvert in me found the retreat to be the least threatening option. I began researching and made my decision based on a recommendation from a family member. When I presented the idea to Jer, he agreed. We signed up that day and waited with anticipation for the upcoming retreat weekend.
Get Me Outta Here
The retreat began on a Friday night. We gathered in a hotel conference room and covered the ground rules. We then wrote down what we hoped to gain from the weekend. We turned to page four of our workbooks and in big bold letters it read, “Talking about feelings is the foundation of intimate communication.”
My inner warning bell began to sound. I was feeling anxious and trapped. All I could think was, hell no! and I’m gonna make a run for it.
Why didn’t they tell me I’d have to talk about feelings? I wouldn’t have wasted my time and money. This was very, very bad!
The evening ended with an exercise that Jer and I were to complete separately and discuss as a couple in our room. We were to write down the qualities that we appreciated about each other and how we felt about them. I was pissed. I thought to myself, feelings have nothing to do with what I appreciate about Jer.
When Jer returned to the room to complete our discussion I told him that I thought this was stupid. There was no way talking about our feelings could help us communicate better. He got mad because he felt like I wasn’t trying. We argued for a bit and then half-heartedly completed the exercise.
Feelings and Personality Style
Jer and I came into this weekend well aware of our personality and communication differences. I’m an INTJ in Myers-Briggs and Jer is an ENFP. I am a very high C and pretty high D in the DISC Model, while Jer is an I, D, and a splash of S.
The retreat had its own personality assessment. In this assessment, I was labeled a Thinker and Jer was a Helper. As I was reading our results, two lines stood out to me.
Generally they try to get in touch with others’ feelings and are empathetic and intuitive.
Thinkers are independent and are more involved with thoughts and ideas than emotions.
Just then a light bulb flashed on. While I rarely think about emotions, they’re the core of how Jer communicates. Could this be the reason he doesn’t feel heard?
As painful as it was, I decided to play along because I saw how important this was to Jer.
The remainder of the weekend we worked through exercises with a process they referred to as dialoging. We were assigned a topic and had to write a love letter to our spouse explaining how we felt about it. Then we would read each other’s letters and discuss our feelings.
Apart from all the feelings and stuff, the love letter is a genius idea. I find it easiest to express my ideas in writing. Jer is most gifted verbally. The process of writing, then discussing, gave us an equal opportunity to be heard.
In the end, I’m glad I didn’t run. I learned how I can better communicate with my spouse and added another interesting experience to this amazing adventure we call marriage.
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What have been the most important lessons you’ve learned about communication in your marriage?
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