Tips for Navigating Marital Challenges When the Waters are Rough
By Rivkah Weiss, M.S.W.
“My husband and I basically communicate, for the most part. The challenge arises when I am under pressure or just have a bad day. I become short-tempered, overwhelmed, and uncommunicative. Eventually, one of us blows up, leaving us both frustrated and hurt. We always seem to fall into this cycle.”
This description fits most marital relationships. It is fairly easy to get along when things are going well. However, when we are having a bad day or when something is bothering us, we tend to lose all rationality and the ability to effectively communicate our feelings. We become frustrated because we do not feel expressed and are not receiving what we would like from our spouse. I call these moments “SOS moments”.
Since our capacity for communication either shuts down or is limited during these moments, it would help to preempt them by discussing the issue at a neutral time, what I call “not in real time”. Choose a setting that is conducive to an uninterrupted, productive conversation. Describe to your spouse what your SOS moment looks like: When does it occur? What usually triggers it? How do I behave? How do I feel? How long does it take me to get over it? Then talk about what you would really like from your spouse during one of these moments. Do you need your space? Do you want a hug or caring word? Do you want him to just sit with you silently? Do you want her to tell you that she understands, without being critical?
Next, choose what I call a “code word” to identify that moment. It can be a word, phrase, sentence, or gesture. Some examples include: “Bad hair day”; “SOS”; or holding up of a hand. The purpose of the code word is to be able to communicate to your spouse, in “real time”, that you are having an SOS moment. The advantage of this is twofold: acknowledging your emotional status reduces your own feelings of frustration and anxiety, and also eliminates those same feelings by your spouse, since he or she now knows to shift gears and enter “SOS response mode”. Expectations are adjusted and made realistic, and feelings are expressed and validated.
So next time you are having a bad day, just pull out your code word – you will be amazed at how much better you both feel!