“We really love each other, but we argue so much,” sighed a battle-weary wife of 14 years. “Can you explain to me why we engage in such destructive behavior? We have tried and tried to stop but seem unable to.”
Do you see yourself in any of these reasons couples argue?
When a partner fails to meet our expectations. Each of us has a mental picture o how the perfect spouse should behave – a picture that has been forming since childhood. Without conscious effort, comparisons between what is expected and what actually happens take place. Whenever you find yourself annoyed or disappointed with your spouse it is because of the discrepancy between how your spouse has behaved and the picture in your head of how spouses should behave,
When reality clashes with our expectations, we experience a variety o sensations: upset, pain, irritation, knots in the stomach – and eventually anger. Anger is the technique relied upon to change the person to match more closely the perfect spouse in our mind’s eye. When anger doesn’t work, we may resort to depression in hopes of convincing our real spouses to change.
When there is a sharp difference in values. Values are the beliefs by which we run our lives. Values dictate our behavior even though we are hardly conscious of them. We all have values that are important to us, but we attach different weights of importance to them. So if one partner values saving and the other spending, if one values works of art, flowers, and museums while the other prefers sporting events, if one values submission and the other equality and independence, some major conflicts will probably surface. Each can agree that saving, museums. And submission are important values, but disagree about the extent to which they are important or when they are important.
When a couple differs on values, it can be considered a serious disagreement, regardless of how much they love each other. Such couples will clash every time an issue concerning values surfaces. They will make up and love and pray and still fight and not even know what they are fighting over – or ever tackle the all-important why.
Different interpretation of emotional wants. We all tend to need three things from others: love, appreciation, and respect. Although we attempt to have all three needs filled, one predominates: love.
The trouble is that love is not tangible and thus is difficult to visualize. If I ask a man how he knows his wife loves him, he takes a long time to answer. All their married life his wife has been loving him, but he can’t verbalize how since people tend to understand love unconsciously, not consciously.
To further complicate matters, some people (visually oriented people) need to see love in action to feel loved. Others (auditory people) need to hear love before they feel loved. Still others (kinesthetic people) need to feel love in action before they feel loved. It is highly probably that the vast majority of arguments could be eliminated if couples could understand each other’s need for actually seeing, hearing, or feeling demonstrations of love, appreciation, and respect.
An obviously angry couple seated themselves in a counselor’s office. After being asked about the problem, the wife burst into tears and through her sobs said, “He doesn’t love me anymore.”
“How do you know?” quizzed the counselor.
“I dress up pretty for him and he never notices or compliments me,” she replied.
The counselor turned to the husband and asked if he loved his wife and how he demonstrated that love to her. “Of course I love her. I’m always touching her, hugging her, patting her. That’s how it is with a man,” he said with a grin.
“That’s not love,” the wife fired back bitterly. “That’s nothing more than an invitation for sex and it embarrasses the life out of me in public!”
Both loved but not in ways that met the needs of the other. Their conflict boiled down to the fact that each perceived and demonstrated love differently. Many marriages could be saved simply by understanding the different ways people perceive demonstrations of love.
The message sent was not the message received. Another cause of everyday arguments is that the one who received the message (the listener) behaved as if he understood the meaning of the message and acted upon his assumption. Without checking, he assumed he understood what was intended by mind reading and reacted according to his inaccurate interpretation.
Suppose your partner says in what you interpret as a gruff voice, “Hey, come in here, will you?” You will probably think, What did I do wrong now? You may become defensive because you assume the tone of voice means your partner is angry with you. The tone of voice could mean he is angry, but it could also mean that he is angry with someone or something else that has not yet been identified.
Many hassles begin innocently this way. “I heard what you said and I know what you meant.” The other person counters, “No, that’s not what I meant.” “Oh yes it is. I know you,” the first one says. “Whenever you use that tone it means you are angry with me.” “It does not.” And on and on it goes.
You can save yourself arguments over nothing if you double-check before coming to a negative conclusion.
Adapted from Smart Listening for Couples by Nancy L. Van Pelt