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Irreconcilable Differences: A Path to Strengthening Your Marital Bond

By CLAUDIA LUIZ

After 20 years of owning a private psychotherapy practice, I have never before seen so many couples seek my help with countless irreconcilable differences. It seems that each spouse is either unwilling or unable to bend to the other's needs and wishes. To be honest, I'm not sure this is a bad thing. Undue sacrifice for another person breeds resentment and unhappiness.

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And yet I'm also fed up with becoming the judge and arbiter of these differences. I don't consider it my job to negotiate a mutually unfulfilling mediation agreement. Instead, I want to delve beneath the surface of these differences. Chances are that there's more going on than meets the eye.

In fact, Harvard researchers are saying that there's a ton about ourselves that we don't yet know. Neuroscientists claim that our "adaptive subconscious" is not only unaware of most of our automatic physical actions (like breathing and driving), but is also unaware of many things we actually think and feel.

Ever wondered why you and your spouse may be trapped in an excruciating hamster wheel of cyclical repeated arguments? It could be because there's something at work in your subconscious.

Here are some tips for how to use your irreconcilable differences to get to know each other better and strengthen your marital bond:

1. Take Stock of Disappointment
Painful disappointment could be what is impeding a deeper exploration of your marriage. Give yourself a reality check. Know that marriage can be very challenging because roles are so complicated today. Remember that beneath that seemingly rigid, cold and insensitive exterior, your spouse is hurting just as much as you are. You're both in the same boat.

2. Shelve Elaborate, Defensive Arguments
Get off the hamster wheel of defensive argumentation and instead create a list of questions to uncover why neither of you is willing to budge on an issue. When you find yourself explaining from that practical, already-charted perspective again, just stop.

3. Get Curious
 Instead of spiraling into the dead-end conclusion that you married the wrong person, ask yourself, "What more could be going on here?" Scratching beneath the surface of your spouse's rigidity and inflexibility requires getting seriously curious about what's happening inside of you and your spouse.

4. Look Deeper
Whether you differ on topics of money, sex, parenting or entertainment, keep pushing beyond surface arguments and theories. I'm sure there is truth to whatever you think the reason is for your spouse's rigidity and insensitivity, although there is often more going on beneath the surface of these differences. The real reason you are both unwilling and unable to help each other is because you somehow can't, not because you won't. Make it your goal to figure out why.

5. Follow Unspoken Feelings
Hidden thoughts and feelings are often quirky. We are afraid of betraying our parents, losing power and being unloved. These things often have nothing to do with the actual argument. Look for those tiny threads of emotion and thin wisps of thought that you can follow for some new answers.

6. Skip Dr. Freud
Giving your spouse interpretations or, for that matter, getting interpretations as to why you are the way you are, probably won't help. "Insight" is often just a dressed-up accusation. Instead, explore your own mind and your spouse's feelings with questions.

7. Stop Solving and Start Evolving
Here's my quick recipe for how marriages evolve: patience, acceptance and being heard. This all takes time.

8. Don't Get Discouraged
Feelings of discouragement will cause you to backslide into argumentation and hopelessness. Keep moving forward and try to dig deeper.

9. Be Heard
If you decide to seek help from a therapist, try to find one who won't take sides. That won't help you understand yourself or your spouse more deeply. It's the hidden fear of being betrayed, unloved, inadequate, weak or overpowered that you must understand. Find a therapist who can explore these emotions.

When couples can scratch beneath the surface of their irreconcilable differences and uncover deeper feelings, fears and ideas, miraculous things can happen. The best discoveries gained of mutual understanding is that couples are connected in a special way no one else can claim and will have a stronger bond as a result of adversity.

-- Claudia

Readers -- Do you and your partner have frequent arguments? What are they about? How have you benefited from delving beneath the surface of arguments with a partner? Have you strengthened your bond because of enduring a difficult situation? How have you brought hidden fears to the surface? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Claudia Luiz, PsyaD, is a psychoanalyst and award-winning author of “Where's My Sanity?, who wants to provide Americans with hope that self-improvement is not only about pushing yourself further.

Connect with Claudia on Facebook and Twitter.

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