I’m sure you would like to figure out what exactly is going on in your marriage that causes you to fight with your spouse. It’s normal to have arguments in a marriage, and it can be challenging to see what exactly is causing the conflict. When you’re in the moment and experiencing it for yourself, it’s harder to see things from an outsider’s perspective and figure out the root of the problem. All couples can benefit from talking to a marriage counselor. It provides an outside perspective and a neutral viewpoint on what is going wrong in the relationship and potential communication breakdowns.
There seems to be one recurring breakdown in communication resurfacing with almost every couple I’ve worked with. I call it the intention vs. behavior effect.
What do I mean by this? Well, to me, it’s simple—one part of the couple expects to be judged and rewarded based upon their intentions while the other part expects to be judged and rewarded based upon their behaviors.
For example, a couple will come into my office and the wife may state, “He doesn’t do anything that I ask. He knows that cleaning up after himself will make me happy, but he doesn’t do it.” To which the husband will respond, “I never meant for that to upset you. I’m a good person and have good intentions overall.”
As a couples’ therapist, I’m hearing that the action of picking up after himself will make the wife feel loved. Since he is not doing the act of “picking up after himself,” she does not feel loved.
At the same time, I hear the husband communicating that his intention is not to hurt his wife by not picking up after himself. The husband feels he is a good person and that his wife should know that it is not his desire for her to be upset.
How can this information help YOU to stop fighting with your spouse?
Think about whether or not you show love to your spouse based on behaviors or intentions. How does your spouse appear to show love towards you? To elicit change, we need to acknowledge where the other person is coming from and try to do it their way. It is necessary to recognize and validate their point of view and make an effort to change your behavior to match what your spouse is directly or indirectly asking of you.
Often men need their intentions validated. Use words to show them you know they are good people. Affirm their actions and use affection to show them they are loved. I believe this is a need of theirs to reaffirm to themselves they are good people and deserving of the love of their spouse and their family.
For women, it usually involves more “doing.” Watch her behavior and subtly mimic it. If you see her picking up after the children, you should also do so selflessly and without looking for credit. If she directly tells you what she is looking for, then take action and exhibit a behavior that she has communicated will make her feel loved and heard.
I do recognize that this is easier said than done and that it may feel pointless. You may be saying to yourself, “I’m not my husband’s mom; I’m not going to tell him he’s doing a good job!” or “Picking up my dirty sock will not make her happy.”
The point is that we all have to get past our own feelings and judgments to see our partner’s wants and needs. Once you stop focusing on how and why you show love to your spouse–and focus more on understanding the how and why behind what makes your spouse feel loved—it’ll remove a lot of guesswork and prevent unnecessary fighting.
So what is your style of communicating love to your spouse? Are you behavior-based, intentions-based, or a combination of both?