Have you ever been in a discussion with your spouse and one of you says, “I don’t want to talk about it!” Have your ever heard those words or spoken those words? If we’re honest, most of us have on occasion. There are many reasons why we resort to this defensive position. Here are some possibilities:
- We are flooded. Our emotional bucket is too full to continue a rational discussion. John Gottman, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, in his book The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work, explains that a spouse feels flooded when he or she feels defenseless. To avoid the criticism and attack of a spouse, she steps back and disengages emotionally.
- We are angry. We’ve had this discussion so many times and it never gets resolved. So we block further dialogue to keep from experiencing more pain and back away, shouting that we are done talking.
- We are frustrated because we see no way to get this issue resolved. Endless discussion is not producing a resolution. In our frustration, we shut down, walk away and block any attempts at further dialogue.
The end result is usually the silent treatment. This can go on for days. Even if there is a quick recovery to polite interaction, the unspoken cold war is waging underground, still causing a silent coolness in the relationship. Sure, you can manage superficial conversation, get the kids to bed, get the chores done, and even get to church with a “happy face.” In reality, the unresolved issue lingers like a relationship virus that keeps you from the close connection you really want.
So what can we do when we get backed into a corner and want to break off communication and flee?
We must first realize what is going on. Our emotions have peaked and we are not in the best position to continue the discussion. Be honest and ask your spouse if you both can take a break in order to reflect and let the intense emotions subside. After you’ve both cooled down, ask your spouse if you could share your feelings about the particular issue. And here are the rules of engagement: Your spouse needs to listen without offering a solution or restating his or her position. This is to be a one-way conversation. Restate your position, share how you feel, and ask your spouse to take a day or two to think it over.
When a few days have gone by, take time out together so your spouse can express what he or she thinks and feels about your position. Many times, just the time alone to reflect will result in a positive solution. Your spouse may even say they are sorry and that they feel they understand you much better now. Or, you may be able to continue working through the issue when you both are more rational.
Remember: Never let the sun go down on your anger. Actively seek to keep even minor issues from being pushed aside.