By Max Stager
Do you have the same fight over and over again with your partner?
Do conflicts with your husband or boyfriend sound like this?
You look over at your husband, who is texting or using Facebook on his phone. You think he is not busy.
So, you ask him,“Honey, could you help me with the baby (or son’s homework or daughter’s school project)?”
He responds, “Well, I was planning on leaving to meet my friend, Joe, at the wing’s place to watch the game in a few minutes.”
Did you end up feeling disappointed in your relationship? Frustrated?
Or maybe your conversation goes more like this . . .
“You said you would pick up the living room (or do the dishes, take out the trash, or some other chore).”
To which he responds, “Yea, I told ya I’d do that once this video game is over.”
However, the video game never seems to be over. One game becomes another game, and they seem to last all evening night after night.
It’s a vicious cycle.
The work never seems to be done. You just wish your guy would help you, that he would participate in the family.
It’s frustrating when nothing seems to work.
Sometimes you try to talk about it. At other times, you might yell at him. Nothing seems to work.
Some nights, maybe, while lying in bed, you start to panic, wondering how you ever committed to such a seemingly uncaring or selfish guy.
He did not seem this way at first, but now he does not seem to care, no matter how you approach it.
Even worse, he does not seem to care that you are so concerned and distressed.
You have the same fight over and over.
It seems like you are speaking different languages…
…because you are.
This is why the same fight happens over and over again:
Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, has spent years researching communication issues.
She explains that one reason for communication problems between men and women is how they have been socialized from an early age.
Tannen explains how men and women communicate from different places.
So, each has a different mental framework.
And that’s why couples have the same fight over and over.
While women often see themselves “as an individual in a network of connections.”
But men tend to see themselves as an individual in a ranked system in which a person is either above or below others.
Consequently, when you approach him to help you with a task, and he ignores you, you see the two of you as a team that works together — while he may feel the two of you are individuals in a one-up / one-down relationship.
Your request can make him feel one down from you.
That was not your intent, but he can resist in order to demonstrate that he is an equal with you.
(I know this is hard to believe, because you probably see it so differently.)
Tannen also states that that, often, a woman’s purpose in communicating is to negotiate closeness, see and give support, and try to reach a consensus with others.
Men, on the other hand, communicate to achieve and maintain their position so that they can protect themselves from the dominance of others.
Obviously, he is not always trying to one-up you. He may often feel quite relaxed around you.
However, his nature can kick in when all these requests pour in.
You can see what happens? You ask him for help. You are not trying to stress him out, to bother him, to make his life harder.
You want to work together with him.
You want him to be on the same team. That is a pure intention, isn’t it? Why can’t he see that? Doesn’t he understand?
Nope, he does not get it.
How to tell if he doesn’t understand your intention:
He does not hear how important your request is, what the ramifications are. He does not understand.
He may shut down or even get angry.
You have tried to explain your point. What more can you do?
As a male, I have been around this block a few times. It took me a while to understand these dynamics.
On some occasions, I did not realize what a woman’s intention was.
There was a lot of consternation and struggle, but hitting my head against the wall made me look for answers.
As a couples counselor, I have had the opportunity to learn about relationships both from my patients and research.
There are ways to communicate more effectively even when it seems so difficult.
In this case, if you are a woman, you can use the skills you already have to get more of what you want.
It is a challenge, especially when you’ve already worked hard, trying to communicate clearly.
But in order for this to work, I suggest that you go a step or two farther.
Here are five ways you can start breaking the cycle now, and STOP having the same fights over and over:
1. Imagine how your husband is hearing your request.
He hears your requests as coming from someone who is one up on him, trying to curtail his independence, limit his choices.
Unfortunately, this can lead to relationship power struggles, which can keep you stuck.
It may not be what you intended, but it’s reality for him.
2. Have empathy for your husband, and the experience he’s having.
I know this can be hard. You may have to wait until a day when you are not too tired or upset.
Empathy is being able to see your request from his point of view, an attempt to limit him, box him in, from a higher position.
Try to be objective, and to drop your defensiveness. Just hear him.
3. Identify his frustration with your request.
For example, you can say, “I can hear that you want to play your video game.”
“I know that you had a hard day at work so you want to relax and that my request is interrupting you.”
Try not to say how tired you are of his excuses, his distractions, or tell him about his laziness.
These empathetic comments can “level” the field.
The goal is that he not experience you as someone trying to dominate him or control him.
(If it helps, the fact that you make this effort gives you some extra influence in the relationship.)
4. Consider sharing your own feelings.
Explain how busy and tired you are.
Share with him that you need his input on how to handle all these tasks at this time.
Since men often like to fix problems, this will invite him to partner with you.
It also invites him in to empathize with you, like you’re trying to empathize with him.
5. With his input, try to think of some choices that work for both of you.
Over time, you may need to assert that there are choices that you have trouble living with, while there are others you can adjust to just fine.
Of course, men, too, can learn about relationships. They can learn where women are coming from, what their intentions are, and how to compromise, to create a win-win kind of situation.
Men usually see their wife or girlfriend as very important. But, they have more difficulty understanding relationship dynamics.
It takes longer for some. Try to be patient with each other.
Remember, you are in the perfect relationship (to grow).
Max Stager is a couple’s therapist, workshop teacher, and part-time blogger helping clients navigate painful relationship challenges and transforming them into workable, healthy solutions. Visit him online and download his free report: The #1 Killer of Relationships: Is This One Impacting You?
This article originally appeared on YourTango. For more like this from YourTango, try:
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