Overcoming Common Marital Mistakes
We’re not going to beat ourselves up for mistakes. We’re going to learn from them, and we’re going to grow from them. Let’s grow our marriages and make them even better!
- Let’s start with John Gottman’s four horsemen. We will start with the worst one; STOP CONTEMPT. Forms of contempt are disrespect, mocking, sarcasm, condescending, name calling, eye rolling. This is when someone feels that they are better than their partner. Gottman says this is poison to your marriage. We want to show our partner respect, fondness and admiration. We want to still respect them and think they are a good person even when we are upset with them. Focus on the need instead of showing contempt. “I would love it if you would help me with the dishes. That would mean a lot to me and would make me feel supported.” Vs. “You are such a slob; you never do the dishes.” I personally need to make sure that I don’t roll my eyes at my husband. He will tell me I’m doing it and I’m not even aware that I am.
- The most common of the four horsemen; STOP BEING CRITICAL. Criticism is an attack on your partner’s character. Instead of focusing on something specific, you criticize the person as a whole. I love that Gottman teaches us to complain without blame. Instead of, “You drive so slowly. I hate when you drive.” Try something like, “I am really worried about being late. Can you drive a little faster.” Taking out words like always and never when we communicate with our spouse. Focus on what you need and communicate in a non-critical way.
- The third horsemen; STOP BEING DEFENSIVE. This behavior is intended to defend or protect oneself from a complaint. You feel blamed so you get defensive. Defensiveness is not taking responsibility. It just makes conflict worse instead of better. Instead of being defensive, try taking responsibility. In my marriage, if I get critical my husband gets defensive. I need to not criticize, and he needs to not get defensive.
- Last but not least is the fourth horsemen; STOP STONEWALLING. Stonewalling is withdrawing from the conversation and closing yourself off. This is the horsemen that I identify myself as guilty of. I get emotionally overwhelmed and I build an emotional wall. I am cancer the crab astrologically. I picture myself crawling into my shell and hiding to protect myself. Instead of becoming overwhelmed and shutting down, what can we do instead? We need to communicate that we need a break. We are overwhelmed and we need a marital time out. I can say, “I’m really overwhelmed right now. Can we take a break and come back to this?” Gottman suggests a twenty-minute minimum break and he also suggests a signal that it’s time for a break. This can be any word or hand signal. The funnier the better because laughing in the middle of an argument tends to be helpful.
- STOP EXPECTING MIND READING. This one makes me laugh when I think about it. Essentially, we are saying, “I’m not going to tell you what I want. You need to figure this out.” My husband started to ask me for specifics, so he didn’t need to guess. If I want my husband to take out the trash, then I need to tell him. If I want him to sit and watch a show with me then I need to tell him. If I want him to run to Wegmans on his way home, then I need to tell him. My birthday is the perfect example. A good example of me being specific is telling him that I want lobster for dinner and jewelry for my gift. I’m not playing games. If I want to get what I want, then I need to tell him. This goes with my children and my friends too. My friend just told us that she wants to go bowling for her birthday. Ask for what you want so that you get it and stop expecting your partner to read your mind. I wish they had that superpower to mind read, but they don’t. The funny thing is that sometimes I think that my husband does read my mind which can throw me off. I can’t expect it!
- STOP NOT PRIORITIZING YOUR MARRIAGE is another big mistake that we want to overcome. Work, the children, housework and exhaustion may be some of the reasons why your marriage is falling low on your list. You want to work on your marriage every day. You have to water flowers, and you have to water your marriage. Send a sweet text message. Call your spouse to say I love you. Stop and get them a coffee. Do things that say I love you and I appreciate you every day. Tell them this too. You can’t say it enough. Water your marriage.
- STOP LOVING YOUR PARTNER HOW YOU WANT TO BE LOVED. This was something that I had to really work on. First, you need to know the five different love languages of: acts of service, quality time, gifts, words of affirmation and physical touch. You may know what makes you feel loved. If not go buy the book The Five Love Languages or take the quiz online to figure yourself and your partner out. I was loving my spouse through acts of service because that’s what I was looking for. I want help and my husband wants words of affirmation. I feel loved when he helps me, and he feels loved when I tell him how much I love and appreciate him. I also enjoy quality time, gifts, physical affection and words of affirmation. All of them make me feel loved. Find out from your partner what makes them feel the most loved. I would think in time my love language may change. Right now, I am so busy with my three children that I need Seth to help me. I also find that if we don’t spend some quality time alone together that I feel disconnected. Talk to your spouse and love them how they want to be loved not how you want to be loved.
- STOP LETTING YOUR HAIR DOWN. Don’t let your hair down with your spouse. Don’t treat a stranger better on the street than how you treat your partner at home. You need to sell yourself to your partner every day. You sold them to marry you, but marriage is not unconditional. I wish I could tell you that it is. Your partner doesn’t have to be married to you. They are choosing to be married to you and we want them to want to choose you every day. Keep your hair up and be on your best behavior. Sometimes I think about if there was a camera in my house how would I act? My children are on the phone a lot. Lillie is always on face time with her friends. It has been good for me because there are always other people in my home. I want to watch what I say. However, this shouldn’t be different any time of the day. I should always be watching what I say. I need to be on my best behavior for my husband and kids not just for friends and strangers.
- STOP EXPECTING YOUR PARTNER TO BE YOU. You chose your partner for a reason. You chose them partly because they are different from you, and you need them. Don’t try to make them be like you. Don’t get annoyed that they aren’t you. I need Seth to be stricter with our kids. I need Seth to be able to be strong and abrasive to handle things sometimes. I can be too nice, and I need Seth to balance me out. I can be too emotional, and I need Seth to be logical. I can get worked up and I need Seth to ground me. As I have learned to appreciate and celebrate our differences it makes our marriage stronger. Appreciate the differences.
- STOP THINKING LITTLE THINGS DON’T MATTER. It took me a while to realize that the little things are what add up to the big thing of a great marriage. The notes, texts, smiles, hand holding, dates, watching shows together, reading together, asking your partner how their day was, eye contact, questions, gifts, flowers, candy, etc. all add up to a wonderful marriage. Keep doing little gestures every day and watch them turn into something beautiful.
- STOP DOING THE SAME MARITAL PATTERNS. I feel like we make the same mistakes every day. I just totally overreacted. If I had calmly told my husband what I wanted he would have been happy to do it for me without my reactiveness. I told him I wasn’t feeling important. He is always astonished when I say this because I am his person and am the most important to him. I think sometimes I am looking for importance through details. I want Seth to pay attention to details. I also have to look at all Seth does do. We have to start evaluating what the patterns are of our conflicts. When you are both calm, start to debrief after an argument. Talk about what went wrong and how you want to work on it for next time. Both parties need to take responsibility and take action steps in a different direction. We can stop repeating the same patterns and start changing patterns together for the better.
- STOP TALKING AND LISTEN! I’m a talker. You can probably tell. I’m very different than I was 10 years ago. Whether it’s Seth, my parents, my kids, or my friends, I’m listening more and talking less. That is so important for relationship development. We don’t want to be thinking about what we’re going to say when we’re talking to our spouse. Seth and I are having a conversation and I’m not even listening to him. I am too busy thinking about what I’m going to say in response to him. I want to focus on really listening to him. I want to really hear him. Then after I have fully listened, that is when I’m going to respond. One of the amazing ladies from my summit talked about being a speaker and a listener. I think it was Judy Herman and it was amazing. We have to realize who has the talking stick. Seth has the talking stick, so Rebecca is going to listen and sometimes he will say to me, “I’m not done.” Let them finish and really listen.
- NOT PUTTING YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES! Seek to understand where your partner is coming from. Try to have more empathy and understanding. If you don’t understand where they are coming from, ask them some questions so that you can be more understanding.
- NOT PROTECTING YOUR MARRIAGE! I remember my professor using his hands and showing me a glass house. He was illustrating that our marriage was inside this glass house, and that we have to protect this house. We don’t want to let things in that are going to negatively affect our house. We want to protect our marriage. We want to think about if something that we’re doing, or someone, or something is getting into the glass house, and negatively affecting you. Be protective of your marriage.
- DOING THINGS BEHIND YOUR SPOUSE’S BACK THAT YOU WOULDN’T DO IN FRONT OF THEM. Don’t do anything behind your spouse’s back that you wouldn’t do right in front of them. I’m an open book. Anything that I say or do or that I have going on with me, is open to Seth. They should be able to go on your phone. They should be able to hear your conversation. The goal in life in general to is to say things to people that we would say right in front of them. Act how you would act if your spouse was with you.
Those are 15 mistakes that I see people making in their marriage. I’m not saying that I am innocent. I make mistakes too. I am aware of what I do wrong and I consciously work to do better every day. I hope that you are inspired to take something away from this to go make your marriage better. I would love for you to comment and let me know what resonated with you and what you would like to try to do better. The best marriages have room for improvement. If you think your marriage needs a lot of work, I don’t want you to feel hopeless. Take some hope from this and start the work today.
Laughing, Learning Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R
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