Do Something Different
Human beings are creatures of habit. Most of the time, we’re on automatic pilot. We sleep on the same side of the bed every night. We sit in the same chair at our dining room table. We take the same route to work each day.
Being on automatic pilot is not necessarily a bad thing. Habitual responses are economical. They allow us to go through our lives without having to concentrate on what we’re doing. But being on automatic pilot is a problem when relationship difficulties arise. If you act like a robot when you and your partner are at odds with each other, it could really be disastrous and most of the time it is.
During stressful times, spouses argue about the same old subjects, in the same way, often at the same time of day. We do it unconsciously. But novelty is a wake-up call; any change in routine – a change in your actions, your approach, the setting, the timing of disputes- can get people out of their hypnotic trance and has the potential of yielding different results. Here’s an example.
Cathy was someone who, any time her husband was quiet, assumed he was angry or upset with her. She would frequently ask him, “What’s wrong?” Each time she did, he would respond, “Nothing’s wrong.” She would say, “I know something is wrong, tell me what it is.” He would tell her, “Nothing is wrong, please stop asking me that question.” She would insist that she was right about her perception of him, and he would finally explode angrily and their day would then be ruined.
One day, she decided to do something different. They were getting into their car to go see a movie together when Cathy noticed her husband seemed sullen. As usual, she asked, “What’s wrong?” but when he replied, “Nothing,” she decided to try something new. She turned on the radio and started to sing along with the music. Within a few minutes, he said, “Hon, do you mind if I turn down the radio? There’s something I’d like to discuss with you.” He proceeded to share his feelings about something that had happened earlier that day. It was the first time in the history of their marriage that he’d opened up to her voluntarily. She changed, he changed!
Rude Only in the Nude
Janet and Jonathan argued about money every Friday night when they returned home from work. Because they started out their weekend with an argument, the rest of the weekend was miserable. This had been going on for months. Jonathan finally decided to do something different in hopes of having a pleasant weekend for a change.
Friday night rolled around and Janet initiated the usual conversation about money. Jonathan said, “I want to talk to you about this, but I would prefer waiting until Sunday. Is that all right with you?” Surprised by his response, Janet simply said, “Okay, whatever.”
They decided to go out for dinner together on Friday night and, for the first time in months, had a really good time as a couple. On Saturday, they decided to go shopping together for furniture and again had an enjoyable time. By Sunday, they were feeling better about each other than they had for a long time, which probably explains why, when Janet brought up the money issues on Sunday night, they were able to resolve their differences. A simple change in the time they discussed their heated issue allowed them to find a solution. I received a letter from a man who decided to be creative about frequent arguments he was having with his wife.
Last week when Sue arrived we talked about how we could better resolve our conflicts. I took your “do something different” suggestion and told my wife that if we are determined to fight, we would have to do it without our clothes on. This would eliminate fighting in shopping malls, family gatherings, while walking down the street or any place outside in our winters. Since our five children are no longer at home, we agreed to try it.
The inevitable happened and we started an argument. I decided to go for it. Now, if we were younger and trim, then shedding our clothes could be a pleasant distraction that would make us forget what we were arguing about. On the other hand, lumpy, saggy bodies can be quite funny, but what happened was better than either.
I got right into the argument and at the same time began peeling off clothes and throwing them emphatically on the floor of the laundry room to punctuate the very serious points I was making in my case. Meanwhile, Sue was taken aback. “You are serious!” she said. I agreed and continued making my case as socks, shirt, pants and underwear hit the floor. Sue started to laugh. She laughed until tears ran down her cheeks. I laughed too, but I continued discussing the issue. We soon found ourselves in complete agreement!
In the past few days, we have laughed again and again about the hilarious image. Sue said she will never be able to keep a straight face in an argument again. I cannot even remember what the argument was about now. I just know it was the best one we ever had.
Now I want you to think about your more of the same behavior. Take a minute to process this, and write each behavior down on a piece of paper or journal. For each more of the same behavior that you identified, figure out what you’d have to do to get your spouse’s attention.
If you’ve been talking a lot about your feelings lately, stop talking about them completely. If you’ve been holding things in, let your feelings be known. If you’ve been apologetic and soft-spoken, take a strong stand. If you’ve been fiery, start being patient. If you’ve been clingy, start being more independent. If you’ve you’ve been ultra independent, start showing your spouse you need him/her more. In order to make your spouse react differently, you have to do something completely out of the ordinary.
If you are having trouble thinking of something that might be different, you might consider using humor. It’s often the case that we get so darn serious about our marital problems that our humor goes right out the window. In fact, a friend of mine told me that once in the midst of a heated argument, her husband said something really funny, but she absolutely and positively refused to laugh. She feared that her laughter would make her husband think that “he won.” Nonsense. Laughter is great marital medicine. Here’s an example of how I ended a difficult situation with Jim by using humor.
One morning Jim was making me breakfast and I was reading the mail. We belong to a golf club and we had received a roster of the members of the club. I found myself feeling mildly annoyed at the fact that the men were listed as members and their wives’ names were listed in parentheses. I commented to Jim about my irritation. At first, although he understood, he thought I might be overreacting. The more he defended the policy of the club, the more irate I became. Finally, I said to him, “Maybe I should just write a letter to the club about how unfair I think this really is,” at which point, he brusquely left the room and went to our bedroom. Our wonderful Sunday morning had come to an abrupt halt.
I felt tempted to march upstairs and defend my position, but I knew that Jim would have gotten even angrier at me and we would have fought more intensely. In all honest, although I felt irked about the golf club’s policy, it really wasn’t a burning issue for me. So I decided to do something different. I wrote him a note and walked into our bedroom to deliver it to him.
When I entered the room, he was lying on our bed and refused to make eye contact with me because he was expecting me to argue with him. Nonetheless, I walked over to him and handed him my note. It read,
I love you. (Michele)
Although he tried hard not to laugh, I could see it wasn’t working. He started to chuckle. I laughed. Then he laughed even louder. We hugged, went downstairs, resumed making breakfast and resurrected our pleasant Sunday together.
Michele Weiner Davis is the creator of the Divorce Busting Centers, learn more on how you can solve marriage problems and stop divorce. Follow me on Twitter @divorcebusting, add my Divorce Busting Facebook Page, and subscribe to the Divorce Busting YouTube Videos for more advice and upcoming marriage saving events.