Do you have any suggestions for dealing with a spouse who becomes emotionally agitated and irrational whenever we experience even the slightest disagreement? We've got a good marriage, but she's hypersensitive and feels threatened by conflict of any kind. This has created a situation in which differences are simply dropped and never really dealt with. How can we develop a healthier approach to constructive communication?
Your description of your situation leads us to assume that the two of you grew up in families that modeled two very different ways of responding to conflict. You, on the one hand, appear to be the product of a very vocal environment – a place where there were lots of arguments and free-for-alls and where people would freely vent their feelings. This may explain your inclination for "passionate" self-expression. What you need to keep in mind is that passion can be a fine thing if you keep it under control. If you don't, it can easily come across as insensitivity or intolerance towards the thoughts and feelings of others. When this happens, you may find that your spouse isn't the only one who clams up when you start talking.
Your spouse, on the other hand, seems to be overly sensitive. This raises all kinds of questions. What is it that's triggering her rather extreme and unreasonable reaction to your forthright expression of your opinions? Was she the victim of some kind of childhood abuse? Did she have an overly critical parent? Was she brought up in a repressive environment and taught to fear open expressions of emotion? Whatever the reason, something is causing her to shut down when she senses the approach of any kind of opposition or negativity. It's possible that messages from her childhood are drowning out the ideas you're trying to communicate. This in turn only aggravates your anger and sets a vicious cycle in motion.
How do you break that cycle? We recommend that you get together and make a conscious decision to jump off the merry-go-round. Recognize that neither of you are bad people, just well-meaning folks who need to leave the past behind and learn better communication skills. The best way to do this is to seek the assistance of a professional marriage counselor who can help you understand each other more accurately and introduce you to some new ways of talking about your differences. Call us. Focus on the Family's Counseling department can provide you with referrals to qualified marriage and family therapists in your area who specialize in communication issues. Our staff would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.
Handling Criticism in Marriage: Gary and Barb Rosberg explore the dynamics of criticism in a marriage relationship and explain how to lovingly confront undesirable behavior.
Love and Respect
The 'Love and Respect' Principle