Q&A with Geoff: How Do I Stop Bickering in My Marriage?Oct 04, 2023
My husband and I have different perspectives on just about everything. We’ve been married 50 years yet lately we seem to frequently say things wrong. My husband accuses me of correcting him constantly and I feel he misinterpreted my efforts to help. For example, when he’s cleaning up a greasy counter and I suggest which cleaner to use and he becomes upset. Or he accuses me of being negative all the time.
This drives me up the wall. For example, I might say the weather is hot and he says I’m always complaining! Both of us have agreed this bickering has to stop, which is a positive.
I need to learn how to stop feeling this way, but I believe the only way to fix this is to keep my mouth shut all the time.
I commend you on reaching 50 years of marriage. That’s a significant achievement that reflects your dedication and commitment to one another, despite your differences. The challenges you’re facing, while distressing, also present an opportunity to understand, grow, and reinvigorate the bond that you both share. Let’s talk about how to work through this pattern of misunderstanding each other’s efforts.
When couples have been together for a long time, there’s familiarity and trust in many areas, but there’s also an accumulation of assumptions, habits, and patterns. While some of these habits can be comforting and predictable, others feel like endless sources of tension. Instead of reflexively assigning blame in these irritating patterns, it’s helpful to start by looking at them as an interaction between the two of you.
You’ve both acknowledged this pattern of bickering that is driving you apart from each other. This is a great start to ending the cycle of disconnection. Your willingness to accept that you’re both having an impact on each other will make these discussions more productive.
You’re both responding in ways that make sense to each of you. Consequently, it’s easy to point the finger at the other person for being irritated. It’s human nature to see ourselves in a benevolent and generous light while we interpret the behavior of others as self-centered. Instead, I think it’s more helpful to recognize that we’re all responding in ways that make sense to us.
When you’re surprised by your husband’s reaction to you, instead of viewing him as rude and selfish, see if you can become curious about his reaction. This takes humility, patience and generosity. Invite him to share openly with you about how he experiences these frustrating interactions. For example, he may appreciate you asking him if he’d like a suggestion instead of offering it unsolicited. Your willingness to slow down and invite a conversation will reduce defensiveness.
In Proverbs 15:1, we read, “A soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It’s always wise to check the way we approach our partner. If you’re willing to look at the way you approach him, you can possibly start to shift the interactions. For example, when he accuses you of being negative, you can become curious and ask him to share more about what is difficult for him in your way of communicating.
Your willingness to stay open and curious is a form of softness that will open new understanding for both of you. Each frustrating interaction is an opportunity to learn more about our partner and ourselves.
You’ve been married long enough to recognize that you can live with differences. The challenge for most of us is to learn how to accept these differences without becoming resentful. Please recognize that different perspectives can be a strength, not a weakness. It’s okay to see things differently; it’s about how you manage those differences. After all, it’s those differences that likely brought a richer dimension to your relationship in the first place. And, at your age, most of these differences aren’t going to change, so acceptance and humor can also go a long way.
Stay with the commitment to end the exhausting cycle of bickering. When either of you recognize you’re stuck in the same cycle, give yourselves permission to interrupt it and acknowledge that you’re overwhelming each other again. Move to curiosity, openness, humility and kindness in your responses.
Reassure your partner they’re important to you and that you don’t want to overwhelm them. Both of you can make a commitment to gently move away from these frustrating interactions toward more closeness.
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