How to make marriage work and stop fighting
By: Jennifer Seip, LMFT, MA
It is hard to make marriage work. You spend years waking up to the same person every day. You see them at their best and at their worst. Small annoyances that you thought you could let go, slowly start to build up inside of you. Those passive aggressive comments, their jokes that are definitely not funny, or their dismissal of your feelings. Eventually you cannot help but blow up at your partner. You’ve had enough of their attitude or their lack of understanding.
You are done dealing with their unwillingness to change.
Built up resentment and anger over time is the main reason for divorce.
What the literature says
Fincham, F. D., Paleari, F. G., & Regalia, C. (2002). states,
“spouses in close and satisfying relationships, relative to spouses in dissatisfying marriages, are more likely to react to negative partner behaviors by feeling empathy and experiencing few negative emotions.”
Meaning that the more empathy you have for your partner, the less likely you will react to the small things that bother you, and the more satisfied you will be with your marriage over time.
Additionally, the more satisfied you are with your marriage, the more willing you are to forgive your spouse when they do something that upsets you (2002).
How does this apply to me making my marriage work?
So let’s break this down. First, let’s talk about self compassion. A person who has self compassion can be nice to themselves. They are able to easily forgive and understand themselves when something bad happens. They do not overly criticize or put themselves down. Kindness almost always prevails.
Moreover, a person who is self compassionate will be able to balance their negative emotions and process them in a healthy way. This way, their feelings are are not suppressed and pushed down.
How does one become self compassionate?
Self compassion is actually empathy for broken down. When we have empathy we are
“relating personal experiences of our own to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective,” Neff, K. (2018, March 06).
For instance, if I have a married friend who is telling me that they feel invisible when their spouse ignores their questions, then I will think of a time that I felt invisible by someone. The empathy that I have for my friend comes from understanding what it is like to feel invisible.
Self compassion is the kindness and understanding that I expressed to my friend, turned inward.
A person becomes self compassionate by practicing this internalized empathy.
How does this decrease conflict to make
your marriage work?
One word, validation. If you can learn how to empathize with what your partner is feeling by putting your
self in their shoes and feel compassion for them, then you can validate and show understanding.
Validation might look like this.
“I know what it is like to feel invisible and unseen. I’m sorry that I ignored your questions and made you feel that way. I promise to work on being more present with you. Thank you for telling me.”
When people are validated, they immediately let their guard and make themselves available for discussion.
It is also much easier to validate your spouse when you can have empathy for them.
So, if you can validate your partner when they want to talk to you about a problem, instead of lashing out, conflict will immediately be minimized and you set yourself up for a healthy conversation. Not a fight.
In conclusion if you want to make marriage work try this equation:
Empathy + Self Compassion + Validation = Decreased Conflict.
Fincham, F. D., Paleari, F. G., & Regalia, C. (2002). Forgiveness in marriage: The role of relationship quality, attributions, and empathy. Personal Relationships, 9, 27-37. doi:https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/1475-6811.00002
Neff, K. (2018, March 06). Definition of Self-Compassion. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from http://www.self-compassion.org/
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