Tags: In This Issue, Parenting
"I love my husband, but I don't like him." That's a comment I hear quite often in my couples mediation practice. Over the years, I discovered something: Many people are nicer to strangers than they are to their spouses.
As a lawyer, couples mediator and author of "Fight Less, Love More" people turn to me for my expert relationship advice. Many assume that because I have the answers, I must have a perfect marriage. The truth is, I have a happy marriage and I love my husband, but still, there are times when I have to put my advice into practice. Conflict is normal, especially for parents, but how we choose to respond to it will either strengthen or weaken the relationship.
One day, my husband told me he'd be home from work earlier than usual. He even told me which train he would take.
I put his early arrival time into my afternoon schedule so my (then) two-year-old son and I would be home to greet him. At 50 minutes past his planned homecoming, I was furious. Why wasn't he here? Why wasn't he answering his cell phone?
My husband showed up more than an hour after I expected him displaying a freshly trimmed head of hair, acting like nothing had happened.
"So you got a haircut?" I asked.
"Yes, I had time today, so I figured, why not?"
That was it. I ripped into his thoughtless selfish behavior and the fight began.
But minutes later, it reality hit. In our pre-child days, I would have been more understanding and explained how I felt about his late arrival. Now, with my energy drained, I acted as if his haircut was akin to finding out he cheated on me with his hairdresser.
Such a simple situation became an explosion. With a touch of patience and kindness, I could have easily turned the conflict into a conversation. How? The answer is to ask for what you want next time.
As soon as I realized my short-tempered mistake, I apologized and asked for what I wanted (for him to alert me as soon as his arrival time changes). During that brief conversation my husband was flattered to learn that I was looking forward to his coming home early and was disappointed by his lateness. I also shared that I had rescheduled a play date for our son so we would be home to greet him. Our five minute talk ended with the agreement that if his plans changed, he would immediately call me. To this day that agreement has had a positive influence on our relationship.
So my advice for couples who want to love, and like, their mate for a lifetime is: Don't focus on the problem. Do focus on the solution. A little wisdom makes a big difference.
Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-trained lawyer, couples mediator, relationship expert, and bestselling author of Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In. You can find her online at fightlesslovemore.com.