Sometimes a spouse, in trying to relieve a partner’s distress, accomplishes just the opposite. Judy is an artist. One evening she was quite upset by her problems in getting ready for a show, and she started to tell her husband, Cliff, about them. She wanted his support, encouragement, and sympathy. But Cliff instead fired off a barrage of instructions: “One, you’ve got to get all the people together in the group. Two, you have to call anyone else who is involved. Three, you want to get your accountant in on it—check with the bank to see how much money you still have. Four, you could contact the PR people. Five, call the gallery and see about the time.” Judy felt rejected by Cliff and thought, “He doesn’t care about how I feel. He just wants to get me off his back.” But in his eyes, Cliff thought that he was filling the bill. He had given her his best advice—he thought that he was being supportive. To Judy, however, Cliff was being controlling, not supportive. She was seeking sympathy and emotional rapport, while he was tuned in to problem solving. How can you find the appropriate channel? One point
First, strive for a solid foundation of trust, loyalty, respect, and security. Your spouse is your closest relative and is entitled to depend on you as a committed ally, supporter, and champion. Second, cultivate the tender, loving part of your relationship: sensitivity, consideration, understanding, and demonstrations of affection and caring. Regard each other as confidante, companion, and friend. Third, strengthen the partnership. Develop a sense of cooperation, consideration, and compromise. Sharpen your communication skills so that you can more easily make decisions about practical issues, such as division of work, preparing and implementing a family budget, and planning leisure-time activities.
What has stripped their conversation of its richness and enjoyments? First, despite the apparent success of their numerous discussions, they may have arrived at the solutions to family problems at a great cost to the relationship. In many relationships, a whole sequence of little kinks gradually adds up to produce stress. These kinks may also be a sign of important differences between the partners in their outlook and values—differences that their surface agreements never resolve. Thus, the free flow of conversation is inhibited by the threat of intrusions of unresolved conflicts. Perfectly tuned conversations are interrupted by signals of possible discord that introduce static into the communications. Second, although the partners may get along when they are dealing with practical problems, their conversation may be devoid of references to the more pleasurable aspects of the relationship. The partners have not learned to demarcate problem-solving discussions from pleasant conversations. Thus when one partner starts a conversation with a loving comment, the other may decide that this is a good time to bring up some conflict. As a result, there is a dearth of conversation that revolves simply around expressions of caring, sharing, and loving.