Relationship Case Studies
To give you a realistic sense of what the course can do for you, I’d like to share five brief stories of how couples overcame their frustrations and resentments using what they learned in the course.
Staying Within The Budget: One Form of Money Conflict
Even though Christine agreed to her partner Charlie’s budget, she spent money in a carefree manner and frequently exceeded the monthly budget. Charlie would get angry each time this happened and would yell at her about how childish she was and how her Dad must have really spoiled her. Christine would respond by saying “We have the money; we can’t take it with us; quit being so tight.” Charlie became discouraged because he wanted the predictability of a budget. They never could talk about this issue without both getting upset and their money communication never got resolved.
Charlie learned to express how it was for him when she exceeded the monthly budget: the aggravation of extra steps he would have to take to transfer funds around to cover the extra costs. He wanted appreciation and acknowledgment for keeping the finances in order.
He learned to express himself without judging her which created the conditions for Christine to really hear him for the first time. He connected with her need for more consideration in the decision-making process and realized that including Christine up front would get a stronger buy-in from her.
Christine also connected to what was happening for her when she did not honor Charlie’s budget. The first thing she connected with was how she called it “Charlie’s” budget instead of “their” budget.
From the start, she felt pressure to go along with Charlie’s way of doing things which clashed with her carefree approach to finances. Her mind turned the budget into a suggestion or loose guideline instead of an agreement. Once they both deeply understood each other, they worked out an arrangement that considered both of their approaches.
Making Unilateral Decisions Can Be Dangerous, Especially When They Involve Mother-In-Laws 🙂
Roger invited his out-of-town mother to come stay the weekend without consulting Julie. He didn’t consult her because he assumed it would be okay with her. She felt angry and hurt because she wanted to be included in major decisions like that. “What am—I chopped liver…I don’t matter to him?” she silently said to herself. She tried to express her upset and he responded with “What’s the matter; don’t you like my mother?” She swallowed her frustration and didn’t feel hopeful that he is going to hear her. Even though Julie got along with his mother, her presence was a constant reminder of Roger’s lack of consideration in the decision. Julie’s resentments simmered. His Mom stayed an extra week; her resentments boiled over and communication broke down.
Roger learned how to listen to Julie’s upset without taking it as an attack and defending himself by making Julie the issue. He learned not to assume and to check it with her about important events. He also learned how to express regrets when learning how his behavior impacted Julie.
Julie learned how to express herself in a way that Roger would less likely take as an attack. In order to do that she learned how to connect with herself first before expressing her pain.
The Never-Ending To Do List That Gets Ignored
Marsha handed Jake a long “to do” list and sternly implored him to get it done. He said, “Yeah, yeah, I got it.” as he silently interpreted doing the list as submitting to her will and his freedom was threatened. He asserted his freedom by delaying doing things on the list and strings her along with “I’ll get to it.” Every time Marsha sees an unfinished item on the “to do” list around the house, she gets angry, takes it as a sign he doesn’t care about her and feels hopeless that things will get done. The more she expresses her anger that he didn’t get things done, the more adamant he was about not submitting. Ongoing resentments build in both partners. An attack and defend cycle is the way they communicate about this issue with no resolution.
Marsha learned to invite Jake into the process and express herself in a way it would be less likely for him to hear it as a threat to his freedom.
Even if he did take it as a demand, she was prepared to listen to those concerns and at the same time not abandon what she was wanting.
Jake learned to connect with his discomfort with the list and become aware of his interpreting her asking as a threat to his freedom.
He also learned to listen to how she was really just wanting things to be efficient and nice around the house and she needed his support and was not trying to control him.
Time Spent Together
Mark scheduled time with his friends when Pam thought they were going to spend time together. She complained to him that “they never spend time together.” He logically responds by disproving her assertion of “never” and points out a recent time they spent together. She doesn’t get a sense that he hears her concerns and complains more. He thinks she is trying to control him. Nothing gets resolved; it remained a festering wound that constantly gets poked and the pain gets experienced over and over. Communication about this issue is painful for both.
Mark learned to listen to Pam’s concerns in a way that was validating for her. He reflected those concerns back so that she got a sense that he was hearing her. He discovered this worked better than trying to disprove her accusation.
He also came to realize that she wasn’t really trying to monopolize all his time, but was disappointed that they were not spending as much time as they used to.
Pam learned to express her disappointment in more effective ways other than her accusation. She came to understand that his enjoyment of spending time with his friends didn’t mean he did not want to spend time with her.
This empowered her to be heard and eventually worked out a resolution that worked for both of them.
Fairness in Whose Needs Are Met
Wendy went out of her way to make sure Fred’s needs got taken care of and were met. She was good at it too. Sometimes too good in the sense that she denied her own needs. Wendy secretly hoped Fred would offer her the same care and consideration she offered him. It never came. It would be too degrading for her to ask for this care and consideration she thought; he should give it to her freely. She viewed him as self-centered and felt the pain of not having mutual consideration. This was never talked about directly…it was too painful. Her resentment seeped out in little comments here and there about his being selfish. Fred became resentful about her comments and dismissed her as just being critical. An undertone of resentment and discouragement persisted without resolution.
Wendy learned that just because she had the ability to tune into other’s needs, that did not mean Fred possessed the same ability. Therefore, she learned to express what she wanted and learned to do so without making Fred wrong.
She also discovered a balanced way of giving by tending to Fred’s needs without a huge expense to herself.
Fred gained some understanding about Wendy’s critical comments of his being selfish. Knowing how difficult it was for Wendy to ask for what she wanted, he began looking out for ways to support her by checking in with her.
He became aware of her wanting balance and mutuality in the care and consideration of each other and made sure he listened carefully and thoroughly when she expressed what she wanted.
Perhaps you see yourself in these typical examples above or can relate to something similar. I certainly can. We all have conflicts like these in our relationships, that’s part of life; when not addressed with skillful communication, they can block the flow of intimacy and be a constant source of frustration and resentment.
Here’s The Shocking Research:
John Gottman, Researcher, and Psychologist Found How Couples Communicate About Conflict Determines Whether The Relationship Lasts
Specifically, if couples communicate and try to resolve conflict in these four ways below and don’t learn to do something differently, it is only a matter of time before something has to give.
- Criticizing the other’s character or personality: “You always…”You never…” Overgeneralized characterizations of some sort.
- Criticizing who the other is as a person: “You’re lazy…” You’re a slob, etc.” All manner of insults and name-calling. Sarcasm, mockery, sneering, rolling eyes, etc.
- Defensive responses to an attack (or perceived attacks): Making excuses, explaining, disagreeing, yes-butting, and rationalizing, etc.
- Stonewalling, disconnecting, shutting down emotionally: Withdrawing, silent treatment, monosyllabic mutterings, being aloof, keeping physical distance.
In all the years I’ve been coaching couples, it pains me to see couples communicate in these ways because I know the kind of damage these seemingly small things can do to even great relationships. I view it as a lost opportunity for couples to have the most engaging, peaceful, intimate, fun relationship possible. Kind of sad really as I think about this.
When bounded by our communication habits, it is really difficult to even know of a different way to speak.
I see part of my job is to lift couples out of their current habits to experience a new way of communicating so they can see for themselves that there is a more effective way. I hope they experience first hand that they don’t have to attack, defend, give the silent treatment, use name calling or analyzing their partner to get what they want in the relationship!
Here’s Another Shocker…
A recent survey of mental health professionals reveals communication problems are the most common factor that leads to divorce (65%), followed by couples’ inability to resolve conflict (45%).
I throw out this research and these statistics here not to strike fear in your heart, but more as a wake-up call to take seriously the importance of communication on the quality of your relationship. I can’t help but wave my flag about there being a more effective way to communicate and resolve conflicts that can foster intimacy and vulnerability instead of driving a wedge between people.
Small issues you experience now with ineffective ways to resolve them, can add up to huge disconnections in the future. You could either keep fighting the same fights over and over again or silently endure while running on the fumes of hope that something is going to change. That’s why learning these new skills now is so important.