Monday, January 25, 2010

Moments in Marriage: How to Treat Me (Let Me Teach You)

I heard it just before I engaged the DVD for the granddaughters. Dr. Phil was sitting opposite an attractive, well dressed, 30-something married couple. “You know we teach people how to treat us, right?” he asked.

I didn’t watch any more of the program -- the granddaughters were waiting for the princess movie -- but the question echoed in my mind all afternoon.

If I don’t like how my spouse is treating me, I might ask myself, “How have I been teaching him to treat me this way?” And the next question might be, “How can I change this lesson plan!?"

A good teacher targets a skill or desired behavior, and then plans for the student to achieve success in that targeted goal through example, instruction, practice, and cooperative effort, with either intrinsic or extrinsic rewards.

Sometimes in our marriages, it’s painfully obvious that the behavior we’re getting is not the desired behavior. At those times, we should ask ourselves, “How do I want this to turn out?” “How do I wish it could be different?”

Once we know what the goal is, we have to take action to reach it -- and that means to communicate about it.

When conflict occurs in our marriage, we have options. We can confront the conflict and get to the bottom of the problem, we can communicate, we can appeal; we can assert ourselves.

Or not.

A few years ago I read that the manner in which you communicate with your spouse “crystallizes” within the first year of marriage. Therefore, couples should work hard to establish patterns of effective communication early on, for these habits will most likely continue throughout the marriage.

Many of us never progress past patterns of communication we learned in our first dating experiences in junior high or high school. But think about it. Middle- and high schoolers don’t generally have effective or well-developed skills for communicating through conflict. Usually there is a lot of drama involved, with banging objects down on tables, slamming doors, or raising voices. In my case, the drama was internalized with resentment, anger, and disdain.

Some retreat to “violence” and others, to silence: both are ineffective and ultimately destructive in any relationship. Neither one is a mature methodology for resolving conflict or increasing our marital happiness. Only communication, uncomfortable though it may sometimes be, will effectively teach your spouse how to treat you.

1 comment:

  1. What a great thought! So often, when we women have needs or desires that our men aren't meeting, and we end up, "just living with it."
    When I want or need something from my man, what I have found most effective and satisfying is to just tell him! Plus, when I tell my man what I want (i.e. please plan a dinner for us to have at home for Valentine's Day,) I've found that he's that much better the next time thinking of it on his own, because he knows what I like! I've never been disappointed when I've specifically asked for a gift or action. The fact that it wasn't a surprise never diminished my joy in receiving. I know my man's heart is to do and give me good, and that's what really matters!
    I'll also say that I know Nathan appreciates my honesty and straightforwardness.