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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and grief and have lived in Silicon Valley since 1969. I'm the president of Connect2 Marriage Counseling. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in ...  (More)

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Couples: Do you Really Agree or are you Afraid of not Agreeing?

Uploaded: May 18, 2018
I see a lot of couples wherein one partner agrees to things in their relationship (or child raising), but they don’t really agree. They just are afraid of the response of their partner if they don’t agree or they are very non-confrontational.

How is a marriage built strongly, with intimacy and the ability to be one’s authentic self with this sort of structure? It can’t be. So what’s the answer?

Both people in the relationship need to realize they are different, they grew up differently, with norms and behaviors that come from their family of origin. Of course you’re going to want and need different things. Can you negotiate to make it work for both of you? Absolutely. But the first step has to be sharing honestly what those wants and needs are.

Most people have a childhood wound. Maybe it’s needing approval. Maybe it’s fear of abandonment. Maybe it’s not being good enough. Maybe it’s neglect. Maybe it’s abuse. Maybe you didn’t get praised or appreciated. Or something else. Those wounds are the soundtrack of your life until you do the hard work in therapy to heal (even then you’ll get triggered at times). You can create a revised soundtrack, and bring in additional instruments (tools and skills).

Meanwhile, you expect things from one another based on your early life and early wound. People tend to pick a partner who has some of the same qualities of their difficult parent(s); it’s an opportunity as an adult to resolve the issues. Kinda sucks, but is also amazing once you’re doing better.

But making yourself a doormat because your partner wants things his/her way is not the recipe for a long-term happy marriage. I get that you’re worried about setting him/her off, and then things will be worse (for a while). But your partner will not know you—who you are—if you agree when you don’t mean it. And you’ll probably feel both that you avoided a scene, and also that you let yourself down. A path of this behavior leads to resentment, anger, and for some people, blowing up.

Additionally, your partner will likely be surprised at you finally losing it as you’ve gone along with everything so far. “What changed, what the hell happened?” s/he’ll be wondering. It’s a lot harder to dig out of the hole than it is to be clear and honest along the way.

Does that mean you’re always going to get what you want? No. But learning how to say Yes, No, or Maybe and to accept hearing those answers is part of being a mature, grown-up adult. You’ll know where you actually stand with your partner and what really matters to him/her.

If you’re an Island and s/he’s a Wave (general behavior patterns as explained by Dr. Stan Tatkin: Island wants to move away when there’s conflict, Wave gets bigger and louder and keeps coming), it’s much harder for the Island to set boundaries and prevent themselves from agreeing just to calm things down and get a little space.

So if you’re the Wave, you need to not take advantage of that. You need to find a way of calming yourself down so it feels safer for the Island (and yourself). Then both of you can be anchors for each other (supporting one another). If you’re the Wave and your partner agrees with an idea or “rule” you want to put in place, make sure you give your Island time to consider what s/he thinks, wants, and needs about the topic. Be open to feedback over the next few days or weeks.

My husband is a pleaser. I know this. So I am careful to check in with him about things that I want. I make sure there is time and space for him to think things through and talk to me about it. That’s anchor behavior. He also won’t always ask for what he wants, so when he does, I take it very seriously. And then I think it through.

Over the next few weeks pay attention to what you’re agreeing to and how you actually feel about it. You don’t even have to change your behavior yet; just observe and notice.

Then begin to experiment with making changes. You can try things such as:
“I’ll think about this and come back and talk to you about it in the next day or so.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about that; please give me time to consider my thoughts and feelings about it. I’ll come back to you on this later today or tomorrow.”
“I want to give you a considered response, so please give me time. I’ll get back to you within 4 hours.”

Notice that if you’re the one who isn’t sure, you’re letting your beloved know that you will take the responsibility to return to him/her to continue the conversation (anchor behavior). This makes them feel more secure, heard and cared for.
What is it worth to you?


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