How I Turned My Worst Relationship Into My Best One
The love between my husband and me is strong, but our differences nearly destroyed us. My husband intimidated and confused me. I prioritized communication, and he was anything but verbose. Logical, yes. Practical, definitely. Romantic, not so much.
I started feeling insecure around him, and he couldn't understand my emotional side. We attended couple's therapy and read lots of relationship books together. Fortunately, we came out of our rough patch with a harmony that has lasted through our entire marriage.
Having successfully navigated our specific obstacles, I took with me some knowledge. Here are 5 ways we made our relationship the happiest one we have ever been in, despite major bumps on along the way …
1. We learned when to take each other seriously.
Laughter had always been a huge part of our union, but knowing when to set the jokes aside was a task that proved difficult for my husband. We were locked into a cycle of him laughing and me seething as a result; I wanted to probe certain issues further and more seriously.
So we came up with a kind of code-phrase, "Steak and potatoes," which we began using if one of us needed to communicate something that required the full attention and consideration of the other person.
It was a simple and straightforward (and pleasantly lighthearted) way to alert each other to the need for seriousness. For example, I might say, "Steak and potatoes: When you browse your phone while I talk to you, it makes me feel unimportant and ignored."
My husband and I have both agreed that whenever this phrase is uttered by either one of us, we need to take the other seriously. This is why we use our phrase very sparingly and know that, when used, it requires a firm resolution to focus on the issue at hand.
2. We tackle one issue at a time.
I used to spew out a zillion issues per second while my husband's head bobbed to the side from the sheer exhaustion of having to listen to me rattle on.
It is inevitable that one person in the relationship will be slightly more comfortable with verbal communication than the other one, and it just so happened that I am that person. I used to expect my husband to keep each of my concerns organized in his head until I was finished listing them, but he would just zone out instead. This infuriated me.
That's when we learned the definition of flooding. In the book The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work, the author John Gottman explains that "flooding" is when one person overwhelms the other with a flood of harsh criticisms.
"You flood me," my husband exclaimed, holding up the book. We were both excited to discover that what I was doing had been given a name, and I was able to stop the cycle through understanding how flooding negatively affected my husband. In particular, the volume of my complaints was overwhelming to my husband, and therefore unproductive. He didn't want to engage with me in that state.
But now if my husband ever feels overwhelmed, he simply says, "You're flooding me." I will immediately slow down so he can think and respond to each point without us both falling into the trap of negativity.
3. We get to the root of the problem.
One reason I tend to get so worked up over multiple little things is because there is always one big issue tying them all together. In my experience, talking things out usually allows me to tap into the root of the main problem ailing me — eventually, but not always.
If my husband simply asks, "Pattie, what is it that is really bothering you?" it helps me circumvent the smaller concerns and evaluate what is at the core of it all. Resolving what is at the heart of the matter from the get-go helps eliminate my need to fret over the small stuff as a way to realize what's really bothering me.
Ultimately, I can just take a bit longer to breathe, think, and consider my emotions, and make the process simpler and less painful for the both of us.
4. We give each other space.
In the heat of the moment, my inclination is to talk until I turn blue in the face. My husband's response to arguments is to disappear and escape the unpleasantness until he can get himself into the proper mindset to tackle the concern. This will always irritate me.
We found a compromise.
My husband now takes 10-20 minutes of alone time to process our conversation, and returns as a much more assertive, communicative and understanding partner. If he needs more time, he takes it. Our understanding is that whoever needs the most time is responsible to initiate the subject again so that it is resolved and not shoved under the rug.
5. We appreciate the good in each other.
We consciously decided years ago to verbalize our genuine appreciation for each other every single day, and we have stayed true to our word. It's not that we don't have our days of petty annoyances, but it has come to the point that because we remind each other of our good qualities each day, it is truly difficult to linger on the bad.
We notice that we both strive to get the positive accolades from each other, repeating the habits that got us here and creating a loving partnership that feels as fresh and new as the first day we met.
Photo courtesy of the author