Tags: dr | laura | self | centered

Self-Centeredness Wrecks Marriages

Tuesday, 18 Aug 2009 02:40 PM

By Dr. Laura

It is so sad to me that so many people behave as though they are “sleeping with the enemy” when they’re revving up for a dispute, argument, or all-out fight with the person they love.

When callers describe their verbal altercation with their spouses, they seem to have such great clarity as to what was wrong with their spouses’ attitude or tone in the confrontation or what precipitated the spat.

When I ask them the simple question, “Yes, but why did you fight?” I usually get back only some further demonstration of how horrible or ultimately responsible the spouse was.

“But there is a fight only if two people engage in it,” I reply. “You are explaining your spouse’s supposed motivation, but what was yours?” I get silence back. Rarely, I then get some admission of shared responsibility.

The main issue for me is this: If your spouse is really mean, dangerous or destructive, then you should be outta there! More often than not, callers admit that their spouses are really good people.

OK, so let’s get to what really causes you to start or join a fight: self-centeredness. Those are some fightin’ words!

Think about it. When you are tired or frustrated, it is natural to be short-tempered and self-involved. That’s the time to say, “Oops, sorry. I’m just so frazzled. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

Why don’t we do that? It sounds so rational. The trouble is, when we’re tired or frustrated, it is tough to be rational. But it is absolutely necessary to explain and apologize as well as to work harder to stop yourself from getting into that bad place in the first place.

Some people just get so invested in being perfect in their work, housekeeping, or child care. They start to view their commitment to making their spouses happy as an intruding inconvenience instead of a blessing. They get short-tempered and rude instead of turning to them for support.

Another aspect of self-centeredness in such fighting comes from having to be right. When couples fight, each side is trying to be in the right. Why? Because the underlying fear is that if they are wrong, they won’t be loved. That obviously stems from childhood dynamics with parents who are excessively punitive or who were stingy with love, affection, attention, and approval.

Of course, arguing all the time in order to be loved is counterintuitive as well as counterproductive, but it goes on and on and on.

Ultimately there comes to bear the “sleeping with the enemy” attitude, born of early childhood experiences with warring parents or divorced parents who keep attacking each other, trying to win the children to their side, and never let go of grievances and evil manipulations.

Want to really be assured of ever-lasting love? Try to prove your spouse right. You can do that in one of two special ways. First, simply own up to the fact that your spouse has a point. “Honey, you’re right. I could have said that differently and taken your feelings more into account. I’m sorry.”

Not only will your spouse melt, but you will find yourself getting immediate love and affection.

Another way of assuring ever-lasting love, and proving your spouse right, is to sit together when you’re having a difficult and painful dispute and say, “Look, all I can see is my point of view. All I care about right now is being the one who is right. Let’s try something. Each of us gets a turn to express why we are upset, angry, or hurt without the other commenting at all even if we don’t see it that way. At the end of each explanation, the other person must — like a defense attorney in a trial — give the best possible argument for their point of view.

When we have to look at it from the other’s point of view, we immediately get out of self-centeredness and get into compassion mode, and nothing binds people together more than feeling understood and feeling compassion for our feelings. It makes us more likely to stop exaggerating and attacking to protect, and become more reasonable and giving toward our spouses.

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