toward getting herself ready. Finally. Frank feeling more and more anxious at the growing probability that the evening would be ruined, and that he would be blamed, called the restaurant, got through, and easily made 7 p.m. reservations. Now angry again, he yelled to Jill, “I made your stupid reservations.”
The sitter arrived. Jill and Frank pulled out of their driveway heading toward the restaurant. They were silent and cold. This feeling was very familiar to both of them. Jill's thoughts revolved around her many disappointments with Frank and his failure to do even the smallest things to make her feel the way she wanted to feel. Frank wondered why his life had to be made so complicated by Jill's demands. He knew that others also saw her as demanding.
We can head right for it or dance around it. However we approach it, we have a strong human tendency to blame the conflict, whatever it is, on the other person.
They seemed to wind up stuck in this place of conflict and blame more and more frequently these days.
Conflict in marriage is inevitable. Whether it's about child rearing, money, sex, or dinner reservations, conflict is present. Whether it is confronted or avoided, it is still there. We can head right for it or dance around it. However we approach it, we have a strong human tendency to blame the conflict, whatever it is, on the other person. Clients beginning marital psychotherapy frequently present their belief that their marriage would be fine if the other person would change. Blaming goes hand in hand with being right. The importance we put on being right cannot be overstated. Many of us sacrifice happiness and peace in our quest to prove ourselves right and the other person wrong.
This is the path that Jill and Frank were choosing over and over again. The results were that they felt unhappy and powerless to change their situation. More importantly, by staying focused on their partner instead of themselves, they were each missing the opportunity to have a radically different experience of themselves and their relationship. Embedded in marital conflict is this missed opportunity.
To grow emotionally and spiritually means to move closer to becoming the person we would really like to be. To most of us this means being more open, loving, trusting and compassionate. It means practicing the Golden Rule in our marriage as well as forgiving our partners and ourselves. It is relatively easy to appear to be this “together” person to people outside our marriage, much more challenging to be this person within our marriage. The only way to get there is to stop blaming and put the focus on ourselves to see what we can learn.
An extraordinary thing about marriage is that when we learn one lesson, another one appears. This is really an escalator to personal development. The tendency to project blame onto our partner is strong and compelling. Without awareness that we have a choice of whether to focus on our partner or ourselves we could be lost in a lifetime of blame and unhappiness instead of engaged in a process of growth and enrichment. Every “yes” or “no.” every touch and every tone in our voice is leading us closer to becoming the person we want to become, or is taking us further from it.
-Reprinted from Fort Bend Lifestyles, May, 2002.
Read Article On Marital Conflict by Richard and Bonnie Ermalinski
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Earlier in the week, Jill and Frank had agreed to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary by having dinner at their favorite restaurant on Saturday night. Two hours before they were to leave, Jill shouted down to Frank asking if he had made reservations for 7 o'clock. Frank shouted back, "no." Jill, coming down the stairs, asked, "why?"
Frank said that he had called at four different times during the day and each time he had gotten a busy signal. He added that he was certain they were having a problem with their phone and that he didn't anticipate any difficulty getting a table that early. Even if they had to wait a few minutes. Frank told her, they could have a drink at the bar, which they both had enjoyed doing in the past.
Jill, in a firm tone, stated that she was not going out for “her anniversary” without reservations. Frank was feeling uneasy and anxious at the unfolding of yet another conflict between them. He noticed that as Jill pressed her point he felt the need to defend his own. This seemed to happen automatically without his being able to think through the problem. So he went on insisting to Jill that there was not going to be any problem being seated and he was not going to put any more energy into something he believed was unnecessary. Anyway, he was sure he was right.
Jill said with finality that if he didn't make the reservations, she was not going. Frank heard himself arguing that if she didn't trust his judgment and thought reservations were so important she could call and make them herself. Jill stormed out of the room exclaiming, “Your problem is you don't know how to treat a woman.”
Frank followed her and retorted that he was sick and tired of her demands and her “it's my way or the highway” attitude. Frank alternately fumed and sulked for approximately an hour while Jill made it obvious that she was making no move
A Positive Side to Marital Conflict
Are you becoming the person you want to be?
By Richard Ermalinski, Ph.D. and Bonnie Ermalinski