MARITAL TENSION isn’t always easy to fix. This may be because we all have “hot buttons” that can easily be pushed. If you’ve ever taken a debate class, you’ve probably seen how some issues can arouse hostility, even when both parties are only trying to be heard. This is because few of us are neutral when it comes to life’s heavier topics, like sex and money. Parenthood. And oh yeah, which way the toilet paper roll should face.
Such things have a way of getting us heated. They produce heavy relational fumes that reach our pilot lights and ignite. In turn, we often blame the subjects themselves. Politics, religion or money, but the subjects aren’t to blame. What is? The fact that we ourselves aren’t good at dealing with the related emotions.
It may be because many of us were never encouraged to deal with our emotions. We were taught that anger is a bad thing. We were told never to be jealous or cry when we’re hurt. We believed we were pansies if we admitted we were afraid. So, we ended up learning to suppress a lot of feelings, rather than get good at expressing them.
And we’ve found that in marriage, our rare attempts to do so often only make things worse. We explode. We hurt others. They hurt us. We conclude that talking must be bad, because bad things happen when we try it. But, talking isn’t the problem. It’s a remedy. When it’s done right, it can reduce our problems, rather than add to them. So, let’s talk about the importance of staying calm in our communication.
Many see marital tension as a necessity. In other words, they believe that, in order to feel heard, they must raise their voices. When they start yelling, others suddenly seem more attentive. Their ears perk up. They get up off the couch and start moving. But does this mean they’re actually listening? No.
The truth is, this doesn’t actually make people into better listeners. In fact, something of the opposite is true.
When you raise your voice, you startle people. They may be looking at you more attentively, but actually, their fight-or-flight response has been triggered, meaning that their blood flow is moving away from their brains to their extremities. Their ability to listen is drastically cut short. Our aggression, despite what we think, is really only chasing our “would-be-helpers” away.
And ironically, we tend to chase people off right when we need their help most. It may even be their lack of help that’s making our situations stressful. The irony, when we’re here, is anything but humorous.
Sometimes our distress actually tells people that their help isn’t needed or wanted. They see our fiery disposition as a warning sign, telling them to stay away. They see that we are frustrated, which only makes them more cautious about interrupting. They may even see our worked-up state as a sign that we are tending to our problem, and that we don’t want anybody to interfere.
This was once humorously displayed on Seinfeld, when George Costanza realized that if he looked stressed, people would assume he was busy and leave him alone. And it’s true. Employers often try to tell who’s doodling or working hard simply by observing their level of calmness.
A lot of us use distress as a silent cry for help, not realizing that we’re actually making help difficult for others to give. Consider how hard it is to rescue a drowning man. You actually have to fight him to save his life. Many of us act like a drowning man when our worlds get crazy.
As children, many of these tactics brought better results. We could get help from our parents, teachers and coaches by attempting to push them away. They would always jump in and help us – even against our will. Now though, the people in our lives are no longer our authorities. They don’t have the right to fight us when we push them away. They can’t overrule us like our parents once could. Now, when we push them away, they leave.
The good news is that we don’t need to use childish tactics to get what we want from people. We don’t have to startle or scare them into helping. Most people actually feel a sense of privilege when you ask them. They feel flattered that you trust their competence, and a sense of satisfaction in doing the right thing. When you express your needs in a calm, kind way, there’s no better way for them to return the kindness than to help you.
It’s up to you. Either you can have the good will of people, or you can teach them to fear and avoid you, or to become defensive around you. Why not choose good help, especially when that probably has to do with why you’re stressed in the first place? To best express ourselves, we must learn… to stay calm.
Marital tension doesn’t have to be the norm. We can choose calm communication and watch our marital tension slowly begin to vanish. It’s far more effective than getting loud anyway. After all, the goal is to be heard, isn’t it?