“All you think about is yourself. Does it never occur to you that I might need some help with the kids or time to myself?”
Both of these comments address the same problem, but the approach is very different. Author Tara Parker-Pope in her book, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, suggests how you bring up a problem is paramount. Your choice to begin with a complaint or a criticism will determine if it becomes a productive fight or a harmful fight. Of course, the second comment puts your partner on the defensive rather than in problem-solving mode. Criticism isn’t helpful in addressing problems or concerns, while stating your needs clearly can help you both come up with solutions.
Parker-Pope is a New York Times health reporter who presents researchers’ findings rather than investigating them on her own. For instance, she discusses Dr. John Gottman’s recommended 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments, and she summarizes the study that suggests the happier wives are about the division of labor in their homes, the happier their husbands are with their sex lives.
The next time you have a concern you want to address with your spouse, think carefully about the timing of your discussion as well as how you bring it up. Find a non-confrontational way to broach the subject with the goal of discussing solutions or sharing your feelings.
Have you or your spouse recently been frustrated enough to blurt out a criticism that ended up causing a fight? Did it cause you to dig in your heels rather than seek compromise?