Acknowledge YOUR contribution to the problem
Example: A couple recently came in to see me who were on the verge of splitting up because of anger. I asked who the angry person is. H said that she usually picks on him for something. She immediately says that she wouldn’t pick on him if he didn’t deserve it. He then reacts defensively right in the session. She then reacts to his defensive reaction. He then reacts to her reaction. Pretty soon they are at full scale war with each other. This pattern can be described as follows:
The more he Xs the More she Y’s
The More She Y’s the More He X’s
The more she picks the more he defends and attacks back
The more he defends and attacks back
The more she picks and finds other faults
Most marital conflicts involve the contribution of both partners.
But, the contributions are not necessarily 50%-50%, and regarding “contributions:”
- 1. Sometimes the contribution is in the form of directly being angry in the first place (e.g. raging at partner because the television is broken)
- 2. Sometimes the contribution is in the form of being overly defensive to the partner’s anger or expression of issues (e.g. “i am NOT irresponsible….you are the one who wwrote a bad check last week.”
- 3. Sometimes the contribution is that of reacting poorly to partner in another way (other than defensiveness) which keeps the anger alive or makes it worse (e.g. “ You broke my favorite cup ..you go sleep on the couch tonight)
The contributions may be split such as:
- 95%-5% Example: He is a falling down drunk(99% contribution) who blames his alcoholism on his perception that his wife is a “bitch.”(1% contribution)
- 70%-30% Example: Husband has affair (70%) but after ten years of marriage they have sex once every two years and he has repeatedly tried to talk to her about his frustration and lack of emotional connection. She basically ignores him.
- 50%-50% Example: Partner A and B had to file bankrupcy last year mostly due to Partner A’s irresponsibly spending. They go to marriage counseling.
The therapist has them sign an agreement that neither will spend more than $100 without the consent of the other. B comes home 2 months later to a stack of Amazon boxes. Partner B confronts Partner A in a very angry way.In the next session Partner A uses Partner B’s outburst of frustration as evidence B’s anger issues, without taking any resonsobility for part of the problem.
How does this help?
Acknowledging contribution is a HUGE step in improving communication, problem-solving, and emotional connection around perpetual issues-even if the issues remain.