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SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim gives you a process to handle bad behavior in your spouse in a loving way.
My wife and I keep having the same fight over the same thing, again and again. It comes down to feeling second to her phone, her social media, her work and the kids, especially at night. My question is, how do I overcome those feelings and stop feeling I am not that important to her? How do I get more of her attention? Every time I bring it up I must do it wrong, because it blows up into a huge fight, which drives more of a wedge between us. Hit me with your knowledge, Coach.
I’m going to give you a process to help you find the right response to any relationship problem, so you can find the answer yourself every time.
We call this process “The Clarity Questions,” and you can download it as a worksheet on our website. Let’s run through the process, pretending it’s a night when you want your wife’s attention, but she is on her phone. You may have to walk away from the situation when this happens and run through the steps on paper, then come back.
Remember your value (and hers) are not in question. You both have the same value, and no one is better or worse than the other. You are both struggling, scared students in the classroom of life, and you both behave badly at times. Make sure you remember you aren’t perfect either, so you aren’t coming from a place of judgment as the good one, casting them as the bad one.
Remember life is a classroom and the universe has one goal, to grow you and help you become better and more loving. If this is truth, then this experience (with this person) is today’s lesson for your growth. This situation is your chance to learn to be more mature, balanced and kind. If you see the situation as your classroom, you will handle it with more love and maturity.
Identify what is bothering you, using nothing but the facts, and use “I” statements more than “you” statements. This needs to be a statement owning what you are choosing to experience. Don’t bring up all their past mistakes or your past baggage nor apply meaning to their behavior. This step can be hard to do. You may need feedback from someone who isn’t emotionally involved to accurately see what the raw facts are.
Yours might sound like, “My spouse is on her phone and I am choosing to feel unloved and alone because of that.” (Don’t say this to her yet — just accurately own what the situation is.)
Get really clear on what you want. The way you handle this situation is going to create what happens next. What outcome do you want?
Yours might sound like, “I want more of my spouse’s undivided attention tonight and I’d like her to want to spend time with me.”
The goal is to figure out what behavior would create what you want. This is the most important step, because without it you might behave in a way that creates the exact opposite of what you really want.
Write down (on paper) all your behavior options. Take your time and write down every option you can think of (both good and bad). Then write next to each option what outcome you think that behavior is likely to create.
Here are some possible options and their outcomes:
Option 1: You can say nothing, but let it bother you, fester and create resentment.
- What would this create? Your feelings won't go away and will probably get bigger and bigger until you eventually explode in anger and create an even bigger wedge in your relationship.
Option 2: You could just blurt out what you are feeling and tell her being on her phone at night really bothers you and makes you feel unloved, and you think she cares more about Facebook than she cares about you.
- What might that create? This will probably trigger her fear of not being good enough, because criticism brings out the fear of failure in almost everyone unless you handle it the right way (and just blurting it out isn’t the right way).
- This approach is also selfish and doesn’t show any concern about her and what she wants or needs. So, she will probably react in fear, by either lashing back about your faults to prove she isn’t the only one who isn’t perfect, or she will get defensive and pull away from you further. Neither of those are going to create what you want, and there definitely won’t be any intimacy tonight because defensiveness doesn’t create the mood.
Option 3: You could have a mutually validating conversation. This is the best option if your relationship is struggling. There are details on how to do these conversations right in my book, "Choosing Clarity," but basically you make the first part of the conversation about her and her feelings by asking questions and listening. Ask her if you make her feel loved enough and is there anything you could do to make her feel more loved? (Ask for feedback about your behavior and be willing to take it.) This will make her more open to doing the same.
After you spend time asking questions, listening and validating her, ask if you could ask her a favor. Then, using “I” statements more than “you” statements, explain that you love her so much and would love to spend a little more time with her at night. (Make sure you have a loving WHY for this, though). You want to spend time with her because you love her company so much, because she’s so fun and so beautiful, and you love time with her. Notice, it’s not about only your needs getting met, it’s about love, not fear or lack.
It’s a good practice once a week, to ask your spouse what you could do to make them feel more loved, wanted, admired and appreciated. This would do wonders for your marriage.
- What might that create? Caring about her first, then asking for what you want, should make her like the idea of spending more time with you. Make sure you are fun, happy and giving her lots of positive validation (all day, every day) about how amazing she is, and she will be crazy about you. Seeing her as loving, giving, affectionate and fun (and telling her this is who you see) will encourage more of that behavior. Telling her she is rude, self-centered and always on her phone will only create more of that, because what you see is what you get.
Option 4: Distract her. (This is the best option if your relationship is pretty good.) Remember when you had small children fighting over a toy. The fastest way to end the fight was to distract them with something better. All you had to say was, “Who wants ice cream?” and the fight was over.
Next time she is on her phone at night, instead of getting in fear and starting a fight, choose love and fun. Tempt her with something better, something she loves. Just start kissing her, massage her feet, nibble on her ear. If you don’t know what your spouse loves more than her phone, ask her! “What could I do that would tempt you away from social media tonight and make you wildly happy?”
- What might that create? A fun night spending time together and a marriage that is more fun than demanding, defensive and resentful, which is what you wanted.
Choose the option that feels the most loving, mature and balanced.
Sometimes we get stuck in ego though and don’t want to choose love. Our ego wants to win the fight and make the other person pay for their bad behavior. It likes to stay mad and cast your spouse as the bad one. If you find yourself here and lack the motivation to show up with love, try imagining yourself years from now looking back at this moment. What kind of behavior towards your spouse right now would make you proud of yourself?
Choose to take the high road, forgive, be kind and loving towards your spouse, and be the first to apologize, because you will like yourself in the long run if you do.
You can do this.
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