One of the crucial tasks of every married couple is to be able to work together as a team. Life’s constant challenges and demands require that decisions be made in order to carry on the business of life. A couple must be able to work together effectively, which means they must possess good communication and negotiating skills. Couples that can’t work together end up fighting, frustrated and not very happy. Here are some pointers on how to work as a team:
1. Create a safe emotional space that encourages open and honest communication
This is an ongoing challenge for every married couple. It means creating an “abuse free” relationship.
A colleague of mine defines an abusive relationship as one in which one person is afraid to express his feelings and opinions. Any degree of dysfunction in a couple’s communication style affects their ability to work together as a team.
Not to mention that it is a Torah commandment not to be verbally abusive — not to hurt another person with our words.
2. Negotiate all rules, roles, and responsibilities
One couple I worked with had the following challenge to deal with. Every night the husband would come home and spend at least thirty minutes in the bathroom. He claimed this was his “down time.” His wife couldn’t take it because she needed his help when he came home. The need to negotiate some agreed upon “rules” for how to manage the needs and time of the evening hours was something they never thought of doing. They thought that people negotiate peace treaties, not rules for living together. But power struggles are often the source of much distress in many marriages. The only way out of a power struggle is to negotiate a solution that works for each person.
Negotiation is part of the bedrock of good communication between husband and wife. If a couple can’t negotiate, it’s unlikely they can stay married. It’s that simple.
3. When dealing with difficult issues, have respect and patience
This is the great principle of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler: “When demands begin, love departs.”
Dr. John Gottman, a well-known marriage expert, points out that you can predict the outcome of any discussion by how it starts. He talks about the importance of bringing up issues with “soft start-ups,” as opposed to “harsh start-ups.” If it starts out with anger, it will most likely end with anger. Therefore, be very conscious of your emotional state and tone of voice when you bring up any problem with your spouse. Never attack or demand. Rather, begin in a soft manner, such as, “You know I’ve been thinking a lot about the quality of our time together and want to discuss it with you. Is this a good time for you?” A harsh start-up would look like: “We’ve got to talk about how little time we spend together. I can’t take it any more!”
4. Take responsibility to confront all problems before you start feeling resentment towards your spouse.
A husband and wife should never have any unfinished business from a week ago, let alone two years ago.
In order to be able to stay current there must be a good measure of trust between the two of you. At the same time, bringing things up sooner rather than later is an important way of building trust. Each partner learns over time that it’s okay to bring up issues, that he/she will not be “punished” for doing so.
Keep a list of issues that bother you. I suggest you have a regular “marriage meeting” once a week or even once a month in order to discuss problems, so that your everyday conversations don’t become “problem saturated.”
By utilizing these tools, you and your spouse can become a powerful team, able to confront life’s many challenges with strength, cooperation and mutual trust.