When my husband and I drove through Europe, we frequently found ourselves caught up on rotary traffic circles in the cities (some call them “roundabouts”). Looping about a city landmark on the inner part of a multi-lane traffic circle, we would struggle in vain to get into the outer lane in time to turn onto the intersecting street that would continue us on our way. Without fail, we would be unable to break into the heavy stream of oncoming cars and we’d miss our turn. Consequently, it usually meant many lost minutes as we drove round and round the traffic circle in a seemingly futile effort to get to our destination.
The same kind of thing often happens to us in our marriages. Our responses to one another form reactionary circles that take us around and around in a repetitious pattern of interaction as certain words, actions, or gestures from our mate propel us into a predictable pattern of exchanges. We go round and round with the same negative retorts that produce the same frustration and hurts. When the episode is over, we don’t even know what happened. All we know is we are hurt and angry with our spouse once again and feel helpless to make things different. We think, If only he would change!
The good news is that either spouse can interrupt the sequence of interactions that make up those circular communication blockages. Every time this kind of exchange takes place between you and your mate, you can either maintain the pattern as it is, or redefine it. If you choose to alter your own responses noticeably and consistently, your mate’s reactions will change, which will in turn cause you to react in a different way to him or her. In this way, you can intentionally cause a destructive communication cycle to spin out in a new, more positive direction.
Here are some approaches you can use to interrupt a negative reactionary circle:
- Pause to listen, instead of reacting immediately. And really listen!
- Accept and validate your spouse’s feelings and experience.
- Use words of encouragement, acceptance, trust, understanding and reassurance
- Be aware of negative facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language
- Be a team. Use “I” statements rather than blaming, ie, “If only you would….”
- Find ways to laugh at yourself or use humor (not sarcasm) in an awkward moment
- Consider whether or not your mate has a valid point and affirm his or her right to make it by rephrasing it back to them
Each conversation with your spouse can potentially steer things in a new direction. Even careful listening sends a message as you interpret your mate’s words in negative or positive ways. If you consciously choose your words and responses, one small change can have a happy ripple effect that not only allows the marital dynamics to change, but restores the positive feelings of love and respect between husband and wife.
© Linda Rooks