When a couple comes to my office to work on their marriage, the most often identified counseling goal involves learning how to decrease conflict and improve communication. There are many reasons for why destructive conflict occurs in marriage, but there is really only one effective way to consistently decrease it.
Most conflicts start when one of the partners speaks up with a concern or complaint. Too often, the message is delivered in a harsh, critical fashion which increases the likelihood of a negative or retaliatory reaction. Very quickly, the emotions of both parties begin to overflow the banks of self-control and good judgment.
In an effort to help couples change their destructive pattern of communication I encourage them look at their partner’s complaint, no matter how it is delivered, as an expression of emotional hunger. If your body doesn’t get the food it needs, you will experience physical hunger and your stomach will growl. When an emotional need is not met, the “growl” usually occurs in the form of a complaint or criticism. So when your partner whines, gripes, nags or complains they are really asking to be emotionally fed and nourished.
But here’s an unfortunate reality: When I ask couples to describe a recent conflict, I often find that once a complaint has been expressed (translation: “I’m hungry. Please feed me!”) I find that most people ignore their partner’s request and begin feeding themselves instead by defending, blaming and explaining. Often, they will react with a counter-complaint of their own which conveys the message, “My hunger is more important than yours and your needs don’t matter to me.” Ouch!
You can see now why it’s so easy to become offended and to quickly ascend the emotional escalator. After all, your partner is refusing to feed you, and to add