The Three Types of Conversations in Marriage
How to regain hope when love grows cold.
There are three basic types of relational conversations:
The Adversarial Conversation
The adversarial couples fights, bickers, and attacks. Their communication style is to take a stand, stake out a position, and defend their territory. They exhaust themselves trying to convince each other to give in and come over to their side. They would rather be right than be loved. They bargain, plead, yell, scream in a hysterical attempt to get the other person to listen and pay attention to their feelings, needs, and pain.
A wise woman once said, “The reason why two people scream louder and louder at each other is because their hearts are so far apart that they need to scream to bridge the gulf between them.” How sad. You’d think couples stuck in an adversarial conversation would eventually figure out that this isn’t working and try something different.
The Alienated Conversation
The alienated conversation is a tired one because the couple has essentially given up. They might have been adversarial at one point but have now quit, exhausted from conflict. The smoldering embers of their love have grown cold. They have settled into co-existing, with little friendship and no romance. Politeness takes the place of playfulness and plastic smiles take the place of laughter. They speak in formalized, sterile tones, avoiding conflict and intimacy as they starve each other of affection. They go through the motions of being coupled.
Thankfully, there is a third kind of conversation where hope lies in wait:
The Collaborative Conversation
To rekindle a dying love, a couple must be willing to make a radical shift and strive to create a new kind of conversation that is collaborative. What creates a collaborative conversation is the ability to confide in each other rather than blame each other.
In order to confide a person must be able to do the following four things:
- Be able to control one’s anger and reactivity
- Be honest with ones self, owning one’s pain, unmet needs, and longings
- Speak only in I-sentences, not in you-sentences which imply blame
- Tolerate the anxiety of being vulnerable
Sarah has become concerned about her husband’s drinking habits. He always liked having a l’chaim Friday nights at the Shabbat table but recently he’s been having several especially with guests. She does not like how it affects his mood and the way it is impacting their relationship, especially on Shabbat. She has been losing her patience, feeling angry at him and emotionally disconnected.
She decides she must talk to him. She is worried that he will brush her off and get defensive or attack her for not understanding his needs and not being a supportive wife.
“Ben, I know this is a sensitive issue for you but I have to discuss my concerns about your drinking. It worries me and it’s negatively impacting our relationship and my feelings towards you. I hope I’m not being overly sensitive and I want you to be able to relax on Shabbat after a hard week of work.”
She anxiously waits to see how he will respond. He could take advantage of her vulnerability, defend himself and attack, or choose to be collaborative.
She is relieved when he says, “I understand how you might be concerned about my drinking. Maybe I am overdoing it. At the same time, I hope you understand that I’ve been under a tremendous amount of stress at work and concerned about my mom’s health. I need some way to unwind. I don’t want this to become a problem for us. Let’s see what might work for both of us.”
These are the sounds of a collaborative conversation taking place. Are you in a loveless relationship? If so, try going to your partner and say, “I’m tired of fighting, feeling disconnected and alienated. I want something better for both of us. Can we try something new?”
With these words, you have started a new type of conversation. You have taken a huge step towards creating a collaborative relationship and finding love.