05 Jan Dating and Relationship Advice
Dear Rabbi and Shira,
I’m not sure what to do. I’ve been married for a year and a half. When we dated, I felt like we had better communication, but now, my wife won’t compromise at all with me. Every time there is a fight about a decision to be made, she approaches the fight as it’s either “my way or the highway.” She doesn’t relent, and will keep badgering me or give me the silent treatment. I start to just give up when there is a conflict, because I feel that it’s not with my sanity. I feel I’m being stifled.
-Closed Mouth in Midwood.
Dear Mouth Closed in midwood.
We are sorry to hear that you are having such a hard time.
It is surprising to hear, but learning how to disagree is one of the most important skills in marriage. We assume that “Shalom Bayis” means that everyone always agrees. However, the truth is that you are two people, with two different ways of view things.
First express to her that you’d like to hear her opinion, and you’d appreciate the courtesy of being heard as well. Explain that you’d like to use the following rules. Each person must listen to the other side’s opinion. You need to take turns explaining your point of view. The other person must listen respectfully, paraphrasing each point and asking questions only for clarification. Discuss with her why the issue is so important to her, and what is important to you.
It’s ok for you to say, give me space. Explain to her how this way of communicating is making you feel overwhelmed, and uncomfortable. Express to her that this is not a way of fighting fair.
Compromising is not a skill everyone has learned. However, it is vital, as most couples end up fighting about the same things throughout their lives, and they must learn how navigate them together. The first step is to ask yourself, what areas are you flexible about? What areas aren’t you flexible about? Each person has a list of behaviors, principles and standards, with varying amounts of priority. Some things a person can negotiate about. Some they cannot.
John Gottman advises to make a big oval, with a smaller oval inside, He calls it a compromise bagel. Fill in the smaller oval with the needs you cannot live without. These are your inflexible areas. Try to keep this short by including only the needs that are essential to your happiness and, thus, your relationship’s success.Next, in the bigger oval, list aspects of your position that are negotiable. These are your flexible areas. This doesn’t mean compromising on the need itself. It means being open to shifting some of the specifics about the need, such as timing, location, or methods to achieve your goal. Oftentimes (Gottman’s research showed ⅔ times) you’ll find that you are arguing about the same problems. It does not preclude a happy relationship. It’s how you manage your differences which makes all the difference.
Try to schedule a time to sit down with your wife and speak about what you are flexible about and what you aren’t. Discuss what are your needs, what you each can and cannot be flexible with. Problem-solve together, to find where compromise is possible. Experiment with different solutions, and understand that it is a work in progress and each attempt will bring the two of you closer to a greater understanding of each other and how you feel about the subject at hand.
If you find that you need more help, we recommend seeing a professional. We wish you luck learning to communicate and compromising together,
–Rabbi Reuven and Shira Boshnack