Mary and her husband, David, are having another fight. Mary had only recently resigned her job to become a stay home mother to their two young kids; this was a decision she was happy-making, but the transition has not been smooth.
She has become very irritable lately, and David frustrated with their many fights. As Mary greets David on arrival from work the following conversation ensues:
Mary: welcome, how was your day
Mary; would you want to have a warm bath? That will help
David: No (he sits and switches on the TV)
Mary: Can I bring you food?
David: (didn’t hear her, his attention is on the screen)
Mary: Are you ready to eat now
David: No, had something to eat already, maybe later
Mary: (becoming upset) The Johnson’s party is this evening, we had promised them we would come.
David: I don’t know, I am exhausted you may have to represent us
Mary; I will not go there by myself; after all, they are your friends and not mine. Call them and let them know you can’t make it.
David: Why are you so upset it’s just a party. I thought you wanted to go, that’s why I suggested you go alone. I will call him later. My challenge is, lately when I come home you seem to be looking for something to fight about
Mary: Really, how so?
David: I get tensed these days just thinking of coming home
Mary: Being at home all day is harder than I thought it would, no adult to talk and housework is tedious.
David: If you are not enjoying staying at home, let get another job for you.
Mary: That is not what I am saying; it was my decision, and am happy with it. I just need you to support me.
David: Support you how? Should we get a house help for you with the housework?
Mary: No, I can manage, besides we have only one income source now.
David: (angry) You can manage then why are you complaining? I am trying to support you, but you don’t even seem to know what you want, how can I know what to do.
Mary: You don’t have to talk to me that way…
The argument continues in circles.
What Mary needs from David that she is not saying is; she misses adult interaction; he is now her primary source of this interaction. It upsets her when he seems unwilling to participate in a conversation with her and would rather watch TV. Going to the party was a way to get out of the house and have time with him and other adults.
David, on the other hand, is trying to fix his wives problems, instead of listening and validating her.
One approach that would help couples in their conflicts is to be specific, to say what they need and not make global statements like ‘I need you to be more supportive’, ‘be there for me’ etc. These statements could mean different things to different people.
Some people go on to attack their partners in hopes that they would give them what they want. An example is ‘I don’t know what you benefit from going to seat with those little children in the viewing centre in the name of watching football instead of watching at home.’
(While women are more likely the ones that have issues with being specific with their request, men sometimes also have this challenge)
However, being specific comes at a cost. To honestly say what you want, will require you to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability can be scary because you risk rejection from your partner. The chances, however of getting your needs met is higher when your partner knows what you want.
The level of trust in the relationship determines how easily partners can be open and vulnerable. Responding favourably to a partners bid makes it easier for the partner to be more specific in the future.