Cornering mental Health…with Judith Coche, Ph.D. and Kathryn Habel, M.S.*
Slinging Nasty Marital Arrows can Ruin a Great Day!
We got to thinking about how couples ruin their vacation while they are not looking. Does this sound all too familiar? We see it every day locally from folks who live here and folks on vacation. A couple comes to Wildwood for the weekend. She has been dreaming of going to go to the day spa, but knows he will not approve. He can’t wait to get on a fishing boat, but she has made it clear she wants to eat out every night. He thinks that the price of the spa is outrageous. She objects to the smell of fishing. Once she raises her spa idea, he starts to steam under his T shirt, but politeness, “A spa is not a wise choice for a beach vacation. I can give you a back rub this evening after you hang out at the beach, which is you wanted to come here.” Escalating ever so slightly to get his attention before he wanders off to watch the weather, she retorts crisply,”Well, if it’s fish you want to eat, you can cook it because I have no interest in cooking on my vacation!” Bingo! A lovely day has been trashed, with insult adding to injury. Both will smart all day from the critical tone that started the day. By noon, he is fishing angrily off a pier with kids and buckets, and she is fuming behind a book at the beach. He has no desire to return to the cottage they rented and she finds herself thinking through how her life would be as a single Mom.
Did the marital trouble come suddenly? Not really. This couple planned the day to battle stress, but stress crept into this day when one announced intent to do an activity the other resented. Both knew better than to ask permission of the other and both partners began to feel insulted. She felt misunderstood by his seeming callousness of her need for sensual luxury at a day spa. He felt righteous that she refused to cook in the kitchen he is paying for each day. He declared no interest in her “Romantic dinner out.” She was quick to say that he has “never caught a fish and never will”, and added ceremoniously “You do not give a f---- f---about what I want.”. Rising to the escalation he pronounced her “selfish and greedy, just like your mother.”
Sound familiar? Listen to the undertones of those on vacation around you. We hope this has never happened to you, but, if it has, you are in good company. Most couples, purely out of ignorance, get sucked into verbal or emotional abuse. It is hard not to. But ignorance does not prevent damage. Harsh words tears at self esteem and create escalation and revenge. Verbal and emotional abuse can, in fact, destroy a marriage, as resentment turns to contempt. Research actually shows this to be true.
Repair the damage? Yes, you can! It requires forethought and cooperation. One of you can take the lead, which helps tone down emotional static between you, but before you can feel successful, you both need to cooperate. Three quick tips can make a dent in the verbally and emotionally abusive patterns we see all over Cape May County:
1. Order a book. We recommend work by Patricia Evans and Beverly Engel. Find yourself in the pages. It helps to identify the patterns and courageously determine to change them. You can make a difference without your partner’s help.
2. Sign up for a workshop or counseling if you need help. These changes are hard to put into operation because our emotions cause our logic to short circuit when we get upset. Do some skill building, coaching, or interactive support. This can help get the courage and skill for more effective communication. One partner in the marriage can push the other into change.
3. Find a quiet moment to speak calmly with your big squeeze. Ask if he/she has noticed the problem and, if so, is he/she willing to understand how this happens. Team patiently to get information, knowledge and skill to pry yourselves loose from this
destructive marital pattern. If you both need the outside resources, grab that book, seek a bit of help, and keep practicing! You will need quite some time to change the internal automatic reactions, but it is a great gift to give one another. And, please do remember to say “Thank You” to the partner who will change with you. It is a great marital gift.
Judith Coche, Ph.D. owns The Coche Center, which returned to Cape May County in 2002. You can reach her www.thecochecenter.com
- Originally published in the The Cape May Country Herald, www.capemaycountyherald.com , March 2007.