Q. I remarried three years ago. As time has passed, we have started screaming at each other, and I have hit him on several occasions. We are both embarrassed to seek counseling because we are respected in the community. What can we do to stop the fighting?
A. First of all, respectable people seek counseling. Having a trained third-party help you through difficult times is the most effective way of saving your marriage.
If therapy is not an option, there are techniques that you can use as a couple to resolve issues. For example, when you have a problem, point out specific behaviors rather than using a derogatory label or over-generalizing. If he criticizes you, respond by saying, “I feel bad when you say something negative about me” as opposed to “You always find something wrong with me.”
Couples allow unresolved problems to continue for days leading to further breakdown in communications. Focus on the present problem, not something that happened weeks ago. Be brief with your complaint. Give your husband time to respond, but remind him that responding with anger only worsens the situation.
Be certain that each of you has an understanding of what the other is saying. Paraphrase what you have heard. Then ask your husband if you heard correctly. Ask that he do the same. Many times we hear something different from what is being said, and it leads to a disagreement.
You didn’t mention when these altercations occur. In my experience as a therapist, I know that they often take place after one or both parties have been drinking or are overly tired. Remember these are not good times for an argument.
If you decide not to seek professional help, I would suggest purchasing a book on couple’s communications. “The Feeling Good Handbook” by David Burns is one of my favorites. It addresses relationship communications, intimacy, and a variety of other relevant issues.
Q. My wife and I are in our 70’s. We dated in college, parted ways, and reunited two years ago. We only dated a few months before we got married. I thought we could have a good time together during our senior years, but her only concern is her grandchildren. I think I may have fallen in love with the girl who was 18. Is there any hope in saving the relationship?
A. Both of you should seek marriage counseling. It seems clear that you did not have discussions about the expectations and commitments of marriage before you moved forward. As we get older, we often become hurried about decisions affecting the “time I have left” and sometimes we live to regret those decision.
Reuniting after many years can be a wonderful experience, but there are also many adjustments. If you had little contact with each other over the years, you are unaware of the changes that have taken place in each other’s lives. People at 18 or 28 are not the same individuals that they are at 70.
It sounds as if your wife has turned her life’s purpose over to her grandchildren while forgetting that she is entitled to live her own life. Although being an attentive grandparent is important, it is a mistake to make that one’s only focus. Please discuss this with your wife before you give up on the marriage.
At the same time, you need to question yourself and your motives. Are you willing to make this work or do you think you have made a mistake? As we get older, reliving the past often makes us feel like we have gone home again, often to a place that no longer exists.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College and maintains a limited private practice in Pine Bluff. If you have questions, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.