In my counseling practice, I use a particular psychological approach that helps married couples in conflict learn how to work together against a problem instead of either spouse seeing the other as the problem—even if only one spouse is the major problem within the relationship.
To do this, I encourage my clients to learn how not to approach their spouses as enemies, especially when either spouse is seeking truthful, factual information from the other.
In Chapter 13 of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, I wrote:
When you approach another person as an enemy in an effort to seek information about a troubling issue between the two of you, your perspective on the problem is myopic at best in that you are solely focused on the other person’s words, behaviors, feelings, or attitude. If you view them as your enemy, you may also be approaching them in an emotionally charged state, like anger, frustration, or irritation.
In other words, you’re setting yourself up as the hero of the story you’ve been telling yourself, and if only you could get your nemesis to admit guilt for his or her wrongdoing, then you’d be proven right and win the day.
But even if that scenario played out, you wouldn’t have won because your perspective of winning would be fairly myopic. You would have won the battle of “Who’s right?,” but you would have lost the war of “Who’s on my side?” You would have further alienated your spouse, all in the name of being “right.”
And the next time you sought factual information from your spouse, it’s even more likely that he or she would fight you or withdraw from you because of how the previous conflict played out. So, a negative relationship cycle begins, and all because one spouse wanted to be right more than they wanted a healthy marriage.
Like I said in my book,
When you do the hard work of truly seeing and relating to this other present person as a human being—someone with thoughts, motivations, and feelings of their own that you aren’t privy to—you’re working to proactively prevent yourself from casting them as your antagonist in the movie of your mind.
Even in the midst of challenging conflict, remember: your spouse is not your nemesis!