An article in the Wall Street Journal investigates how and when couples know whether it's "just another fight," or if the relationship is over. (http://on.wsj.com/He4619) Considering that statistically, most people stay in a relationship for six years when they're unhappy, the final straw may come as quite a surprise for the other person.
Marriage and relationship therapist, Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil points out that one of the most common problems between men and women is the "schism" of communication styles and abilities between men and women. "This is often what women describe as 'shutting down,'" she says, "but often men don't know it's happening, or can't accurately convey what they're feeling. Hence, what women perceive as shutting down."
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When one person in a marriage decides they've experienced the last straw, and the relationship is over, the other partner may be caught off guard and want to work on things. One type of therapy explored in this article - and used by Dr. Bonnie (Discernment Therapy) - is used to help the spouse who wants to leave determine if that is truly the best decision or if reconciliation is possible. Thirty percent of people considering divorce would also consider reconciliation.
As Dr. Bonnie discusses in her book, Make Up Don't Break Up, she believes that most relationships can be saved - and she recognizes work should be done on the marriage before they get to the "final straw" point. Most of the time, says Dr. Bonnie, when couples do the work on their relationship, they decide to stay when they find their way.
"In my practice I frequently treat people who were caught off guard by a divorce request after what they have may felt was 'just another fight.' The reality is that people often stew in their dissatisfaction rather than dealing with it constructively, and then allow it to blow up - or end the relationship," Dr. Bonnie explains. This is also prime time for people to have affairs - they will feel it shakes up the relationship when they feel stuck.
The biggest complaint that women have in this situation, says Dr. Bonnie, is that men shut down and don't share. "But the men I see often reveal that they are frustrated too - they don't know how to share what they're feeling or why they're upset and their wives expect them to."
Since women tend to be the guardians of connection, Dr. Bonnie suggests a few things they can do to help ensure a safe communication environment, where surprise blow-ups won't occur!
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* Don't ask "what's wrong." Instead of opening up, men in this situation will just shut up!
* Practice Dr. Bonnie's Smart Hear Skills and Dialogue. "Men already don't feel comfortable identifying their feelings and talking about them, so women have to make a safe place - don't shame or blame" encourages Dr. Bonnie. She suggests setting aside ten minutes per day for this type of safe connection, where women create a place that their husbands can express themselves.