My wife and I are in a mess. Here’s what happens. She comes to me crying about what I did wrong and I feel so guilty and defensive that I can’t stand it. Then I withdraw to my shop and she becomes even more upset, and comes after me with more complaints and criticisms.What is going wrong and how can we get out of this mess?
You’re locked in a vicious cycle. In fact there is a name for your particular conflict–the demand/withdraw negative escalation cycle. This cycle can be explained as follows: the more your wife comes after you, the more you withdraw, which makes her come after you even more, and on and on.The first thing you need to realize is that your wife wants you to listen and understand her feelings. Unfortunately, the way she is approaching you with reproaches and tears, isn’t inducing you to want to listen and understand her. Because she lacks the appropriate tools for communicating her gripes, she is resorting to dysfunctional tactics, such as blaming, guilt tripping, and so on.The only way out of this mess, is for your wife to substitute her dysfunctional tactics for my proven effective X, Y Formula, which is the appropriate way to communicate any problem. The X refers to saying what was said or done, and the Y refers to how you feel about what was said or done. She shoud finish with a Suggestion for the Future, and you will know what behavior she would prefer from you.To put this formula into practice, I suggest that you tell her the following. When you come to me with accusations and emotional heat, I become so filled with guilt over having upset you and I run away to escape how bad I’m feeling over having hurt you. When I escape, I think that you feel dropped by me, which I don’t want to do. If you could approach me in a way that wouldn’t make me feel so attacked, it would help me listen to you.Then explain my X, Y Formula to her and encourage her to use it. When she uses the formula, listen and understand her using the various techniques outlined in my book. These include mirroring back what you heard, and questioning to clarify that you did, in fact, understand her.In most cases, feeling truly heard and understood is all that is required to resolve the conflict. For more details on how to resolve this and any other conflict you can imagine, read my book, which is obviously too lengthy for me to outline in this short answer.