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Stopping a Spill in Your Marriage

Aerial Photo of the Deepwater Oil Spill

Aerial Photo of the Deepwater Oil Spill

By Steve Cooper, Hitched Media

When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20th, it was a sad occasion where the immediate casualties were evident. What wasn’t clear at the time was a leak about one mile below the surface that would last much longer and cause much greater overall damage than the initial explosion. In marriages and relationships, we often focus on the explosions—the fights that raise our emotions and voices. What we need to look for, however, are the leaks below the surface.

Like the oil that is spreading and sticking to the Gulf Coast (and perhaps beyond), marriage leaks can permeate all facets of your relationship and gum up efforts to move forward. And while there were massive oversight and maintenance failures that contributed to the devastating events taking place in the Gulf Coast—and your marriage can learn a lesson there as well—let’s talk about the leak during and after the explosion.

Marriage expert Dr. John Gottman believes that some level of conflict in marriage is actually good and will help “weed out” the problems that can become issues down the road. So let’s dispel the notion that happy couples don’t have arguments and conflict—hopefully not regularly, though. What’s important is that you address your issues and the manner in which you respond. In fact, research has shown that what you fight about doesn’t really even matter.

I think it’s safe to say that BP and all other parties have not responded to the leak with the proper skills and solutions to prevent widespread damage. Moving forward, this event may perhaps be the catalyst that divorces the United States from the oil dependency we are currently married to. In marriage, while some equate men and women from two completely different planets, our problems are not as difficult to solve as trying to plug a gushing spill in freezing water a mile below the sea level. Couples need to learn how to cap the leak without causing further damage.

Dr. Scott Haltzman, author and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University, wrote an article for Hitched a while back outlining a few rules to follow when capping an argument. Haltzman says couples should avoid starting arguments with finger pointing and instead describe how the issue you’re concerned about is affecting you. He also says couples should avoid getting defensive when your spouse points out a problem. Remember, you’re on the same team and if you don’t understand what their issue is, continue to ask questions until you have a better grasp of their point of contention. Continuing on that theme, don’t fight to be right for the sake of being right. Dr. Haltzman says you need to see the big picture, and if the matter in question is not that important to you, why unnecessarily boost aggravation levels? Lastly—and perhaps most importantly—you need to respect your partner. “Feeling respected is critical in relationships; give your spouse the respect you would want for yourself,” writes Dr. Haltzman. “Be willing to come back after harsh words and patch things up. The old adage: ‘Don’t go to bed mad,’ had been passed down to you for a reason.”

These simple words of advice almost seem too simple. But they work. Putting a box over a leaking pipe or executing a “top kill” maneuver to plug an oil leak with mud, on the other hand, while seeming simple is a feat of prodigious engineering. While being married may sometimes feel like you’re from two different planets, thankfully our problems don’t require rocket science to solve them.


Steve Cooper is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Hitched, a service and lifestyle online magazine for married couples. Steve hosts a weekly podcast with experts covering all topics on married life, from sex and money to in-laws and date nights. You can follow Steve on Google+, Twitter or become a fan of Hitched on Facebook.

Do you believe that a certain level of conflict in your relationship can be a good thing? Chime in with your thoughts below.

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