Episode 38: Change Destructive Patterns In Your Marriage Triggered by These 4 Words

by | Last updated: Feb 6, 2024 | Podcast

Marriage is forever…or so you’ve been taught.

You can change (or end) other things like jobs and even other relationships, but marriage is “sacred.” And because you’ve been indoctrinated with this, the notion of ending your marriage can carry all kinds of bad feelings–sadness, guilt, feelings of failure, and so on.

But what if you accepted the idea that relationships are meant to be impermanent? In this episode of The Loving Truth podcast, we’ll dive a little deeper into this indoctrination (specifically regarding your decision to stay or leave) and why there might be an impermanence to your decision to stay.

Listen to the Full Episode:

What You’ll Learn In This Episode:

1:45 – The destructive pattern I see every day triggered by these four words

4:42 – What you need to do to break this pattern and receive what you want

7:46 – How you can disrupt this destructive pattern and create a better one

9:40 – Why it isn’t necessary for both of you to be working together to change the pattern

11:52 – An alternative if it feels too scary to do this with your partner right now

Featured On The Show:

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Struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage and you’re serious about finding that answer?

Book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. We’ll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there’s a fit for you and I to work together so you can make - and execute - the RIGHT decision for YOU and your marriage.

Welcome to The Loving Truth Podcast where it's all about finding clarity, confidence, and peace in the face of marriage challenges. And now your host, relationship expert, and certified master life coach, Sharon Pope.

Sharon Pope: Hello, loves. This is Sharon Pope, and this is The Loving Truth. Today I want to talk with you about changing destructive patterns inside your marriage. Now, if you've been in an intimate relationship with someone for, I don't know, a decade or two, three, or four, you know you have some ways in which you engage with each other and those are patterns of engagement.

Now, some of those patterns are helpful. They help you function as a couple, they help you live life together, they help you raise kids together, they help you run a household together. Some of those patterns work for you. But some of the patterns, if you're struggling in your marriage, I would argue are not working for you.

What it actually does, is when you keep having these same destructive patterns that play out over and over and over again, it just leads to greater and greater disconnection inside your relationship. More dysfunction, more disconnection, and it's not helpful.

Now once you can see these patterns, that's when you can change them. We can't change anything that we can't see or are unwilling to see. But once you can see the pattern and how it's playing out in your marriage, that's when you can change it. It's a really powerful practice and it's worth a little bit of mental energy and time to sit down and figure out, “Okay, what are our patterns? Then how can I interrupt those patterns? How can I create change so that we don't keep having say the same argument over and over and over again?”

Now I'm going to share with you an example that I see all day every day. I mean, it is happening in marriages around the world in some similar version to this. I'm thinking that many of you are going to find resonance with this example. Let's play this out. Let's say that something has happened in your marriage that you're upset about and you want to talk to your partner about it. Most of us would go to our partner and we would say something along the lines of, “Hey, we need to talk.”

First of all, I call those the four-dreaded words, different from the five-dreaded words. This is the four-dreaded words: we need to talk, because no one wants to be on the receiving end of those four words, because you automatically know you did something wrong.

Oftentimes, when we start conversations with “We need to talk,” what we automatically get from the person we're trying to talk at, not talk to, talk at them, usually “We need to talk,” what that means is “I got some things to say you better sit down, shut up, and listen,” so what we get is defensiveness, which isn't listening, which isn't being heard. That's the first point of dysfunction.

You go to your partner, you have some version of “We need to talk,” you share with them what you're upset about, what you get in return is defensiveness. They armor up. They're defending their behavior and they're saying, “Well, you're wrong and you shouldn't feel the way you do.”

Then you dig in and you want to be heard and you want to be understood. You think your point is really valid so you keep trying to come at it from a different perspective. Then let's say he just gets more and more frustrated, because he's now digging in more in terms of his perspective, because when you're defensive, you're not listening.

He's not really listening, you're not feeling heard, then that's usually when things the octaves start to elevate. There's more frustration and there's more anger. At that point, you might be like, “Why bother?” and you just shut down. Then you might give each other the silent treatment for a few days because you're hacked off of each other, and nothing really got resolved. No one felt heard. No one felt understood.

Then nothing gets resolved until the next time it happens where the next time I get upset, then we enter the exact same pattern and we do it all over again. Then do that over the course of I don't know, years together, and this is what I mean when I say like the disconnection keeps getting wider because every time you try to have a conversation about something that you think is really valid to your experience, and you don't feel heard, that's just going to create disconnection on top of disconnection over and over and over again.

That adds up. It stacks up until it becomes like we don't even like our partners anymore. We don't trust them anymore, because of the ways in which we're engaging. Now what to do about it? First of all, I want you to know every single person on the planet wants to be heard and wants to be understood. Those are the basic needs for every single person in the relationship.

You already know that you want to be heard, and that you want to be understood. What I want to reiterate to you is so does your partner. They also want to be heard and understood. They want the exact same thing you do. But if you're not giving it to them, they're not going to give it to you and vice versa.

We always have to be willing to give what it is that we want to receive. If you want to be heard, then you have to be willing to listen. See, everyone wants to be heard. None of us really want to listen, I wouldn’t say none of us. Most of us don't really want to listen, we don't like to listen, we want to talk. We want to talk about our perspective.

But actually listening and doing that well, not listening to interrupt, not listening for how you're going to tell them how they're wrong, but listening to genuinely understand, “I want to understand why my partner sees this the way that they do. There's some reason why they see it this way. My job right now is just to listen so that I can understand. It doesn't mean if I listen I have to agree with it. It doesn't mean I can't feel differently. I can,” but we've got to start showing up in our relationships and giving the various kind of treatment that we want to receive in return.

We've got to be that example. If we're not willing to do that, then I don't think we can expect that from our partners. I'm going to say that again, because I think that that's really important. If we are not willing to give the kind of respectful engagement to our partners that we want to receive from them, we should not expect it from them. We cannot expect it from them.

It goes that way with everything. If we're not willing to give affection, we shouldn't expect to receive affection. If we're not willing to give respect, we shouldn't expect to receive respect in return. It's that way with every single thing in our relationships. We've got to be willing to step into that gap and be the one who's willing to give what it is that we want to receive.

I want you to think about that. Once you know this pattern, then you can figure out, “Okay, if I'm going to be the change here, if I'm going to be the one that's going to interrupt this pattern, where am I going to interrupt it?” Because the minute you interrupt this pattern, and we'll use the exact pattern that we set out before that we laid out before, as soon as you interrupt that pattern, everything after that changes.

No matter where you choose to interrupt it, anywhere on that pattern that just repeats over and over again, everything that comes after that is going to change, it will automatically create change. If you do it often enough, it creates a new pattern and a new way of engaging that is healthier.

For instance, you could, instead of saying “We need to talk,” and then talking at your partner, you could go to them and say, “You know what, I've got something important that I want to share with you and that I want to talk with you about. I really want to understand your perspective. You're in the middle of something right now but when would be a good time?”

I do that because now let's say they say, “Well, how about after dinner?” Great, after dinner. Now I have their full attention after dinner. I'm not interrupting something they're in the middle of that they're thinking about something completely different. They're going to be more open and receptive.

That alone, now I'm not going to automatically get defensiveness back from them. But if you keep starting the conversation with “We need to talk” and then talking at them, we shouldn't expect their reaction to be one of openness and willingness to listen to you and understand your perspective. They're not going to. That's the first place that you could interrupt it.

Now let's say that you start the same way that you always do because you weren't on your game that day. You weren't thinking about it. You just started it the way you always did and you got defensive. You got defensiveness coming back at you. Maybe even a little blame coming back at you and that doesn't feel good. At that point, you could change your part in this pattern and go, “You know what, I can hear you getting defensive, and I understand why. So, if you'll allow me, can I just back up and try again, can I have a do over? Let me try this a different way.”

No one's going to say no to that. They're always going to say yes. Now their guard is going to go down a little bit. It's probably not going to go down all the way but at least now they're going to be a little bit more open to hearing what it is that you have to say. That changes the downstream impact.

Think about it. This is why sometimes people will challenge me like, “Well, how can this possibly work if we're not both doing the work at the same time?” Look, it's lovely when both decided that the marriage is broken in some way and that we are both going to do the work in the exact same way at the exact same time. That's lovely.

It just very rarely happens. If you wait until you're both ready to work, work on the marriage in the same way at the same time, you could just be waiting forever. Instead, this is why I can tell you for sure, one person can have a massive impact on what's happening in the marriage because when you change how you show up inside these patterns, everything after that changes.

You see in our relationships, we're just doing a dance with one another. You take a step, I take a step. You take a step, I take a step and I adjust my steps based upon the steps that you take. If the two of you, if you've only been doing the tango for 20 years, and now I start doing the salsa, if my partner is going to keep up with me, they're going to have to change their steps, aren’t they? It's just a dance.

When you change your steps and you change how you show up, I'm going to tell you something, the way in which you engage with your partner, the way in which they show up for you, the patterns that start to be recreated change. One person can create massive change inside of a relationship. It begins with understanding the destructive patterns in your relationship and being the one who's willing to create change, being the one who's willing to say, “I'm going to do it differently and I'm going to see what happens.”

I want you to play with this a little bit. I don't want you to feel like, “Alright, I'm going to do it this way and then this is going to happen.” Don't be so stringent about it. Don't be so tight about it. Play with this a little bit. Let me try it this way. Let me see what kind of response and reaction I get when I say something along these lines.

When I asked for, “Hey, when would be a good time to talk about this?” versus just interrupting what they're doing right now because you want to talk at this very moment. Just play with this a little bit and see if you get a different response. If it feels too scary for you to play with this with your partner right now, do it with someone else.

You have patterns of engagement with your kids, with your parents, with your peers at work, try it with someone else and see if it works because what will happen is you will prove that it works and that will give you the courage to apply it inside your marriage. I hope that was helpful for you. Until next time, take really good care.

If you're listening to this podcast because you're struggling to decide whether to stay or go in your marriage, and you're serious about finding that answer, it's time to book a Truth & Clarity Session with a member of my team. On the call, we'll discuss where you are in your marriage and explore if there's a fit for you and I to work together so you can make and execute the right decision for you and your marriage. Go to clarityformymarriage.com to fill out an application now.


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