When I work with couples, I often ask them how they would deal with the same situation they are having with their spouse if it was a coworker instead. We have a tendency to be more kind, patient and diplomatic when addressing problems with our coworkers. We tend to think, “I have to work with this person perhaps for the next 20 years, so I better be able to get along with them”. This leads us to putting more effort into solving problems diplomatically instead of letting emotions get the better of us.
But when it’s with our spouse, there’s a tendency to think, “I have to live with this person so I’m not going to tolerate behavior I don’t like”. We tend to get demanding, overly critical, or demeaning to people we live with and then wonder why we don’t have good relationships.
I sometimes watch couples interrupt each other, speak harshly to each other, bring up the distant past, and fail to say anything positive to each other, yet tell me their coworkers, and customers love them. Obviously, they are doing something different at work that they don’t do at home.
This isn’t a new idea. It’s been said in the past that we tend to treat strangers better than our own families and friends. So what if you made the attempt to treat your spouse like a coworker that you need to find a way to get along with because your livelihood depends on it. Perhaps it will give you insight into things you could do differently, or things you really need to stop doing.
What if you conducted yourself as if your spouse was a coworker and your boss was present. It might not change anything, then again, it might.
Something else that has helped me get along with coworkers in the past is finding out what they’re passionate about. I was able to shift their bad mood by engaging them in conversations about things they were interested in. I recall one coworker who seemed constantly irritated by her work responsibilities. This made it harder to talk to her about upcoming projects, especially when I was making a request that was going to change her schedule or inconvenience her in some way. I then learned that she and her husband collected vintage toys as a hobby. If I brought this up during lunch and got her talking about her interests, I could watch her mood shift for the better, which made later discussions about work much more pleasant for both of us.
Along these lines, when is the last time you engaged in a pleasant conversation with your spouse about something they are interested in? When’s the last time you gave them a sincere compliment. Making a point to do these things more frequently than asking them to do something for you helps a lot. Think of it as a bank account, you want to put more in than you are taking out so your balance stays healthy.
Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan. He provides counseling for couples, teenagers, and adults. He can help with anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, relationship problems, and more. For more information, please visit the website at www.turnaboutcounseling.com.