“How can you not understand that I am exhausted and need you to be more helpful with the children?” Anna says wearily to Max. Max replies, “Anna, that’s ridiculous, I do help, I help all the time. I’m tired too. My job is killing me. If you need more help, call your mom.”
What’s wrong with this exchange, one that I hear all the time in my office? What is going on underneath their words? Anna is asking her husband to hear and understand how tired she is. She wants him to care about how she feels and to offer to be there in the trenches with her. Unfortunately, her request includes a critical component (how can you not understand?). Her question also implies that her feelings of Max not being there for her has a long history. Max responds to her question and the implied criticism by shutting her down, telling her she is ridiculous and trying to get his needs met instead by telling her how exhausted he is. His response also suggests that he is sick and tired of hearing her complain about him. They have established their separate camps and no partnership or understanding is achieved. This is a no-win situation.
What could Anna have said and how could Max have replied? If Anna had said, Max, I need you here with me and Max had been open to Anna, the story would have been different. In other words, if each of them understood better how the other ‘operates’.
Couples Need an Ownership Manual
Stan Tatkin, PsyD, creator of PACT couples therapy, has for years studied couples and the physiology of how they relate to each other. He suggests that couples in distress form theories about why each partner is reacting a certain way or the relationship isn’t working like it’s supposed to. One of the questions we all ask when things aren’t working right is “Why?” He believes that in the long run these theories don’t work, because they generally are not accurate enough and they don’t help stop the pain. His theory is that we are fundamentally wired to react a certain way from our childhood and past experiences. The partner’s job is not to work to change the wiring of the other person, but to understand the other’s wiring. Beginning to understand the other’s “wiring” helps you begin to create an “ownership manual” for relating to the other person. And by ownership manual, he does not intend to imply that the other is your property.
“…Many Couples Have the Wrong Manual…”
In Stan’s words, “I like the metaphor because it conveys the level of mutual responsibility and detailed knowledge of the relationship a couple needs to be successful. In fact, I would propose to you that all couples do in fact, follow one or another set of principles in their relationship. They may not be conscious of it, but they already have on owner’s manual of sorts. Unfortunately, many couples have the wrong manual. And in the case of distressed couples, they always have it wrong”.
Anna and Max have the wrong ownership manual. They are both alone in their relationship, instead of feeling secure and understood. Without some work on discovering the right ownership manual, the relationship will continue to feel isolated and the partners will continue to feel uncared for.
Creating Your Relationship’s Ownership Manual
Stan’s book, Wired for Love, is written for couples who want to understand their relationship’s ownership manual. For additional help in discovering yours, call me for an initial consultation. I help couples create the right manual for their relationship. Contact Amy.