THE LIMITS OF OUR INFLUENCE

So many arguments stem from people repeating themselves over and over which only escalates the tension and conflict. Spouses repeat their positions because they are convinced that their partners must not understand them clearly, otherwise why wouldn’t they agree? It is difficult to consider that your husband or wife understands you well enough, but he or she disagrees with you because they have a different point of view.

What gets  lost in the insistence on trying to change the other person’s mind is the recognition that your ability to influence someone else is limited. Your partner is a separate person who has the right to think and feel in her or his own way. You can not get inside her or his mind to change how they see things. Nor should you want to. There needs to be a mutual respect in a relationship in which each person has the right to their point of view. In the actual day to day experience of living in a relationship this means that you can express yourself two or three times on an issue and then stop. That is enough to get across what you think and feel. More than two or three times is trying to force your partner to agree with you.

Instead of trying to get your partner to give in, you will be better off reminding yourself that you can try to persuade your partner, but you can’t make him or her do what you want. You can influence, but not control. An important question to ask yourself is what is the underlying motivation you have to try to control your spouse? Do you tend to feel that either you are in control of a situation or are powerless? Does the fear of being powerless have any connection to what you witnessed as a child in your parents’ marriage or in the emotional atmosphere of your family?

People who grew up with a parent who was frequently out of control can be very sensitive to feeling emotionally threatened by a lack of control. Other people need to push for agreement from their partner because their ability to validate their own thoughts and feelings is not strong and they need the reassurance of their partner’s agreement in order to feel secure. Asking yourself what is the emotional need to get your spouse to agree with you will help you to decrease the urge to force your wife or husband to give in to you. When you push your partner you only distance him or her and make them more reluctant to consider your point of view. When you give your partner the space to think about what you are saying and to really make a choice, he or she will feel more  open to responding positively.

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