Jose and Juanita have been married for 17 years, and basically love each other, yet have been fighting over the same issue almost every night of those years: She likes it cold at night and he likes it warm in their house and bedroom. She had just opened their bedroom windows for the night. When she left to visit the bathroom, she heard Jose follow her and close all the windows.
Let’s eavesdrop to see what we can learn about this fight and what to do about it.
Juanita: (to Jose)I can’t sleep unless the windows are wide open. You know that, but insist on closing them every night, just so I’ll be miserable. You are selfish and inconsiderate.
Jose: (to Juanita): This is my house too. Why should I have to freeze? You always get your way. It is so cold in here you could hang meat! Are you trying to get me sick? No NORMAL person would want it this cold!
Is this a solvable problem?
Depends on the specific marriage. For some couples, the solution would be a simple compromise of some sort; for instance, buy a room thermometer and agree to always keep the room at an agreed upon temperature both could live with.
In many marriages, however, a problem like this is not easily solved—it becomes “perpetual”—and trying to “solve” it only creates anger and tension. For Jose and Juanita, this unfortunately was the case.
Why is a simple problem like this not solvable for our couple and in many other marriages? Could be many reasons, but the usual culprits are:
(1) The couple is engaged in a “power” or “control” struggle. This means the fight isn’t about the issue anymore—it is about who will win or lose.
(2) The temperature issue goes deeper and is emotionally tied into other personal or marital issues. If this is the case, the more pressure put on the person to “change,” the more the person resists.
For instance, turns out that Juanita literally panics if in a room without air flow due to issues in her childhood. Depriving her of fresh air flow literally makes her want to fight for her life.
Confiding makes the difference
Let’s now listen in on what Jose and Juanita could have said that may have made a HUGE difference in their communication.
This is because now they are speaking from their hearts —combining empathy (seeing things from the viewpoint of the other) with assertive communication (honestly speaking your feelings and thoughts in a forthright manner)
Juanita (should have said something like): I feel that I don’t have to put up with this, although I also feel bad that you have to suffer. I tell myself that if you really loved me, you would want me to be comfortable at night.
I also ask myself why should I always give in? I work hard all day too and deserve some consideration. All I’m asking for is a decent night’s sleep, but then, I wonder if I am being too selfish.
Jose (should have said something like): I do really love you and I want you to be comfortable too, but it gets so cold in here at night for me that I can’t sleep.
We both want a good night’s sleep and want to be able to continue sleeping together in the same room. Let’s find a way to discuss it so it doesn’t make us so angry at each other.
Granted, it is not easy to confide when in the heat of marital battle. Consequently, it is often better to first take a time out, calm down and then communicate what is in your heart. The following communication tips will help:
Four communication tips
Tip 1- Don’t only focus on the issue. Also discuss your feelings, thoughts, and inner conflicts surrounding the issue. Confide what is going on in both your heart and your mind.
Tip 2- Look at how you communicate with each other ABOUT the issue. Focus on the process of communication.
Tip 3- Give up needing to be right all the time. Wise and successful married people have discovered that often it is preferable to be happy than to be right!
Tip 4- Convey to your partner that you love them enough to want to join them so together you can find a way to deal with the issue or problem.
Dr Tony Fiore is a licensed psychologist, marital therapist and certified anger management trainer. He is a Fellow of the American Stress Institute and a Diplomate of National Anger Management Association. He has received advanced training in marital therapy at the Gottman Institute in Seattle,Washington. In addition to his active clinical practice, Dr Tony regularly conducts anger management classes in Southern California, consults and provides trainings to companies for anger and stress management, and trains anger management facilitators. He also publishes a monthly newsletter “Taming The Anger Bee.” With Ari Novick, M. A. he has recently published a new workbook/manual: “Anger Management For The Twenty-First Century – The Eight Tools of Anger Control.”