How to stay calm while your spouse tells you about problems in your marriage?

how do you talk through problems in your marriage without getting swamped by emotion and bringing the conversation to a premature end?

how to avoid lashing out when you feel hurt by a spouse’s legitimate sharing?

Stay as focused and present as you can. If you feel like you can’t continue without saying or doing something you’ll regret later, mention that and continue later.

And mamorize this phrase: “When you do ______, it makes me feel _________.” Never blame.

Since you’re looking for advice, I’ll move to our advice forum, IMHO (from MPSIMS).

[nonmod]Sounds like you’re going through a rough patch – hang in there.[/nonmod]

Perhaps do it in a setting where you have a neutral third party present, like a marriage counselor.

Nod and look sincere and contrite and remember that revenge is a dish best served cold.

Edit: sorry, that’s unhelpful. For me I have to consciously remind myself that such conversations are very difficult to have for both parties, and that things that strike me as unnecessarily hurtful were probably not hurtful on purpose, but rather as a byproduct of my partner trying to phrase things on the fly. I think that relationship conversations are a place to cut the other person a lot of slack in how things are said, and conversely are a place to phrase things very, very carefully.

Picture them naked. They may be put off by your involuntary smile, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make the conversation go smoothly.

And for once, I’m not joking.


Remember that whatever is being said, is being said because your partner loves you and values your marriage. Remember your spouse is another human being who is also anxious and uncertain.

If you need time to process, be honest about that but don’t use it as an avoidant excuse.

From a woman who is actually in a long-term partnership (though not married…yet) with a man, I can say that I struggle with this too. I find that being overcome with emotion is always going to be an issue, but I am learning that it is often better to ask for time to reflect/calm down before responding. My partner and I found that when I got really emotional, we would have these long, exhausting, emotionally wrought discussions…that had no productive result. They also could be kind of damaging, because I had a tendency to say things I regretted (not mean things, like calling names, but thoughts that would be better kept private).

I have been trying a new tactic: back away. Either take some time apart, or change the topic for awhile, so I can calm down before I process. It’s by agreement–I’m not talking about the “silent treatment” or running away. I either express a need for time by myself, or ask that we change the subject for awhile so I can get my thoughts together to respond. It isn’t easy, but it’s working out much better than trying to “have it all out” in the moment.


You are both in the relationship to make yourself and your spouse happier then you would be apart.

To be happy, you both need to be able to say what you want, and the other needs 1. to listen
2. to acknowledge that he has heard and understood

Important step here is to keep the focus on what you want, in the near future, from the other. Try to keep away from dwelling on what you didn’t get, on how angry you are, on what the other does wrong, on how his actions are indicative of character flaws or his bad upbringing. None of that is helpful and it all leads to defensive bickering.

So, don’t say: “I’m sick and tired of holding down a crappy job so you can play around at odd jobs that lead nowhere and dreaming you’ll hit it big with your music band”
Do say: “Hon, I’m really sick of my job and I want to quit and take the time to look for another better job that pays better. Could you get a job to pay at least half the bills for at least six months?”

The main thing is to try not to view what she’s saying as criticism or an attack on you, but to realize that she’s unhappy with how things currently are in your relationship and you guys need to talk about that, even if it’s painful or upsetting. So try to hear past the roar in your ears that makes you want to explain why you weren’t wrong to do X or why she’s a hypocrite for complaining about it, given Y, and see if you can understand why she’s upset. You still may not agree with it, but it gives you a starting point.

And don’t feel like you have to just squelch down your feelings of hurt or frustration or anger, that is counterproductive. Instead, rather than immediately reacting to them, let her finish what she’s saying and then just state them. “It really hurts my feelings to hear you say ____, I feel like you’re overlooking ____ and ____. And it’s frustrating that you say you think I need to ____ more when I feel like the same applies to you.”

So you can have the same feelings, just don’t let yourself immediately fly off the handle. And if you do, stop and say “sorry, I’m getting upset” and then either take a minute to cool off, or reset the conversation back a step by restating what you think you’re trying to discuss.

Worst four words ever: “We need to talk.”

Do it in writing.

I think you need to decide rationally based on your needs and expectations if the marriage is worth saving before you engage in these in these conversations. If it is then information about their feelings and expectations is useful. Looking at it as just an emotional beat down is childish if you want to save the marriage. It’s information you need. If you are going to destroy the reasoned conversational context because your feelings are hurt you need to put on your big girl underwear and deal.

But like I said predicate to all this is -

1: Do you want to save the marriage?

2: Are the comments reasonable and delivered respectfully?

We have a regularly scheduled “relationship summit”. Because it is regular and part of what we do all the time and not something we only do when things are in crisis, we’re listening to each other’s concerns.

It helps that we’re all pretty good at listening to complaints about “how things are” from our significant others. We believe of each other that our partners are acting in good faith, both in our general behavior and with regards to bringing these matters up, that no hurts are being inflicted on purpose.

Oh, and if someone is really hurt and angry, it seems to work better to ask for some “away time” to just stew on it and get to the point of being able to talk about it without lashing out.

(I’m poly and these are not “marriages” but I think the same principles all apply)

This. You’ve really only got trouble when the other stops trying to resolve what they see as a problem. The problem isn’t necessarily even about you, it’s about how the other is interpreting your actions and intent. I might have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I have to kill a bottle of vodka every night and shag random strangers several times a week, but if my wife can’t read my mind to understand my reasoning, she’s probably going to have some questions before she decides whether or not [del]she needs to change her attitude and fix me a sammich[/del] whatever is troubling her requires action from her, me, or both of us.

I remember that neither of us are perfect people but we’re on the same team running for the same goal. We each have ideas and opinions on the best way to reach that goal and just because I’m such an awesome smart dude and she defers to me most of the time it doesn’t mean I’m always right or I have the best idea.

And if I get hot and want to call her names I start singing “it’s cheaper to keep’er” in my head and ask for a short recess to gather my thoughts before proceeding.

Never talk when either party is angry or emotional. I usually wait 3 days, whatever it was usually seems silly and minor after that time.

The words; “We need to talk” are relationship destroyers. Never use them.

If you really need to discuss an issue or problem and you cannot find a way to steer a normal conversation toward the subject, in a non-confrontational manor, your relationship is already at risk.

Emotions escalate quickly, words said cannot be taken back, they can’t be un-said, be sure you are ready to go to the point of no return before you start.

In a healthy relationship there should be no need for a confrontation type discussion. Do not bottle it up until you have been stewing it over and it needs to come to a head.

A healthy relationship, in my experience, involves disagreements that are addressed on a regular basis, and then are done. A few minutes explaining that you just pissed me off, and then what are we doing about dinner tonight.

My first marriage was 20 years, we struggled with discussing things we were not happy about and almost always ended up in a fight. We usually made up before going to bed as we did care for one another but the issues were never resolved. Since my divorce I have been in a couple of long term relationships and this is no longer an issue. I simply have learned to accept things as they are, including myself. If sexs isn’t perfect I try to steer it the directions I like and encourage her to do the same but I never let it become an issue.
Food issues are probably the biggest problem I have, I like my food very specific ways and am more than willing to do my own cooking. I haven’t found a successful way to say I like it different than the way she makes it. It tends to end with " I can’t do anything right".

This is what I was going to say: have the conversation over e-mail.

Just text.