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On the last track, we discussed the speaker-listener technique for structuring conversations for couples on sensitive issues.
On this track, we will discuss five hidden issues that can drive frustrating or destructive arguments between spouses. The five issues we will focus on in this track are, issues of control and power, issues of caring, issues of recognition, issues of commitment, and issues of integrity. We will also discuss ways to recognize hidden issues.
My clients Kyle and Wendy had been married for seven years. In one of our earliest marital counseling sessions, Wendy stated, "You know, our most frequent fight has to be about the stupid orange juice container. Kyle always expects me to be the one who makes more! I don’t know why we always end up getting so hot about it, but it makes us both crazy!"
I stated, "Most of the time, the issues that are triggered by daily events are very clear, for example when one partner notices a large withdrawal in a shared account, this event may trigger an issue surrounding money and start a fight. But sometimes, fights, like when you fight about the orange juice, don’t seem to be attached to any particular issue. Usually, these are driven by hidden issues." I found that explaining the concept of hidden issues to Kyle and Wendy enhanced their utilization of more effective communication strategies.
1. Control and Power
"4 Signs of Hidden Issues" Technique
The second sign to watch out for is trivial triggers. As you know, the argument between Kyle and Wendy over the orange juice container is a good example of a trivial trigger. Although the event itself is a small one, the orange juice container triggered powerful arguments driven by issues of power and caring.
In addition to wheel spinning and trivial triggers, I explained that a third sign of hidden issues to watch for is avoidance. As we have discussed on previous tracks, avoidance begins to occur when couples fear rejection from each other, and can be a clear sign of hidden issues.
I stated to Kyle and Wendy, "A fourth sign to look out for is scorekeeping. Scorekeeping can mean that one partner does not feel recognized for their efforts, or that he or she feels controlled and is keeping track of all of the times they have felt their partner has taken advantage of them. Whatever the underlying issue is, scorekeeping can be a sign that there are important issues that each partner is documenting instead of discussing."
I then explained to Kyle and Wendy that once they began to recognize the signs of hidden issues, they could ask each other to "pause" the argument, and use the "Speaker-Listener" technique, as we discussed on Track 6, with each other.
Do you have a client like Kyle or Wendy who would benefit from learning to recognize these 4 signs of hidden issues?
On this track, we have discussed five hidden issues that can drive the really frustrating or destructive arguments between spouses. These are issues of control and power, issues of caring, issues of recognition, issues of commitment, and issues of integrity. We also discussed ways to recognize hidden issues.
On the next track we will discuss three key assumptions that can help couples approach learning steps to solve problems together. These three assumptions are, all couples have problems, couples who approach problems as a team are more effective at problem solving, and rushing to find answers does not produce lasting solutions.
- Orathinkal, Jose, Vansteenwegen, Alfons. Couples’ Conflicts: A Territorial Perspective. Sexual & Relationship Therapy. Feb2006, Vol. 21 Issue 1, p27-44.
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