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Assigning blame does no good; instead, deal with the problem

Assigning blame does no good; instead, deal with the problem

Q: My wife and I are having a problem with our communication: We disagree about what was said, or agreed to, from earlier conversations. There are definitely times when I am so convinced my wife has gotten her facts wrong, we end up getting into arguments (read: name-calling).

I am convinced she doesn't remember what she says, and would really like to record our conversations to prove to her that I am right. I have a feeling that will only make her madder. Any suggestions for how we can handle this (her) miscommunication?

San Mateo, CA

A: You're convinced she "doesn't remember what she says." That would make the miscommunication involuntary, right? And therefore unwitting?

Meaning, each of your memory banks is telling you the other person is wrong? Okay. So: With no proof available and no conscious choices being made, who's to say you aren't the one messing up?

So instead of trying to prove her wrong, banish right and wrong altogether. Assigning blame just stirs up emotion, and emotion inhibits progress by making people defensive.

There could be a problem in something as small as phrasing, as significant as your expectations of each other, and as serious as each other's neurological health. Any of these problems can occur between two people who mean well and love each other and never fought much until now.

Replace your gotcha! approach with a concerned-spouse approach. Suggest there may be a gap in perception in the marriage, or even real mental confusion or memory loss — in either of you. Whether the problem's in the marriage or somebody's brain, neither of you can afford to let the problem lie undiscovered. Then suggest that you both take and compare notes of conversations, until the source of the problem comes out. Back down, reach out, solve it together (and soon).

Try to enjoy time with son, and consider depression screening

Q: My son is only 4 1/2 but he spends every morning at school plus 40 percent of his other time with his dad (we're split). I'm starting to feel like I don't know him anymore, and I don't even know how to re-bond with him. He really just wants to play with friends and doesn't want his mother.


A: By my count, then, he spends 60 percent of his time out of school — afternoons and weekends, right? — with you. Which means that if proximity is knowledge, you still know him better than anyone else does.

Of course it's more complicated than that — kids have preferences, after all. But they have developmental phases, too, so their preferences can change as they grow, as you change, as circumstances shift. Meanwhile, you can expect to be in this child-rearing gig full-time for 18-plus years, and on an on-call basis in perpetuity after that. So any talk of "re-bonding" is premature.

You can bring two things to your relationship with your son that he can't: patience and perspective. Be with him, listen to him, take pleasure in him, and give your fears a chance to resolve themselves. Also, if that's really despair tinting your brief letter, vs. just melodrama, then it's possible you're depressed — which can disrupt bonding. Please consider getting screened.

Assigning blame does no good; instead, deal with the problem 10/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 7:30pm]
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