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Experiment to improve communication in marriage

(64 Posts)
ThemeNights Mon 01-Jul-13 22:32:56

I am a regular but have NC'd for this thread, my first in relationships.

So, things are not all rosy in the Nights household. Married 8 years, one DC aged 5, general low level narkiness with each other occasionally blowing up into big row. We love each other but can't break out of the cycle of competitive tiredness, one-upmanship etc. I have recently uttered, with deadly seriousness "I can't live like this." So things have to improve!

Borrowing an idea from a friend of a friend, I have proposed something new. Each night after dinner and DC is in bed, we work together on a particular theme of family life. E.g. Monday - family finances and admin; Tuesday - housework/DIY; Wednesday - shopping lists etc.

One night is set aside for fun when we don't do any jobs but do something together, even if it is slumping in front of a film on TV.

DH has been dismissive, sarky, reluctant, protesting but with some cajoling from me, we made a start tonight. It was a moderate success, we got some stuff done and we had a civil conversation smile

I thought I would start a thread to record progress / success / failure. And to see if anyone has done something similar?

Scarletohello Mon 01-Jul-13 22:44:52

Try this book, Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. He was a psychotherapist who mediated between gangs in LA and between The Israelis and Palestinians so knows what he's talking about! Ok now I know you guys aren't at that level but he's really skilfull in getting people to listen to each other. Give it a try!

cece Mon 01-Jul-13 22:45:29

I once listened to a radio show about how the wife should agree with her DH and not cause him stress.... hmm

So on arrival at MIL house for the weekend I proceeded to agree with all DH suggestions. DH did not notice but MIL was a bit hmm at me and asked me what was going on! LOL

Hope it goes well for you.

I think it is a good idea but think every night seems an awful lot. I'd say maybe once or twice a week is more sustainable?

ThemeNights Mon 01-Jul-13 22:51:29

Scarlett grin thanks for the tip. Does it work if only one of us reads the book?

Thanks cece, I'm not ready to become a surrendered wife, and DH is quite capable of causing himself stress in the calmest of circs.

cantreachmytoes Mon 01-Jul-13 22:53:40

I had a go at this at one point. I wrote loads of questions/conversation topics on small cards and put them in a box. During dinner (just the two of us), we had to pick some out and ask the other person. It was rather forced conversation, but did work in terms of breaking cycles. Didn't do it as often as we could have though.

I second Rosenburg. I haven't read his book, but he's got a NVC course on that I'm working my way through. He makes you question yourself, how you phrase things, whether you're being clear or not (mostly not in my case!) as well as how to listen better to other people.

cece Mon 01-Jul-13 22:55:11

I only lasted a day - I found it far too difficult. grin Especially as DH didn't even notice!

LittleFrieda Mon 01-Jul-13 23:25:27

Why don't you just call a friend or female relative? grin.

Scarletohello Tue 02-Jul-13 00:01:58

'Does it work if only one of you reads the book?' Well if course it would be great if you both did but if you read it and apply some of the techniques in it, it would make a difference. Slightly concerned that your partner wouldn't read it tho, how much does he actually want to improve your relationship..?

wannabeawallaby Tue 02-Jul-13 00:05:36

Chores, paperwork and boring stuff six nights a week? That sounds horribly unappealing. Can you prioritise, and dump most of it?

Mixxy Tue 02-Jul-13 01:12:50

I like the constructive aspect of this relationship building. I'll be following.

wannabeawallaby Tue 02-Jul-13 07:54:16

Rather than just one night for fun, can you each have a night off for yourselves - I know it's your relationship that needs work but maybe if you were both a bit happier and relaxed in general things might change? So you could go to an exercise class or pub with your friends or whatever it is you fancy. And the other is on child and house duty. And still have your one night a week - date night. The paperwork can be done whenever - again one night. Could you afford a cleaner? This gets all of the chores out the way and you don't need to do it or argue about who does what.

ThemeNights Tue 02-Jul-13 09:05:43

Just a quick update before I start work - sorry for not name checking everyone.

DH doesn't read books. I suspect he is undiagnosed dyslexic but his previous career (he is SAHP, I AM WOHP) meant his reading / writing didn't matter. Although even if he did he is probably of the opinion that NVC was all a bit woo.

DH doesn't think the problem is as big as I do. We communicate very differently. He thinks rows can be healthy and cathartic. He always feels better after one. I brood and sulk and feel awful.

We probably could afford a cleaner but the problem is I don't really know. We don't really analyse our finances so we don't know where our money is going - so that's one of the jobs smile

We both have separate leisure time - fitness classes etc. But one of the causes of the rows is that important things aren't done and one of us says "so you have time to swan off to yoga but not pay the milkman" when the other person didn't even know the milk bill was outstanding.

Oh, and it is week nights only, so only 4 out of 7. The plan is to be able to just enjoy the weekends, not spend them doing jobs. And when the lump of dis-organisation and chaos is overcome I suspect it will only take an hour or so most nights.

ThemeNights Tue 02-Jul-13 21:52:45

Day 2

Tonight went better I think. It was home admin theme night (wahay!). We sorted out some long standing paperwork and booked some train tickets for a weekend away to London next month before they got too expensive.

TBH we were both shattered so only managed about 30-40 minutes before giving in. But communication seemed a little better.

Scarletohello Wed 03-Jul-13 00:28:13

Well done! Have you ordered that book yet ? I promise you it will help ( not nagging ) smile

ThemeNights Wed 03-Jul-13 08:50:17

Just ordered it on Kindle so can peruse at lunch time. I have to admit I'm sceptical!

Bproud Wed 03-Jul-13 09:30:47

I admire you for trying to tackle the problem, and will be very interested to see how you get on, so please keep posting. It has certainly given me food for thought as well.

Clayhanger Wed 03-Jul-13 13:56:50

Sounds like you're making progress - good luck. I may nick this idea slightly.. smile

LemonBreeland Wed 03-Jul-13 14:02:07

It sounds like a good idea. DH and i are not in as bad a situation currently, although when DD was younger we went through a phase of a lot of arguements.

I think I will look at adapting this slightly to help us.

Scarletohello Wed 03-Jul-13 14:34:27

Well done Theme, let me know how you get on...

ThemeNights Wed 03-Jul-13 20:58:54

Day 3

I think I will give today's effort 5 out of 10.

It started well, DD slept in so we had time to have a nice pre-breakfast chat with a cup of tea in bed.

I asked DH what the priority was for the evening and he said housework. Great.

I got home earlier than usual from work and we had G&T's on the patio. All very nice. Then I went to bounce on the trampoline with DD while he walked the dog.

Then it all went a bit wrong. He was doing some work in the garden and I watched the tennis with DD for a bit. I popped my head out the back door to tell him the score and then went back inside. He followed a bit later and said "you know what pisses me off, you didn't bring the washing in when you came outside."

I fully admit that I have a brain that will look at washing on the line and not always think "hmm, it's getting late, I should bring the washing in." Especially if I didn't put it out. But the way DH expresses himself really riles me.

This is normally when we bicker and row, but I didn't rise to it. I said sorry, if you had asked me I would have done it. But apparently I should notice these things by myself.

DH usually then finds other things I have/haven't done. Again I bit my tongue rather than looking round for similar evidence of his short comings, so a row was averted.

We put DD to bed, had dinner, tidied up and DH muttered "I'm not in the mood for this" but he went and got the vacuum cleaner and we had a productive 45 minutes cleaning with the IPod on full blast and both feel better for it. Off to join him on the sofa for the Apprentice.

Sorry - that was long!

ShoutyCrackers Wed 03-Jul-13 21:18:48

I don't really understand why he can't just say ' would you mind bringing the washing in please? ' or just grabbing it himself. Three minute job isn't it?

So, this experiment is all very well but will it address the issue of HOW he speaks to you? I'd concentrate more on that I think

ThemeNights Wed 03-Jul-13 21:37:28

Shouty I know, I have lost count of the time I have pulled him up on his tone / expression. It's just so unacceptable to me but I find myself copying him, and then it all goes down into a vicious circle.

I don't know how to say how it affects me in a way that gets through. So instead I sulk and get all uncooperative.

But, it is only day 3, and this has all been going on for a while so it's not going to be a quick fix.

ThemeNights Thu 04-Jul-13 17:55:07

Day 4

Fun! Off out to a party as soon as DD is dropped off at a relatives for a baby-sitting / sleepover.

Last night in bed before dropping off to sleep DH asked 'so is this working for you?' I said yes in terms of working together but I wished we could communicate better. No reply, so I took that as him thinking about it.

ThemeNights Fri 05-Jul-13 09:26:00

So, last night was lots of fun, we usually do get on really well when out.

When we got home DH remarked that because we were getting things done in the evening, he had more free time in the day, which was nice. I generally think so too, he usually rushes round like a mad thing during the day, so for him to take time out and (e.g.) go for a coffee, is unusual.

But, it did piss me off a bit because when I got home from work last night, I rushed round like crazy getting DD packed up for her night away, and then walked the dog. But, I kept quiet.

This morning I'm thinking that in fact he organised the baby-sitting and drove her there, and picked her up this morning to take her to school, the packing was in fairness my job.

So now I'm thinking that maybe I'm the problem, and I need to stop leaving so much for DH to do. sad

ThemeNights Mon 08-Jul-13 22:58:35

Days 5, 6 and 7

(Been busy so am behind).

We had a night out planned on Friday night so we broke the rules in the first week, but we had fun.

Over the weekend it felt like the usual mix of everything being fine and snapping at each other. DD was on a whine-fest and refusing to go to bed for most of the weekend so that always adds to the stress.

But, I have been making a concerted effort not to escalate it, and to be kinder and I think it has been slightly better. And the fact that we had got some things done during the week meant that I wasn't pissed off at having the weekend taken up completely with jobs to be done.

Day 8 (today)

Really busy day, early start driving some friends to the airport for their holiday and then general manic rushing around. It was 9.30pm before we finished dinner so no enthusiasm for an evening's chores, but I suggested doing a couple of things and DH was happy to follow along. I feel better for gradually ticking things off and we seem to be communicating better. smile

Jux Tue 09-Jul-13 08:41:51

It sounds like it's actually going quite well. As you are gaining insights into your own behaviour, it's not unreasonable to think he may be too. Keep going.

Good luck.

QueenofWhispers Tue 09-Jul-13 10:09:06

marking my place!

ThemeNights Tue 09-Jul-13 20:52:14

Hmm... Insights. So far I have got:

1. I am touchy and ready to react against perceived slights. This comes from a few years ago when life was really stressful, small DD, building an extension, job and money worries... We were really at each other's throats then and I can't seem to forgive and forget, even though things are so much better now. sad

2. DH is insensitive at times, not just to me but to other people in the family. Obviously I get it the most because I live with him.

3. DH is at his worst when tired and/or hungry. a bit like a toddler.

4. DH admits that he feels he never spends any time with me. This is because he has more free time (DD is in school, extension is built) and so misses me being around more, not because I'm more absent.

I'm sure there are more but that's it for now.

Job for tonight is clearing out the cupboard of shame - the one where all the crap is routinely dumped never to be seen again...

ThemeNights Wed 10-Jul-13 21:26:56

Day 9

So what is still going well is the working together through the list of jobs that has piled up over the last few years months.

Still not feeling a particular break through in communication though. There's still snipping at each other, or maybe I'm just imagining it.

I've been reading the NVC book as well in the few minutes in the day I have to read. It's something I have come across in a different guise so I have picked up the concepts fairly easily. It's the practice which will be the challenge.

cronullansw Wed 10-Jul-13 21:41:04

I really, absolutely, could not live my life to a schedule like this - Wednesday night, housework...

No George, you can't watch The Ashes, it's Domestic Admin night. smile

ThemeNights Wed 10-Jul-13 22:09:02

Fair enough Cronullansw smile

It works for me because it means the weekends are clearer for fun, and DH doesn't start a panic at 10.30pm at night that the laundry's piling up or the joint bank account is running low. By then I am ready for bed and get annoyed that it hasn't been sorted earlier when I had the energy. Then we have a row. sad

RandomFriend Thu 11-Jul-13 00:14:56

Y think it is a great idea to set time aside for getting on with stuff that needs to be done but is not yet urgent and then have more time for fun at weekends.

Mumsyblouse Thu 11-Jul-13 00:23:48

I don't really think it matters what you do, as long as you spend more time together doing it, although I would build in a break at some point in the week. Also what you are trying to do is to create an upwards swing of communication and appreciation, instead of a downward spiral of sniping. I think holding your tongue every now and again can do that, and it confounds the other person who is expecting the usual. A good friend once said to me when I was moaning about the general sniping, why don't you just stop (unilaterally) which at the time seemed like giving in, but it broke a spell of bad feeling for us because one person can't keep sniping away when the other is nice without looking unreasonable.

Even if this isn't the breakthrough for once and for all, the fact you are having a go and both contributing is a good start I think. Just don't store up resentment if it doesn't work perfectly for months!

ThemeNights Mon 15-Jul-13 22:02:37

Week three

So, we are sticking to it, sort of. Tonight DH did some DIY and I did some paperwork. It was probably more efficient but didn't do anything to improve communication/working together.

The paperwork was for our small business that we run together, but I always end up doing the paperwork and so DH doesn't know how to do it, which I find frustrating. I suspect his sudden enthusiasm for DIY tonight was because he was avoiding learning how - it's not his strength.

On the plus side we went away for the weekend, camping, with another family. It was lovely. Packing/unpacking usually leads to a row but this time it was all sweetness and light - so maybe something is working.

Jux Tue 16-Jul-13 08:20:41

Sounds like things may be getting sorted between the two of you. Slowly slowly catchee monkey, as it were grin

Good luck with it. I'd try it with dh but he simply wouldn't cooperate.

SquidgyMummy Tue 16-Jul-13 08:27:27

interesting thread; i like seeing how things are slowly improving between you and you are getting more free time at the weekend. well done

ThemeNights Tue 16-Jul-13 20:59:52

Week three, day 2

Well it's all gone wrong again tonight. sad

I got home at 6, DH and DD were still out and not expected back until 7. I decided to use the time to clear out and clean our big food store cupboard. It's got 24 separate shelves and I took out all the food to wipe them all down and put it back in throwing out all the out of date stuff in an organised fashion.

Three quarters the way through DH cam home and immediately got really narky. He was tired, hungry and didn't see why I had started that job then. I told him that I was upset by the way he was speaking but he just went on. And on.

So he ate his dinner alone in the dining room while I finished off in the kitchen. Funnily enough I lost my appetite sad

We're now not speaking, he's watching TV and I'm still in the kitchen.

The cupboard looks lovely smile

Twinklestein Tue 16-Jul-13 21:56:32

Would it not help to cut to the chase & talk about why you are angry/narky with each other?

As long as that is unexamined rows are always going to erupt.

ThemeNights Tue 16-Jul-13 22:01:15

We are so bad at talking to each other when we've had a row, it just escalates.

He's narky because he's hungry.

I'm narky because he talks to me like shit when he's narky. I feel like I can't do anything right. There's no 'give', no kindness, no accepting that people make mistakes when he's in this mood (I forgot to cook the peas with his dinner hmm).

He will come to bed, sleep and forget about it all by the morning. I will stew for weeks but say nothing. I wanted to break this pattern sad

Jux Tue 16-Jul-13 23:18:06

So break it.

Don't stew for weeks, take the bull by the horns and talk about it tomorrow. Then he can't forget about it, either.

ThemeNights Wed 17-Jul-13 07:18:31

Jux, what I want to say is:

"If you can find a single person to agree that your behaviour was reasonable last night I will apologise profusely."

But somehow that doesn't seem to be in the spirit of Non Violent Communication.

Still no talking this morning, he's brought me a cup of tea (it's his turn), I've said thanks, he's gone out with the dog.

ThemeNights Wed 17-Jul-13 07:20:28

Twinklestein, my assumption is that I don't meet his expectations, I am just waiting for him to criticise the next thing that I do wrong.

He might say the same sad

peteypiranha Wed 17-Jul-13 07:20:55

Why do you hold grudgss for ages? I have small arguements with dh and we have completely forgotten about it two hours later. Dont you think its a bit silly still being in a mood over cleaning a cupboard and him being snappy because he felt hungry, and then dragging it out for ages? confused

BadLad Wed 17-Jul-13 07:26:30

This doesn't really seem to be about communication. This seems to be about finding time to do the mundane stuff that, otherwise, wouldn't get done.

It might work in a "once that's out of the way, we can have more time to communicate" way, but it seems very indirect. Unless that's what you are striving for. It doesn't seem, to me, anyway, to do anything to solve the unpleasant way in which he sometimes talks to you.

Good luck with it, but obviously I am missing something.

Ruralninja Wed 17-Jul-13 07:43:54

Just a small point really - just wondering if it's really necessary to try to exactly the same amount of domestic work as each other day to day - it's balance over weeks/months you are aiming for, not "I've put the bins out, so you need to walk the dog". When you bean count in this way, it's quite damaging I think and breeds resentment. Can you agree an amnesty on commenting on how much or little the other one has done and agree to try to contribute equally over the course of a month instead? Good luck with it all, I admire the commitment.

ThemeNights Wed 17-Jul-13 08:42:14

Wimped out of actually speaking to him this morning. He was properly angry after coming back from dog walking to find DD hadn't started breakfast. I stopped him going on in front of DD, made her breakfast and packed lunch for school and then left.

I've sent him this text (and we don't normally do a lot of texting)

"I feel so sad that I can't just talk to you. I'm sorry you are angry. I don't think I did anything last night to deserve how you spoke to me. I love you but I don't want to live like this. I want to find a counselling service to help us get past this x"

mynewpassion Wed 17-Jul-13 15:28:04

Whose was supposed to make the evening meal last night? Were dh and dd coming home from work/ childminder?

Were you waiting for him to get home before cooking?

BadLad Wed 17-Jul-13 15:48:40

I think your problem is that you have tried to find the time to do mundane chores around the house, but the real problem is that when you and he disagree over who should have done it, the communication about it is as bad and unpleasant as it ever has been.

The idea you borrowed from a friend of a friend seems to be designed to help people for whom there aren't enough hours in the day, not couples who are forever narky to one another.

As far as I can see, there are three types of communication problems couples can have. Constantly misunderstanding each other, in which case the solution might be to speak more plainly and steer clear of passive aggressive. Another is never having any time together to sit and talk to each other, for which some no-screen, with the TV, tablets etc off, might be of help.

Then you have your type, which is just not communicating pleasantly to each other. And the only way round that is to find out why it is so, and do something about it. It might be that you are constantly tired and irritable. After all, nobody is at their sunniest when they are tired.

Or it might be that you just bring out the worst in each other, in which case some time apart might do you some good. Whether that is a short period so you miss the other person, and realise what you are giving uo, potentially, or whether that is permanently, as you both feel a breath of fresh air, is something you will only find out if you try out.

GoshlyoHeavens Wed 17-Jul-13 16:00:55

I am writing a self helpbook called Do Not Read Self Help Books. I look forward to your subscriptions.

ThemeNights Wed 17-Jul-13 16:04:05

DD and DH were coming home from DD's sports club, after which they visited a friend.

It was agreed that I would cook dinner, the meat was in the oven but I hadn't put the veg or potatoes on as I didn't know exactly when they would be home, and they don't take that long.

I called him at lunch time, ended up in a shouting match, obviously it's not just about dinner, that was just a trigger last night sad

ThemeNights Wed 17-Jul-13 16:09:25

DH is a SAHP, I am WOHP, I don't think it's unfair for him to do more domestic stuff, but I think we disagree whether I pull my weight or not. Hence the theme nights idea.

BadLad Wed 17-Jul-13 16:13:27

It still seems to me that you are missing the point.

Exactly who is in the right with the divvying up of the housework is not the issue. The problem is that when you don't agree, you end up having a row and not speaking.

So you have decided to make sure that the housework gets done, so you won't row about it any more.

But the problem of speaking unpleasantly still remains, and doing the housework doesn't solve that. Next time there is a disagreement, it will probably still result in an argument.

ThemeNights Wed 17-Jul-13 16:28:41

Fair enough BadLad, but what's the answer? How does one get away for a break when there's a 5 yo in the house?

BadLad Wed 17-Jul-13 16:53:09

I'm not really one for rowing, so I think I'd just walk away with an "I'll speak to you when you've calmed down" if someone got angry with me for forgetting to cook peas with dinner.

But I honestly don't think I could live with someone who got angry about something as trivial as yet. Of course, that's easier to say when you don't have kids.

I'm afraid I suppose this is unconstructive criticism, as I am finding fault without offering any solution, but I do agree with the poster who said

Would it not help to cut to the chase & talk about why you are angry/narky with each other?

As long as that is unexamined rows are always going to erupt.

Scheduling the chores seems to me to be ignoring the elephant in the room.

You sound very commited and determined to give your relationship a go. I hope happiness awaits.

CailinDana Wed 17-Jul-13 20:17:11

How happy are you both with your current roles (sahp/wohp)?

ThemeNights Wed 17-Jul-13 22:07:52

Re roles: I'm happy, he's happy but frustrated o think, especially as DD gets older and less intense to look after.

It would be difficult but not impossible for him to work, he also supports older, semi-dependent relations, and has a raft of voluntary work, mainly around DDs school.

CailinDana Thu 18-Jul-13 06:05:24

Could his frustration be part of the communication problem?

ThemeNights Thu 18-Jul-13 09:22:09

Cailin, he doesn't express any particular desire to work again in the near future, he gets fed up with the inevitable drudgery of SAHP-hood and I could I am sure do more to alleviate that, hence this experiment to have a bit of structure around the chores/household management.

Things not much better this morning, we were both out last night so didn't talk and I had an early start for a meeting a hour away.

CailinDana Thu 18-Jul-13 14:16:33

Would it be possible for you both to sit down and honestly tell each other how you are feeling without the other one interrupting? It seems to me that you've focused on practical matters when the real problem is to do with how you view and feel about each other.

ThemeNights Thu 18-Jul-13 18:04:25

We have a fairly poor track record of being able to do this. Hence my suggestion of counselling, having a referee in the room. DH is not keen to say the least...

Wuldric Thu 18-Jul-13 18:11:10

May I make a suggestion? It really helps to keep the temperature down, I've found.

You need clear division of labour. If one person cooks, the other washes up. One person does all the laundry. One person does all the shopping. One person is responsible for paying the bills, sorting out finance and keeping the spreadsheets. One person is responsible for putting the bins out. One person is responsible for keeping x, y, z room tidy. One person is responsible for cleaning windows.

I know it sounds a bit clinical but it really defuses stuff.

CailinDana Thu 18-Jul-13 19:24:38

Why is your DH not keen?

ThemeNights Mon 22-Jul-13 20:36:56

Sorry Cailin, haven't come back to this thread for a while. He doesn't really discuss it.

He doesn't think we have a problem communicating, I think he finds a row cathartic rather than destructive. He's been through a lot in his life without counselling and so doesn't see the need.

Well, as usual we go a few days not talking and then bit by bit, normality creeps back in so he forgets it all and I continue to brood. Maybe I am over thinking it all and this is what normal relationships are, maybe I am just over sensitive.

I might look into counselling for just myself.

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