Sep 202016 1 Response

In Marriage, Beware of the Jiggler

As a child, it was an unmistakable sound. The rhythmic noise of steam escaping through the little valve meant mom was cooking with the pressure cooker. Water was put in a sealed container along with whatever the meal was for the evening.

At first, nothing would really happen. But slowly, the heat began to rise. As the temperature rose, so did the pressure. The “jiggler” would begin its dance. Pretty soon, supper was ready.

The Pressure of Disagreement

Disagreement is a part of any relationship. Not only is it unavoidable, it’s necessary. Without disagreement we would never understand one another, appreciate differences, or grow. For the sake of the marriage, we must disagree.

But disagreements often cause more harm than good. Because we don’t know how to handle them, what should propel our intimacy forward actually sets it back. Instead of growing together, we are pushed apart. (See: The Secret to Good Communication in Marriage)

The primary culprit is pressure.

When disagreements in marriage go wrong, they mimic a pressure cooker. Everything causes the heat to rise. As the heat rises, so does the pressure. Before long, the communication becomes destructive.

Some experience the negativity of disagreements and wrongly conclude they should do everything in their power to avoid them. So they don’t voice opinions, they steer clear of soft spots, and they stuff any frustrations internally rather than dealing with them externally.

But avoidance is not the answer. While we don’t have to confront every issue, we must learn to handle disagreements in an open, honest, and productive way. The answer is not to avoid disagreement. It is to reduce the pressure while we discuss the disagreement.

How to Prevent Pressure

If couples can minimize the pressure they feel during a disagreement, they will be free to handle differences in a useful way. They will hear and be heard. They will influence, and be influenced by, their partner. They will learn and grow about themselves and one another.

Pressure can be prevented in several ways:

Start slow. Few things determine how a tough conversation will go as much as how it starts. Begin with the wrong tone or attitude and the conversation will be immediately sabotaged.

Stay on topic. Many times pressure builds as we move away from the issue at hand and bring up old arguments. This is why it’s important to settle issues–so they won’t be brought up again. Forgiveness and resolution can prevent a couple from having recurring fights. Beyond resolving issues, simply having the discipline of staying on topic can prevent pressure. (See: How to Keep a Small Fight Small)

Discuss issues, not people. In unhealthy relationships, every problem is a person. Instead of seeing the issue as something outside the couple, they each view it as a problem within the other person. Instead of debating people, healthy couples debate issues. Problems are things we face together. They are outside of us and we attack them. When marriage goes bad, the problem becomes your spouse.

How to Release Pressure

No matter how much care we take in preventing pressure from building, on occasions the tension will rise. It’s unavoidable. But when it happens, there are some simple steps couples can take to calm the tension and get back on track.

Lower your volume. As pressure builds, voices raise. While some believe it’s just their personality to yell, they are wrong. Refuse to yell at your spouse. By lowering your volume, it calms your own emotions and expresses calmness to your spouse.

Soften your tone. It’s not just volume that counts. Someone can quietly have a sharp tone which attacks their partner. Do not speak to your spouse like they are a child, but do take great care in speaking softly and kindly.

Voice the big picture. When pressure rises, put the problem in context. Remind your partner of your love, your shared desires, and the fact that this is just one issue. Step out of the conversation, remember the big picture, then step back into the disagreement. By doing so, you will put the issue in context. (See: 6 Common Mistakes When Fighting)

Take a break. Sometimes couples need to take a break from the conversation. But this only works if you truly come back and finish the discussion. If emotions are running high, verbalize your inability to have a good conversation at this moment, take a break, and then return to the issue. The person who calls for the break should give an exact time in which they will return to the conversation. Taking 10 minutes, an hour, or a day can ease pressure.

The Jiggler

I never did like anything cooked in the pressure cooker. The sound was never a good sign for me. But all these years later, I often think about the jiggler. When a discussion begins to turn tense, I try to imagine how hard the jiggler would be shaking. Keep it calm and a disagreement can be useful. Let the pressure build and the conversation is sure to be cooked.

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