Q&A: My husband and I can't agree on where to live
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Question: Hi, I’m a mining mum - my husband has worked away for a few years now. Problem is he wants to go back to our old home town and I don't, which is putting a strain on our marriage. We can't agree on anything so he now won't talk about anything; says let’s agree to disagree and leaves at that. Any suggestions?
Hi and thanks for your email. It must be tough hearing your husband say "let’s agree to disagree" about something so important. Obviously, as a couple, you can agree to disagree on all sorts of things, but where to live is not one of them! It sounds like the communication between you two has broken down at the moment, and it's important to get it back on track. I'm sorry to say that better communication doesn't always lead to agreement but it does help us understand the other person’s point of view. Ultimately this improved understanding can lead to a closer connection, and usually a way through the disagreement can be negotiated with fewer hard feelings towards and about the other person.
While reading your email, a couple of points come to mind:
- It sounds like your husband is acting quite passively in the disagreement. Saying "let’s agree to disagree" about the current issue (and others as I understand from your email) is a way of trying not to argue or 'rock the boat'. Maybe his experience is that arguing with you doesn't get him anywhere and he's trying to 'keep the peace'. Is this is how your husband usually handles disagreements or is this is new for him? If it is normally how he handles things, my advice is to seek some relationship counselling to try to work out a better style of communication (for both of you, not just him – communication problems are never just one person’s doing). If this is new for him, it indicates to me that he might be having particular trouble at the moment, and I would encourage you to check out my column on stress, depression and anxiety to see if any of those symptoms ring any bells about your husband. If he is having a particularly hard time at the moment, it's possible that he just can't face disagreeing with you, no matter how important the issue is.
- Have there recently been any major upheavals or changes at his work? Has anything else changed for him or you recently? Ultimately the questions that come to mind are 'Why does he want to go back?' and 'Why don't you?' Leading on from this, what was the agreed plan when you relocated? Did you agree to a certain timeframe or certain goals to be reached? I do talk about this a lot, but that's because it's so important for big lifestyle decisions like FIFO and relocation. If you can discuss what you each want from the move, as well as goals and timeframes, it will go a long way to avoiding arguments down the track. If you and your husband didn't do this, maybe now is the time to sit down and plan the next few years – what each of you wants personally and professionally and how you can head in the general direction of those goals.
Here are some ideas to open up communication when it's just not happening:
1. Write each other a letter or email. It probably goes without saying, but make it kind and write it with the intention of giving your partner some information about you. For example: "I like our current arrangement because of x, y, z", or "I'm concerned about..." I think this exercise works best when you both write the letter/email at the same time, so you can both read them at more or less the same time. This way, neither of you is responding to the other (which can get a bit tit-for-tat-ish) and you are both free to open up just about yourself, not worrying about responding to whatever your partner has said. Of course this is not a miracle answer, and it’s not likely that you will suddenly be on the same page, but the aim is to start to understand each other’s point of view. Often when we talk face to face with someone while we’re disagreeing, we are too busy planning what we are going to say and defending our own position, to really listen to the other person. This exercise allows you to say what you want to say, and to read your partner's thoughts without being able to interrupt him (and vice versa of course). Remember to approach the reading of your partner's letter or email positively and openly (with curiosity) rather than with a defensive or cross attitude!
2. Another good tip that can work for some couples is to raise the issues you are facing in a conversation with close and trusted friends. Raising the issue with friends in a light-hearted way can allow a steady conversation to develop. You can hear other people’s points of view, but most importantly, you and your husband might be able to hear each other a bit more easily in this setting. Obviously this strategy is not for everyone and only you know if this is something that could work for you and your husband.
As I mentioned above, if this issue of poor communication isn't new, please consider some relationship counselling. Many private organisations offer relationship counselling – as a start you could ask your GP for suggestions, or try Relationships Australia.
Some good books that might help are:
- Act with Love by Russ Harris
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families by Stephen Covey
Thanks again for you message and I wish you all the best.
To read other columns written by Angie Willcocks during her six years with Mining Family Matters, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career. All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.