The Three States of Mind in Marriage
Some of the brightest people I know become idiots when faced with marital conflict.
I've seen this happen in case after case. An intelligent man listens to his wife talking about her needs,
her desires, her interests -- and it's as if she's speaking a foreign language. A brilliant woman hears
her husband describe his perspective, and she doesn't get it.
What makes marital communication so tough? Is it that men and women just can't communicate? Or
is there something about marriage that blurs their thinking?
Having spent decades counseling couples who seem communicationally challenged, I am thoroughly
convinced that it is marriage itself (or more specifically, romantic relationships) that makes
communication difficult, and not differences between men and women. The men I counsel have very
little trouble resolving conflicts with women, and their wives are usually just as good negotiating with
men. It's conflicts they have with each other that seem impossible to resolve.
My experience trying to help couples negotiate has led me to the conclusion that, left to their own
devices, they negotiate from one of three states of mind, each having it's own unique negotiating rules
and it's own unique emotional reactions. I call these states of mind Intimacy, Conflict, and
Withdrawal. And regardless which state spouses are in, negotiations can be very difficult.
The First State of Mind in Marriage: