Sex & Relationships

What If You Get Along Great With Everyone...But Your Spouse?

Some people see their partner as a problem to be solved. Here's how to reconnect.

Photo Credit: Rommel Canlas /

“I get along with everyone ... and I mean everyone ... in the world, but within 30 seconds of a conversation with my wife it escalates to both of us raising our voices and not infrequently to yelling at each other.”
—Serial entrepreneur, devoted father and still devoted husband

I frequently speak to and coach entrepreneur founders. Once they sense that I am non-judgmental, non-shaming and fairly knowledgeable in the communication department, our conversations (with both male and female entrepreneurs) meander their way to, “Can I speak to you about my spouse (or partner)?”

I respond, “Sure.”

And then nearly all of them to a greater or lesser degree tell me something like, “I get along with everyone in the world, and I mean everyone. But when I come home, more often than not and within 30 seconds of beginning a conversation with my wife (husband, partner, girlfriend or boyfriend), it escalates to both of us raising our voices and not infrequently to yelling at each other. I do believe that I love her/him and we are certainly devoted to our family, but this is making me nuts.”

I often reply, “You’re a problem solver, aren’t you? In fact you’re a very good problem solver and you enjoy how good a problem solver you are. Is that correct?”

Nearly all of them smile with pride and say, “Absolutely!”

And then I say, “I take it your partner is not too keen on your being a problem solver with them.”

“They hate it!” most entrepreneurs reply.

“That’s because you see them as a problem to be solved as opposed to a person to be related to,” I will add.

“What the f— does ‘related to’ mean?” they reply.

“It means relating to how they feel about a situation so they can calm down and come back to their senses and reason as opposed to your reacting to their being too emotional,” I continue.

“I still don’t get it,” they continue.

“You’re not stupid, but I want you to do an exercise with your partner to see if you are heartless ... I didn’t say ‘ruthless,’ I said heartless. This is very important. Are you game?” I ask.

“I still don’t get it, but you’re the doc, so I’m willing to try anything if you think it will help,” they say.

I proceed, “Good, so here is what I want you to do. Calmly say to your partner, ‘I’d like to ask you a favor, which after I ask it you can agree to or say, ‘No,’ to and I will not question about your, ‘No.’ Can I ask it?’”

Hopefully they will be intrigued enough to cooperate, especially if you manage your tone to be calm and inviting.

Then say to them, “I want you to look in my eyes and I want you to say to me, ‘I still think I love you and respect how smart and successful you are, but I’m not sure I like you. That’s because — more than anyone in this world — you have the ability to make me feel utterly worthless and repulsive and, because I don’t trust you enough to tell you how much that hurts and devastates me, I instead get angry with you. But you are destroying me and us!’”

You might want to tweak some of the words, but if you feel they are mostly true about what your partner might feel (and many entrepreneurs tell me they have heard nearly all the parts of it as different times), say them and ask your partner to say them to you. If when they say them, they fit, your partner will start crying from a part of them that is in so much pain because of you that it will be like a tsunami like abscess coming at you that represents not just the pain you’ve caused, but the pain others before you have caused.

Now here’s your challenge. When they say it and if they show some of the emotion I am describing, you need to find a way to make it matter to you, because if you don’t and can’t you’re very messed up and need a lot of help.

But if you and they are lucky because it does matter to you, respond with, “I’m sorry, I never knew that. And I’m even sorrier, because I didn’t want to know it. But if you will give me a second chance, I’m going to fix this.”

Then fix it or go get help to fix it and fix you.

By the way, here is an interesting “value added” perk, if you as the entrepreneur founder try this. It is that if your partner said this on their own without you’re asking them to say it, more than likely you would go ballistic. However, by your inviting them to say it to you, you are more in charge of the conversation and thus less likely to become defensive and more likely to be able to hear it. Finally by validating, understanding and accepting whatever they say towards you, you will be amazed how much of that tsunamic pus pocket of bad feelings towards you that you can drain.

Mark Goulston is a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist and the author of "Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone." He is the co-founder of Heartfelt Leadership. Contact: [email protected]

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