I finally read John Gottman on a friend's recommendation. Not a lot I didn't know, but presented in a way that makes you think about how harmful words can be. Gottman claims there are 4 predictors of divorce. I won't summarize them all, but will stress the ones I have to work on.Criticism: thankfully complaining is normal, we live together after all and there will be many things that will piss us off about each other's behaviour. Criticism is when you complain beyond the behaviour -- you attack the person. And that's bad. But it's what often happens. My partner is super sensitive too. So any complaint that I voice is always taken personally. In my case, it's better to not complain at all. Just accept.
Contempt: my eye-rolling, mockery and sarcasm are signs of contempt. It's the most poisonous because it conveys disgust. You can't solve your differences when you don't have love in your heart. So it's important to fight the negative thoughts, combat them with gratitude and give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
Defensiveness: It's only normal to act defensive when you are being attacked. Problem for me is that it's my first line of defense. Rather than just listen and think "k, maybe he has a point here" or "he's obviously upset, listen to what he is saying" I disparage his complaint, illegitimize his feelings and dish it right back at him. Being defense is a form of blaming your partner. When I'm defensive I'm saying "The problem isn’t me, it’s you.”
All of this eventually leads to stonewalling or 'shutting down'. Too often I walk away when the conversation goes bad or I avoid talking about what's bothering me because I know it will just lead to another argument. According to this book, another thing we avoid is the feeling of flooding -- the emotional turmoil you feel when you are being attacked, or ignored. Apparently the racing heart rate, sweating, shortness of breath prevents us from being able to reason, listen and problem solve. So in order to avoid the flooding, we disengage emotionally from the relationship. We start to live parallel lives. We eventually get divorced.
Healthy marriages weather conflict because they are able to successfully administer 'repair attempts' (e.g. "Let’s take a break,” “Wait, I need to calm down") in order to deescalate touchy subjects. Couples still have love in their hearts and are able to see through their problems in a healthy productive way. The repair attempts also lower the flooding that comes from conflict so that you are physically able to work it out.
So there you go. Another self-help book that left me feeling entirely depressed about my marriage. I find myself complaining about a lot less these days. But still carry a lot of contempt in my heart. I too take a lot of what's said way too personally and it's really difficult to work anything out when you feel so horrible about how you think you are being treated. I know he feels the same way. Hopefully I will be able to apply what I learn here.