Minimizers and Maximizers: Lessons from Marriage Counseling

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

marriageJared and I had a tune-up counseling session this weekend. Well, it wasn’t exactly a tune-up as much as it was a, “woah, we’re heading in the wrong direction, let’s right this ship before shit gets really bad again.”

One of the benefits of having hit rock bottom in your marriage is that you recognize the warning signs.

In our case, disconnection looks like spending a lot of time in separate rooms. It looks like walking away from uncomfortable conversations. It feels like making a laundry list of criticism in my head.

When the list of things Jared has done “wrong” is easier to recall than the list of things I adore about him, it’s time for an adjustment.

So, I emailed our old counselor and begged her to do a one-time session with us by Skype, promising that I’d find someone local if we discovered we needed ongoing help. (I hate the process of finding a counselor. It’s worse than dating.)

Anyway, on Sunday Jared and I sat on our couch and talked to each other in front of the laptop. And as I mentioned in my last post, the end result was good. It was hard before it was good, but that’s how counseling works.

Part of the reason I wanted to work with our old counselor is because she already knows us, and she knows the unique dynamics of our relationship. This proved to be very useful, because she recognized very quickly where our conflict was happening.

It’s where our conflict always happens.

Maximizer vs. Minimizer

The ways Jared and I communicate and cope with conflict are exactly opposite. One of us is a maximizer and the other a minimizer.

One of us gets bigger in response to fear. One of us gets smaller.

One of us is certain that talking is the way to feel safe again. One of us believes that talking is dangerous.

I don’t want to divulge too much information about who is what, but one of us has a blog and wrote a very personal book.

Jared and I already know these differences occur. We have learned to appreciate that we compliment one another: maximizers learn how to be better listeners from minimizers, and minimizers learn to open up from maximizers.

But knowing and remembering are not the same.

On Sunday we were reminded.

We were reminded that one of us needs to summon the courage to open up, even about little things that might annoy or hurt the other.

We were reminded that one of us needs to be patient and not demand immediate opening up. And I – I mean, that person – also needs to work hard not to fill the silence with a made up story. Because made up stories about what’s happening in someone else’s head are almost always wrong, even when they are made up by very smart people.

I heard something new, too. I heard our counselor say that what one of us was feeling, the other was likely feeling in an equal but opposite way.

“As much as you are dreading the idea of speaking up, remember that’s how much fear your partner has sitting in silence,” our counselor said.

“And as helpless and worried you feel when you’re wondering what’s going on and what’s not being said, that’s how anxious your partner is about having to talk about what he’s feeling.”

An equal but opposite reaction. Like science. I think that’s brilliant.

I’m tucking that one away and hoping it will make it easier for me to be empathetic. Maybe it will give me courage to be vulnerable or the patience to shut up for a little longer.

I mean, for someone to shut up a little longer.

Do you recognize yourself as a maximizer or a minimizer?

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  1. Rebecca S. says:

    My husband and I have been having issues communicating lately and I think this post hit the nail on the head. I am most definitely the maximizer, and he, the minimizer. I am usually the one directing the conversation and giving my opinions, and he rarely opens up about his true feelings. I’m in the position (via a lot of “I dunno” and “I don’t care” from him, in the past) of being the decision maker within our family, so when he does speak up and give his opinion, if I don’t find it ‘rational’ enough or ‘benefiting everyone’ well enough, it’s usually vetoed. So yeah, I guess it’s usually my way or no way. Not a very fun way to live, I’m sure. I’m currently working on it though- and on really listening to him when he talks instead of both of us walking all over each other with our opinions.
    Equal but opposite reactions. I’ll definitely be keeping that in mind.
    Thanks Britt!

  2. Amy Graham says:

    Thank you, I needed this reminder too. I believe that issues should be addresses, and to me the sooner the better. But, my husband is not that way. Thank you for reminding me, I need to stop demanding immediate opening up by him.

    I guess I just feel sick when there’s untalked about conflict. But, I need to respect his need for some time, as well as make it safe for him to communicate. (aka, don’t jump all over him when he does.) Thank you!
    Amy Graham’s most recent post: Supporting Friends with Children in the Hospital

    • Miss Britt says:

      “Safe to communicate.” That’s the phrase our counselor uses and it always sounds so strange to me!

  3. I used to be a minimizer in past relationships. But my current partner is great with this. She doesn’t push or force me talk. She understands that there are times when I am not ready to talk, but I will talk. I feel “safe” and don’t worry that I might say the wrong thing.
    Don @ BreathOfOptimism’s most recent post: Choosing Your Words Wisely

    • Miss Britt says:

      I would guess you’re probably still a minimizer, technically. It’s a description of our tendencies more than our current choices. :-) I think it’s great that your partner knows how to create a safe place for you to open up!

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