“What comes easy won’t last long, and what lasts long won’t come easy.” Francis Kong
I never trust the couples who say they hardly ever fight are actually happy in their marriage. As a Relationship Coach, that’s a huge red flag because it typically means you’re avoiding difficult topics. You might be talking about the kids, the news, and the weather, but you’re certainly not diving into the deep end of intimacy, and instead, choosing to remain in the shallow end where it’s safe, but uninspiring.
Disagreements are inevitable in our most intimate relationships. In that close proximity to another person for decades, we’re occasionally going to rub up against one another’s soft spots from time to time. It’s how we handle those disagreements that determine the emotional health and sustainability of the marriage.
Here are three strategies for fighting fair when an argument ensues with your spouse:
1. Determine the Ground Rules in Advance
There should be some basic Ground Rules that the two of you agree to follow when disagreements arise; things like: no yelling, no name-calling or disrespect, and no stonewalling (walking away and refusing to talk about it). Of course, you can agree to take a break and come back to the topic when emotions are calmer, but shutting down, giving your partner the silent treatment and refusing to talk about it ever again is one of the highest predictors of divorce according to The Gottman Institute.
Come up with whatever rules make sense for you as a couple and create them together. You won’t be able to do this in the heat of the moment, so have this conversation in advance when things feel good between the two of you. If you establish these Ground Rules before an argument takes place, you’ll be able to reference them when emotions are heated to remind ourselves and each other how we want to show-up when we don’t see eye-to-eye.
2. Not Everything is About Us
Oftentimes when our spouse disagrees with us, we take it very personally. We will often make our partner’s responses or perspectives mean something about us, when inevitably their responses are about what’s going on within them.
For example, let’s say you’ve had a bad day: there was an issue at work, you’re worried about your daughter being bullied at school, and because you’ve hardly had time to eat, you’ve got a dull, persistent headache. When your husband asks you to go out to dinner or to watch a movie with him, you say “No, thanks. Not tonight.” And then he makes that mean that you don’t want to spend time with him.
Clearly, it’s not that you don’t want to spend time with your spouse, it’s just that now isn’t a good time. Your decision to grab a quick bite, take a bath and get to bed early actually has nothing to do with him. But because he doesn’t know that…he takes it as a personal rejection and may even stop trying to connect with you in the future.
In the moment, you can remind yourself: “This isn’t about me.” And then get curious about what’s happening with your partner.
3. Assume You’re Not Married to an Idiot
When we see things differently than our partner, we can be quick to jump to some radical conclusions about their character: “They don’t know anything about this. They’re blind.” Or even…”They’re an idiot.”
This is because as human beings it is our natural tendency to assume that everyone sees the world through the same lens as we do, but that is never the case. The lens through which we each see and experience the world is unique to us, our upbringing, our values, the challenges and lessons we’ve faced throughout our lives. And since no one’s experience is identical, it’s not logical to assume that everyone should carry the same perspectives or that one is more “right” than the other – even though we’re married to each other.
In those moments, remain curious about why your partner feels as they do about this particular topic. Rather than focusing on convincing him or her why you’re “right,” ask questions and really listen to understand their perspective. Phrases like: “Help me understand why you hold that perspective”, or “I can understand how you could see it that way”, or “You may be right”, can go a long, long way here.
Arguments are going to happen in our most intimate relationships. The closer our relationships are, the more likely we are to trigger one another. It doesn’t mean something has gone terribly wrong in your marriage. But the way in which we handle those arguments will be the difference between perpetuating toxic patterns and fighting fair to better understand one another.
If any of this sounds frighteningly familiar to you, let’s see if I can help. Here’s your next step forward.
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