No matter how careful or connected they may be, couples fight sometimes – it’s just a reality of being in a long-term relationship. We can’t expect to see eye to eye on every single thing, to never make a mistake and upset our spouse, to never fall victim to being snappy or short tempered with the person we spend so much time with…
It’s not the end of the world, and a little disagreement from time to time can actually help strengthen the relationship – as long as you’re “fighting the right way.”
To help you understand what we mean by that, we’ve compiled six tips that keep your arguments contained and productive, instead of letting emotions run wild, saying hurtful things, and doing damage to the marriage.
These are the tactics healthy couples use to keep themselves in check, to keep the argument on track, and to make sure they both grow from the experience. Employ these in your own marriage to make arguments something you can actually learn from – something that ultimately brings you closer to your spouse.
1. No Name Calling
This is principle number one: be civil! There’s no place for insults and personal attacks here, especially name calling. This is the person you love! Calling someone names, insulting their character, resorting to personal attacks, etc. doesn’t actually do anything to resolve the problem you’re facing, and only serves to make the other person feel bad about themselves.
Even if you’re angry or frustrated, avoid this at all costs. It will make your spouse defensive, derail the discussion, and do little but push you further apart.
This goes beyond just name calling too – the same applies to exasperated eye-rolling, harsh sarcasm, or any other “dirty tactics” that don’t propel the discussion and ONLY serve to insult your spouse. Just don’t do it.
2. Rules of Engagement
Perhaps a precursor to the tip listed above, setting some ground rules for your arguments is something that many couples have to learn through experience. No one is entirely immune to saying regrettable things, but we can notice what makes an argument go south – and remember what NOT to do next time.
The “rules” could be specific to behaviors (not raising voices, not interrupting) or larger principles (it’s not about being right, but both being heard and resolving the issue, etc.).
If you’ve had some nasty fights in the past, think back to what pushed your buttons – and ask your spouse to do the same. Think about what sent the argument spiraling into a full-blown fight, what caused the most hurt, etc. – and resolve to leave these things out of future arguments.
3. Take Turns
If you’re to the point of arguing, you both likely have plenty to say – but if you interrupt and talk over each other, no one gets heard and nothing gets resolved.
This is a simple tip that goes all the way back to the most basic sharing you were taught as a child. Simply listen while the other person speaks, take in what they have to say, and wait your turn. If you’re not giving each other that basic courtesy, there’s no way the discussion will get anywhere productive.
4. Benefit of The Doubt
We’ve touched on this in previous posts, but it’s worth repeating here. Giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt means, at the very least, not assuming that they are doing things to intentionally hurt you. It means not jumping to conclusions in the middle of what they have to say, and generally coming to the table with the idea that your spouse is doing the best they can, that their intentions are well meaning.
It might not always be the case, but you can discover that over the course of your discussion. Start with a baseline of trust and respect, giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt instead of presuming they’re out to get you.
5. Valid Points of View
Even if you disagree about how something happened, remember that you’re each remembering and experiencing things in your own way. You’re both always victim to your own subjectivity, where you interpret the way things happen and the way things are said through your own experience and bias…
And that means that even if you can’t be sure who’s “right,” or when you have disagreeing versions of an event, there’s validity to both points of view. If you can remember this when you get into a fight, you’ll be able to understand and appreciate where your spouse is coming from – even if you’re not quite on the same page.
The same goes for feelings. Just because YOU don’t think your spouse should be upset about something, it doesn’t invalidate the fact that they are upset. Acknowledge the validity of each other’s feelings and point of view, and you can focus on the issue, instead the differences in your interpretations of what happened.
6. Cool Down
When things get too heated, when the tips laid out above stop working because emotions are too high or the problems are too large, STOP! Give yourself (and each other) some space to cool down, let your temper settle, and come back to the conversation when you can focus on productive resolution, not just your emotions.
It’s ok to walk away from a fight when it has a purpose. Don’t just leave things unresolved because you were getting too angry… But if you feel yourself losing your temper, call a time out! You stand a better chance of coming to some kind of agreement, resolving a problem, or coming up with a compromise when you aren’t fuming mad.
You’re bound to get into arguments from time to time, but the more self-control you can manage, the more you can be open and understanding to your spouse’s point of view, and the more patience you bring to the table, the more likely these “fights” will end up teaching you new things about maintaining a happy, strong marriage – and ultimately make the relationship better in the long run.
For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com