Think arguments are a sign of a marriage that’s in trouble? Think again! The fact that a couple argues doesn’t mean that they’re on the express route to divorce. In fact, it can be the sign of a healthy relationship — but only if they argue in constructive ways.
No matter how much you love each other, conflict is a normal part of married life (and of relationships in general). You may be amazingly compatible, but you’re still two different people with different backgrounds, different attitudes, different needs, and different opinions. So there are going to be times when you won’t agree, and if you feel strongly enough about the matter, that disagreement may grow into an argument.
How you handle those inevitable conflicts is what provides insight into the future of your marriage. If a dispute explodes into a volley of insults and a recitation of every perceived wrong, your marriage may be in need of help. But if you can disagree respectfully, those disputes can actually strengthen your relationship. I call these ten tips an introductory course in constructive arguing:
- Set a time and place. You don’t have to argue RIGHT NOW, especially if you’re tired, hungry, or unusually stressed. Set a time when you can both devote your full attention to the matter, and then remember to have the conversation. There’s nothing worse than arguments in the middle of the night or by text. If you’re not face to face or not at your best, the results will easily suffer.
- Issues, not people. Disputes are about issues, not about who you are. If he never tosses his dirty clothes in the hamper, talk about that. Don’t tell him he’s a terrible person or call him a slob. If your goal is to have the clothes find their way to the hamper, that’s where you need to focus.
- Watch your words. Don’t use words like “always” and “never,” because they unnecessarily magnify issues into something bigger than they really are. And don’t make threats to leave home or to file for divorce. Grand statements like that fuel fires instead of putting them out. Carefully select your words, keeping your team mate in mind before you say them.
- Keep it private. Your kids, your family, your neighbors, the couple at the next table, and certainly followers on social media don’t need to know the details of your disagreement. Arguments should be private, and you should be considerate of each other’s privacy. Disrespecting your spouse in front of others is not fair fighting.
- Play nice. Name-calling and sarcasm are never constructive, so don’t do that. Don’t make accusations, blame, or belittle each other. If you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother, don’t say it to your partner. Remember, you are on the same team, and if you “win” it means you’ve made your spouse a “loser.”
- Say what you mean, mean what you say. Don’t use hidden agendas or say one thing when you mean another. If you want to say no, say no and mean it. There’s no real mind reader, so there’s no need to pretend your spouse has that capability.
- Take a time out. If the argument is getting too heated, stop and set a time to discuss it after you’ve both been able to cool off. If you don’t, it may escalate and become hurtful.
- No kitchen sinks. Often when couples argue, they bring up all sort of baggage from the past — what I call throwing in the kitchen sink. Don’t talk about something she did wrong ten years ago. Focus instead on resolving the current issue.
- Stop assuming. One of the biggest sources of conflict is assuming that we know what the other one is thinking, feeling, or going to do. That’s dangerous. Instead of assuming that you know how he feels about an issue, ask him. You may be surprised by his answer.
- Don’t be afraid to get help. If you’re finding it difficult to reach a resolution on your own, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to an objective third party, like one of our counselors. If your relationship is otherwise healthy, an outsider may be able to help you turn disagreements into opportunities to strengthen it.
Our professionals have decades of experience in marriage. We know first hand the benefits of fair fighting and the hurts of unfair fighting. We also know that communication, conflict resolution, and granting and seeking forgiveness is something many struggle to master, which is why we’re here. Let us help. Contact us today.
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