All couples argue to one degree or another. The question is, are you simply a fiery emotional pair? Like in the movies where she yells at him, he yells back that he won’t put up with it anymore, and then suddenly they are passionately kissing. If this is you, then disagreements may be your idea of foreplay. But be careful, because sometimes words can really scar our souls and break marriages.
If your fighting is infrequent, brief and – despite raised voices and heated words it ends with a resolution where you are both feeling loved and heard and then maybe even have great make-up sex. Your fights are unhealthy if they involve name-calling or threats to end the relationship, or if they are not resolved. In essence, does the fight bring you closer together, or push you apart?
Most couples speak rudely to each other at least some of the time. Research shows that your relationship is likely to end in divorce if you frequently resort to personal criticism, contempt, shutting down and withdrawing. Fortunately anger management and communication skills can be learned. Disagreements are inevitable, therefore couples need to learn how to argue well, or at least do no long lasting harm.
So here are a couple of rules to ensure a fair fight.
Firstly, adopt the mantra that your partner is not wrong, just different. In my sessions with couples, I will often say, “You can be right or you can be in a relationship, you cannot have both.” This quote speaks to me about the consequences of being attached to being right and always wanting the ‘win’ when you’re discussing issues in your relationship. This often leads to a power struggle and almost never produces a ‘win-win’ but instead produces a ‘win-lose’. The sad thing is, when your partner loses, you both lose, because you can’t build a healthy connection with another person based on inequality.
Secondly, just like a hysterical toddler, grown-ups need a time out when they cannot control themselves. In the history of marriage, no couple ever solved a problem by arguing for hours after midnight. So stop. When a storm is brewing, call a time out. Then, head to separate rooms for 30 minutes. This is far harder than it sounds. Usually one person wants to chase the other and deal with this right now, while the other wants to hide and hope it all goes away. The time out gives the pursuer the guarantee that things will be dealt with in 30 minutes and the distancer time to calm down and regroup.
When you come back together, ask your partner to describe how they felt and their “reality”. By acknowledging your partner has a different perspective on the same situation, you move from confrontation to understanding. Most couples cannot tolerate suspending their responses while listening, because they are so fixated on making sure that their truth is the one that is superior. Being curious about what your partner is saying when every cell in your body wants to defend yourself is one of the most challenging tasks that all couples need to develop in order to become effective at resolving conflict. And not developing it can lead to relationship ruin. Marriage will not always be easy, but you signed on for better or worse. Learn these skills and make things better – and make love not war.