When Brock and I first started getting serious, I was afraid of arguments.
Because I didn’t know how to have them. When it came to marital spats, I was a newbie.
At any sign of discord or disappointment, I would flood with emotion and any chance of rational thinking would be washed away. I responded defensively, viewing any comment as an attack. I was so busy being upset and even more so, scared, that I wasn’t able to listen to what was being said.
I’ve spent the last several years learning how to argue so that when all is said and done, we not only feel better, we have become better. Here’s some of what I have learned (and what I’m still learning):
The purpose of fighting isn’t to be right; the purpose is to be better.
When you’re in the midst of an argument, it’s easy to feel as though you’re on the attack and you’re being attacked. This position easily leads to a “I’m right, you’re wrong” stance.
And that’s always a losing battle.
Because in order for one person to be right, the other has to be wrong.
Unless, that is, the entire situation is turned on its head. And instead of fighting to be right, you both are fighting to be better. To make you better. To make your spouse better. To make the marriage better.
Reframe your argument as attacking a climbing wall together rather than pulling against each other in a tug-of-war. Ideally at the beginning of the conversation or as soon as you’re aware, try to define what the overall goal is, name the mountain you’re trying to scale. You don’t have to agree on an approach yet, just the overall goal.
See the obstacles in the way of the goal as challenges to be overcome. Try to shift from working against each other to working together to problem solve a solution.
Try facing the same direction. It seems silly, but it really does shift the focus from an attack to making forward progress towards a shared aim.
Instead of bringing up perceived slights of your partner, bring up challenges you have successfully tackled together.
And here’s the hard part – when your anger rises, strive to refrain from aiming it at your spouse. Remember, you chose them. Challenges and all.
Throughout the argument, remember that goal is to change the situation or the perspective, not your partner. Commit to every fight being a fight for your marriage.
Accept that your ego will be bruised.
Be willing to say the hard truths. And be willing to hear them as well. Part of a good relationship is calling your partner out on his or BS, which never feels good.
It feels good in the moment to surround yourself with “yes men,” but too many sycophants don’t make you better. They only make you think you’re better by petting your ego. Refuse to let your ego stand in your way.
On the other hand, strive to not take everything personally. Just because it’s directed at you, doesn’t always mean it’s about you.
Whenever you start to feel defensive, pay attention. Defensiveness is telling you that you’re getting close to something that demands attention.
Also, you’ll do well to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. In a heated conversation, the best and most well-intended of us don’t always choose the right words. Sometimes you have to let the words go and focus instead on the meaning behind them.
Compromise is rarely 50-50.
We speak of compromise as meeting half way. Of both people equally giving in and getting their way.
But compromise is defined more by the situation than equal shares.
Sometimes an issue will be more important to one partner than the other. The one who cares more should have more say. Other times there will be other factors that come into play making one viewpoint more easily achieved. And sometimes halfway can be much harder on one person to maintain than the other.
In arguments, it’s best to take the long view. Don’t fight for this moment, fight for all the moments in your marriage that are yet to come. Don’t worry about compromise being equal on this day, ensure that it’s fair overall.
Monitor your and adjust your arousal state (and keep an eye on your partner’s as well).
Have you ever noticed that when your emotions are high, your sight retracts, sounds become distant and your world draws in until it’s difficult to perceive anything outside yourself? Your body may feel hot or you may start to tremble. This is often when the tears or even sobs begin.
When you’re flooded, a fight simply serves as a dam, holding the emotions at their max. The waters of feelings have to be drained before you and your partner will be able to get to the bottom of the issues.
Watch your partner’s state. If they’re flooding, back off. They are not really listening or processing.
Monitor your own emotional state. If you sense that you’re flooding, communicate it, step back and focus on lowering your arousal state through breathing. Or a break.
Break the discussion into bite-sized pieces, but don’t allow an endless buffet.
Some fights take time to digest. Some solutions take time to process. Give them that time. It’s okay to table the argument for a period and then return to it later once both partners have been able to rest and think and relax.
However, be sure to set an end to the argument. A sign that it’s over. And once that benchmark has been reached, lay the fight to rest.
When the conversation is over, don’t neglect your work.
Have you learned some truth about yourself that you need to work on? Have you realized that you are still being influenced by your past? After the argument, take some time to reflect on the lessons embedded within.
View every fight as an opportunity to become closer to your spouse.
And use the time after the fight to nurture that closeness.