So often, I hear people talk about how they wish they had a perfect relationship, where they don’t fight with their partner. I can understand that. Fighting isn’t something I particularly enjoy, either. In retrospect, to me fighting doesn’t make me feel like I’m failing in my marriage. Fighting shows me that my husband and I are still interested, and engaged in our relationship. It also shows me we still care enough to take the time to argue about different perspectives, and eventually come to a compromise—or, at least,a mutual understanding.
While some couples can flourish by avoiding conflict, most cannot.Having an avoidant attitude often leads to one partner feeling misunderstood, underappreciated or even alone. Ultimately, that can cause resentment and build an unhealthy wedge in the partnership.
John Gottman talks about conflict and problem solving in his book Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work. He mentions one of the keys to fighting fair is understanding your partner’s conflict style. He says, “Some avoid fights at all costs, some fight a lot, and some are able to ‘talk out’ their differences and find a compromise without ever raising their voices. No one style is necessarily better than the other – as long as the style works for both people.”
The point he’s making is there is no being selfish in healthy disagreements. Both of you must learn how to argue fairly with each other. Here are a few ways to learn how to fight fair in your relationship, according to Gottman.
Soften Your Start Up
Rather than approach your partner with immediate criticism or lashing out with sarcasm, try coming to them in a gentler fashion. It helps to be direct about the issue at hand, rather than attacking your spouse instead. For example, a harsh start up would have me attacking my husband for not remembering to take out the trash—again—and probably lead to me being sarcastic. A softer, more appropriate start up would begin with asking my darling to talk, not blaming, but focusing on using “I” instead of “you” and describing what’s going on. This approach involves me being polite and appreciative of the things he does do well.
Create and Receive Repair Attempts
According to Gottman, a repair attempt is ‘…any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control’. It’s like pressing the brakes on the argument before things get out of hand. When your partner is throwing out a repair attempt, it is important for you to pause and accept their olive branch. Often, my darling will use inside jokes to break up my seriousness in an argument. That moment of laughter calms me,allowing us both to continue in a more civil fashion.
Sooth Yourself and Each Other
Start with yourself. Find a comfortable place to sit for the conversation you need to have. Perhaps you could practice some deep breathing before starting. If things get too heated during your conflict, ask for a moment and take a break. Refocus on something soothing, take some deep breaths, and go back in with a more receiving spirit. Give yourself time to self-sooth before trying to soothe your partner. When the time is right, go through the same mindful practices you’ve done for yourself. Allow your partner to begin seeing you as a source of peace and comfort, rather than a trigger for stress and conflict. After both of you have calmed down, try to revisit the issue and continue working through the conversation.
Assuming that you are always right and deserve to have things your way is one of the easiest ways to make your marriage suffer. In order to respectfully argue with your partner, you must be willing to accept their presence and consider their point of view. Keep an open mind while your partner is talking. If this is hard for you, ask questions to better understand where they are coming from. Work together, not against each other, to find the best solution for your relationship.
Be Tolerant of Each Other’s Faults
While your partner may be perfect for you, he or she is still human. This places them in the not-actually-perfect category. They have flaws, and will always make mistakes. The sooner you come to accept that, the sooner you will be able to use the above tools more effectively. While there are always going to be things about your spouse that you may wish they could improve upon, there are a multitude of other qualities that attracted you to this person in the first place. Focus on the good, not the unchangeable. Gottman says, “Conflict resolution is not about the other person changing, it’s about negotiating, finding common ground and ways that you can accommodate each other.”
Conflict doesn’t have to be the end of your marriage, if it is handled correctly. Practice giving grace to your partner this week. Learn how to appreciate the arguments you are having by learning how to handle them in a more constructive manner.
If you feel like you and your partner’s arguments are too much for you to handle on your own, come in for a few sessions. Seeing a professional to help learn new skills to better your marriage is one of the bravest and most beneficial things you can do for each other. Call us today at 832-421-8714 or email us here!