For many of us, it might take a while to grasp the simple fact that a fight, even a serious one, will probably not cause your marriage or relationship to fall apart. I know it took me quite a while to stop saying “that’s it, nothing will come out of this relationship” every time we had a go at each other.
Fighting and screaming matches do not necessarily mean that your marriage is not going to last, says Dr. John Gottman in his book on principles for a successful marriage. Remember one simple thing: EVERYBODY fight, and some of the loudest couples are also the most stable ones. So if you think you can stop fighting completely, you better think again.
Still, we don’t want to fight all the time. So if you feel that there’s a bit too much fighting going on in your relationship, or that you keep feeling bitter after arguing, it’s time to ask yourself two questions: First, what are the issues you keep fighting over. Second, how do you fight. I’ll start with the first question.
Let’s take for example a very common cause for fighting – domestic issues like leaving the dirty dishes in the living room or insisting that your partner accompany you to a movie which you really don’t want to watch. It sounds silly now, but it’s not really about the dishes, is it? It’s deeper than that, says Dr. Gottman. We’re actually mad because we feel like we’re treated like maids in our own house. As for the movie, all we want is a spouse who shares some of our interests. What’s the big deal?!
To start with the dishes, well, nobody’s perfect. Some of us leave dirty dishes, other forget their dirty socks in conspicuous places, and it’s sure unpleasant, but it’s actually trifles, and the one million dollar question is, is it worth spoiling your relationship over it?
As for the movie, well, we’re all different. Even if we love each other, we don’t have to share each other’s tastes. Respect that, and your partner will respect you back. There must be something besides movies and books that binds you together. Keep that flame alive.
So here are some basic tips to encourage constructive and fair fighting:
Avoid being defensive or throwing accusations. I know it looks like the best way to prove your right, and you might even succeed, but at what cost? Ask yourself what’s more important: proving you’re right, or your marriage. Instead, ask your partner to explain why he/she feels that way. Hear him/her out without interrupting. Then, explain how you see things, without, teasing, or name-calling.
Find the strength to admit that what you said or did set your partner off. Admitting you were wrong is a very important move and will surely help to calm your partner. Just make sure you mean it.
You don’t need to settle everything right now. Going to sleep angry is really stressing (personal experience), but if you see that you keep arguing but can’t settle the issue, take a break and sleep over it. It may look a bit forced, but sometimes, cooling off a bit helps and things look different in the morning.
Negotiate and compromise. For example, if you can’t agree whether to spend your summer in Spain or in France, you can either spend half of it in Spain and the other half in France, or spend this summer in Spain, and the next one in France. Sounds like a fine compromise to me, but if you have better ideas, by all means, go ahead and propose them to your partner.
I can’t stress enough the importance of touching. Instead of creating a physical distance between you and your partner when you’re fighting (amazing how 50 cm of thin air can seem like a solid brick wall), come over to your partner and just give him/her a hug. Continue explaining yourself the whole time. Don’t feel like it right now? That’s understandable, but it’s worth overcoming your anger at this point. You might be amazed at the sweet results.
Knowing how to argue, what to say and HOW to say it is an art by itself, and not many of us are born with the intuitive knowledge of how to do it. Many relationship experts, including Susie and Otto Collins, devote a chapter to the issue. If you think that your fighting skills are in need of polishing, that’s a good place to start.