Periods of conflict, disagreement, frustration or anger are an inevitable part of every marriage. But why are some couples able to work through their disagreements or frustrations and have happy outcomes, while others end up in a vicious cycle of negative feelings, emotional distancing and deterioration that leads to divorce?
According to researchers studying marriage and relationships, the way a couple argues tells a lot about the future of their relationship. In fact, researchers in a recently completed 10-year study of married couples were able to predict with 88% to 94% accuracy whether a couple would stay together or divorce, primarily by analyzing the couple's communication patterns during disagreements.
Things to avoid when arguing or fighting with your relationship partner:
- criticizing your partner's opinions, feelings or desires
- making accusations
- putting down the thoughts, feelings, actions or worth of partner
- avoiding disagreements or important discussions
- name calling
- withdrawing from conflicts
- bringing up past hurts
Good things to use in an argument:
- Using humor to break tension in an argument.
- Expressions of affection for your partner.
- Acknowledge your partners point of view.
So how do you fight fair, and fight productively?
First, get disagreements out on the table as soon as privacy will allow. (Don't make a scene in a public place, which is likely to leave one or the other of you embarrassed.)
Try to avoid making hasty or drastic decisions or threats. If something has happened which brings up a great deal of emotion - hurt, fear, anger - express what you are feeling without making threats. Take a few deep breaths. Stay grounded.
Arguing about blame can be tempting - particularly if one of you feels deeply wronged by the other. It is easy to get self-righteous when the other person has done something pretty awful. You are certainly entitled to your feelings, but understand that you may have to face a choice: you can try prove that you are right, or you can try to save your relationship. Making the latter choice may mean broadening your idea of what "winning an argument" looks like, but choosing to prove your point and punish your partner may mean letting go of a relationship that still has value to both of you. Choose carefully!
Listen to your partner. This can be tough if you feel attacked or betrayed, but try. What do you imagine he is feeling? See if you can listen to his feelings as well as expressing your own.
What do you need right now? If you need something from your partner, see if you can make a specific request that can be translated into action. If he needs something from you, ask him to be specific, too. Avoid general complaining, replacing it with a specific request. If you have faced a similar crisis before, what do you remember about what was helpful then - or what mistakes you would like to avoid?
Be cautious about venting your frustration and anger with friends. Friends who get the impression you are breaking up with your partner are likely to say things they will regret later. ("I never liked the jerk.") This is ultimately not fair to your soon-to-be-former friends, nor is it helpful to you or your relationship.
If you value your relationship, consider making an agreement ahead of time (ideally, at the time that you are first making a commitment to each other) never to talk about breaking up in a moment of anger. If you have to face that possibility, you want to make the decision in a clear-headed way and not the heat of the moment. Remember that couples often wait so long to get into counseling that relationship counselors sometimes joke among themselves that they are "love's undertakers." Don't wait that long to.
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