Sadie Holloway is a workshop facilitator who teaches interpersonal communication skills to help people strengthen their relationships.
Arguing too much can't be good for your marriage. But not arguing can be bad for your marriage, too. Learn how to disagree with your spouse and strengthen your marriage with these communication tips. Your marriage is worth fighting for, but that doesn't mean you must fight about it all the time!
How to Reduce Conflict When You and Your Spouse Don't See Eye to Eye
Do you play fair when you have an argument with your partner or spouse?
Disagreements, especially between two people in an intimate relationship, are a normal and healthy part of a solid and sustainable relationship. You are, after all, two unique individuals who have unique perspectives on life.
But sometimes simple disagreements can get blown out of proportion and turn into heated arguments. It’s not the issue that you don’t agree on that's the problem. It’s that the two of you are not communicating openly, honestly and fairly. Here are some thoughtful steps you can take to improve the quality of your relationship and have a loving, lasting marriage.
Be mindful of your need to interpret your spouse’s behavior. Conflict is often a result of how we are interpreting what other people say and do, not the actual behavior itself. For example, when someone speaks loudly, we may interpret that behavior as anger. But is that the right interpretation? Maybe the other person is angry, but then again, maybe they aren’t. Perhaps the other person has been conditioned to think that the only way to get a point across is to speak loudly, regardless of whether or not they are angry. Perhaps they grew up in a household full of kids and learned that the only way to be heard was to talk louder than everyone else. The point is that you never really know why another person is behaving a certain way.
Try using “I” statements instead of making “You” statements. Remember, you can’t truly know what someone else is thinking or why they are behaving in a certain way. You can only take responsibility for your own thoughts and actions. That’s why it’s important to communicate your own feelings without projecting them onto the other person. For example, instead of saying “Stop yelling at me!” you could say, “I feel sad when we yell at each another like this.” By framing your statement in this way you're focusing on how you feel. You're also acknowledging that you have a role to play in reducing the conflict. The simple act of using the word "we" in your statement serves to remind each of you that you're in this together and that you will both need to work on reducing the conflict in your relationship.
In Conscious Loving, The Journey to Co-Commitment, authors and marriage counselors Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. and Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D. explore another reason why speaking in the first person instead of the second person is a healthier way to communicate with your spouse. They write, “People weaken their ‘I’ behind a ‘you’. For example, someone says: “What can you do when you have tried everything you know how to do?” This question conceals the powerful I-statement: “I feel despair because I’ve tried everything I know how to do and nothing has worked.” Putting it in the form of a you-statement depersonalizes it, thereby allowing you to avoid responsibility.”
Steer clear of words like “never” and “always.” When marriage conflict arises, it's important not to project absolutes onto your spouse’s behaviour. Saying things like “You never do ….!” or “You are always….’” isn’t helpful. After all, is it really true that your spouse always behaves a certain way? Probably not. Humans do and say many different things. They react in different ways according to different circumstances. Is it fair to accuse your husband or wife of “always” or “never” doing something? Do you “always” leave your socks on the floor? Is it really true that you “never” take out the trash? Probably not. Try to avoid pinning those same absolutes onto your partner or spouse. (I read this tip on a poster in my doctor's office.)
Focus on communicating what you want and need, rather than what you don’t want. When I was studying plain language communications as part of a publishing program I was taking, I learned that humans tend to unconsciously hear, interpret and understand positive statements over negative statements. If we want to communicate effectively so that we are easily understood, it's a good idea to speak in "do's" rather than "don'ts." For example, it is easier for someone to fully hear and understand an affirmative statement such as “Let’s save our money for a holiday!” rather than “Don’t waste our money on lottery tickets!” If we focus on what we don’t want someone to do, we miss the opportunity to communicate and affirm what we do want them to do.
Having a lasting and fulfilling marriage requires a healthy self-awareness of your role in the communications loop. It requires commitment, and sometimes courage, to take full responsibility for how you react when a disagreement arises in your marriage.
Did you know that how you and your spouse handle disagreements can affect your health?
According to researchers at Ohio State University and Northwestern University, arguments between spouses can impact their immune systems and their ability to heal.
(Source: Kate Lunau, How Marriage Can Save Your Life)
All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest - never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership.
— Ann Landers
A Simple Guide to Being More Assertive
Here are some quick reminders for how to be more assertive. (These tips are helpful for all of your relationships, not just romantic partnerships.)
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- Speak in the first person. Use “I” instead of “You.”
- Be specific about what you are asking for. Avoid vague statements such as "I wish we went out more often." Instead you could say, “I’d like to go on a movie date with you at least once a month.”
- Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or ask a question again. If you don’t think what you said or asked was heard, then repeat your statement using the same pitch and tone as before. If you are sure that the other person genuinely didn't hear you, then speak a bit louder but keep the tone clear and level. A raised voice can sometimes be interpreted as aggression or annoyance.
- Speak up if you feel you’ve been ignored. Did someone cut in line front of you at the bank? Don’t freak out or get mad. Act as though they just didn’t see you and say, “Hi, maybe you didn’t see me but I was next in line.”
- Don’t apologize for how you feel. You are entitled to feel sadness, joy, elation or anger any time you want. No one needs permission to feel these emotions!
- Own your stuff and let other people own their stuff. In other words, don’t take responsibility for what someone else says or does.
- Be cool. Speak calmly. Be aware of your body language and breathe deeply.
- Perk your ears up. Spend as much time listening to the other person as you expect them to listen to you.
- Be willing to compromise. Comprising is not a form of submission. It should be a form of creative collaboration.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Sadie Holloway