Working Through The Arguments As A Married Couple
“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”
Conflict is a normal and natural aspect of relationships. As human beings, we are primed to respond to stress when our coping gets low, with a “fight” or “flight” response. Fight or Flight can actually keep us from reolving the real issue. Finding a way to address conflict that is direct and assertive, while also respectful and diplomatic can open up communication instead of shutting it down completely.
Some people fear conflict and go to great lengths to avoid it, which can backfire and lead to emotional, relational and medical problems.
If handled effectively, conflict can be an opportunity for learning, growth and positive change.
It is also an opportunity to see your spouse’s perception of a situation. And an opportunity to share your perception too.
Try useing the following strategies to work through the arguments as a married couple:
- Pause & get grounded. If you feel caught off guard or your feathers get ruffled, it’s best to take a moment to regroup before having a knee-jerk reaction you might regret later. Breathe deeply (in through your nose, down to your stomach and out through your mouth) to calm yourself. Stretching is another good way to quickly release tension and feel better. Check in with your body and recognize if there are any physical discomforts that are exacerbating your emotional agitation (i.e. hunger, fatigue, etc.) Recognize that your emotions may be inflamed by just being tired or hungry. Table the topic for another time. Revisit the topic in a day or two when you are grounded and are at your best.
2. Zoom out to gain perspective. Imagine you are viewing the conflict from a neutral place at a greater distance. Imagine emotionally unplugging or detaching from the situation to increase awareness. Are you really upset about the issue at hand or are you displacing your anger? For example, flipping off the driver behind you when you are actually mad at your boss about the meeting you just left. Make sure you address the appropriate person. Identify the real issue and deeper core issue that needs to be addressed. Don’t put the focus on the small annoyances. For example, don’t argue about the toilet seat being left up if you are actually mad that you are feeling lonely or unsupported. Choose your battles: let the little stuff go and avoid covering up what really matters to you.
3. Become mindful of your nonverbal communication. Because much of communication is nonverbal, be aware of your facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language to ensure you are sending the message that you want to be received. Did you know we only hear 7% of the meaning of the words that are said to us. That means we miss 93% of the meaning. We are busy formulating a response, getting hung up on one phrase, or defending our own position. Imagine if we really understood more than 50 % of the meaning and really looked at what our spouse is trying to tell us in a way where they feel heard and understood. That would also lead the way for them to reciprocate too.
4. Avoid behaviors that add fuel to the fire. Physical or verbal abuse is never acceptable. Dr. John Gottman, a leading researcher and expert on relationships, identified four additional behaviors that should be avoided during conflict: Criticism (attacking the person’s character,) Contempt (insults and nonverbal hostility, like eye rolling,) Stonewalling (shutting down,) and Defensiveness (seeing self as victim.)
5. Reflect empathy. The ability to show you understand how the other person feels is perhaps the single most powerful communication skill. It allows the person to feel heard and diffuses conflict. You do not have to agree with their perspective, but you can show you understand their feelings (i.e. “I can understand that you felt upset by that.”)
6. Take responsibility for yourself. Save everybody time by owning up to your own poor behaviors. This is not a sign of weakness, rather it demonstrates awareness and integrity and will likely expedite successful resolution. Make sincere and timely amends and apologies. Take responsibility for yourself.
7. Use assertive communication. Avoid being passive (weak in setting boundaries), aggressive (hostile or entitled) or passive-aggressive (acting out through indirect behaviors like slamming a door or not responding to an email, or not speaking to the other person for a week.) Stay in the present and don’t dredge up old issues from the past. Ask for what you need, say no to what you can’t do, and be open to negotiation and compromise. Articulate a complaint about a specific behavior and express your feelings in a way that is clear, direct and appropriate. Whenever possible, communicate directly in- person or over the phone versus email or text battles where misunderstandings breed quickly. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements to reduce defensiveness. For example, “I am upset that you didn’t call today – I missed talking to you” rather than “You are inconsiderate.”
8. Be open & flexible. Listen and really hear the other person. Use your curiosity and be open to your spouse’s perspective. Ask open- ended questions to gather information that will be help you see where they are coming from.. Consider other perspectives or solutions. Look for the opportunity to collaborate and be a team. Together we can come up with what’s right for both of you.
9. Focus on what you can control and let go of the rest. Author Wayne Dyer wisely said, “How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.“ You can control your own behaviors and responses but you cannot control others or the outcome. You can advocate for yourself in the context of a relationship and if resolution cannot be achieved, you can empower yourself to change the boundaries of that relationship. Boundaries are for your benefit – they keep you from getting hurt. Healthy relationships have boundaries in place so each of you know where the line is instead of letting control get in the way which keeps you apart.
10. Forgive. Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Recognize that people come into our lives for a reason and even negative experiences are opportunities for growth. Be grateful for the learning experience, work towards acceptance, forgive and let go of the past and consciously choose how you want to move forward. What you hold onto will always cause a distance between the two of you. Help each other to forgive and understand each other in a deeper way.
What else do you recommend for effective conflict resolution between married couples?