How to Fight Fairly with your Spouse

January 30, 2007 — Leave a comment

KSL TVââ?¬â??Studio 5

Before we tackle the month of “Love and Romance,” which is just around the corner, we thought we’d first address a very important but less-than-romantic issue in marriage: how to fight fair amidst the face of disagreements and grievances. It seems that no matter how many pluses you have going for you in your marriage, there will always be plenty to work on because we are SO different as men and women.
So how do we fight fair and be productive in resolving conflict?

Dr. Liz shares ways to air our differences without causing damage.

Within a marriage, there are usually two marriages: his and hers!

Do you really think you have to resolve major conflicts in order for your marriage to thrive? Well, surprisingly you don’tââ?¬Â¦actually there’s too much emphasis on resolving conflict in a relationship. ââ?¬Â¦most conflicts, 69% of them, never get resolved because they come from basic personality differences.

The good news is that 31% of the time, conflicts in a marriage are solvable. The secret to solving problems is gentleness. Happy couples present the issue in a softened way, accept each other’s influences, repair the conversation, and compromise.

Unhappy couples are the exact opposite in their behaviors: they start harshly, reject being influenced by their partner, reject any and all attempts to repair the rift, and they refuse to compromise.

And, keep a 5-to-1 ratio��..for every negative event in the marriage, have 5 positive ones to counter balance the one negative.

Conflict happens whether you’re in a good or bad marriage. It’s inevitable. It’s just that in unhappy marriages, couples become gridlocked on the their partner’s faultsââ?¬Â¦..this gridlock creates a perpetual problem which surfaces again and againââ?¬Â¦problems like this provoke hurt and rejection whenever they’re discussed. They become the place in the relationship where the rug bunchesââ?¬Â¦.the couple just keeps tripping over that spot, remaining trapped in this painful gridlock.

Accept Partner “As Is”In good marriages, however, couples get used to each other’s faultsââ?¬Â¦.and accept their partner, warts and all. Good marriages keep an open dialogue on the problem. Good marriages keep working on these perpetual problems within the walls of acceptance.

Allow Your Mate to Influence YouAccepting influence is probably the most important element when it comes to fighting fairly. It means that instead of coming back with an automatic “no way” to your partner’s views, you ask questions and say things like:
“Good point.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“Tell me more about how you see things.”
“I really want to understand why this is so important to you. Try me, again.”

Instead of trying to persuade your partner of your perspective, your job is to find out your partner’s perspective. And accept at least a small part of itââ?¬Â¦..even if you don’t agree or “get it” fully.

Honor Partner’s DreamsNow, if you find that you are stuck in gridlock conflictââ?¬Â¦.its actually a sign that each of you has dreams that aren’t not being addressed or respected by the other. Dreams are the hopes, aspirations, and wishes that are within each one of us. These dreams are often a part of our identity and give purpose and meaning to our lives. If you’ve reached gridlock on any issue in your marriage, seek to acknowledge and honor the dreams that are being ignored. Become a dream detective. For anyone listening, think to yourself, what are my mate’s dreams? Can you list a few? Check them out with your partner and see how close you are to getting it right? Remember, that dreams frequently change so you may need an update.

Even if you’re having a hard time in your relationship- things don’t seem to be working out, you’re not getting along, someone’s in your face- you can still turn that relationship around. Take out a piece of paper, and for the next 30 days sit down and write all the things that you appreciate about that person. Think about all the reasons that you love them. You appreciate their sense of humor; you appreciate how supportive they are. And, I promise you that what you’ll find is that when you focus on appreciating and acknowledging their strengths, that’s what you’ll get more of and the problems will start to fade away.

Welcome ConflictThe best advice I could give men is do not avoid conflictââ?¬Â¦even though that may be your natural tendency. Sidestepping an issue doesn’t make it disappear. On the contrary, leaving an issue unresolved will upset your wife even more. Remember that a woman needs to talk about what’s eating at her in order for her to feel good about your marriage. Unpleasant as it may be for you, know that by venting her feelings she is working on keeping the relationship healthy. Her goal is not to attack you personally, even though it may feel that way. Just stick with her and listen rather than insisting that she’s exaggerating or getting hysterical, and she will calm down. Now, if you withdraw from her or refuse to listen, it’s only going to escalate the conflict.

I love the work of a leading marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, on this subject. Let’s say that your wife complains about how you load the dishwasher. “I’ve told you a hundred times to put the glasses on the top. If you do it the other way, they won’t get clean.” You might be thinking, “for heaven’s sake, what difference does it make where I put the blankety-blank dishes?! We’re not serving the Queen of England!” However, instead of trying to end the conversation there, leave the room, or contradict her, do something that will work and deepen the connection with her. Make the dishwasher scene work FOR you!

Calm yourself by saying, “All right, this is certainly not important to me, but it’s obviously very important to her so I’m going to listen! Her anger is a way to get my attention and let me know how important this is to her. Why not agree to do it better if it pleases her? Here’s my chance to save the day!!!” Or, in a humorous way, with a cute smile on your face, you could offer to conduct a scientific experiment about just which dishes get the cleanestââ?¬Â¦the ones on top or those on the bottom.

Keep in mind that it’s not the cleanliness of the glasses that’s important to your wife, it’s the validation of her feelings by YOU that really counts.

Use Soft and Gentle ApproachO.K., Ladies, the best thing we can do for the men in our lives is to be soft and gentle in our approach. We need to remember that we are emotionally from different worlds than our husband’s. We are usually the ones to raise an issue in marriage, indeed we are the home improvement committee, we can always see how something needs to be improved. (I see that in myself and, although I tire of it, it’s always there!) The key for us is to present an issue in a very calm and gentle way; otherwise your man is going to avoid, withdraw, and leave the conversation, literally and figuratively.

Let him know you are not attacking him. Instead of saying, “You never load the dishwasher,” try saying something like, ââ?¬Ë?I’m upset when the dishwasher isn’t loaded right, Honey.” Or, “I realize that this is not that important to you but it is to me – so can we please discuss this?”

If you have a criticism for your husband, remember to tell him that you love him and that you’re only requesting a change in behavior. In order to prevent from flooding your husband with too much emotion, it will be easier for him to stay engaged if you let him know that talking together about what’s bothering you is a way to keep the love between you alive.

And the best part? Enjoy making-up after a rift. Perhaps making-up includes making-out or just a tender hugââ?¬Â¦..just don’t forget about the best part of conflict. So, who said fighting couldn’t be romantic? My advice is to milk it!

(1048)

Dr. Liz Hale

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