When quarreling with your spouse, it’s difficult to remember any rules or courtesies about how to argue reasonably. Your emotions are taking over, and there isn’t time to think rationally. Entering a disagreement level-headed is nice in theory, but much easier said than done.
Dr. Susan Johnson says that telling couples they should follow certain rules during a fight will just set them up to fail. Instead, she offers the advice to try limiting the hurt caused during the argument, and lovingly make amends afterward.
Myths about Dealing with Conflict in Marriage
Below are three well-known myths about dealing with conflict in marriage, followed by more practical ways to handle issues.
Myth #1: Just Stay Calm
The whole reason you are fighting in the first place is because you aren’t feeling calm. Something is obviously upsetting you enough to bring it up and hash it out. During a disagreement, there are usually two levels of conflict going on. The first level is the topic you are actually fighting about (i.e., a broken promise, laundry that wasn’t done). The second level is how this disappointment makes you feel and what it means for your relationship. Something as simple as the trash not being taken out (after they said they would) brings up emotions of whether or not you can trust your partner’s word.
This contributes to the hurt emotions you are feeling, and why it is hard to remain calm during an argument with your spouse. The fight isn’t simply about chores left undone. It is also about how they have ruined your trust in them, and what that could mean for the future. If you can’t count on them with this menial task, what will happen when something more critical comes along?
Myth #2: Be Reasonable and Specific
“When the fear center of my brain is glowing red, my cortex, the seat of deliberate reasoning, is most often not online” (Johnson). More helpful advice would be to try refraining from saying something you might regret. When your feelings have been hurt, it is a natural reaction to want to hurt the other person in revenge. Do not give in to that temptation.
Johnson compares the act of making a threat to trying to rearrange your living room by throwing a grenade in there. Doing so may give you the advantage, and definitely changes the scenario. However, you have to consider if it is the best way to handle the problem. “As one of my clients told me, ‘When she uses the D word, divorce I mean, it’s like I have a pen knife and she has a nuclear weapon. I just freeze up. I can’t talk at all’” (Johnson).
Myth #3: Take a Time-Out
On the surface, it may seem like you are trying to push your spouse away when you argue with them. However, the real reason you are trying to communicate is to share your insecurities and concerns with them. This would be futile if they just walked away from you.
“I think in many of us this is just going to trigger higher levels of alarm and resentment. Aren’t we all just a little threatened by our loved one being able to turn and walk away, as if we didn’t matter at all? In my practice, the only people who can use ‘time-outs’ are those who have very mild fights and tons of love between them – that is, those who don’t really need it” (Johnson).
This doesn’t mean you should let the fight get carried away, but don’t try ending it by ignoring your partner. If things start to get out of control, say something. Tell them you value and want to hear what they have to say, but both of you are communicating unproductively.
What to Do After a Fight
Disagreements come up. Fights are going to happen. This is part of being human and the fact that we all make mistakes. Therefore, try not to avoid conflict altogether. Focus on limiting the damage and repairing it afterward.
When discussing your fight, Johnson suggests concentrating on how you feel instead of your spouse’s actions. What is it that upset you and caused the ensuing argument? How did you feel during the fight? Why did you feel that way?
“You can both assume, if it was a serious fight, that you scared each other. Our research shows that you can heal hurts and create a love that lasts by showing your partner that you care about their feelings and opening the door to what I call a Hold Me Tight conversation” (Johnson).
When Paul writes to the New Testament churches, he continually reminds them to share one another’s burdens. He also tells them to forgive those who have wronged them. The same thing is required in a marriage. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
During arguments, you will do and say harmful things out of anger or fear. Concentrating on being kind and loving will help you be less hurtful toward your partner. It will also help you focus on where they are coming from and what they are trying to communicate.
How Christian Counseling Can Help You Deal with Conflict in Marriage
There is no way to avoid conflict in marriage. In fact, Johnson says that it is unhealthy even to try. She compares it to two people trying to dance, but are so nervous about stepping on each other’s toes that they don’t put their feet anywhere.
If you are worried about the magnitude of your quarrels, you may want to make an appointment with a Christian marriage counselor Newport Beach. They are there to provide a safe space for discussing your problems. They can help you pinpoint your fears and figure out what motivates your emotional outbursts.
“Overwhelmed,” courtesy of Nik Shuliahin, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Worried,” courtesy of Had Limcaco, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Conversation,” courtesy of rawpixel.com, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forever,” courtesy of Gus Moretta, unsplash.com, CC0 License