Julia and I didn’t fight a lot when we dated. After we got married, a fight was pretty rare. Even now, 10 years later, it is still not very common. But, we DO get in arguments from time to time. To be honest, I like that. I don’t LIKE fighting, and I know Julia doesn’t either, but I feel it is an important part of a relationship. Many couples that are new in a relationship think the fact that they “never fight” is a good sign. I have to disagree though. When a couple doesn’t have disagreements, rather than this being a sign of an incredibly deep love for each other and compatibility, I tend to think that the couple probably has issues with avoidance and possibly the inability to be real with each other.
However, I don’t see the frequency or infrequency of fights as something to be proud of. What is WAY more important than how often you fight, is the METHOD you use to communicate when there are conflicts.
A couple will ALWAYS have differences. Sometimes they are big like politics, religion, or family values, but often they are petty things like where to place the hand soap, how to arrange dishes in the dishwasher, or what time to eat dinner. Two people are always going to find things that they differ on. I feel what makes the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship is how they communicate about these issues when conflicts arise.
When Julia and I DO get in a fight, it almost always follows this same pattern.
- I do or say something dumb.
- Julia gets upset about it.
- I don’t feel she SHOULD be upset, so I get upset back at her.
- We either give each other the silent treatment for a while or communicate in a clipped tone.
- I realize that what I did or said WAS dumb and apologize.
- She forgives me.
If I could cut out the first step (when I do something dumb), things would be a lot easier, but I can’t promise that is going to happen.
One of our most memorable fights happened in the first year of our marriage. I decided I hadn’t seen a friend of mine in a while so I invited him over for dinner…that night. He was a mutual friend of ours, so I didn’t think twice about it. Once it was all set, I casually let Julia know that Jeffrey was coming over for dinner. I wasn’t prepared for the fallout of that statement. She was ticked off…that I hadn’t talked with her about it first and made sure it was ok. Then, I got mad back at her because I thought she was being ridiculous. After exchanging words back and forth (I believe a bag of chips went flying at one point in there), Julia went off to angry-clean (which is when you’re too mad to do anything else, so you focus your anger into cleaning), and I sat on the couch to stew. As I thought about what she said, I realized that I hadn’t been considerate of her. When I was single, it was fine to plan whatever I wanted, but now that I was married, making decisions (like having someone over) involved her too. Plus, with MY friend coming over she’s going to want to cook something nice and make sure the house is looking good, so I was volunteering her for a lot of work on no notice without asking. Plus, I didn’t even consider the fact that she might have her OWN ideas of what she wanted to do that night. After I realized these things, I went to her and apologized because it WAS my fault. As much as I wanted to be right…I just wasn’t. It wasn’t fun to go through, but I learned a lot from that experience.
Through our 10 years of marriage, and after going through several variations of the above pattern, I’ve learned a few things about myself and how we can argue better…
1. I need to give up my right to be right:
I ALWAYS think I am right…until I realize that I’m not. Many of our fights are merely based on a difference of perspective. I always start off thinking my perspective is correct, but I quickly realize that is often not the case. As soon as I am able to realize that I may be at fault here (which is almost always the case), it removes Pride from the driver’s seat and gives Humility the chance to take over. You will NEVER resolve a conflict in a loving manner until you can get rid of your pride.
2. I try to be the first to apologize:
Arguments aren’t resolved by one person “winning” with a convincing argument that can’t be refuted, or speaking so emphatically that the other has to back down. They are resolved when one (or both) people genuinely apologize. This goes hand-in-hand with #1 above, but until someone humbles himself to do this, the argument will never be resolved. I try to ALWAYS be that person.
3. Authentically share and listen
I find myself often wanting to jump to conclusions and make a snap decision about what is right or not. I think one of the most important steps in resolving a conflict is for both people to be able to share how they feel (in a loving respectful way). Being a doormat doesn’t help anyone, so jumping to an apology without sharing how you feel doesn’t do anyone any good…as long as the way you share is constructive and not attacking. Also, it is important that both people REALLY listen to what is being said. You can’t just wait until she is done talking so you can slam her with the great point you just thought of. If you listen to what she is saying, it will help you understand more about who she is and hopefully help prevent the conflict from happening next time.
4. I try to never raise my voice:
I know this is more related to people’s personalities, but I feel it is important to not raise my voice in an argument. Now, I realize I’m not a raise-your-voice type of guy, so this may just be easier for me. But, I feel when you raise your voice, you are escalating the issue…like adding gasoline on a fire. If both of you keep raising your voices, the argument is only going to get worse. If you can force yourself to stay calm, even if the other person isn’t, it will make things easier.
5. I try to never go to bed with unresolved issues:
I know this is kind of cliche, but it is so true. The longer you leave issues unresolved, the more long term damage it can cause. The quicker you address it, the better. And no matter what, don’t go to bed before you can talk through whatever it is.
6. Don’t get on the crazy cycle:
How the crazy cycle works is this… One person does something mean or hurtful. In response, the other person is mean or hurtful back. In response to THAT, the other person is mean or hurtful again. In response to THAT, the other person is mean or hurtful again… You can see where this is going. This usually occurs in an escalating fashion to where both people are trying to outdo the other with how mean and hurtful they can be. To get out of this, you need to control YOU. You can’t do anything about what your wife says or does, but you CAN control how you respond. When in doubt, be humble, loving, and gracious. This can help diffuse the situation, or at a minimum…not make it worse.
So, here is my challenge to you…
Don’t see arguments as a bad relationship sign. Rather, use them as a chance to work on your communication. Learn from your mistakes so you can be more loving next time. And most importantly, when you do get in an argument, forget about winning or being right. Be the first to humble yourself and apologize.