Fight right: How to argue with your spouse without getting nasty
Arguing is a normal part of a healthy relationship. You're two different people, and it's only natural that you sometimes have different opinions. What's important is that you learn to express your positions respectfully so that your arguments don't turn into knock-down, drag-out fights.
The first step is to recognize when you're upset and to address the problem promptly, rather than letting it fester. When you hold on to your anger, it swells to fill you, until you find yourself screaming at your husband about the time he didn't remember your mother's birthday -- eight years ago. When you do raise the topic, find a tactful way to do it. One way to make this easier is to understand the important distinction between problem solving and fighting, says Rachel Dinero, Ph.D, an assistant professor at Cazenovia College.
"Problem solving is about working together to come to some resolution. Fighting is about winning and being right," she says. When you're fighting, says Dr. Dinero, you're not trying to solve anything, which means you're "not really doing anything constructive."
When you commit to solving a problem together, you're already working in harmony -- a critical part of a healthy relationship. Keep that positive momentum going and watch your words. "Some of us hurl insults and curse words like we're arguing with an avowed enemy," says Dennis Lin, M.D, a relationship expert and sex psychologist. "This isn't a random person who has upset you -- it's your spouse." Treating your husband with disdain and disrespect because "he has to put up with it" is "thinking that infects and destroys marriages," he says.
Instead of criticizing, which attacks a person's character ("You're such a slob!") Dinero suggests that you address problems specifically -- and neutrally, if possible. "Remember that the goal is to solve the problem, not make your partner feel bad," she says. So, for example, tell your husband, "I'd like the kitchen to be cleaner. Can you load your dishes right into the dishwasher when you're finished eating?"
What about when your husband attacks you? Tempting as it may be to respond in kind, try to resist. Definitely let him know that you're feeling criticized, but it's also important that you "own up to your part," says Dr. Lin. "If your spouse makes a true statement about you, accept it. Don't reject it just because you're bent on making your point and winning the argument."
Just as important is how you resolve your arguments. "Accept your partner's repair attempts," says Carl Sheperis, Ph.D, Director of Doctoral Programs at Walden University. "When you're upset, it's easy to hold a grudge or to maintain
Distance," he says. But when you don't let go of your anger and allow the relationship to heal, you significantly increase your risk of getting divorced.
Also, don't be afraid to put yourselves first. "Come up with a solution that works for just the two of you, ignoring anyone else's needs," says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media). "It's much easier to solve a problem for the two of you than for others you may not understand." Once the two of you come to an agreement, you can figure out how to discuss the issues with others who may be involved.
Arguing is part of life. But you don't have to let your arguments escalate to full-blown fights. Take the time to fight right, and you can count on a marriage that gives you many years of happiness.