How to Have a Productive Argument With Your Spouse
15th February, 2010
Couples often fight over how much time they are going to spend together, how they can get time (especially when they have kids), financial issues and sexuality issues. Couples have a different view of how that should go and what it means to each of them. Couples have different views on how often they are going to be sexual and what type of sexual encounters they will have and when that can happen. A lot of couples struggle with that, especially as their lives just get busier and busier and stress and exhaustion just end up eating up the romantic level and the sexual level of relationships. I have also worked with a lot of couples where the man has gone down in his sexual desires and it's the woman who wants more sex. So it's not uncommon that way, but it can be the other way around also.
Arguing with your spouse is never a pleasant experience, but for many couples, it can be downright grueling because neither party understands what the other is after. There have been many books written about how men and women think and communicate differently, but simply acknowledging the differences will not help you resolve a conflict, and can even make it worse. Imagine that the next time you have to have an argument with your spouse (there are times when an argument cannot be avoided) you could know in the back of your mind that the two of you were going to accomplish something positive for your marriage with the resolution of the conflict.
Make sure you are arguing about the same thing. What you are discussing is often not what you are actually mad about. While both of these aspects of an argument are important, it is vital to the success of a discussion that you address them separately.
Write down what you feel the argument is about. If you feel it stems from a bigger issue, write that down too. Put these items on separate pages of paper.
Take turns stating your position. This is not to win or lose the argument, it is to enlighten your spouse about your position. Do not do anything other than explain what you have written, making a clear distinction between the present issue and the larger issue, if there is a distinction. For example, you may be arguing over whose job it is to take out the rubbish. That is the present issue. However, if one of you feels that the other does not do enough around the house or express enough appreciation for chores well done, that is the larger issue. They both must be stated so that both parties know where they stand, but they cannot be addressed simultaneously.
Establish your ideal solution. Under each issue, write down what you feel would resolve it if you got your way entirely. For example, you might feel that the rubbish argument would be over if your spouse would simply empty the bin every other day. The larger issue, however, will not be resolved by a rubbish schedule. It might be settled by a standard list of assigned chores and a greater effort to thank both parties for their hard work.
Share your ideal solutions. Do not interrupt no matter how tempting it is. Remember, both of you have the same goal: to resolve the argument in a productive manner so that the issue does not arise again. Pay attention to what your spouse says the bigger issue is, as it may point to an easily-changed behaviour pattern on your part that could alleviate the tension. For example, if the big issue appears to have a lot to do with under-appreciation--and in busy marriages, this is often the case--simply saying, "I'm sorry that I have not been appreciative. I would be lost without your help, and I'll try to make sure that you know how much I value you," can relieve a lot of tension between two parties.
Focus on the present. Even when you are dealing with the bigger issues, do not incorporate past, unrelated bad behavior even if you have historically been able to use it as a "trump card" to end a fight.
Agree on a solution. Once you have reached a compromise, both of you should rephrase the compromise in your own words to make sure that you are on the same page. This will help you make sure that the solution sticks, because both of you will have agreed to the same thing rather than appearing to settle your differences but going away with different plans of action.
Be a good sport about this part, even if you are still irritated. Ending on a positive note encourages both parties to act on their part of the resolution.Kiss and make up. Even if you are no longer angry--and especially if you still are--tell your spouse how much you hate fighting with them and how important it is to you that they are happy. Thank them for working with you to achieve a solution that helps everyone.
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