First, we must acknowledge that fighting or arguing exists in most marriages. The couples who don’t have any arguments are likely in denial. Or one partner is simply far too submissive and that is not a happy situation for her or him. Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with a healthy disagreement. However, there are some types of disagreeing that end up in verbal battles that can do serious damage if not dealt with correctly.
In a recent study researchers found that “Middle-aged adults who frequently fought with their husband or wife were more than twice as likely to die at a relatively young age compared to people who rarely fought.” (Deseret News, “Excessive arguing may cut life short” May 12, 2014, p.A1)
We’re all well aware that arguing causes stress and stress causes health problems, so this research is not surprising but worth noting.
What to do about it
Besides being a health hazard, arguing is a marriage hazard. With this in mind, knowing how to stop arguments between you and your honey becomes a skill worth developing.
Here are a few suggestions to help you avoid those pesky fights.
1. Watch for them
You can almost always tell when you are about to break into an argument that’s going to end in an all-out verbal bash. Watch for the clues. Take a deep breath and carefully think what you are about to say. When you take even a few seconds to consider a better way of responding you can save the whole conversation.
One couple we know has a system that works for them. When they feel this irritation coming on they recognize it for what it is. In their words, “It’s that old devil trying to ruin our marriage. We know he’s good at it, and we’re not going to let him succeed.”
You may want to do what this couple does. When they see it coming on they say something like. “Hey, he’s at it, again.” It clears the air, they see it for what it is and they calmly continue discussing the problem at hand or they change the subject. The point here is, you can control the situation and stop an argument from happening or from escalating.
2. Listen to your spouse
Sometimes spouses have a knee jerk reaction to some button-pushing statements heading in their direction. When this happens, bite your tongue. Listen before you spout off with your opinion. Give him a chance to finish what he is saying. It may be a valid complaint. When you listen you can learn what needs to be done. If you don’t hear him out then you don’t have enough information to make an enlightened response.
For example, in angry tones your husband may be verbally striking out about your son. “I’m so sick of that kid’s stupidity! Now he’s run over the sprinklers and broken the heads off. I’ve had it with that kid.”
You’re feeling protective of your child, so you react with, “Stop it! You’re too hard on him. He’s just a kid, and he’s going to make mistakes.”
Do you see what’s happening here? Your husband is angry. After all, he’s the one who has to fix the sprinklers, again. Don’t react. Listen. Let him finish venting. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
3. Validate your spouse’s frustration
Let’s say your wife is irritated at your late arrival home and she says something like, “Where have you been? The least you could have done is call me. You’re so inconsiderate.” What can a guy say to that? If he defends himself, in rather loud tones, by saying, “Look, I couldn’t help it. My appointment ran late. I’m tired and I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?” he's pouring oil on the fire.
All this is fuel for a useless argument. If you’re the guy, take the deep breath and don’t defend yourself. Just say something like, “I’m so sorry, honey. That was inconsiderate. I should have called you when I saw that my appointment was running late. Please forgive me.” Then give her that hug and kiss she usually gets, or should be getting, when you come home. Then offer your help.
If you’re the wife in this case, don’t start on him. He’s probably already sorry he’s late. Give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s not worth an argument. Validate his tiredness, forgive his lateness and press on.
To sum it up, remember these three simple suggestions: Watch for the oncoming argument so you can stop it in it’s tracks; listen before you speak and validate your spouse’s feelings. It always helps to see things from the other person’s perspective. Using these suggestions can avoid a lot of unpleasant arguments. It’s up to each person in the marriage to do their part in keeping peace at home. If one has a downturn, be forgiving, and be the one to get the conversation back on track. You’ll be glad you did.
For a few more tips, you may want to watch this short video, “The Key to Fighting Fair In a Relationship”, with dating coach Evan Marc Katz.
Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist, Joy is a writer and lyricist. Together they author books on relationships, including 'I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better". Their website is garyjoylundberg.com