Does it feel like you and your spouse argue all the time? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
If you’ve been married for any length of time, then you know that the bickering and fighting between husband and wife can feel never-ending. In fact, there are some sources who say it’s normal for married couples to fight every day (even as much as seven times per day). Heck, one study found that the average couple argues 156 times every year over where to order dinner.
So you’re definitely not weird for arguing with your spouse frequently.
The truth is, conflict is a natural part of marriage, but it’s completely understandable to want to know how to stop fighting all the time. The fact that you’re tired of fighting is a good thing, and in this article we’re going to go through how to engage in conflict with your spouse in a healthy way so you can grow your marriage rather than deteriorate it.
Here we go…
Engage in the right kind of conflict
Most people connect conflict to failure. We tend to think that if we argue with our spouse, then there must be something wrong with our relationship. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The belief that conflict is bad comes from previous generations of teaching that said kids should be sheltered from conflict in order for them to develop into healthy adults. But a growing body of research is finding that healthy conflict is actually good for development.
Christine Carter, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center says:
“Research shows that learning positive conflict resolution brings loads of benefits to kids, boosting their academic performance and increasing their self-confidence and self-esteem. It has also been linked to increased achievement, higher-level reasoning, and creative problem solving.”
In their book Nurture Shock, authors Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman say:
“In taking our marital arguments upstairs to avoid exposing the children to strife, we accidentally deprived them of chances to witness how two people who care about each other can work out their differences in a calm and reasoned way.”
Not all conflict is bad. In fact, there’s a certain amount of forging within a relationship that can only happen in the midst of conflict. That’s not to say that more fighting equals a stronger relationship, but fighting in-and-of-itself isn’t something to be avoided.
A study from the University of Tennessee backs up the idea that arguing less isn’t the key to a happy marriage. Instead, they found, the key to a happy marriage is to argue better – not less. As you learn to argue better, in a healthy way, then naturally you’ll argue less because your issues get resolved quicker.
The researchers said, “What distinguishes happy couples […] is the way happy couples argue.” They go on to say, “Happy couples tend to take a solution-oriented approach to conflict.”
What does a solution-oriented approach to conflict look like?
Here are a few ways people who are happily married argue:
Happy couples tend to focus more on issues that can be resolved quicker and simpler such as household chores and daily schedules rather than less clear, more nebulous issues.
The study found that “[happy] couples rarely chose to argue about issues that are more difficult to resolve […] this strategic decision may be one of the keys to their marital success.”
Talking about big, nebulous problems may feel necessary to address, and sometimes they are. But more often than not, our marital issues are rooted in an everyday problem that can be resolved practically rather than something more perpetual and difficult-to-solve.
So, for example, rather than discussing how your spouse can be more responsible and caring, instead break those characteristics down into why they’re not coming across that way currently. Do you feel like household chores aren’t getting done? Do you feel like you take the kids to after school activities more? Do you think they work too late or don’t get up with the baby at night to help enough?
These are concrete issues that can be talked through and resolved rather than pointing to character flaws or emotional descriptions of big-picture problems we’re feeling.
Sometimes the practical problems we see in our marriage are symptoms of a more nebulous issue – such as a lack of trust in the relationship. But the next question should always be, “What’s the solution to that?” Then ask, “What’s causing us to feel that way and what can we practically do starting today to change that?”
When we focus more on solving the more practical issues we face in marriage, then there’s a trust and a bond that’s built along the way that serves as fortitude for the relationship whenever the more philosophical conversations need to happen. But going to the broader issues without building the practical wins along the way leaves us spinning around a problem we can’t solve and with no history of trust to keep us grounded. And that perpetual spinning is what causes many marriages to call it quits.
To sum it up, the researchers from the study say, “Being able to successfully differentiate between issues that need to be resolved versus those that can be laid aside for now may be one of the keys to a long-lasting, happy relationship.”
Sober up emotionally
When we get into conflict, our brain puts us into fight or flight and we’re mentally incapable of thinking clearly. Once we get out of the heat of the moment, our brain goes back and starts ruminating on all the things you could have said or should have said, and all we’re really doing is building up the stress and anxiety in our minds to the point where we’re ready to explode in the next conversation you have with your spouse.
If your thoughts are racing after a moment of conflict, write down your thoughts and logically work through them. Make the choice to not stew on the thoughts that cause your mind to go into fight or flight mode again. Instead, bring your attention and focus to where you’re currently at and acknowledge that you’re not in immediate danger so your brain doesn’t have to keep formulating a plan to win a battle that’s only currently happening in your mind.
Sometimes the best thing you can do after a conflict or emotionally-charged moment is to bring yourself back to the present. You can do this by going for a walk, doing some reading, or working out. Whatever it is that helps the most, the point is to bring yourself out of your mind and emotions back to a place where you’re present in the current moment and thinking logically.
Doing that will keep you in a logical state rather than letting your emotions drive you back into a place of stress and conflict unnecessarily, and it’ll keep you from blowing up on your spouse in your next interaction.
Strive for unity over being right
The most powerful force in the world is unity, and it usually comes at the expense of being right. Unity is the only way to successfully build anything of value – especially a marriage – but you can’t have unity and be focused on being right at the same time. It’s typically one or the other.
Here’s what’s hard for most of us to grasp: you don’t have to be right to experience progress. So if we truly want progress in our marriage, then let’s start looking for the middle ground and put empathy and compassion first before we start poking holes in what the other person is or isn’t doing. Because, honestly, being right doesn’t help anyone.
Ask them what they envisioned for this scenario
Most fights come from unmet expectations. Mental health expert Dr. John Delony quotes William Glasser in saying, “We think in pictures but we speak in words.” Simply put, most of our relational problems come from two people having different visions for how things will go, then both of them fly by each other with their differing expectations.
When you and your spouse are in conflict, ask them, “How were you expecting [fill in the blank] to go and what did you envision?” Simply asking this helps get right to the root of the problem that’s between the two of you. When you get to the bottom of this, you’ll truly have the opportunity to work through the heart of the issue.
From there, ask your spouse, “What’s your picture of [fill in the blank] going forward?” Asking that question shows empathy and compassion, and it’s hard to argue when you’re in that place. Sure, you can disagree on what that picture should look like, but at least now you’re in conflict over a solution rather than bickering over a problem.
When you’re both working towards solutions, you’re not emotionally drunk, and your minds are set on unity, then your marriage will grow through conflict rather than caving under the weight of it. And you’ll come out the other side of conflict with a stronger marriage than you imagined.