I never truly expected “happily ever after,” but like many brides-to-be, a secret part of me hoped that after we tied the knot, my now-husband and I would just figure it out and get along. With a lifelong commitment in place, it seemed the structure of those vows would encourage us to keep the peace. Communicating with each other has gotten easier over the years as we went from dating to engaged to married and now parents, but fights do still happen.
The thing is, a good fight isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we need to share our opposing views, even when fueled by anger, in order to break through and learn more about each other and ourselves. A constructive argument can actually lead to a stronger peace, but now that we’re married we make it a point to fight fair. Not only are we in this for life (and hoping to enjoy it as much as possible), but we also want to model certain principles for our daughter — respect, trust, and listening skills are among these.
Lucky for us (or maybe not!), I come from a family of therapists and mental health professionals. But they’ve taught me some fighting skills that help me communicate more effectively with my husband. Instead of shouting useless “I hate yous” or losing sight of the entire point, here are some tips we’ve gleaned for constructive fighting.
1. Be heard without being hurtful. Mid-fight, it’s tempting to say something mean that will really drive home the point. But I know my message will go a lot farther if I don’t deliver it in a package that’s wrapped up in his insecurities. By the same token, I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression on and off for years — my hubby knows better than to call me “crazy” while we’re arguing (or ever!).
2. Use your curse words carefully. Let’s face it, most of us toss these around when we’re angry. And that’s actually okay, as long as we choose the right ones and methods. “Eff-you” is never the right choice. Instead we try to stick with lines like, “When you [insert topic here] it makes me feel like s**t.”
3. Stay on topic. Often, small things like a pile of dirty dishes or a miscommunication about a vet appointment can bring up a fight about something much deeper — like an unfair distribution of household work or mismatched schedules. But once we arrive at the root of the problem, we stay there. Prattling off a laundry list of gripes is not only going to worsen the fight, but it’ll eliminate the chance to see eye-to-eye on the big ticket issue at hand.
4. Leave the past where it belongs. Seems like an obvious one, but when tempers flare, sometimes old anger bubbles up to the surface. We try and focus on only what’s going on now. Of course, sometimes there will be patterns of behavior that need to be addressed, so reaching back a couple months can’t hurt if it’s necessary to illustrate a recurring theme. But old stuff that’s long since resolved has absolutely no place in today’s fight.
5. Don’t make threats. It’s a defense mechanism, which is something those family therapists I mentioned above have taught me. When my husband and I were still dating, we each had the tendency to declare, “It’s over!” when things got rough. Threatening abandonment is a classic go-to for those of us who fear it. If you truly are considering leaving your marriage, that is a whole other topic. For couples who are planning to stay together and simply having a fight, the “D” word is a careless and cruel one to throw around. Instead, we aim to be honest about what we’re feeling and focus on a solution instead of a fleeting, however powerful, desire to walk away.
When one of us feels the urge to break the basic fighting fair rules, we leave the room for a few minutes and come back with coffee for both of us. It might seem ridiculous, and it’s perhaps the most hate-filled single brew ever, but a moment of generosity within a bitter argument can be just the reset button needed to get back to a fair fight.