All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest ― never vicious or cruel.
Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principle of equal partnership.
― Ann Landers Says Truth Is Stranger… 1968
All couples disagree. Resolving the disagreement requires the three C’s, Commitment, Communication and Caring.
Consider the following.
- Listen to understand the other’s point of view instead of simply waiting to respond.
- Attack a specific behavior instead of character.
- Limit your argument to a single issue and stay on track until that one issue is resolved.
- Avoid bringing up sensitive topics unless you have time to explore them fully and unemotionally without interruptions.
- Agree to disagree on certain subjects.
Any interaction with fearful, angry, or frustrated people is difficult because they are less logical when caught up in their emotions.
Do not take your partner’s reaction or anger personally, no matter what he says. His mood or response is often fear or frustration. Let your partner vent his feelings. Give him time to get to the real issue. If your partner wants an immediate response or answer and you are not ready to answer, say so. Ask for time. If you do not have all the answers, say, “I don’t know. I need time to find out.” Or, “I need time to think about it.” Another option is to work on the problem together.
Respond with facts. Don’t become defensive. When you react, you are working with feelings and this discourages a solution. “My feelings are more important than your feelings” is a losing scenario. Say, “Tell me more about your concern” or “I understand your frustration” instead of “I’m doing the best I can.” or “It’s not my fault.”
People want you to listen more than they want you to agree with them. Give your complete attention. Ask open-ended questions such as what, when, why, where, how, or who. This shows that you care and encourages your partner to discuss his thoughts more deeply.
Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs distort what we hear. Repeat back or summarize to ensure that you understand. “Have I understood you correctly?” If you find yourself responding emotionally to what your partner said, say so, and ask for more information: “I’m not sure I understood you correctly. What I thought you said was… which makes me feel angry. What did you mean?” Look for common ground. Discuss areas in which you both agree. One way is to share your underlying intention. “We both want this problem resolved.” Remember that change is stressful for most people, especially if they did not initiate the change. Part of their life is out of control. Recognize that resistance is inevitable. Discuss this with your partner.
When your partner disagrees with you, bear in mind, your reasons are usually self-serving. Do not assume your partner will automatically agree with you. Explain the benefits to your partner to encourage him to go along with your choice. Explain why this is important to both of you. Negotiate a settlement. See A Dozen Ways to Negotiate Successfully, page 114.
When your partner reacts or complains, ask questions that get to his real concern. At this point, you are discussing the actual issue instead of symptoms.
“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
NEGATIVE FEELINGS. If you cannot get your partner to listen to you, find someone who will listen, such as a life coach, pastor or therapist. Talking about feelings, especially about traumatic events, reduces health problems. Women have a greater need to discuss feelings than men; however, men hold their feelings in and don’t always deal with them. Talking about feelings helps us better understand our experiences and look at them more objectively. This insight may help us deal with the problems, let go of them, and move on. Some people use defensive pessimism. Their way of solving the problem is to think of a worse case scenario, and then devise strategies for dealing with those situations. Having a plan keeps them from needless worry.
Example: You are afraid your wife will die. You consider how you’ll feel. You see your day from beginning to end without her. You mentally deal with life without your wife. You begin to make plans to improve your life. You mentally handle your worse fear.
Once you have worked through your fear, set it aside. Dwelling on the negative aspects can cause some fears to come to fruition. Your objective is to develop a plan, not feel sorry for yourself.
COMPLAINTS. Choose your complaints carefully. Do not overload your partner or complain to someone who doesn’t want to listen. Be alert to signs that your partner looks bored, turns away, rolls his eyes, tells you to cheer up, does not respond to you or has an excuse to hang up the phone or leave. Do not pretend you are not complaining when you are. You may say that you’re discussing a problem or expressing an opinion when you’re actually venting. Pretending that you are not complaining increases the chance that you will annoy your listener. Give the listener an opportunity to decide if he wants to hear you complain or not.
DO NOT COMPLAIN. You are not obligated to air your complaints if you prefer to keep them to yourself, no matter how often someone asks you to open up.
DO NOT COMPLAIN COMPETITIVELY. Saying, “You think you’ve got problems? Listen to mine…” This trivializes your partner’s concerns.
DO NOT OVERDO IT. Complaining does not replace action.
DO NOT WALLOW IN DESPAIR. Do not complain indiscriminately. Moderation and clarity of the complaint can help you develop a better relationship with your partner and help you understand yourself. The best way to know that you are complaining too much is to consider the other person’s body language. This is difficult because you are so busy and so comfortable complaining about problems, you may not see anyone but yourself. However, when your friends, or your partner, listen less and less, you might consider the idea that you have pushed them to the limit. If you continue to say the same things over and over again, you are convincing yourself that you are a victim. If you are given solutions to your problems and you ignore them or say, “Yes, but…” you are wallowing in despair.
If you spend all your time thinking only the worse, with no possible solution, you are wallowing in despair. There are solutions. Find them. Ask people. Look for answers. Try the solutions. Act instead of react. If your partner is a complaining victim, ask him what solutions he suggests. More than likely, he knows what has to be done, but doesn’t want to do it. It may be to give the problem over to God and not try to solve it himself or ask someone for help. It may take him out of his comfort zone. If he ignores your suggestions, tell him that you question whether he really wants a solution. If he only needs to vent, you will listen, up to a point, but only talking will not help him solve the problem. It’s merely a means to vent.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
- Do you and your partner argue?
- If not, why not. Does one of you always give in to keep the peace? This can lead to dissatisfaction and eventually the one giving in feels like a victim and the one who always wins has no respect for the other person.
- Does one of you bring up the past or subjects not directly related to the argument?
- Is there unresolved animosity in one of you?
- Do you want a resolution to the argument or do you merely want to win?
- Can you use the information in this section in your next argument?