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Small Stuff
Arguing with your spouse is one of the most frustrating issues in a relationship. Dr. Fiore explores some reasons why couples get into fights over the small stuff.

Fighting over the small stuff can be frustrating, but there are solutions.

Why do I and my spouse argue over the small stuff?

What brings us into an intimate relationship in the first place is an overpowering desire to connect末and even merge末with a person we find attractive, exciting and soothing. The power of that desire is so great that we later fear that we're losing our independence and are under the control of someone we don't fully understand or agree with.

Ah, there's the rub, for once we feel fully merged with another末especially after great sex末we wonder if we've lost our sense of an individual identity. Healthy long-term relationships require a balance between the ability to let go of a separate sense of self when we deeply connect and the capacity to stand on our own as an independent person with our own way of doing things. It's a bit like a Tango in which you pull your partner close and then push him or her away末reenacting the dynamics of the relationship and of two opposing needs.

So you argue over the ways things should be done. That is, according to your view of the world and what your family trained you to expect. You assert your sense of self by arguing over the correct way to set a table, plan a vacation, dress for an event, or how and when to pay the bills. It's no longer a small matter when you're fighting to preserve your identity and must win, even at the sake of happiness with the person we love. "I'd rather be right than happy," is the mantra of our separate ego as it makes every difference of opinion into a win-lose battle.

What can we do to stop arguing over the small stuff?

1. Listen, don't defend or argue.

Replace your "win-lose" argumentative style of communicating with a "win-win" approach. With effective, win-win communications you attempt to understand the other's point of view rather than arguing from only yours. You listen so closely to what they're saying that you don't have time to argue in your head. Paraphrase what they said.

For example: "You're annoyed at me for not following through on your request and that makes you feel as if I don't care for you. Is that right?" Notice there's no defending your point of view or trying to deny his or her feelings.

Rule: You're not allowed to say, No; Yes, But; or However.

Results: Your spouse feels heard, understood, and validated. You both win.

2. Ask, "What's going on?"

After your spouse agrees that you understand and he or she feels heard, you might ask if there's an underlying fear or hurt that is causing them to be upset with you. Sometimes it's just that old conflict between wanting to feel safe enough with you to let go versus the fear of losing independence. At other times it's older, family of origin stuff. Remember, you may deserve 10 to 25 percent of the upset, but all of us have earlier issues with people we were truly dependent upon.

3. Use "I-Statements"

Curb your enthusiasm for pointing a finger and saying, "You always never " If you're upset, own it with "I'm feeling upset." or "I have a problem."

Then offer an agreement: "Maybe I'm just being oversensitive but when you hurry me off the phone at work I feel you're not interested in talking to me. Can we have an agreement that when you're busy you say, "Hey, honey, I wish I could talk now but I'm going to have to call you back later. I miss you."

Have fun trying out a variety of phrases that communicate mutual caring and the small stuff of life will give way to a larger, stronger passion.

Dr. Neil Fiore is a psychologist practicing in Berkeley, CA, a coach, a speaker, and author of Awaken Your Strongest Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict, and Self-Sabotage [McGraw-Hill, 2006]. You can find Dr. Fiore's "Free Articles & Tips" at www.neilfiore.com. His bestselling book The Now Habit is revised and available on CDs at iTunes "Audiobooks" and at www.audible.com "Self-Development."

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Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.

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