The 10 Commandments Of Marriage: 4. Argue Constructively 5 ways arguments can help build your relationship rather than destroy it. BY LYNNE Z. GOLD-BIKIN
The gloves might come off in a marriage, but it's important to fight fair.
In every relationship there are disagreements. Just because we marry does not mean we give up our own thoughts, opinions or perspectives—it's important not to. We approach things differently for many reasons. For example, stay-at-home parents may see issues in another way than working parents; or religious differences can cause disagreements in a marriage. In every relationship, it is nearly certain that arguments will ensue.
Just because we argue does not mean that the relationship is not a good one. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing if it is done in a positive, respectful manner. The issue is not if we argue, but how we argue. Name calling and cursing do not make for a constructive method of resolving differences. The purpose of the argument should be to try to sell your position to your partner, not make him/her defensive. Good advocacy is more likely to win the day than making your spouse angry. So, what are some good rules to ensure that arguments build a relationship rather than destroy it?
Focus on the issue. If the issue is that you are upset that your spouse comes home late and does not call, that is the issue that should be discussed. If the problem is constant back seat driving, telling your partner to jump out and walk does not resolve the problem, no matter how good it may feel at the moment. When one person ends up with all the housework while the other reads the paper, you should focus on sharing chores rather than the fact that his mother spoiled the heck out of him. Try to decide why you are upset and what it is that you hope to achieve with the discussion. Communication should change behavior, not just to get something off your chest.
Concentrate on the result. Always have a solution to the argument. In other words, if the argument is about one of you wanting to watch the football game and the other wanting to watch a movie, think about a possible resolution that gives both of you something. Can you watch the movie later? Can you Tivo the game? (Probably not.) If the argument is about housework, how about deciding who likes to do which chores (or who doesn't hate certain chores)?
Don’t throw in the kitchen sink. Reviewing all of the past hurts and angers does not help the argument proceed. It is almost impossible to respond to every single past insult in one disagreement. If the dispute is the lack of him calling to inform of his late arrival for dinner, the fact that he forgot your birthday for the past two years does not matter or improve the current issue. Stay on the subject, and leave the kitchen sink where it belongs.
Use "I" words and feelings rather than personal attacks. If your argument is about the behavior you notice, how you feel about that behavior and the change you want, it's difficult for your spouse to feel defensive or become angry at you. You really can't be angry at the way someone feels. If, for example, you go to drive your car and your spouse, who last used it, has left the gas tank empty, you can indicate that you feel frustrated and would appreciate it if he or she would never let the gas gauge go below one quarter of a tank when returning the car. That gets the point across without "fueling the fire."
Try to listen to what the other person is saying and respond. That requires actually listening to what is said, not what you think your spouse might be saying. Many people tend to respond defensively rather than recognizing the discussion is not a personal attack, just a difference of opinion. If you are thinking about your response before they finish the sentence, you are not listening and you will not respond adequately. Rather than jumping to conclusions, listen and give a thoughtful answer.
The most important thing about an argument is to remember that it’s just a blip in the relationship. It should not be a volcano that explodes and takes over the living room. If you follow the rules and try to fight fair, you are more likely to enhance a loving relationship. Try to stay on subject and always end with a "thanks for listening," and an "I love you" or a big hug. The argument is not "I hate you;" the argument is "We are having a disagreement." If you can remember that, your arguments can build your relationships rather than destroy them.
Nationally known family law attorney Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin is chair of the family law practice at Philadelphia-based law firm Weber Gallagher. Ranked one of the top ten divorce attorneys in the U.S. by Worth Magazine, Gold-Bikin is a former chair of the American Bar Association's Section of Family Law, and has more than three decades of experience advising clients on everything from financial matters, prenuptial agreements and divorce, to custody disputes and domestic violence.