The 10 Commandments of Marriage: 8. Resolve Arguments One Issue at a Time Rehashing past arguments will not make the current issue easier to resolve, it will in face make things more difficult. BY LYNNE Z. GOLD-BIKIN
When working through an issue, don't bring up more than one at a time.
There is a place for the kitchen sink. It belongs in the kitchen, not in any argument you may have with your partner. Many arguments deteriorate into the so-called "kitchen sink" form of argument, which does nothing to enhance the relationship. This commandment requires you and your partner to stick to the subject and not rehash all of the old disagreements that seem to come up over and over and never resolve.
For example, if you are upset that your spouse drops his clothes on the floor when he undresses every night and assumes you will clean up after him, that is a legitimate issue to raise. But, the fact that he forgot your birthday last year has nothing to do with the issue at hand, and presumably has already been brought to his attention.
The purpose of an argument and communication such as this is to change behavior. It’s obviously upsetting you that your partner just drops his clothes on the floor, showing no respect for you or your home. So, is the goal to blow off steam or to get him to throw his dirty clothes in the hamper? If the aim is to get the clothes off the floor, the lapse over the birthday just elevates the discussion to an argument—probably a defensive response, as well—and a major blow up. The issue that started the "discussion" is lost in the fray and everybody goes to bed mad. The "kitchen sink" has done its damage and no positive result was achieved.
How, then, can you accomplish the goal of the discussion? To start, identify the issue—the only issue—that is upsetting. Second, define how it makes you feel. Third, come up with your desired solution. If you follow these guidelines, the argument should go something like this:
"I notice that when you get undressed at night, you drop your clothes on the floor and leave them there. I assume that you think it’s my job to pick them up. Do you know how I feel when I trip over your pants in the bedroom and realize that if I don’t put them in the hamper, they will just remain on the floor? It makes me sad when I try to keep our home clean but you think its okay to just litter our bedroom with clothes. I really want to fuss over you, but I do not think picking up after you is the way to show you I love you."
"What I would really like is for you to drop the clothes in the hamper when you undress so we can spend quality time together, rather than me acting as the housekeeper. I realize that you may be tired when you come home but it’s just as easy to put the dirty clothes in the hamper as it is to drop them on the floor. I really would appreciate your hanging up your own clothes. Thanks for listening; I hope it will change in the future."
Addressing one issue at a time accomplishes the goal and does not land you in a family feud. Keep the "kitchen sink" in the kitchen where it belongs, resolve the argument and hug your partner. It is a much nicer way to end the evening.
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.