Surefire Ways To Avoid Nasty Arguments in Marriage Applying these tips to your marriage will make life a whole lot easier and less argumentative. BY JONATHAN ROBINSON
Placing blame is the easiest way to escalate a fight, rather than resolve it.
If you’ve ever had a nasty, screaming argument with your spouse, you know you don’t want to go there again. In such situations, no one wins. The problem is, when faced with tense times and difficult problems to handle, our tendency—especially for us guys—is to resort to caveman like behavior.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do. If you follow a few simple rules and methods, you can avoid most—if not all—arguments with your spouse. When you learn to work through your difficult times without resorting to yelling and insults, you’ll find there will be a deeper love to share between you and your husband or wife.
In my bestselling book, "Communication Miracles for Couples," I discuss three things not to do, and two things to always do in order to easily work through disagreements. In brief, these five Dos and Don’ts are:
1. Don’t argue about who is right and who is wrong. Consider the idea that you’re both right. 2. Don’t bring up issues from the past. 3. Don’t blame your spouse for the current problem at hand. It will just make matters worse. 4. Do try to understand your spouse’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. 5. Do try to negotiate a mutually agreeable solution using questions that help lead to practical compromises.
What to Avoid
First, let us look at what you don’t want to do in more detail. Unfortunately, when our spouse complains or verbally attacks us, our natural tendency is to show them that they’re the one who is wrong—while we are totally innocent. Have you ever showed your spouse how wrong they are and they responded, "Yes, now I can see what you’ve been saying. I’ve been wrong and didn’t know it. Thanks for showing me the errors of my ways." It’s not gonna happen. Arguing about who is right and who is wrong leads to escalating frustration. Give it up. It doesn’t work.
The next mistake we make is to bring up issues from the past. We say stuff like, "You’re acting just like the time you spent Christmas with my family last year." I call this providing "evidence" that a person is really, really wrong. Once again, it just makes your spouse even more defensive and harder to deal with. Don’t do it. You’re not a lawyer and they’re not on the witness stand. You’re a couple trying to solve problems together. Bringing up issues from the past makes everything a whole lot harder.
The third and final error we make when faced with disagreements is blaming our significant other for the fact that there is a problem. It takes two to tango and it takes two to have a disagreement. Did your wife spend too much money and get you both in debt? It’s not just her who is to blame. If you had made more money, it wouldn’t be a problem. If you had talked to her sooner about her spending habits, it wouldn’t be a problem. No matter how much you think she created the issue, it’s really both of you that have a problem. This means that blaming your partner for the issue will only make it harder to solve together—and that’s where your focus needs to be.
What You Should Do
If you can simply avoid the "don’ts," you’ll be more than halfway to avoiding all nasty disagreements in your marriage. Yet, there are two things you want to make sure you do in order to work through problems quickly and easily. The first is to try to understand your spouse’s point of view—even if you strongly disagree with it. What people really want in any communication with their spouse is to be understood. To do this, I explain in my book that people need to use what I call the "Acknowledgement Formula." This formula is a simple fill-in-the- blank method that can turn anyone into a supportive partner in under a minute. Here’s a two-step method:
When your spouse expresses concerns, upsets or what’s wrong with you, simply say:
1. "It sounds like…" then briefly paraphrase what they said to you in a sentence or two.
2. "That must feel…" take your best guess as to what they’re feeling about the issue they’re bringing up).
Let me illustrate with an example: if your spouse complains, "I do all the work around here and I’m sick and tired of picking up after you. I’m not your maid. Why should I have to do all the housework when I work just as much as you do?" Well, how would you respond? Probably by firing back, and off you’d be to a world-class argument.
Instead, I suggest you say, "It sounds like you’re overwhelmed with all the stuff there is to do, and you don’t need me to add to your burden. That must feel really frustrating and aggravating when that happens."
That’s it! Anyone that can help a person feel validated and understood is one who’ll be very successful in dealing with others.
Once your spouse feels you understand them (even if you don’t agree), you’re ready to solve the problem at hand. To do this, you need to ask them one simple question: "Considering both our needs in this situation, what do you propose might be a good compromise that would work for both of us?"
Rather than focus on who is to blame or who's right and who's wrong, this question gets couples focused on possible solutions. Once they offer some ideas, you can offer some of your own. Negotiations, after all, are much more constructive than arguments.
Jonathan Robinson is a psychotherapist and the bestselling author of "Communication Miracles for Couples," as well as other books. He is a frequent guest on Oprah, CNN and other shows. For more information on marriage tips and to learn about his books, or to e-mail Mr. Robinson, you can go to his web site: www.howtotools.com