Marital fights can sometimes spiral out of control. You've decided to do something to try to break this vicious cycle because you want a better way to resolve differences with your spouse. This is a worthy goal, as much research has shown that communication skills in couples is related to partners' satisfaction with their relationship. For example, a study published in the “Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology” showed that both husbands and wives enjoyed their marriages more when they had improved problem-solving skills.
Understand that fights are normal. Marital partners will not agree about everything and fighting has a place even in the best of relationships. If you do not interpret your arguments as a sign that your relationship is doomed for failure, you may be able to approach disagreements and disappointments a bit more calmly. This can help keep fights from escalating painfully.
Make sure you understand your spouse before reacting. This may be the most important step in resolving differences, according to psychologists Pamella H. Oliver and Gayla Margolin. Therefore, before you get insulted and defensive or extremely argumentative, put into your own words what you heard your partner say and ask if you understood the point. Once your spouse says you got it, you can then respond to what she meant and not what you think she meant. This should help reduce the chances that disagreements explode into arguments.
Clearly state your opinion or need without blaming or insulting your partner. For example, saying “I would like our children to be educated in this school because their values are more matched to our own,” is less likely to inflame an argument than, “Don’t you even care about what kind of education your son gets!” Similarly, rather than insulting your partner, say how a change in behavior would benefit your spouse or the relationship. For example, “If you help me by taking the car to the shop, I’ll be able to do other errands and still have energy to go to the movie you wanted to see,” is much better than, “You never help.”
When you notice your fight is out of control, ask for a time out. Go into another room or out for a walk and think about the argument. Think about what you are really asking for or needing. See if you can find another way to ask for it and go back and try again. In their book, “We Can Work it Out,” psychologists Clifford Notarius and Howard Markman discuss how difficult it is to ask for a time-out or to accept that your partner has asked for one. However, this is one tool that may prevent arguments from exploding into serious fights.
Apologize for your part in the argument. Notarius and Markman recommend that you acknowledge your part in creating or prolonging problems in the relationship. They say that this is not a capitulation or an admission of some deep character flaw, but a way to accept responsibility for your mistakes. Sincere apologies, when warranted, reduce tensions and defuse fights.
- You may need professional help if, for example, you find that fear of a fight keeps you from raising certain issues with your spouse and as a consequence you are talking less and growing more distant. Alternatively, if you find that you are always the one giving in or apologizing in order to stop fights, then it is possible that problems are not really getting resolved.
- Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: Observed Communication in Couples 2 Years After Integrative and Traditional Behavioral Couple Therapy: Outcome and Link with 5-Year Follow-up
- General Principles and Empirically Supported Techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Communication/Problem Solving Skills Training; Pamella Oliver, PhD. and Gayla Margolin, PhD.
- We Can Work It Out: How to Solve Conflicts ; Clifford Notarius, PhD. and Howard Markman, PhD.
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