Licensed clinical psychologist Steven J. Hanley works with clients to identify causes of distress in their lives and helps couples put strategies in place to improve cooperation and increase satisfaction in their relationship. We asked Dr. Hanley questions about how a husband can stop fighting so much with his wife.
eHow: What are the common causes of fights between husbands and wives?
Dr. Hanley: In my practice, I work with couples who fight about all sorts of things. Some of the more common reasons, in no particular order, are money, sex, infidelity, parenting conflicts, extended family issues, communication, household chores and emotional intimacy.
eHow: What bad habits do husbands and wives have who fight a lot?
Dr. Hanley: Leaving your socks on the floor or the toilet seat up can be annoying, but rarely ruins marriages. Here are some of the more troublesome bad habits to consider:
Not truly listening to your spouse. Often, during an argument, we aren’t really wanting to hear what our partner is saying. We are too caught up in our own point of view rather than understanding what our spouses are communicating.
Trying to always "fix it.” Sometimes your wife just wants you to listen. There might not be a need for you to jump in with suggestions or an action plan. Though well intended, it can be off-putting.
Making “you statements" versus “I statements.” For example, consider these two statements you might say during an argument:
“You never listen to me and don’t understand me at all!”
“I feel misunderstood when we fight like this. I feel hurt and alone, can we talk?”
Which sounds more helpful? Unfortunately, the first statement is most common. But, for most people, it's a conversation stopper and can easily put your spouse on the defensive. The second statement invites cooperation and collaboration. It takes some practice but is a useful skill to have.
And since you are trying to improve your marriage, it wouldn’t hurt to put your socks in the hamper.
eHow: How can a husband resolve differences without resorting to fighting?
Dr. Hanley: Try to be more proactive and less reactive. That might mean initiating a conversation about a potential conflict before it escalates into a defensive, non-productive fight. It might also mean revisiting a previous conflict after tempers and emotions have subsided.
Some couples are afraid that if they address disagreements, it will cause a fight. While this can be true, most couples find that proactively discussing difficult subjects actually helps alleviate tension and reduce fighting.
Also, just because couples aren’t fighting, doesn’t mean there aren’t conflicts. Sometimes an icy silence can be just as angry and hurtful as a yell.
For couples who avoid conflict, disagreements often go underground. If they aren’t talked about, this can lead to passive-aggressive fighting, which might not be obvious to outsiders but is just as damaging. For example, deliberately procrastinating about mowing the lawn because you are angry or resentful about being asked (but not saying that directly). Or, saying, “No, I’m fine” when you are actually really furious.
Try to say what you mean and feel. This isn’t always easy.
eHow: Is it okay for a husband to take a timeout or need space during a fight?
Dr. Hanley: Yes. But it is also important to assure your spouse that you are willing to come back to the communication table. Saying something like, “I need some space,” heading off to your fantasy football draft and not coming back is avoidance, which will get you nowhere. Use specific language like, “I want to talk about this, and it is important, but it would help me to have some space first, to gather my thoughts. Can we talk in an hour?” Make a commitment to each other to talk about difficult things. It doesn’t have to be all the time or right away. But, if it is swept under the rug and ignored, it will likely become a larger problem later on.
eHow: What role does listening or empathy play for husbands wanting to fight less with their wives?
Dr. Hanley: These are vital. Empathy is the capacity to understand what it might be like to be in your spouse’s shoes. It is the capacity to see a situation from a viewpoint other than your own. Some husbands might have more trouble with this than others. However, except in the most extreme of circumstances (e.g., severe narcissistic or psychopathic personalities), empathy can be taught, learned and practiced. The more you appreciate your spouse’s point of view, the less likely it is that an unproductive fight will erupt.
eHow: How can a husband use compromise to reduce fights with his wife?
Dr. Hanley: There are different kinds of compromise, and the capacity to manage them are important in helping reduce fights.
There are “split the difference” compromises. This is usually the easier type for couples to negotiate. For example, my wife and I have a toddler son who often wakes up at an early hour. We alternate who gets up with him and who gets to sleep in that day. It seems fair and works well for us. I am not resentful when it is my turn because the expectation has already been set.
Some of the more difficult compromises involve questions like: Where do we go on vacation? Who will we spend Christmas with? How many children are we going to have? What school should the kids go to? Should we buy a boat or not? Will our kids be raised with religion? Do you want your kid to play football?
These are situations when you’ll have to choose. If you feel strongly that your son should play football, but your wife is adamant that it is a health risk, there is no middle ground. He either plays or he doesn’t and either you or your spouse will have to accept an outcome that you disagree with.
Relationships that deal best with these more challenging differences are founded on solid trust and respect. There is room in a marriage for strong and differing opinions.
eHow: Is fighting normal or a sign that a husband is not compatible with his wife?
Dr. Hanley: Most couples have probably fought at one time or another. What matters is how well you handle conflict and how well your relationship bounces back from a fight.
If you are fighting more often than not, you have substantial room to improve your marriage. If it has gotten to the point of threatening behavior, intimidation or physical violence, it is a serious problem that should be addressed immediately. Some couples, “never fight.” This is often a positive sign, but not always. If not fighting means that you are ignoring issues and being passive aggressive, then your marriage could likely be improved.
Some couples need outside help. If so, don’t be bashful about seeking out a professional. I find that most couples who truly want to improve their marriage find talking to a therapist very beneficial. Help or not, I encourage you to start the conversation today. Good luck!
About Steven J. Hanley, Ph.D.
Steven J. Hanley is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private psychotherapy practice in the Detroit, Michigan, metropolitan area. He holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Detroit Mercy and a B.A. from the University of Michigan. Dr. Hanley tweets and blogs about all things psychology related at @StevenJHanley and his blog.