Disagreements are a normal part of any relationship, but HOW you fight makes the difference.
After our engagement, one of the best things my husband Joseph and I did to prepare for our life together was to go to pre-marital counseling. In the sessions we learned about different ways to approach conflict as well as techniques we could use to improve our communication with each other. Throughout marriage preparation classes, we worked through the myths and lies that today’s culture says what marriage should look like. Through counseling we learned that love isn’t an emotion, it’s a decision – and sometimes we’ll have to decide to love each other on the days when the other person is pushing our buttons. Despite what romantic comedies and romance novels try to tell us, marriage isn’t a fairy tale, and disagreements and fights happen.
In the five months of our marriage, even though Joseph and I have disagreed about things, we’ve never raised our voices, slammed doors or left conversations. By no means does our lack of explosive fights make us a perfect couple – we still have our flaws (and I have an awful temper!). But back in our marriage prep days, we committed to fighting fair, and it’s made a world of difference so far in how we’re navigating our differences. Because we’ve committed to fighting fair in our marriage, we are able to fight for our marriage together.
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Disagreements are a healthy part of relationships and every couple has them – but more important than if you fight is how you fight. Conflict is part of any relationship, but it’s possible to fight fair and not let disagreements destroy your love for each other.
Here are 4 tips we learned in pre-marital counseling about how to communicate well, even when the person you love is getting on your nerves…
Don’t avoid conflict
Disagreements aren’t the most fun thing in the world to discuss with your partner. I’d much rather talk about something that Joseph and I are passionate about then bring up something that is bothering me. But avoiding disagreements and pushing conflicts under the rug doesn’t do anything but harm the relationship. Instead of bringing an issue into the open and working through it with your spouse, you stuff the issue down, only to have it explode at a later time. Most importantly, if you constantly avoid conflict, you don’t reap the benefits of becoming a stronger couple after working through something hard together.
Use “I” not “You” statements
One technique for fighting fair that our pre-marital counselors emphasized was the importance of “I” statements. Instead of saying “You always forget to load the dishwasher!” the statement can be rephrased to “I feel disrespected when you don’t help clean the dishes after dinner.” Statements that start with “I” help avoid defensive and critical reactions that can be started with “you” statements.
Research from the University of Colorado shows that “I” statements can help a couple work through a disagreements now and in the future. “While this doesn’t completely solve the problem, it retains the good working relationship between the two people,” they explain. “It is more likely to generate more cooperative interactions in the future than the accusatory, ‘you message’ approach.”
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Don’t bring up old, dirty laundry
When frustration, conflict, and disagreements crop up in your marriage, remember to keep conversations about the issues specific. It can be easy to blame your spouse, saying they “always forget to do the laundry,” or “never remember to take the trash out,” but generalizing statements about your spouse’s actions can cause them to become defensive and encourage unnecessary arguments about the dirty laundry. Caroline Sweatt-Eldredge, MA, LPC is a licensed professional counselor in Houston, Texas. She advises that when couples fight they should keep their conversations focused on the issue at hand. “Focus on what has just happened and don’t time travel to all the other incidents that support your claim,” she explains. “By dealing with things as they occur, you can limit the intensity around the problem and take a gentler approach.”
Whether you need apologize to your spouse for losing your temper, not listening well, or forgetting to load the dishwasher after dinner last night, don’t be afraid to be the first person to say “I’m sorry, will you please forgive me?” Although those words can be hard to get out sometimes, in my marriage I’ve found that sometimes the most loving words in a marriage aren’t “I love you,” but “I’m sorry.”
An apology helps us realize the power of our words and actions, and allows us to take responsibility for the fact that our anger has hurt the one we love. Having the humility to admit you were wrong and ask for forgiveness breaks down barriers between you and your spouse and helps to rebuild your relationship, making it more resilient for years to come.