When you’re smack dab in the middle of a fight with your spouse, “fighting fair,” “being reasonable,” and other marital buzz words you learned can fly out the window. When you’re fighting with someone you love, your mind becomes consumed. Dr. Susan Johnson, a marriage counseling professional, cautions couples away from following a list of rules. Rather, couples should focus on limiting the damage inflicted during a fight and working together to rebuild after it.
Here are three common misconceptions about marital fights and how better to address problems:
1. Remain Calm
Because a fight is always more than just budget-balancing or uncleaned dishes, it’s hard to stay calm. Underneath the circumstances of the fight, partners fight because each individual is insecure and afraid. Each spouse is questioning whether they are safe, loved, and trusted.
2. Stay Reasonable and Use Specifics
Johnson says, “When the fear center of my brain is glowing red, my cortex, the seat of deliberate reasoning, is most often not online.” Fighting makes us fearful and many of us act out in response with reasoning taking a back seat.
Sure, it’s easy to lash out, to toss out a grenade and be hurtful in the middle of the argument – but does this productively solve the argument? As much as it feels good to lash out, this doesn’t mean we can be deliberately hurtful. Johnson shares the story of a client who says, “When [my wife] uses the D word, divorce I mean, it’s like I have a pen knife and she has a nuclear weapon. I just freeze up. I can’t talk at all.”
3. Take a Breather
From above, a fight looks like you’re trying to push your partner away. But deep down, we don’t actually want our partners to leave. Because a fight is actually a way to share our fears and insecurities with our partners (albeit not in the most empathetic of ways), we don’t want our partners to walk away for a “time out.”
When a partner walks away, it’s threatening and can make us feel like we don’t matter. Johnson says, “the only people who can use ‘time outs’ are those who have very mild fights and tons of love between them – that is, those who don’t really need it.”
Don’t get so tied to staying, though, that a fight grows destructive. If things are getting too tense or unkind, say so. When one or both partners are shutting the other out or taking hits below the belt, pause and make sure you say you value your spouse. Tell them that the way you are communicating with each other is no longer productive and try again.
What To Do After a FightFights are normal. People disagree. Avoiding a fight is not the answer to marital harmony. The hope is that through experience in marriage, both partners learn how to limit the fallout from a fight and learn how to repair the damage.
When you come back to talk about the spat, Johnson recommends highlighting your own feelings, not your partner’s actions. What made you angry? What caused the fight in the first place? What emotions came to the surface during the fight, and why? Johnson says, “You can both assume, if it was a serious fight, that you scared each other. Our research shows that you can heal hurts and create a love that lasts by showing your partner that you care about their feelings and opening the door to what I call a Hold Me Tight conversation.”
Paul writes in his New Testament letters to churches that Christians are to share burdens with their brothers and sisters. They are to forgive instead of take revenge. The same is true for marriage. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32 NIV).
When you fight, you will hurt your partner by what you say and how you act because you’re scared or afraid. Rather than focus on being right, try reorienting your mind toward kindness and compassion. By doing so, you will lessen the damage done to your spouse and the avoid breaking trust within your marriage.
Christian Marriage Counseling Helps Conflict
Conflict in marriage is inevitable. Trying to avoid it can even be unhealthy, according to Johnson. She notes that when we avoid conflict, it’s like two people too nervous to dance, who are stepping all over each other’s feet in the process. If you are worried about the intensity of your fighting, or would like to learn more effective ways to resolve marital conflict, consider trying Christian marriage counseling. A counselor can create a safe place to share your problems and identify the fears that contribute to your marital fights.
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