Friday, July 19, 2013

Marriage Files #105: Learn how to fight

We went to premarial counseling.  It's something I appreciate more and more every day.  Some of the things we discussed and agreed upon there have morphed already, but the fundamental understandings prevent a lot of serious situations.
All that being said - we still fight.  At first, it scared me to death when we would fight.  I thought each one was the precursor to us breaking up.  The advantage to marrying a marital veteran is that he knew better.  His calm reassurance that fighting was normal helped me calm down and gain some perspective.  Since then, I've done a little research (hey, it's my thing!) and found some interesting facts:
  1. You will fight more early in your marriage, but less as time goes on:  Rationale: Fighting is learning to communicate and work through situations.  It's forced discussion and gives you the chance to learn how to talk to your spouse for positive effect.  You learn how to avoid future fights and eventually how to make decisions together.
  2. Fighting is healthy:  Rationale: If you never fight, that's not a great sign.  One or both is not being totally honest in the relationship.  No two human beings can coexist in the same space for a long period of time without conflict.  It's natural when you have constant invasion in personal space and routine to have breaking points.  Whether it's out of annoyance, miscommunication or lack of expectation management - it happens.  Not talking about things when they happen is not healthy.  Emotions don't just blow over in most cases.  People stew about little things that, if talked about, could be misunderstandings or small issues.  Small issues that left unchecked become huge grudges and walls to be leapt over.  Also, people change (spoiler alert!) and as that happens, there may be behaviors and choices your spouse doesn't like - those need to be discussed.  Since some changes happen without realization, they may come out in an argument and both parties get to work together adapting.
  3. Having the fight isn't the problem, HOW you fight can be.  Rationale:  Fights are about resolving a conflict and increasing communication.  In a relationship, the fights are never personal.  Process, personal feelings on the effect of a behavior, or a specific issue are the roots of most fights.  From money to kids to family to sex, none of those should dissolve into personal fights.  If the fights involve attacking the personality, physicality, mental or emotional makeup of the other person - that's a huge problem.  Name calling, belittling, dismissing, or negating take the fight from a conversation to an attack.  Sometimes that happens without intent.  People get upset and emotional and blurt out something to change the conversation, but in a relationship - caution, tact, and self-editing before you speak is crucial.  Obviously physical confrontations have no place in a relationship, but sometimes verbal attacks can do more damage than a fist. 
    Some clues if your fighting wrong include: 
    • Someone gets quiet and stops fighting.  This is usually a sign that they are hurt, thinking about something you said that was unexpected, or so angry they are afraid to retaliate lest they escalate the situation.  This is a good moment to recount your last words and clarify or apologize if necessary.  If you're the person who is withdrawing - STOP.  This is one of the noted methods of fighting that leads to divorce.  Passive-aggressive behavior and avoidance do not progress a relationship or solve issues.  Instead of shutting down (and I admit I'm guilty of this at times), make it clear you want to continue the discussion but you need to process what the other person has just said.  If something hurt you, admit that and leave it alone.  Everyone in this situation is going to be defensive - so waiting a day to sit down calmly and reattack the issue and not one another is key.
    • Tears are involved when the situation or issue doesn't warrant crying and the person is not prone to emotional tears.  If it's you in tears, now is the time to walk away - for a moment - from the conversation.  You won't be able to concentrate on the issue and it's hard to explain what upset you when you're crying.  Far better to get it out of your system them address as soon as possible.  If you caused the tears, don't go in for the kill.  Remember this is someone you care about - so taking a step back and toning down the conversation might be the best step.
    • Cursing and nasty barbs enter the conversation.  A button was pushed or a statement considered over the line has been thrown into the mix.  Sometimes sarcastic responses lead right into this area.  My hubby and I have ended up in arguments that started out joking, but quickly traveled into thinly veiled sarcastic quips about real things that were bothering us.  Then a real fight started and we had to take some steps back to really look at what we were upset about.  These are not productive arguments and the comments linger like poison in your mind, even after the making up is over.
So after reading up on the topic, some things I've learned are:
  1. Know when to walk away.  I can be tenacious when I am in a debate about something, especially if I think I'm right.  I have no intent to be dogged but I am often unaware of when the conversation has dwindled into my standing on my soap box.  I chalk it up to passionate enthusiasm, but it is something I'm working on because it makes talking with my husband difficult.  Knowing when to walk away is a gift some people have naturally.  They can see that the conversation needs some time to perculate while everyone thinks things through. 
  2. Be wrong.  Sometimes you know you're right but no matter what you say, the situation isn't going to go your way.  I find, in moments like these, I'm learning the art of being wrong.  I'm secure enough to know that letting my viewpoint go to the wayside may make certain things more difficult but will resolve themselves over time.  Alternately, sometimes - I'm not right.  In that moment in time, with that person, in that place - no matter what facts I think I have - my choice or viewpoint isn't right for us as a couple.  Learning the difference between what's right for just me and what's right for us takes some adjustment.  I wish I could say there's a cut and dried way of knowing when this is the right choice, but there isn't.  For me, some things are worth fighting over and letting it go is worth making my hubby happy.
  3. D.B.A.D. (Don't Be A Douche).  Don't gloat when you're right- "I told you so" never led anywhere good.  Don't go for the low blows or the past mistakes.  Never use family, personal quirks, or self-admitted deficiencies as a point in an argument.  When someone trusts you so intimately with their heart, your job is to protect it.  Even in the middle of a fight.  When that stops happening, it's time to start looking at some deeper issues.  Don't play the emotions card - bursting into tears to win an argument is beneath you. 
Ultimately - fight with respect and love.  Only engage when it's a worthwhile conversation and be ok with not winning.  The longer the relationship grows together, with it's skirmishes and battles, the easier they get and the less frequent.  In the end, you should get stronger and better when you fight together.

These are my opinions and frankly, I'm new at the marriage thing.  If you have some better advice, I'm all ears.  If this gives you food for thought, great!  Mostly, I hope it starts health conversations not only in your personal relationships but everywhere.  We could all do with arguing productively rather than for the goal of winning an argument.

Additional articles to the links above:
Marriage vows and levels of conflict
Ohio State: Dealing with Anger in Marriage (A more clinical, but excellent read)
The stages of marriage
10 tips to make your first year of marriage easier (These actually are good for the whole marriage!)

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