How To Fight In Marriage: Start Well – End Well

Editor’s Note: This post is by Simple Marriage contributor Mary Ann Crossno.

Two weeks ago we took a look at the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the relationship pattern identified by Dr. John Gottman as most likely to kill love and destroy a marriage.

To continue this topic, let’s explore how you fight?

  • Conflict avoiders - We never fight. I never once heard a cross word between my mom and dad.
  • Volatile - Like cats and dogs. We fight all the time, over anything and everything. But we love to make up.
  • Validators - Sometimes I win – sometimes he wins. We try to fight fair.

Remember that human behavior is knowable, observable, and predictable?

Here’s something you can know – Women are the ones who start conversations about problems!

  • When are you going to finish cleaning out the garage?
  • What’s wrong with your mother?
  • You have to do something about the kids.
  • You’re never home any more.
  • You need to ask for a raise.
  • When are we ever going to go on vacation again?

You can be sure that our husbands already know this about us. It’s in our nature – we are more relationally oriented.

There are two kinds of problems in marriage – those that can be resolved and those that can’t. The bad news is that two-thirds of marriage problems are not resolvable.

This is true whether you are in a master marriage or a disaster marriage – happy and unhappy couples fight about the same things. Fighting is not the cause of unhappy marriages – it’s how couples fight that makes the difference.

After 38 years of a better-than-average marriage, I can vouch for the validity of this – we still fight about the same things. And I’m the one who usually starts the conversations that become fights.

What I learned the hard way is that it matters greatly how I start a conversation about a touchy issue. And the softer I start, the less likely we are to fight. In fact, how we start is usually a good indicator of how we will end.

Here’s some things I’ve learned about starting softly:

  1. Timing matters.
  2. I’ve had 38 years to study my man, know when he’s under more or less pressure, and predict the likely success or failure of a conversation.

  3. Talk about my part first.
  4. I have a part in every issue. Sometimes I know what it is. Sometimes I’m blind to what it is. Sometimes neither one of us knows what it is. But I have a part – so naming it and claiming it is the best place for me to start. If I don’t know what my part is, I can ask him what he sees. [This may not be safe for volatile or seriously unstable marriages.]

  5. Stick to the facts.
  6. The clearer I can be about observable behavior instead of judging motives and intent, the more receptive he will be. He can take it if I say that his shoes are piled up under the coffee table – he can’t take it is I say that he’s a slob and he leaves his shoes under the coffee table just to annoy me.

  7. Find the good.
  8. Recalling the good he does when I bring up a problem reminds both him and me that we are more than this problem. If it’s about a mess, I notice how he has kept another area clean. If it’s about a vacation, I talk about how good our last one was.

  9. Don’t stockpile.
  10. Lots of women are people pleasers – and lots of men are nice guys. We go along to get along, collecting hurt feelings, grievances, and bitterness until we get a stockpile – and then we want to back up the truck and dump the whole load out at once. There’s nothing pleasing or nice about unloading on someone. You can’t get fit going to the gym once a month anymore than you can get close dumping an emotional load once a month.

  11. Keep it simple.
  12. I love this graphic illustration of how a woman’s brain works.

    Here’s how mine works . . .

    I got an email from a vacation site that I subscribe to, and I read a blog about this place and the benefits of exchanging homes for travel to exotic places and I’m wondering if when we were on vacation last year, did you think that if we exchanged homes we could afford to go to . . .

    Honestly, I lose myself sometimes!!! It helps to know that I lose myself, it helps to own up to it, and it helps even more when I can stop myself.

    Chuck (husband), short question. When is a good time to talk about vacation?

While women are more likely to be the starters in touchy topics, we don’t own this territory. Like any part of a relationship, it can and does work both ways. Check yourself out. Since you are going to be talking about the same enduring issues throughout the life of your relationship, increase the odds that you’ll be better at the end of the talk by learning how to start softly.

A footnote – Changing partners will not get rid of the unresolveable issues – it only changes what the unresolveable issues are about. And just as often, the issues don’t change – you take them with you and just fight with a new partner about the same old same old. This is why we at Simple Marriage are committed to using marriage as people-growing machine!

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