SWM 131 – Tips to fight more effectively

Last week, I shared a list of ideas our Couple’s Night group had that helped build a resilient marriage. At the end of the call, we still had some time and started discussing fighting more effectively. Again, the group came up with some excellent ideas I want to share today.

Because fights will happen, I might even say they should happen.  When I come across a couple that doesn’t fight in any way – that’s a red flag.  It means one or both don’t feel safe in the marriage.  They aren’t able to express their views and opinions. 

Because if you put two people together for long enough, they will eventually find something to disagree about.

Ideally, a fight won’t involve yelling, screaming, hitting, throwing, or anything else like that, but it’s okay to quarrel.

So, today, we will discuss how to fight more effectively in your marriage so that your arguments can be a source of growth instead of damage.

1 – Examine your own actions and reactions

This is hard to do in the middle of an argument and is easier afterwards, but try to look at your own actions and reactions and ask yourself why you act and react in the way that you do.  Often, during conflicts, we respond in ways that are disproportionate to the conflict.  These point to more significant issues that need to be addressed – but more directly in another conversation.  If you can notice those, figure out the reason and then remove that from the conversation you’re currently in, then you can more effectively deal with the conflict in front of you.

For example, if you’re fighting about the dishes not being done when your spouse was home all day, and you were out, but you find yourself yelling and screaming – it’s probably not about the dishes.  

It could be that you’re just tired, hungry or stressed.  It could be that this pattern repeats itself, and it’s that pattern that should be discussed.  It could be that you feel overwhelmed or that you feel you do the majority of the chores.  Or that your spouse just used a word, phrase or mannerism, your parents used when disciplining you that you never got over.  

Whatever the reason, you can more effectively talk about it if you can pinpoint it.

2 – Fight Sitting Down

This was an interesting one. I don’t believe I’d heard this advice before, but it made sense. Standing up makes you more energetic, tends to talk louder, and is likelier to speak with your hands. People also tend to be more aggressive when standing.

So, if you’re having a conflict over something, instead of shouting across the room or letting emotions flare, sit down together and try to talk through it calmly.  

Sitting face-to-face, in particular, can calm the situation and create a more open environment for conversation. Being able to look each other in the eye helps gauge their feelings and responses so that you both can work together to keep the conversation civil and not get emotionally flooded.

3 – Don’t Try to Logic Someone into Calm & Take Timeouts

It’s very hard to talk to someone productively when they’re emotionally flooded, and it’s nearly impossible to calm them down by talking logically to them.

So don’t. Take a half-hour break from the conversation to calm your emotions and neurochemicals before trying again. It will work much better than convincing them that being angry isn’t productive.

I’m not saying to shut down any conversation as soon as emotions enter it.  I’m talking about being emotionally flooded – when you hit that point where you can no longer act rationally.  If you’re yelling, screaming or hitting things (or people) – that’s a good sign you’re emotionally flooded.

4 – Use I statements instead of you statements

Most humans seem to share a common flaw – we think we’re mind readers.  This is especially true when it comes to our spouses.  We think we know what they’re thinking and why they’re doing things or not doing things.  

We think we know what that tone and facial expression mean.  

The longer you’re with someone, the better you get at telling those little nuanced pieces—but it will never be perfect. This is especially true when you’re unhappy about something.

Because people tend to be the heroes in their own stories – at least, the way it plays out in their heads.  Every hero needs a villain, and if your spouse is upsetting you, or doing something you don’t like – guess what – they’re the villain.  And villains do malicious things.

So, we see the dishes in the sink and think, “They’re just being lazy,” or “They don’t care that this matters to me.”  The reality is rarely so simple.  More than likely, they didn’t see it, or got distracted by something else, or had different priorities.

I can’t even count how many my wife and I have tried to do nice things for each other, and then it turned out we had neglected something the other thought was more important than the nice thing we were trying to do for them.

Because mindreading goes both ways, I will guess at her priorities and try to do something nice for her—and miss. She, in turn, will interpret that miss as me not caring about her priorities.

That’s what happens in our heads when we aren’t careful.

Because of this, “I statements” tend to work better than “you statements” because while we can’t read our spouse’s minds, we generally understand our minds better.

So, instead of saying, “You didn’t do the dishes,” which is an accusation, say, “I noticed the dishes weren’t done,” which is an observation. 

Tips to fight more effectively

“You didn’t do the dishes” invites defensiveness.  Those are fighting words, and it’s nearly guaranteed that your spouse will come back with something to defend themselves – and now you’re in a battle because that’s what happens when you bring our weapons and shields.

But, if you say, “I noticed the dishes weren’t done,” while some might get defensive, there is at least an opportunity to counter with something like, “Sorry, I didn’t get to them.  You said you had no clean clothes this morning, so I caught up on the laundry.”

Observations invite discussion and more discovery – like bringing out a magnifying glass and a notebook instead of a sword.  No one is gearing up for a fight when you do that.

Of course, this can expand in many directions. Instead of saying, “You hurt me,” say, “I felt hurt by what happened.” Instead of saying, “You don’t care,” say, “I felt unloved.” Because actions don’t always translate perfectly to responses, we can show love and have it misinterpreted.

So, don’t tell them what you think they did. Tell them about your experience. That’s the only thing you can share with confidence.

Your turn

There are many more ways to help you fight more effectively in your marriage.  Share a tip you’ve used in your marriage in the comments below.


Here are some more posts on the topic of conflict resolution:

SWM 020 – 7 Dirty Fighting Techniques That Should Not Exist In Your Marriage
How to use conflict to create intimacy
Active Listening

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