All couples have conflict sometimes (maybe this past couple years more than others?!?), but fortunately there are concrete ways that we can learn to fight smarter with our spouses, rather than harder. Maybe you’re sitting there like, “OK but who even are you?” Let me just say this, I am not a therapist or even a professional arguer (you know, like a lawyer). I am none of those things, but what I am is a woman who has logged her fair share of hours in marital counseling, individual therapy, personal development work and good old trial-and-error. I am also a mother and therefore usually just too tired to spend much of my non-existent free time arguing with my husband, so my operating principle is the sooner we can reach a resolution, the better.
1) Your ego is not your amigo.
One time someone said to me, “Emily. Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” Of course my initial response was, “I am happy when I am right.” But the truth is, sometimes I can get so caught up in trying to prove my point that I lose sight of the bigger picture: resolution. Deciding to let go of needing to be right requires letting go of your ego. Ego wants us to win, regardless of consequence. Our more heart-centered self wants us to be at peace. So in those heated moments I try to remember to ask myself, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be at peace?”
2) Own your part.
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but if you are involved in an argument, you almost always have a part in having gotten there. (I say “almost” because there are exceptions to the rule, like if someone steals food off your plate. Then they deserve death by fork-to-hand stabbing.) Admitting your part in an argument doesn’t mean you’re taking all of the blame, it just means that you acknowledge that you probably have some role to play. Most people who are feeling upset really just want to be validated in their feelings, so if you can train yourself to identify where you might have fallen short, and admit as much, you will save a whole lot of argue-time. It also shows that you are self-aware enough to recognize it, and self-awareness is sexy af.
3) Lighten up the mood.
Have you ever been mid-argument with someone and they say something ridiculous or funny? I have, and I’ll tell ya what, this is a power-move (my husband’s power-move, specifically). Speaking from personal experience, this little trick can sometimes be annoying in the moment, but it almost always resets the energy by taking things down a couple notches on the intense-o-meter. Considering most arguments are over small things, making space for laughter or a little self-deprecation can put things into perspective. Note: I’m not encouraging you to make the entire argument into a knock-knock joke, this is merely to reset heavy energy. Read the room, and use this one sparingly.
4) Take space.
We all have different communication styles and needs, and in a relationship, it is not uncommon for one partner to require time to process things while the other requires more immediate communication. Neither approach is more right or wrong than the other, and both are simultaneously achievable. But sometimes, when arguments get heated, it really can be most productive to step away for a bit. This saves us from saying or doing things we may later regret. So take the space to do this! Communicate that you are taking some space to reflect or cool down or whatever, but also let your partner know that you will come back to the conversation and when. This might look like “Hey, I need a few minutes to cool down and think. I will be back in 15 minutes so we can try to resolve this.” This provides your partner with a sense of a) security, and b) the knowledge that their feelings are important to you.
5) Go to bed angry.
I know what you’re thinking. All the marital advice you’ve ever received says to never go to bed angry! But hear me out. Arguing late into the night serves no one. People are not at their best when overtired. It is absolutely OK to ‘to-be-continued’ an argument in the name of a good night’s sleep. In fact, I recommend it. You can still say “I love you” before going to sleep even when you’re mad, and then revisit the disagreement when you’re both better rested. Even better, when you’re better rested and caffeinated. “Sleeping on it” may even offer new insight to the entire situation.
6) Take interrupting off the table.
I get it. Your point is really, really important to convey, but if you don’t allow your spouse the space to speak their piece, things will continue to escalate because you will really fray their nerves. Being interrupted feels like shit. If you find yourself wanting to interrupt in the midst of an argument (and who doesn’t?), try this little trick. Ground yourself by taking notice of your surroundings. Notice that your feet are on the ground, the ground is in your living room, your living room is in your house, etc. It sounds silly, but if you’re really worked up, this mini-meditation will help you return to your body, and hopefully by the time you’re done noticing things, it will be your turn to talk.
7) Do not use these words.
For the love of all things, please remove the words always and never from your arguing vocabulary. These words always lead to hurt feelings, and never actually resolve things (see what I did there?). But seriously, not only are these words extremely provoking, but such absolutes are rarely true. When you imply this type of rigidity about someone else’s behavior, you leave zero wiggle room or inspiration to change said behavior or pattern. A tiny example? I am the first to admit that I am not great at putting the clean laundry away in a timely manner. (I am really great at collecting and washing it.) Needless to say, laundry is an arguing point between my husband and me. In the past he would say things like “you never put the clothes away,” which would immediately put me on the defensive. Then, instead of focusing on a solution, I was focused on defending myself. When we learned to communicate differently, less energy was spent on arguing about the laundry, and more energy was spent on doing the laundry. Also: laundry might eternally be the bane of my existence.
8) “Same team.”
Being partnered with kids can sometimes feel like a war zone — every (wo)man for themself. Between the kids’ seemingly never ending needs — school, activities, friends, social drama, work schedules, finances, potty training, sibling fights, house chores — the needs of the adult partnership can get lost in the shuffle. It’s important to remember that you and your spouse are actually on the same team, even when it doesn’t always feel that way. So instead of battling it out over who has to drop off and pick up which kid from where, and who’s “on duty” for what, try to remember that you’re both fighting for a common good. Sometimes mid-argument, my husband or I will actually say “same team” as a gentle reminder that we are partners, not opponents. (And this practice can be applied to arguments not about the kids, too!) It can be really helpful to remind ourselves of the common goal — which in our case is to get the freakin’ kids to bed so we can eat night-snacks and watch serial murder documentaries in peace.