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Fair Fighting

I recently sat with a couple who were discussing their most recent fight. The husband reported that whenever he and his wife disagreed, she would “beat him up verbally.” He explained that in her attempts to get him to understand her frustration she would do three things: she would put him down by trying to convince him that her reasoning was better than his; she would belabor points unmercifully and go on for hours about how his thinking was faulty; and finally she would bring up old situations from the past that validated her and proved her points. This would undoubtedly leave him feeling angry, beat up, drained, and disconnected from her.

Does this type of fighting sound familiar? Do you argue like this or have a spouse that argues with you by “beating you down”?

This couple had a lot of strength in their marriage. They were loving, caring, and communicative. At times they were “too communicative for their own good.” Although they did not argue frequently, their fights were taking a toll on their marriage. Arguing is common in relationships, so I asked the couple to follow these guidelines:

Make your point in no more than 3-4 sentences. After you have made the point, allow your spouse to respond without rebuttal.
Recognize that you don’t have to say everything that is on your mind. It is more effective not to say everything.
Stay in the present. Don’t bring up old situations because it leaves your spouse feeling flooded and scattered.
Acknowledge your spouse’s positives as opposed to focusing on the negative behaviors.
Whenever possible, use humor and make fun of your own reactions to the problem.

To illustrate this point, I shared the story of another couple who had learned these techniques. This couple had gone shopping together while on vacation. The patient was extremely patient with his wife as she looked for merchandise for hours. As they got closer to their dinner reservations with friends, he reminded her gently that they needed to “wrap it up.” Upon the third reminder, he spoke angrily to her and said he would be waiting outside. She snapped back that the clerk was wrapping her purchases and that she would be right down. When she got outside, her husband was nowhere to be found. After 15 minutes, she realized that her husband had left, and she walked to the restaurant by herself. When she got there, she was furious that he had left her and that she had waited on him; however, she said nothing because she did not want to spoil their friend’s dinner.

The next day, the husband told her that he did not appreciate her speaking to him like that and when she did this, it was “damaging to the relationship.” Although the wife could have belabored the point that the husband had snapped at her first or that he had left her to wait on him or to walk to the restaurant alone or that she had felt embarrassed in front of her friends by his behavior, she chose to focus on his concerns and that he had felt damaged.

She opted not to belabor the point.
She opted not to focus on her embarrassment.

Later that day she told him she realized that he was incredibly patient and focused on his positives, which created a more intimate relationship than belaboring his negative points. She confided with me that she could have stayed mad for days but since this was uncharacteristic for him, she chose to practice the techniques. Hence, the relationship won instead of the wife.

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