In my counseling practice, couples are often surprised to learn they can communicate and solve problems effectively without fighting; but sometimes you may find it’s not so easy to give up your struggles. You may have trouble letting go of the fighting habit because of two factors: social expectations (expectations the people around you have about marriage) and myths (common beliefs not based on fact.)
Myths and Expectations about Fighting
There are many myths and expectations about fighting in marriage. Couples come into my office frequently believing that fighting is a necessary part of being a couple; that all married couples fight; and it’s a normal part of marriage. But the fact is that fighting accomplishes nothing, and it isn’t necessary for couples to argue, to yell, or to have heated discussions to get problems solved. Hanging on to these ideas makes it difficult to let go of fighting.
Some of the most prevalent myths about fighting are:
• Myth #1: Fighting clears the air, and brings out the truth.
Fighting is not necessary to “clear the air.” Getting heated does not make you tell truths you wouldn’t tell otherwise. What happens when couples fight and get emotional is that both parties say things they don’t mean, or say them in much nastier ways than is really true. It is possible to discuss anything that is or is not happening between you in a calm and logical manner that will lead to more truth telling and air clearing than fighting and arguing will ever accomplish.
• Myth #2: Within your family, it’s OK to “let it all hang out” – to be as emotional as you want, and say things you’d never say to a friend or a boss.
Whether you’re fighting or not, (or drunk, or upset) you’re still responsible for everything you say and do. The hurtful or mean or outrageous things you say will be remembered by your spouse or the other family members who hear them.
• Myth #3: Fighting just happens, you can’t control it.
You always have a choice about your behavior and how you express yourself. If you’ve developed a fighting habit, or never learned to control your temper, you may need to do some work, but you can learn to behave differently.
• Myth #4: My wife (or husband) makes me do it. He (she) yells first.
No one else is responsible for your behavior. You are not responsible for anyone else’s words or actions. You can always choose not to yell back, to speak calmly, or to leave the room. Your partner cannot fight alone.
• Myth #5: Any time we get angry, it’s natural to argue and yell.
Arguing and shouting is not the only way to express your anger. It’s just the most dramatic way. As a matter of fact, it’s the least effective way to reach a solution for whatever is making you angry.
• Myth #6: It’s a family trait – everyone in my family argues.
Fighting, temper tantrums and arguing may be common in your original family, but it’s not genetic, inherited, or inevitable. It’s still learned behavior, and it’s a dysfunctional family trait. It’s a habit, and you can overcome it for the benefit of your spouse and children.
• Myth #7: It’s OK to yell, shout , curse , throw things and hit walls as long as I don’t hit a person.
These raging behaviors are classified as emotional abuse, which is just as damaging to families as physical abuse. Evidence of emotional abuse is enough to have your children detained by Child Protective Services in many states, and can even cause a raging spouse to be hauled off in handcuffs, if a problem is reported and the police arrive to witness the behavior. I tell clients who are behaving this way to separate until they get their anger under control, which requires anger management classes or therapy. If this is happening in your house, it must be stopped now – get counseling right away.
Fighting = Bad Communication
No matter what you’re fighting about: money, sex, kids or something else, the fighting is an indication that your communication isn’t working. If this happens only occasionally, such as when one or both of you are tired or stressed; it’s not too big of a problem. However, if you argue or bicker on a daily or weekly basis, or you keep fighting about the same thing over and over, then your communication is not functioning as it should, and you don’t know how to move from a problem to the solution. When this happens, problems are recurrent, endless, and they can be exaggerated into relationship disasters.
Guidelines for Not Fighting:
1. Don’t participate: Disagreements always require two people. If you don’t participate, your partner can’t argue without you. If the issue arises at an inopportune time, you can just find a temporary resolution (temporarily give in, go home, leave the restaurant) and wait until things calm down to discuss what happened (the squabble may just have been a case of too much alcohol, or being tired and irritable.) Then talk about what you can do instead if it ever happens again.
2. Discuss Recurring Problems: To resolve recurring problems, discuss related decisions with your spouse and find out what each of you does and does not want before making important decisions. You have a lot of options; so don’t let confusion add to the stress.
3. Seek to Understand: Make sure you and your partner understand each other’s point of view before beginning to solve the problem. You should be able to put your mate’s position in your own words, and vice versa. This does not mean that you agree with each other, just that you understand each other.
4. Solve it for the Two of You: Come up with a solution that works for just the two of you, ignoring anyone else’s needs. It’s much easier to solve a problem for the two of you than for others, such as children, co-workers, friends and family. After you are clear with each other, discuss the issues with others who may be involved.
5. Talk to Others: After you’ve solved it for the two of you, if extended family members or friends might have problems with your decision, talk about what objections they might have, so you can diffuse them beforehand. Discuss possible ways to handle their objections.
Squabbles often occur because you’re following automatic habit patterns that lead to a problem before you know it. Using these guidelines will help you overcome negative habit patterns you may have built that lead to arguments or bickering.
What do you think? Is it possible to get through problems and life stressors without fighting?
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