One of the first fights my wife and I had as a married couple was on my birthday in 1996, which is nearly 20 years prior to the date I published this blog post. We had recently married, moved across the country, and started a new life together. I was looking forward to my wife pampering me on my birthday. She wished me a happy birthday and gave me a hairdryer for a gift (which I needed). I had expected a fun night out and something a little more exciting than a hairdryer for a birthday gift. I wasn’t very grateful. My wife’s feelings were hurt. We had a fight.
If you are married or in an intimate relationship, you have had conflict. Have you felt like the conflict was too frequent and too intense? Have you felt like you were having the same fight over and over again? Are you tired of marriage fights?
You will have conflict in your marriage. The only people who have conflict free marriages are separated and never talk with each other. While you will have conflict in your marriage, you can learn how to stop fighting and work towards a solution. Here are some strategies that will help you stop any fight in a marriage.
A Place of Safety
If you want to stop fighting, you must make a commitment to yourself that you will create a place of safety for your spouse. Abuse of any kind, whether verbal or physical is so destructive that you will not have a healthy relationship under such conditions. Likewise, violations of trust, such as sexual infidelity will prevent you and your spouse from having a healthy relationship that will enable you to successfully resolve conflict.
If you want to stop fighting, you and your spouse must commit to each other that there will not be abuse or betrayals in your relationship. You are committing that together, you will create a place of safety. Without these commitments, it will not be possible to establish a healthy relationship and to stop fighting.
If you want to stop fighting, you will need to take responsibility for your wellbeing. You will need to learn how to personally cope with negative emotions. Your spouse can’t do this for you. Ultimately, you must learn to soothe yourself.
Why is self-soothing necessary? When we experience stress, and become emotionally aroused, our bodies and minds go through a series of changes. The higher the level of arousal, the more physically active we become. We become physically stronger and faster. The higher the level of arousal, the more we lose our ability to think abstractly, to think logically, and to see things from another’s point of view.
This stress response helps us survive if we are in a dangerous situation. If a car were about to hit me, I wouldn’t want to be concerned with my finances, or what my friends think of me. I want to jump out of the way as fast as possible, and that is the purpose of the stress response.
We experience the same stress response whether or not we are in actual physical danger. Our bodies and minds don’t know the difference. So, how can we lower our level of arousal?
- Slow and deep breathing. When we are stressed, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. Relaxed creating is slow and deep, nearly 10 seconds from the time breath is inhaled to the time it is exhaled.
- Relaxed muscles. When we are stressed, our muscles become tight. During relaxation, our muscles have a loose heavy feeling.
- Healthy thinking. When we are stressed, we often have negative thoughts. If we become aware of our thinking and avoid jumping to conclusions or assuming a negative event will occur, we are more likely able to soothe ourselves.
Enacting the above steps is not easy, but it can be done with practice. Meditation is a helpful exercise (a topic for another blog post), and I recommend you learn this practice.
Improve Your Timing
It will be important for you to be select the appropriate time to have a discussion with your spouse. We often look for quick solutions to our problems and react to situations. This behavior will not help us resolve conflict in marriage.
If you and your spouse are having significant conflict, it can be very helpful to select a specific time to talk on which both of you agree. If either of you are struggling with physical pain, fatigue, or distraction from work, you should look for another time to talk.
You would also benefit from setting a time limit for your discussion. You may find that after a stressful conversation has gone past a period of time, you are becoming more angry and if you are in that emotional state, it is not as likely your conflict will be successfully resolved. You may need to agree to take a break from the discussion and return to it a later time.
Understand Your Spouse
Once you have created a safe place for dialog, if you want to be successful in ending marital discord, understand your spouse. Does your spouse have needs that aren’t being fulfilled? What is your spouse’s motivations during the disagreement? Is it merely about the issue at hand, or are there other unspoken motivations?
For example, a disagreement may be about finances on the surface, but the root cause may be control (your spouse wants to know that his or her voice matters to you). Or, perhaps an argument is not so much about what friends come over to the home, but more about knowing that your spouse is your top priority.
What does your spouse want more of from you? Your time? Your help in a task? How can you best affirm your spouse? Through words? Through non-sexual touch? More frequent sex? Each person has different expectations and needs.
Don’t be afraid to ask your spouse “Help me understand.” Give your spouse time to express what he or she really wants and what would help him or her feel more loved by you. If you think you know, ask a specific question. “Do you want me to spend more time with you? Would that help?”
Deepen Your Friendship With Your Spouse
Assuming your home is a safe place for you and your spouse, the single most important thing you can do to stop any fight in your marriage is to deepen your friendship with your spouse. Research in the mental health field has demonstrated that while all marriages have conflict and negative emotions (anger, sadness, anxiety), all successful marriages have a greater proportion of positive emotion (happiness, pleasure, peace) than negative emotion.
Practically speaking, what this means is that you and your spouse need to make positive memories together on a regular basis. You need to spend time together in mutually satisfying conversation, sharing your hopes and dreams. You need to engage in recreation and romance together.
Humans have a natural tendency to avoid pain and seek pleasure. If the majority of your interactions together are negative, you and your spouse will avoid each other and began leading separate lives. If on the other hand, you are experiencing love and fulfillment together, this positive emotion will help counteract the negative emotion you experience when you have conflict and it will be more likely that you will be successful in stopping fights in your marriage.
At the beginning of this blog post, I shared an example from my marriage, when my wife and I fought on my birthday. We hadn’t had enough time to build a strong friendship, yet, and didn’t understand each other well. Needless to say, a fight over a mundane issue lasted longer and had more negative emotion than necessary. After 20 years of marriage and working to build a deeper friendship with my wife, I find that I am not as defensive and don’t need to be right as much as when I was first married. I also find that while my wife and I continue to have conflict, it does not last as long and we are more successful in finding a solution.
The steps for ending a conflict that I have outlined in this blog post are not complicated, but they are not easy to implement. If you practice these steps, you will succeed in finding a resolution to marital conflict. Sometimes, implementing these steps can be very difficult. If you continue to have difficulty stopping fights in your marriage, consider marriage counseling.